[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, and Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally. See also Crap for the Cure.]
I’ve arrived at a point in this series where I can no longer refer tangentially to the elephant in the room: SUGAR.
Medical experts have known for decades that glucose — aka sugar — is cancer’s favorite food. Cancer cells require as much as five times more glucose for fuel than do normal cells.
In fact, the very PET scans used by oncologists to observe the shape and size of tumors depend on cancer’s appetite for sugar. Patients to be PET scanned are dosed with a glucose-heavy substance combined with a radioactive tracer. Their glucose-hungry tumors attract a disproportionate quantity of the substance, which results in a concentrated mass of radiotracer, which is viewable on a computer monitor.
Nevertheless, the baffling fact is that few oncologists inform their patients that regular old dietary sugar will behave just like that radiotraced glucose. They even go so far as to recommend pudding and ice cream to patients wracked with nausea from chemotherapy, “because they need to keep their weight up!” Right. They do. But at the cost of shoveling spoonfuls of cancer fuel down the hatch?
Furthermore, researchers at Ohio State University are touting an experimental drug that fights cancer by choking off its sugar supply. Pardon me, but do we really need drugs for this? We already know that a low-carbohydrate diet is effective in starving cancer cells.
Remember, too, that carbohydrate consumption causes your pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin makes cancer cells happy because it enables them to mop up more glucose. In fact, cancer cells like insulin so much that they actually produce some of their own insulin. They also have about ten times as many insulin receptors as normal cells. This is how cancer fuels its own, rapid growth — unless, of course, you restrict the availability of said glucose by changing your diet.
Furthermore, insulin is a storage hormone. That is, it directs your body to store excess dietary carbohydrate as bodyfat…and excess bodyfat is a well-known risk factor for many cancers.
Let’s work the logic in reverse: We want to reduce cancer risk by reducing bodyfat. Bodyfat is the result of storage induced by insulin. Insulin secretion is the result of carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, by reducing carbohydrate consumption, we can reduce bodyfat. In the process, we deprive cancer cells — known or undetected — of their primary fuel source. We kill it. Capice?
I learned about the cancer-sugar connection years ago, from Dr. Patrick Quillin’s book Beating Cancer with Nutrition. I was mostly vegan at the time, and had already cut the obvious sugars out of my diet. I thought I was ahead of the game. I was wrong.
It wasn’t until three years later that I realized that, as far as my body is concerned, all carbohydrate is sugar. Yes, even those fruits, vegetables, beans, and “healthy whole grains.” Let me repeat: All dietary carbohydrate is sugar. Sugar is cancer’s favorite food. If A=B and B=C… You get the point.
That said, I am not advocating a diet that excludes vegetables. Most vegetables are quite low in carbohydrate. You can eat loads of them and easily stay under 50 grams of carbohydrate per day. Furthermore, veggies offer a fantastic micronutrient tradeoff for their macronutrient impact. Fruits, not so much. Grains and legumes, not at all. Stick with vegetables.
One more thing: I am constantly amazed by the number of people who restrict their own carbohydrate consumption because they understand the myriad health benefits of doing so, yet continue to feed their children oatmeal, cookies, and Laffy Taffy because “they’re young and healthy, and they don’t struggle with their weight.”
Umm…yeah. They’re young and healthy now — but how long is that going to last if we train their bodies and minds to depend on sugar for energy and satisfaction?
This isn’t hard, folks. Don’t feed cancer. Don’t feed your children to it, either.
The next post in this series will explore additional hormone-cancer connections, and what you can do to manipulate them in you favor.
My Medicine, My Food: black coffee, Asian salad with pulled pork (raw spinach, carrot, and mushroom; garlic pulled pork; and the dressing from this recipe), salmon croquettes (fried in pastured butter) with steamed carrots, broccoli, and brussels sprouts with southwest-style dressing, lamb chops, sweet potato roasted with coconut oil and red pepper, and sautéed kale.
Workout: 5x rotation of one-legged barbell squats, military presses, pullups, and bent-over barbell rows.
[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, and Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation. See also Crap for the Cure.]
How many times have you heard the expression that “So-and-so is battling cancer?”
I find it interesting that we don’t typically use martial language to describe “fighting” cardic disease or “declaring war” on Type II diabetes. There’s something about cancer — perhaps its complexity, unpredictability, gravity, and its resultant sway over our emotions — that elicits combative images.
