Starving Cancer

What causes cancer? What is it? Cancer is a disease of lifestyle (especially diet). It might be an awakening to many of us to learn that your genetic make-up has very little impact on whether you will get cancer. Your risk of getting cancer and recovering from cancer is remarkably more in your control than you might realize. 

Some things we all know about cancer:

  1. No one wants to get cancer, it is associated with death!
  2. We can all imagine, rightly so, that having Cancer is painful!
  3. If one knew how to prevent cancer definitively, then one would take action! 


Your Learn Phase

In their seminal work detailed in their book, “Western Diseases, their emergence and prevention”, Dr. Burkitt and Dr. Trowell concluded that cancer, alongside many other diseases of affluence, was the result of diet and lifestyle. For example, in noting the low rates of colorectal cancer in Ugandans, they hypothesized that such as cancer to be a nutrition deficiency disease; that nutrition they believed to be the fibre from whole plant foods. 

Modern day researchers have corroborated much of this early work. 

In comparing the rate of colorectal cancer between the African American population and Africans living in Africa, Dr. Michael Greger ( notes that the risk is 50 times greater for the American despite having the same genetics as the Ugandan. Dr. Greger points out that it is not just the fibre from the whole plant foods, but the combination of all the macro and micro-nutrients (phytonutrients) that benefit the consumer.

Dr. David O. Irabor, recently published in the Nigerian Medical Journal in 2017, “Emergence of Colorectal cancer in West Africa: Accepting the Inevitable”, states that the incidence rate is 4.04 per 100,000 population has risen sharply from a “rare” disease to one of significance. Note that the current incidence rate in the USA is 39.4 per 100,000 (according to the National Cancer Institute).

It was less than 20 years ago in 1999 that researchers, O’Keefe, Kidd, Espitalier, Owira, published “Rarity of colon cancer in Africans is associated with low animal product consumption not fibre” in the American Journal of Gastroenterology. They highlighted the rarity of the disease in “Black Africans” (less than 1 in 100,000) but pinned the causality on very low consumption of animal fat and protein compared to White South Africans.

As Dr. Irabor says it seems inevitable that the typical African will adopt the Western diet, he calls this the “Concept of Nutrition Transition”. His lament is characterized in the following paragraph about this: “Most of the broad adverse changes in dietary patterns during the nutrition transition include decreases in staple foods rich in starch and dietary fiber, increases in foods from animal origin rich in total fat and saturated fatty acids, decreases in plant protein sources such as legumes, and increases in energy-dense snack foods, carbonated sweetened beverages, commercially available alcoholic beverages, as well as added sugar, fats, and oils in preparation of food”

Similar research into cancer rates between Japanese in Japan and Japanese Americans is just as revealing. As early as 1977, Dr. Dunn, published “Breast cancer among American Japanese in the San Francisco Bay Area” to demonstrate that American Japanese had incidents rates closer to the typical American than that of the near-zero rates of women in Japan.

Following on from this, Dr. Tominaga et al, published in 2001, “Regular consumption of green tea and the risk of breast cancer recurrence: follow up study from the Hospital-based epidemiological research program at Aichi cancer centre (HERPACC), Japan”, which found “a decrease Hazard Rate for recurrence adjusted for stage was observed with consumption of three or more daily cups of green tea”. 

The practice of drinking green tea is very common in Asia and is embedded in many social settings by their culture and lifestyle (e.g. in business meetings and every meal). This practice is rare in the USA. 

As highlighted above, there is considerable evidence through observation that cancer incidence and impact can be affected by diet and lifestyle. So, scientists are continuously researching the biological pathways that support these observations. Cancer is a complex disease and has many pathways inside the body. We now know that cancer has 3 development stages: 1. Initiation, 2. Promotion/growth and 3. Spread or Metastasis. The initiation stage is when a normal cell mutates into one that has an unlimited capacity to grow and multiply. This initiation can occur for many reasons, one of which is one’s genetics.

