Thursday, September 27, 2007

Low Carb & Cancer

A long time ago in a galaxy far far was 1931 and right on this planet, but anyway...a man by the name of Otto Warburg was awarded a Nobel Prize for discovering that, basically, cancer cells like sugar. REALLY like it! They use 4 to 5 times more glucose than normal cells. Like a 2 year-old on Halloween, cancer cells happily munch away on sweets while growing rapidly and leaving a path of mayhem and destruction in their wake.

So here we are in 2007, SEVENTY-SIX YEARS LATER, and what kind of diet is being recommended to cancer patients? According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, they should be eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, whole grain breads and cereals, lean cuts of meat, along with low-fat dairy products. In essence they are telling you to ingest foods that have a very high glucose content while asking you to eliminate foods that can provide you with essential fatty acids??? But wait, it gets even more entertaining! The American Cancer Society posts a recommended shopping list on their website that encourages you to avoid fat, yet includes rice, pasta, couscous, orzo, cornmeal, whole wheat crackers, bread sticks, bread crumbs, raisins, fruit juice, corn tortillas, dinner rolls, English muffins, and bagels - ALL of which turn to glucose once they are digested and hit the liver. So, despite the knowledge from SEVENTY-SIX FREAKING YEARS AGO that cancer cells thrive on glucose, patients are told to eat glucose in the form of grains, glucose in the form of fruits, and glucose in the form of vegetables. Sugar, sugar, sugar, and sugar, with a side order of sugar. If I were a cancer cell, these recommendations would make me throw a party!

So now I am confused. Has anyone had the thought that....well....uhhhh...maybe since cancer likes sugar so much, HOW ABOUT NOT EATING SUGAR IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?!? Anyone out there have a doctor tell them that cancer cells thrive in a high glucose environment and that there is a relatively easy way to change that environment right in your own body called low carb? Anyone ever hear of an oncologist handing a patient a copy of The Atkin's Diet, Protein Power, or Natural Health and Weight Loss? Anybody? They are more likely to hear that since they will be ill from their chemo treatment, they should just eat whatever they can, which ignores the fact that what they are eating may very well have helped make them sick in the first place.

Instead of a recommendation to avoid sugar IN ANY FORM, the "eat lots of fruits and veggies, eat whole grains and avoid fat" mantra is repeated throughout the cancer community, health organizations, and government institutions. Of course, you should recognize this as the same message given to the obese and type 2 diabetics as well as the general public. It is a message that has been pounded in to the heads of every school-aged child and is repeated on public service radio and television messages. But guess what? It's wrong when it comes to weight loss, it's wrong when it comes to preventing obesity, and I am guessing it is equally wrong when it comes to cancer. According to some recent headlines, my guessing may be right on....

"Eating fruits and vegetables was not strongly associated with decreased colon cancer risk, according to a study published online in the September 25 Journal of the National Cancer Institute." - Science Daily

"Following an eating pattern lower in total fat did not significantly reduce the incidence of breast cancer, heart disease, or stroke, and did not reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in healthy post-menopausal women, according to the latest clinical trial results from the National Institutes of Health’s Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). " NIH News

"A recent study questions whether the longstanding recommendation to eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables to reduce cancer risk may be overstated. In a report published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2004;96:1577–1584), Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily had an impact on cardiovascular disease risk but not overall cancer incidence. " American Cancer Society

Knowing SEVENTY-SIX YEARS AGO (yeah, I'm kind of stuck on that and it's still blowing my mind) that GLUCOSE has a big role in cancer growth, where are the studies on a low carbohydrate diet and its effect on cancer? Doesn't it seem logical that this should be an area of intensive study? I would think this would be the FIRST thing they looked in to after good ole' Otto pointed out the whole glucose thing. EDIT: I just found a link that lists 2 studies. Ironically, it shows up in the same search with a warning from the American Cancer Society about the dangers of low carb written in 2004. Despite the Cancer Societies misguided "warning", one study showed low carb reduced tumor growth, and the other showed eating fats kept tumors from stealing all the nutrients and prevented wasting.