It’s an apt metaphor. Much like a cleverly wielded army, cancer invades our healthy cells, confusing our immune systems and turning them against us. The result is inflammation, the earliest sign of a pre-cancerous state, which can be detected by thermography. Sadly, thermography is not widely used in this country, and most cancers go undetected at this phase. They progress to the next stage: angiogenesis.
Angiogenesis, like inflammation, is a normal process. It is simply the formation of new blood vessels. When injury occurs or a woman’s uterus makes its monthly preparations to nourish an embryo, blood vessels are built within specific parameters controlled by bodily chemicals called angiogenesis inhibitors. When the necessary structures are built, angiogenesis inhibitors give the signal to stop construction.
Unless cancer hijacks the contractors.
Cancer cells, like soldiers, require supply lines in order to survive and wreak destruction. In the absence of extra blood vessels to provide nutrients, a potential tumor will usually remain a tiny, harmless cluster of abnormal cells. But cancer is a sinister thing. Tiny tumors trick the body into supporting them by producing angiogenin, a chemical signal that demands the construction of new blood vessels.
During my second thermoscan appointment, I had the opportunity to view scans of women experiencing various stages of breast cancer development. Sure enough, the infrared images showed clearly (even to my inexpert eye) the abnormal concentration of blood vessels leading to cancerous or pre-cancerous sites.
The medical machine knows this, of course. Pharmaceutical companies have pumped out drugs like bevacizumab in an effort to slow cancer growth by inhibiting angiogenesis. Unfortunately, these drugs are only prescribed post-diagnosis, which almost always means there is a well-established tumor at play. Anti-angiogenic drugs may stabilize the tumor, slowing or preventing growth, but rarely are they able to starve it completely.
What if we could support our bodies by inhibiting inappropriate angiogenesis naturally over the course of our lifetimes? Would we then be able to cut cancer’s supply lines before its army of cells could occupy our tissues? How many tumors could be reduced to merely The Cancer that Never Was?
The next post in this series will discuss the multiple angiogenesis inhibitors available to us through lifestyle choices: http://inthenightlife.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/short-circuiting-supply-inhibiting-angiogenesis-naturally/
Angiogenesis Slideshow, National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/understandingcancer/angiogenesis/Slide1
Thermography Images and Explanations, The Thermography Center http://www.thermogramcenter.com/Images.htm
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee; green tea; salad: spinach, red leaf lettuce, red cabbage, parsley, celery, carrot, red onion, apple, pecans, and poached cod with a dressing of fish oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, black pepper, potassium salt, and Italian herbs; Barnyard Soup: onion, leeks, garlic, chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, smoked ham hocks, sweet potato, turnip, carrot, rutabega, cabbage, parsnip, cayenne, thyme, sage, and bay; curry: ground beef, garlic, onion, carrot, cauliflower, zucchini, tomato, coconut milk, curry paste, hot curry powder, turmeric, and ginger topped with raisins, walnuts, and coconut flakes.
Workout: Rest day.
[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, and In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection. See also Crap for the Cure.]
Cancer is a wound that doesn’t heal. It turns our bodies’ own immune systems against us, thriving on the inflammatory process that is intended to be acute and healing, rather than chronic and destructive. If inflammation is pro-cancer, then it stands to reason (and research) that we can combat cancer by reducing the inflammation that runs rampant in our bodies.
Perhaps surprisingly, the lifestyle changes that will reduce chronic, systemic inflammation — thereby making our bodies less hospitable to cancer cells — are relatively simple and inexpensive. Sure, some of them will take you outside the norm. Some will involve plunking down extra change at the supermarket. But compared to rounds of chemo, months of pain, and years of life lost, I reckon it’s a small price to pay.
What follows are daily choices you can make to reduce your risk of cancer development or recurrence by reducing your body’s susceptiblity to inflammation. Because this is a blog post, not a book, I’ll focus more on the what than the why. Upcoming posts will expand substantially on the scientific support for these choices. In the meantime, understand that they will work…but only if you do them.
1. Reduce carbohydrate consumption. During the digestive process, carbohydrate is broken down into glucose (sugar) and, ideally, stored in the liver to be burned as fuel in the near future. The liver’s storage capacity is limited, so any excess glucose is packaged up as triglycerides and sent into the bloodstream. If not used to provide immediate energy, it is stored as bodyfat. The storage process must occur quickly because blood sugar must be maintained within a narrow range; excessive blood sugar is toxic to the point of being fatal.