A cancer cell multiplies by splitting into 2 cancer cells, which in turn also split to form 4 cells, which turn split forming 8 cells … and so on. But the time duration for cancer cells to split and multiply can be hours, days, months or even years. It is this stage that diet and lifestyle play the greatest role in either promoting (accelerating) growth or retarding (preventing) growth of cancer cells.

Another important researcher in this field is Dr. Thomas Colin Campbell, who first identified that cancer growth could be turned on or off through diet/nutrition. He detailed in his book, “The China Study”, his own research journey that included one of the world’s largest human studies on diet/nutrition in China.  In the lab, Dr. Campbell identified and later validated related biological pathways within which animal proteins can promote the growth of a known cancer agent (aflatoxin) in rats. In the absence of the animal protein, cancer does not arise from aflatoxin. He came to know that cancer growth could be either turned on or off through diet. From the human subjects in the China study, he verified his research and concluded that diet has a major role in the acceleration/development of many forms of cancer. He is one of the first researchers to arrive at the concept of “starving” cancer, namely preventing the amplification of cancer promotion/growth through a healthy diet.

Another strategy for starving cancer relates to the process of angiogenesis. Cancer cells need blood vessels to supply them with the chemicals to grow. Angiogenesis is the name of that process that creates those supply lines. There is very promising research that promotes anti-angiogenesis as an effective cancer prevention approach, these include recommended consumption of such foods like green tea and berries. In particular, there is research that the herb, Marsdenia, Tenacissima, used in traditional Chinese medicine as an anticancer supplement, has been shown to possess anti-angiogenic properties. 


Take Action

The key takeaway from studying cancer research is that you are NOT powerless against cancer. In fact, the opposite is more likely true, you already possess all the tools to prevent cancer, your diet and your self-awareness! No one wants to get cancer, and as you now know, you can literally STARVE CANCER!

The simplest place to start on any journey is to do one or a few things that you are likely not doing. It is easiest to add something to your diet that you don’t usually have than to stop eating something already in your diet.  

1. Add one of these to your every meal: beans, lentils, peas or peanuts (legumes)

We cannot say it any better than the American Institute for Cancer Research – Dry Beans and Peas (legumes) are foods that fight cancer.

Here are some statistics on bean consumption across select countries. Uganda consumes 24.08kg per capita. The USA is middle of the pack, consuming only 2.92kg per capita. Recall that Uganda has a very low incidence of colorectal cancer. Beans, in general, are packed with fibre (that improve intestinal travel time), protein (as rich a source of protein as meat without the cancer risk) and phytonutrients (that actively retard and fight cancer cells). Find out more.

Try adding beans to every meal, there are so many varieties and beans come ready made in cans. Soybeans can be consumed through soy milk or tofu. Soybean is one of the most nutritious food substances known to man. Even in its many processed forms, it still has considerable benefits. Add more soy milk to your diet. Consider these statistics on soy milk in Asia, e.g. Singapore at 12 L/day and China at 9.5 L/day, compared to North American, Canada at 3.0 L/day and the USA at 1.5 L/day. Learn more.

Other ways to add legumes is eating miso soup at the start of a meal and/or have a handful of peanuts as a post-meal snack.


2. Berries, berries, berries 

Edible berries are receiving increasing attention due to the great variety of phytochemicals, including but not limited to typical antioxidants, linked to protection against cancer among other chronic diseases. Berry constituents that have been suggested to exert cancer protective effects in cells include phenolic acids (hydroxycinnamic acid, hydroxybenzoic acid), stilbenes (resveratrol, pterostilbene, piceatannol), flavonoids (anthocyanins, flavonols, catechins), lignans, tannins (proanthocyanidins, ellagitannins).

