Ditch the Cancer: A Whole Food, Plant-Based Diet in the Prevention, Treatment and Remission of Cancer
Cancer is a multifactorial disease, usually initiated through the exposure of cells to a carcinogen, a compound with mutagenic properties. Genes can play a role in the development of certain cancers, but only a small percentage of cancers are actually due to heredity. However, genes and exposure to a carcinogen are not enough for cancer cells to continue to grow and spread throughout the body; cancer promoters are required.This is where diet and lifestyle come into play. As Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD, author of Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, has said, “Genes may load the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.”
There are many different types of cancer: breast, prostate, colorectal, kidney, liver, skin, blood, esophageal, pancreatic, etc. Thankfully, what appears to be of benefit for one type of cancer when it comes to nutrition also appears to benefit all other types of cancers. Why would this be? Cancer is known as a chronic disease--in fact, it is one of the top fifteen leading of causes of death and disability in the developed world--and as a chronic disease, the cause is from repeated, prolonged injury to the body. This injury comes from eating certain foods that act like toxins within the body, causing damage that, over time, outpace the body’s ability to heal. You may have genes for breast cancer, or be exposed to tobacco smoke, but you may never experience full-blown cancer if you feed your body the right kind of food.
“In a sense, your body is rebuilding itself every few months with the building materials you provide it through your diet.” -Dr. Michael Greger, How Not to Die, 2017.
The common medical treatments for cancers are surgery, chemotherapy and radiation--all radical forms of medicine. However, for a body to heal, it must be strong; and for a body to be strong, it must have the right fuel and avoid repeated damage due to dietary toxins. By the time cancer can be detected, the cancer cells have already spread to other parts of the body. A person can live with cancer for decades and not know it. This is why prevention is so important. And key to prevention is the food that we eat every single day. The American Institute for Cancer Research has stated, “Diets that revolve around whole plant foods--vegetables, whole grains, fruits and beans--cut the risk of many cancers, and other diseases as well.”
Let’s take a look at breast cancer. By the time a tumor can be picked up by a mammogram, it may contain a billion or so cancer cells. Some breast cancers may even begin in the womb, depending on the mother’s diet. Exposure to sex hormones, which occur naturally, in meat and dairy products increases the risk of breast cancer in women by increasing the exposure to estrogen over time. A lack of fiber also affects estrogen levels in the body, since excess estrogen enters the small intestinal via the bile, but if there is no fiber to bind to the estrogen, it will get reabsorbed into the bloodstream instead of being evacuated safely out of the body. Meat consumption is also significantly associated with decreased melatonin production, exposure to heterocyclic amines (HCAs) which both initiate and promote cancer cell growth, cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which feed cancer cells and promote growth. With regards to alcohol, the World Health Organization stated in 2014 that there is no safe amount of alcohol when it comes to breast cancer risk. The alcohol breaks down into toxic acetaldehyde, starting in your mouth after you sip.
In men, prostate cancer has been linked to dairy, eggs, poultry, and meat consumption. The growth hormones, occurring naturally in animal products, stimulate the growth of hormone-sensitive tumors and turn precancerous lesions and mutated cells into invasive cancers. Eating less than one egg per day is associated with twice the risk of prostate cancer progression; and eating poultry regularly increases the risk of progression by four times.
When it comes to lung cancers, smoking is by far the biggest contributing factor, but diet does play a role. Dietary secondhand smoke from carcinogenic fumes can also lead to the development of lung cancer. Any type of fat heated to frying temperatures, even before the smoke point is reached, releases toxic volatile chemicals into the air. When the muscle of an animal, be it beef, poultry, or fish, is heated, the muscles release heterocyclic amines, and, when meat is grilled, it releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)--a carcinogen that exists in cigarette smoke. Fish is the worst source of PAHs. Bacon, however, and other processed meats could cause the worst fumes. The fumes of bacon contain nitrosamines, another carcinogen. A study showed that the bacon fumes cause four times more DNA mutations than beef patties cooked the same way.
Dr. Denis Burkitt, a well-respected surgeon who treated patients in Uganda for over 24 years, never saw a case of colorectal cancer. In fact, he never saw the common diseases of developed countries, including many of the gastrointestinal disorders like constipation, acid reflux, hiatal hernias, gallstones, appendicitis, diverticulosis, hemorrhoids, varicose veins, etc. Yet in the United States, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death. A couple of contributing factors are intestinal transit time, which can determine how long we are exposed to certain volatile toxic breakdown products, and meat consumption, which breaks down into toxins. Everyone is aware of red meat and processed meats being classified as carcinogens; however, in a study looking at around 30,000 Californians, those eating red meat at least once a week doubled their risk of developing colon cancer, but those eating fish or chicken once or more each week tripled their risk.