In order to facilitate the movement of glucose into our cells, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. One of insulin’s primary jobs is to turn on the “storage” function, so it’s easy to see how chronically elevated insulin (resulting from chronic carbohydrate consumption) leads to obesity — a well-known risk factor for cancer. Not only that, but constant insulin release leads to insulin resistance, which means that we need more and more of it to keep our blood sugar within a safe range.
Unfortuately, all that insulin does more than make us dread bikini shopping. It also activates enzymes that result in increased blood levels of arachodonic acid, which contributes to inflammation in individuals with compromised metabolisms. Furthermore, insulin provokes the release of pro-inflammatory eicosonoids (short-lived hormones that act locally rather than systemically).
In brief, excessive dietary carbohydrate results in systemic inflammation. How much is “excessive?” For most people, about 100 total (not net) grams of carbohydrate per day is plenty. In case you’re wondering, most Americans consume 300-400 grams per day. Ouch.
2. Eliminate sugar. Sugar (and all its nasty little friends like high fructose corn syrup, honey, and agave) is a simple, high glycemic index carbohydrate. When consumed, it causes a rapid rise in blood sugar, which requires insulin release as discussed above. It also hampers white blood cell function, compromising the immune system, and subjects the body to oxidative stress, thereby rounding the turn in the vicious cycle of inflammation.
(As an astute reader pointed out in yesterday’s comments, sugar is also the finest cancer food on the planet. Tumors love the stuff — and many can be starved by eliminating it. More on that in a later post.)
3. Eliminate grains. Above and beyond their obviously problematic status as high carbohydrate foods that are little more than slow-digesting sugar, grains bring with them a host of additional problems.
Several of the most common grains in our food supply (wheat, oats, barley, and rye) contain a protein called gluten. Gluten irritates the gut lining to the point of breaching its defenses (yes, even in non-celiac individuals), allowing whole, foreign proteins direct access to the bloodstream.
The result is a chronically leaky gut, which necessitates constant immune response, which we know by now is undesirable. Worse, the immune system learns quickly to attack these foreign proteins on sight — and some of them look very much like our bodies’ own tissues. So, we attack ourselves. Voila! More inflammation.
Legumes, by the way, have very similar effects as grains and should also be avoided.
4. Eliminate dairy. Many people have observed that the consumption of dairy worsens conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and acne. Why does this happen? Because dairy, too, is inflammatory. Similar to grains, dairy proteins cause microperforations in the gut, provoking immune response and eventual auto-immune disorders. Dairy is also responsible for an insulin release above and beyond what can be accounted for by its carbohydrate content alone. And we all know about insulin by now, don’t we?
5. Balance essential fatty acids. Most people are aware that our diets tend to be too high in Omega-6 fatty acids and too low in Omega-3’s. This is the result of a diet packed with vegetable fats and grain-fed meats, both of which tip our fatty acid ratio drastically in favor of Omega-6. Unfortunately for our cancer risk, Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory.
The obvious solution is to simultaneously decrease Omega-6 intake and increase Omega-3 intake. How? Switch to grass-fed, grass-finished meats and wild-caught fish. Eliminate vegetable oils (including corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower) in favor of animal fats, palm, and coconut oils. Supplement with high-quality fish oil such as Carlson’s or Nordic Naturals. If you insist on eating dairy, make sure it’s from pastured cows. Finally, look for eggs from chickens that are pastured and/or fed flax in favor of grain.
6. Sleep more. In 2006, researchers at UCLA demonstrated that “even a modest loss of sleep for a single night increases inflammation.” Inadequate sleep causes our white blood cells to increase their release of immune-enhancing substances…which sounds good until you remember that an excessive immune response causes damage not only to invaders, but also to healthy cells. What constitutes “adequate” sleep? Nine or more hours per night, especially during the winter months.
7. Reduce toxin exposure. In our modern world of plastics and pesticides, we are all exposed to chemicals whose ill effects are myriad, cumulative, and alarming. For example, certain toxins (such as phthalates in cosmetics, bisphenol A [BPA] in hard plastics, and tributyltin in disinfectants and fungicides) all mimic hormones, resulting in bodyfat gain. Research shows that these toxins can even increase the number of fat cells in a developing fetus. Excessive bodyfat leads to excessive levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. Remember those? They’re inflammatory factors!
Inflammation is only one of the reasons to seek out organic produce and meats, BPA-free canned goods, and safe body care products whose ingredients you’d be willing to eat. Be mindful of obvious poisons, too, such as cigarette smoke, lawn fertilizer, and household cleaners.