In a pilot study, a standardized bilberry extract (36% anthocyanins wt/wt) was administered daily to 25 colorectal cancer patients for 7 days before scheduled resection of primary tumor or liver metastases. All the three different doses provided—1.4, 2.8, or 5.6 g (0.5–2.0 g anthocyanins)—were safe and well tolerated. Compared to pre-intervention, a significant 7% decrease of the proliferation index was observed in all colorectal tumors from all patients. In the lowest dose to patients, a significant 9% decrease in tumor tissue proliferation was measured, while with the other doses the observed decrease was not significant.

The whole food blueberries in powder form can increase your body’s natural killer cell production as well as reduce arterial stiffness – the titled research says it all: “Six weeks daily ingestion of whole blueberry powder increases natural killer cell counts and reduce arterial stiffness in sedentary males and females” by LS McNulty, SR McNulty et al. 

You can add berries to your diet as part of your breakfast, an after-lunch snack or included in freshly made smoothies – how does a blueberry, banana and soy milk smoothie sound! Delicious!


3. Not just any vegetables eat cruciferous and allium varieties!

We all know that eating vegetables is good for us. But are all vegetables created equal? Recent research indicates that two classes of vegetables are indeed better at starving cancer than their peers. One is the cruciferous family of vegetables, examples are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, turnips and bak choy. The other is allium vegetable, their list comprises garlic, onion, leeks, shallots, chives and scallions.

The vegetables with very high chemopreventive potential are Garlic, Green Onion, Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Kale, Leek and Spinach. Others with high chemopreventive potential are Broccoli, Cauliflower, and red cabbage. 

The researchers did note that vegetables that are commonly consumed in so-called healthy salads, such as potato, tomato, carrots and leaf lettuces all lack inhibitory effects.  

The research title is “Antiproliferation and antioxidant activities of common vegetables: A comparative study”, published in 2008 by Laboratoire de Médecine Moléculaire, Service d’hématologie-oncologie, Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation du Québec, Quebec, Canada.


Take the Test

Look at the colours in your meals, foods rich in cancer-fighting agents such as vegetables, legumes, fruits, berries, etc. are all colourful. One simple way to know you are eating well is to continuously review how many colours are on your plate and how much of your plate is filled with different colours. This is also a good way to improve your self-awareness.

Your self-test is to aim for 5 different distinct colours in your main meals every day. 

“Green pigments are just one sliver of the rainbow though. There are benefits to the yellow ones, orange ones, red ones, and blue ones.” Dr.Gregor.

Label your meat as a treat! Many of us enjoy eating animal-based food, meat! The research on the over-consumption of animal fat and/or animal protein is very noteworthy especially in relation to cancer risk. Be aware of the occasions and frequency that you eat meat!

In fact, treat meat as a treat! see whether you can first limit your meat intake initially to one meal a day; then try to limit your meat to every other day; then try to have only one meal with meat per day only eating meat on the weekend as a treat. 

One way to fill that void is to increase your fibre by eating more legumes – beans, nuts, seeds. They fill you up and satiate much more than other types of food, even more than meat.

Your test is to track the number of meals per week that contain animal fat/protein. The ideal would be for only 2 full-size meals that contain animal fat/protein, such that less than 10% of your total calories are from animal fat/protein in a week. This appeared to be the cutoff point indicated by the China Study data. You can start by removing animal fat/protein from your breakfast meal; then graduate to your lunch and dinner meals.

Every step along the journey is impactful. Cutting out just one meal full of animal-based food on its own has a tremendous healing impact for your body. 

Another self-test and self-awareness practice is to monitor your stool, the journey time of food through your body is a risk indicator. The longer it takes for food to journey through your digestive tract, then the risk of digestive diseases (e.g. colorectal cancer) is greatly increased. Ideally, if you ate something really colourful, e.g. a beetroot salad, your stool should appear pinkish within 24-36 hours. If that’s not the case, then be alert that you need to change your diet. The typical American has an intestinal journey travel time of 4 days which is exactly why the African American has 50 times the risk of colorectal cancer than an African living in Africa.

As always, consult a qualified health professional when you need advice on how to improve your wellness practices.
Good luck to you, knowing full well you are starving any cancer in your body!!

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