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Cancer & Diet: What You Need To Know

Cancer seems to be unstoppable. For the first time, cancer has surpassed heart disease as the top killer of Americans under 85.  Rates of this disease are expected to rise by 57% in the next 20 years.  Fatal cases are more common in folks in their middle to later years, and most of us will be in that demographic in two decades’ time.  Perhaps it’s worth taking a look at what we can do to stack the odds in our favor!

What We Already Know

Cancer is not a fringe interest in the scientific community.

The American Cancer Society alone is said to have invested $2 billion into research since 1946.

This research has yielded incredible treatments, and a wealth of knowledge about what makes cancer cells tick. We have more to learn, but don’t underestimate what we already know.

The treatments we have, which mostly consist of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, aim to remove every cancer cell from the body by direct attack. Cancer cells are not invaders but our own cells gone wrong, meaning aggressive treatments often leave the patient with a weakened immune system, and few good memories of the experience.

We can’t kill cancer cells as easily as we can kill an invading bacterium that is completely different to us. To kill a cancerous cell, we have to kill one of our own. Potential for damaging healthy cells seems inevitable. How can we distinguish between the two?

First, we find out what makes them different.

Fortunately, cancer cells are different to healthy cells in a few ways that we can use against them.

Cancer’s Weakness

Anaerobic respiration is it’s only means of survival.

This simply means it produces energy without oxygen. An- means ‘without’, and -aero- means ‘air’ referring to the oxygen in the air.

Your normal cells keep anaerobic respiration as a back-up plan. When you’re sprinting away from a hungry bear, for example, your muscles will soon begin to burn. That acidity is a waste product of this ancient, inefficient way of producing energy.

It’s an important energy source when you’re running for your life. Our usual mechanisms for energy production are very efficient, but they’re also slow. Anaerobic respiration, like an old Mustang, burns through fuel at a terrific speed, swapping efficiency for high-yield production in a time of crisis.

Little bacteria use this method exclusively, but advanced creatures like us can use oxygen the majority of the time in a slow and steady process which creates more energy from the same nutritional resources.

Cancer cells respire like our muscles when they’re burning from exertion. Quickly, inefficiently, and without oxygen.

That’s useful knowledge in itself, as we’ll find out, but there’s more. Without oxygen to help it metabolize fatty acids, cancer relies completely on one fuel source, and one alone:

Carbohydrate.

Anaerobic respiration cannot use fat as a fuel source. It needs sugar, which is why athletes famously load up on carbohydrate before they compete, giving their muscles plenty to use when they switch to anaerobic mode.

All this means carbohydrate feeds cancer, and oxygen suffocates it.

What Are We Doing Wrong?

We cannot become 100% cancer proof, but we can stack the odds in our favor by making our body inhospitable to it.

Unsurprisingly, the Standard American Diet does the opposite by driving inflammation, constricting oxygen to cells, and oxidizing cells through an abundance of sugar.

Trans-Fats Provide the Environment

Oxygen suffocates anaerobic respiration, simply by being present.

Cell membranes usually allow oxygen to pass into the cell, making anaerobic respiration impossible. These membranes are full of various sorts of fats, and we maintain them with the fats that we eat.

If the body is presented with hydrogenated oils or trans-fatty acids (think margarine, donuts, and anything cake-like), the cells have no choice but to use them in their membranes.

The problem? A membrane full of trans-fats becomes much harder for oxygen to pass through. The internal environment of the cell becomes more and more anaerobic, just how cancer likes it.

Carbohydrate Provides The Fuel

Cancer cells cannot metabolize fat for fuel. Instead, they rely entirely on glucose.

Diabetes patients were observed surviving cancer more often when on a diabetic treatment called metformin, a drug that inhibits the liver’s own production of glucose.

As we know, anaerobic respiration may be a fast way to produce energy (good for rapidly growing and dividing cancer cells), but it’s very inefficient. This can be exploited.

There will always be some glucose in your system, but cancer cells are far hungrier than healthy ones. If your body is primed to burning fat as the primary fuel source, you’ll be at a distinct advantage. With low levels of carbohydrate, cancerous cells are likely to struggle, while healthy cells will be happily fed with ketones.

New Blood Vessels Deliver The Fuel

Dr William Li, who specializes in cancer prevention by inhibiting new blood vessel growth, introduced his field to the TED conference of 2010.

The body rarely needs to grow new blood vessels, he explained. Exceptions are after physical trauma like a cut or other serious tissue damage. New blood vessels need to grow only to replace the old ones, like for like.

One of cancer’s toolkit of genetic quirks is the ability to convince the surrounding tissue to grow new blood vessels towards it, giving it its own personal supply of resources.

Anti-angiogenic compounds help stop this from happening. They’re found in many natural foods, but lacking in processed foods (exceptions: dark chocolate and licorice).

This means if you eat a diet high in processed consumables and low in nutritious whole foods, there won’t be anything in your diet to stop these ‘illegally’ grown blood vessels from springing up where they shouldn’t be.

Chronically High Insulin Triggers Growth

Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrate causes insulin levels to rise to unnatural heights and remain there, as long as the diet doesn’t change.

Growth factor is a hormone that stimulates growth and cell division. It’s much more potent when it’s broken down into its constituents, IGF-1, -2, -3, and -4.

IGF stands for Insulin-like Growth Factor. There’s the hint.

Insulin is so similar to growth factor that when levels are chronically high, there’s potential for it to cross-react with growth factor receptors in the cell membranes, stimulating growth and division.

On it’s own this stimulation might not be a problem, but imagine if the cell being affected is also releasing signals for a new blood supply, contains trans-fats in it’s membrane, has an anaerobic interior and a plentiful supply of glucose?

It’s the perfect storm.

We Can Use The Nature of Cancer Against It

We can make our bodies inhospitable to cancer cells.

Besides a healthy body being resilient and robust in general, avoiding refined carbohydrates and processed fats will remove from your diet the likeliest cause for the alarming rise in cancer over the last 40 years, from 8th leading cause of death in 1971 to 2nd leading cause of death in 2010.

Processed food are not natural in the context of the human body, and they have the potential to take us away from our normal cancer-resistant state. Protocols that cut the intake of simple sugars and trans-fats, such as those of the late Dr Johanna Budwig, have been successful for some even in bringing tumors into remission.

Of course, while anecdotal evidence for diet as a treatment of cancer does exist, there is not yet enough solid data on the topic to recommend it as a sole treatment. However, building your body to the healthiest state that it can be is an undeniably good idea, no matter what ailment you may suffer, now or 20 years from now.

Build upon the Four Pillars of Health to pack resilience back into your body. Don’t forgo modern medical intervention like an ill-informed hippy. Rather, use a clean diet and a clean lifestyle to give yourself the best possible chance.

When starting a dietary protocol, it’s important to talk things through with your doctor. Feel free to book a consultation with me to discuss your options, but if not make sure you talk to another professional, and preferably one who is open to nutritional therapy, which can often be used safely alongside more aggressive therapies.

 

 

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