8. Reduce stress. We all know that stress results in excessive production of the hormone cortisol. (For the record, so does lack of sleep.) Ironically, cortisol is supposed to be a natural anti-inflammatory that helps your body deal with acute stressors. Unfortunately, most of us experience more chronic stressors than acute ones. Chronic stressors result in incessant cortisol release from the adrenal glands, which leads to adrenal burnout.
In the meantime, all that excess cortisol messes up our other hormones and treats us to complimentary helpings of brain fog, low sex drive, bodyfat accumulation, and mood swings — not to mention mineral imbalances that disrupt heart function. Hormonal imbalance also results in insulin resistance, which is directly linked to cancer development.
Advice to reduce stress is so common as to be cliché, but it can take some serious effort to actually accomplish. Consider weeding your activities down to only the most necessary for income, relationships, and personal satisfaction. Work fewer hours, if you can, and be sure to take a good look at the huge body of evidence supporting the health benefits of yoga, meditation, and similar forms of focused relaxation.
9. Exercise. Anyone who has experienced soreness after a workout knows that, where inflammation is concerned, exercise is a mixed bag. Unaccustomed physical effort results in minor (hopefully!) muscle damage that leads, upon repair, to increased strength. On the other hand, physical effort is well-documented to relieve stress and improve insulin sensitivity, both of which result in decreased inflammation.
Regular, moderate exercise is associated with lower CRP levels, while excessive exercise increases cortisol. So, use your body — but use your brain, too. Favor strength training and high-intensity interval training over long, cortisol-inducing cardio sessions. Engage in plenty of low-level physical activity. Play. And for goodness sake, throw in some rest days!
10. Understand specific foods. Some foods are pro-inflammatory, while others are anti-inflammatory. Knowing which is which enables you to make the best choices for you, as an individual.
As discussed above, sugar, dairy, legumes and grains are inflammatory for just about everyone. MSG and other food additives also negatively affect most people. Some individuals are sensitive to additional foods; common offenders include nightshades (potatoes, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, etc.), eggs, soy, and nuts. Note that you may be unaware of your sensitivity to a particular food until you try going without i for a month, then reintroducing it to see what happens.
Make a conscious effort to include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods such as coconut, olive oil, sea vegetables, salmon, turmeric, Japanese green tea, shiitake and other mushrooms, berries, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), and alluims (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots etc.).
There’s more to each of these factors than simply controlling inflammation. They also impact angiogenesis and hormonal balance, both of which contribute to cancer development or prevention. We’ll explore those topics in upcoming posts.
Bonus round (Is anybody still reading?): Inflammation is also the major, causative factor in other diseases of modern civilization, most notably coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, and stroke. Worse, it’s a two-way street. Inflammation fuels the above conditions, which incite additional inflammation, which fuels the conditions…
Making lifestyle changes to cool inflammation will dramatically lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes — plus, you’ll likely vanquish other ailments ranging from acne to arthritis to Chrohn’s disease to irritable bowel syndrome to Alzheimer’s to allergies. Why? They’re all about inflammation.
Low-Carb Diet Reduces Inflammation, Science Daily, 2007
The Definitive Guide to Sugar, Mark’s Daily Apple
The Definitive Guide to Grains, Mark’s Daily Apple
The Dairy Manifesto, Whole 9 Blog
Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products, Eat Wild
Lack of Sleep Causes Inflammation, Immune Response, FuturePundit, 2006
Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley
Environmental Toxins Cause Inflammation and Weight Gain, Life Extension Blog
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee, duck eggs fried in coconut oil with potassium salt; steamed veggies: Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower with olive oil, dried garlic, and thyme; sausage sautéed with leeks, yellow onion, and mushrooms; jasmine green tea; salad: spinach, red leaf lettuce, red cabbage, carrot, red onion, celery, apple, poached cod, pecans, and dressing of fish and olive oils, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, curry powder, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt; lamb meatballs in marinara: lamb, egg, tomatoes, herbs, onions, garlic; baked spaghetti squash, olive oil, salt, ginger tea
Workout: Primal Blueprint Fitness bodyweight progression (pushups, pullups, chinups, squats, handstands, planks)
If we’re going to attempt to prevent cancer, it is only logical to begin by considering how cancer gets started. If we can short-circuit the process by which cancer gains a foothold in the body, we can avoid entirely the need for the elusive Cure.