Pancreatic, liver, blood and breast cancers have also been linked to cancer-causing viruses found in chickens, pigs, and cows. In the EPIC study (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition), researchers found that regular chicken consumption increased the risk of pancreatic cancer by 72% for every 50 grams (2 ounces) of chicken eaten daily. Consuming poultry also increased the risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, all grades of follicular lymphoma, and B-cell lymphomas. The risk increased between 56-280% for every 50 grams of poultry consumed daily. Exposure to cattle and pigs has also been associated with developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Around 85% of all U.S. dairy herds are infected with bovine leukemia virus, and a study found that 75% of the human population was also infected, proving that the virus can cross species. Another study done in 2014, reported in the journal for the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, found that bovine leukemia virus DNA was in normal and cancerous human breast tissue.
So, in terms of reducing our risk of exposure to chemical carcinogens and cancer-causing viruses, it would be wise to reduce or eliminate all animal products from one’s diet. Handling and consuming poultry, beef, pork and dairy, exposes one to cancer-causing viruses. Cooking the muscle of any animal releases chemical carcinogens into the air, fish and processed meats like bacon being the worst. Consuming red meat, white meat, and eggs, exposes one to toxic breakdown products, like TMAO, which cause inflammation and cell damage throughout the body; and all increase the risk of developing any type of cancer. Dairy and meat expose one to sex and growth hormones, which encourage cancer cell growth. All animal products contain cholesterol and saturated fat, both of which feed cancer cells and promote the progression of cancer; and animal protein itself has been shown to turn on cancer cell growth. Apart from that, 95% of our exposure to chemical pollutants comes from the consumption of animal fat. Chemical pollutants bioaccumulate in the fat stores of animals. Our most intimate contact with our environment is our food, and that is where prevention is absolute key.
As I mentioned at the beginning, though, exposure to a carcinogen or genetic predisposition do not cause cancer cells to grow and spread; and there is a diet that is most effective in the prevention and treatment of cancers. That is a whole food, plant-based diet containing whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. There are no added vegetable oils, processed foods, or animal products. If someone already has cancer, it is a good idea to try to shop organic, as their system is already so damaged.
Why is this diet so effective? It is the right fuel for our bodies. A whole food, plant-based diet provides complete nutrition (with the exception of vitamin B12, created by bacteria in the soil, and vitamin D, which we produce when our skin is exposed to sunlight), and avoids dietary toxins. The top three dietary toxins are: Cholesterol, Saturated Fat, and Animal Protein. It also provides lots of fiber, for binding to toxins and helping to flush them out of the digestive tract safely. Fiber also feeds a healthy microbiome, which is key for a healthy immune system, and for a healthy mindset. It is a diet full of antioxidants, which help to deal with free radicals, and other phytochemicals that are protective. It upregulates protective genes, and downregulates disease-promoting genes. Dr. Dean Ornish, MD, was able to show that within 3 months of eating this type of diet, over 500 genes changed expression in a positive way.
Many people believe that it’s too costly to eat a whole food, plant-based diet, however this is far from true. The basic guidelines are as follows: 70-90% of your diet will come from starches (whole grains, legumes, winter squashes, and root vegetables), 10-20% will come from non-starchy green, yellow, red and orange vegetables, and 5-10% from fruits. In addition, you can have small amounts of nuts, seeds, avocadoes, juices and smoothies, dried fruits, and soy foods like edamame, tempeh, and tofu; and salt, sugar and spice. The foods you avoid are all animal products (meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, dairy), vegetable oils of all kinds, and processed foods.
Starches are incredibly affordable, satisfying, energizing, and the best prebiotics for your microbiome. Include plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, which are nature’s best source of antioxidants. There are a few special foods that give an extra boost, such as turmeric, berries, mushrooms, cruciferous vegetables, legumes, etc. These foods can be especially effective for cancer treatment. However, food works in an amazing way. If you eat, say, broccoli, for it’s benefits, and some red grapes, you don’t just double the benefits, you exponentially increase the benefits as these foods work synergistically in the body.
Our bodies are incredibly intelligent, and that includes our microbiome, which makes up around 99% of our DNA, and around 90% of the cells in our body. When people consume meat, dairy, vegetable oils and processed foods, they create a toxic, unfriendly microbiome. When people consume a whole food, plant-based diet, they create a very diverse, beneficial microbiome. This is important for our overall health and for a strong immune system.
When it comes to chronic diseases, including cancers, the source of the damage is the same: it’s the food. What fails first depends on the person. For one person, the damage will result in heart disease first; for another, Type 2 Diabetes; and for another, cancer. That is where genetic predisposition comes into play. However, if the diet is changed, and the body is allowed to heal, in many cases, these chronic diseases go away. There are many doctors who have been practicing for over 40 years using plant-based nutrition, and they have helped their patients to reverse heart disease, diabetes, obesity, autoimmune diseases, and cancers.
This month, in awareness of cancer, I would encourage everyone to consider what they put into their mouth every day, three times a day, and think about the impact it will have on your body. It is within everyone’s power to choose what to eat. No one need to develop a preventable disease, especially cancer. Thank you.
How Not to Die by Dr Michael Greger, MD
The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
Dr. McDougall’s Medicine: A Challenging Second Opinion by Dr. John McDougall
The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall and Mary McDougall