Sidebar before you get your skivvies in a wad: For the last time, people, I am NOT saying that EVERY case of cancer is preventable. What I AM saying is that a great many of them ARE. This series explains why and how. K? K.
A great many factors play into cancer’s beginnings. These range from exposure to environmental toxins to excessive blood insulin to inadequate micronutrient support to stress and lack of exercise. These topics overlap and interweave so much that it’s hard to shake them apart for discussion. Fortunately, they all intersect at one, key point with which we can deal decisively through lifestyle choices: inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural by-product of the immune system’s response to physical damage. You slice a finger with a knife, you get your foot stomped by a Clydesdale, you crash and burn on your mountain bike. What happens? The injured areas become swollen, red, and painful while your white blood cells produce special substances (cytokines, leukotrines, prostaglandins, and more) to facilitate the mopping up of invading bacteria and reconstruction of damaged cellular structures.
This inflammatory response involves intentional release of oxidants and free radicals by the white blood cells. Most people know that oxidants and free radicals are harmful to cells, and that’s the point — our immune systems use them to battle infection. In acute inflammatory situations, this is a life-saving mechanism. In the case of chronic inflammation, however, it’s not hard to see how the immune system’s efforts turn against us as all those free radicals damage not only invaders, but healthy cells.
So. Chronic inflammation is bad. Got it. But what has all this to do with cancer?
Cancer is an inflammatory disease. It is chronic inflammation. As Anticancer: A New Way of Life author Dr. Servan-Schreiber describes it, cancer is “a wound that doesn’t heal.” In fact, he cites a statistic that 1 in 6 cancers are directly linked to another, identifiable inflammatory condition such as papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer) or bronchial irritation due to the toxins in cigarette smoke (which can lead to lung cancer). How many more cases do you suppose are linked to unidentified chronic inflammatory conditions?
Cancer’s sinister power is in its ability to turn our bodies’ own defense mechanisms against us. Inflammation is a classic example. Cancer cells actually promote the production of our immune system’s inflammatory substances and use them as fertilizer for their own reproduction. Our healing processes turn harmful as the tumor expands and metastasizes.
The good news is that we can fight back. We have control over myriad lifestyle decisions that are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Pro-inflammatory choices fuel cancer. Anti-inflammatory ones douse its flame.
Tomorrow’s post will discuss many of those lifestyle choices: http://inthenightlife.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/only-you-can-prevent-inflammation/
Bonus discussion: How can I tell whether I suffer from chronic inflammation?
Good question. Many types of chronic inflammation are invisible to the casual observer, and their effects may be so much a part of our daily lives that we don’t realize anything is wrong.
For example, old root canals are often chambers of infection that persist for years. You don’t feel it, because the nerves are gone, but leftover tissue rots in that perfectly sealed, anaerobic microbial “greenhouse.” These microbes make their way into other parts of the body and can result in cancer development or recurrence.
Additional examples of chronic inflammation include gut irritation (very common, frequently due to gluten and/or lactose sensitivity) and the atherosclerotic lesions representative of coronary heart disease. More overt symptoms such as arthritis, seasonal allergies, and acne also evidence underlying inflammatory conditions.
Here’s one more: If you suffer from metabolic syndrome (and if your waist measurement is larger than your hip measurement, you do!), you are inflamed. Probably badly.
If you’re really curious, your inflammation level can be tested in a lab. High insulin or fasting blood glucose levels are usually indicative of inflammation. You can also have your blood tested for C-reactive protein (CRP). Interleukin-6 is another marker that can be tested. The medical community has not established “ideal” levels of CRP or interleukin-6, but in general, lower levels are better.
Or, you can simply make the rather safe assumption that if you live in a modern, Western culture and aren’t considered “a bit weird” for your lifestyle choices, you are inflamed. Sorry. It’s just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.
The New Plague of our Times by James South, MA
Chronic Inflammation and Cancer by Krystyna Frenkel, PhD
The Relationship Between Root Canals and Cancer, Independent Cancer Research Foundation
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee, scrambled duck eggs, spinach, leeks, sausage, mushrooms, yellow onion, thyme, garlic, red pepper, black pepper, coconut oil, red grapes, jasmine green tea, coconut cream concentrate, kippered herring, lamb meatballs in marinara: lamb, egg, tomatoes, herbs, onions, garlic; baked spaghetti squash, olive oil, salt, mint green tea, cranberries
Workout: 10x running sprints on the level