So, despite my initial tirade, there are actually a few people out there with a clue including Boston College's Thomas Seyfried. He was featured in a recent TIME article which stated, "Seyfried has long called for clinical trials of low-carb, high-fat diets against cancer, and has been trying to push research in the field with animal studies: His results suggest that mice survive cancers, including brain cancer, much longer when put on high-fat diets, even longer when the diets are also calorie-restricted. "Clinical studies are highly warranted," he says, attributing the lack of human studies to the medical establishment, which he feels is single-minded in its approach to treatment, and opposition from the pharmaceutical industry, which doesn't stand to profit much from a dietetic treatment for cancer.",8599,1662484,00.html Looks like Thomas Seyfried is noticing the same things I am.

So there are pages and pages of cancer related sites recommending that you eat lots of grains, fruits and vegetables, which appears not to help at all, and very few pages of information about eating low carb to shrink tumor cells which appears to work. I am married to a big time news junkie, and I have seen none of this information in my local paper on cable or tv news. I am pretty sure the information that SUGAR FEEDS CANCER would have stuck in my mind. Even if the medical community and the news community was a bit slow on the uptake and missed that little nugget (we all have off days...or decades apparently), wouldn't THIS have given them a clue?

"Obesity has recently been linked to mortality from the majority of cancers. The insulin/insulin-like growth factor (IGF) system may partly explain this effect. The metabolic syndrome, associated with hyperinsulinemia, may modulate this effect. Recent evidence supports the role of insulin and IGF-1 as important growth factors, acting through the tyrosine kinase growth factor cascade in enhancing tumor cell proliferation."

That's right people. INSULIN appears to promote tumor growth. And what causes high levels of insulin? You got it! GLUCOSE! A low carb diet works by controlling insulin. You control insulin by not ingesting the glucose that causes insulin to be released, which promotes fat storage. Low carbers are successfully short-circuiting the glucose-insulin-fat cycle for weight loss, so it is logical to me that this would also work to short-circuit cancer growth. Since the same hormone that makes us fat also appears to makes cancer cells grow, why, with other than a few rare exceptions, isn't low carb at the very top of the study list? I guess there just isn't much money in people staying away from carbs (aka glucose). There is no big payout for drug companies in a prescription for low carb vegetables, low carb berries, good fats, full-fat dairy and meat. You just can't put the low carb lifestyle in a pill and sell it $79.95 a piece.

By no means am I implying a low carb way of eating is some kind of miracle cure for cancer. I don't want to give families struggling with this horrible disease false hope. Different cancers grow different ways and are effected by more than just amount of glucose available in your blood stream. But it is my personal belief based on the information I cited that low carb eating CAN be a valuable tool and, in a majority of cases, will do absolutely no harm. So why not add this way of eating to your cancer fighting arsenal? Lets not wait another 76 years to get started.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on tv. If you see anything wrong with this article, please let me know. Constructive criticism is always welcomed. If you just don't like my tone or think I am rude, well bite me!


Additional information about glucose and cancer. (My commentary in italics.)
"Cancer cells require large amounts of glucose for energy production and growth. This increased consumption of glucose has two causes: the process of a normal cell becoming a rapidly dividing cancer cell; and the exposure of a cell to the low oxygen, or hypoxic, conditions within those regions of most solid tumors where cells are dividing slowly."

This place is working on a drug to limit the uptake of glucose. Of course you could just not INGEST it....LOL...but they do explain well how cancer uses glucose.

"Scientists have known for decades that cancer cells consume more glucose than normal cells. A longstanding assumption that the excess glucose metabolism was needed to make energy has not been borne out by research studies. This lack of understanding of why cancer cells need increased glucose metabolism has hampered the exploitation of this difference for cancer therapy." about a low carb diet for a good therapy?

"Researchers have discovered that cancer cells self-destruct when they are deprived of glucose, a finding that could lead to new drugs to fight the disease...."When we bathed cells with high c-Myc levels in a cell medium with no glucose, they destroyed themselves by triggering a cell suicide process called apoptosis,"

Self-destruction of cancer cells is an awesome thing. But do you really need a NEW DRUG for that? Just starve the bastards so they blow up!


Here is a quote from Dr. Barry Groves' book Eat Fat Get Thin. This is out of print, but he has an updated book called Natural Health and Weight Loss available on ...

"Cancers are Sugar Junkies.

Seventy years ago Otto Warburg, PhD won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering that cancer cells require glucose (blood sugar) for growth. Most cells have a requirement for glucose, but cancer cells consume as much as four or five times more than normal cells. In fact, cancer cells seem to have great difficulty surviving at all without glucose. A study carried out by Johns Hopkins researchers found that some cancer cells will self-destruct when deprived of glucose.

‘The change when we took away glucose was dramatic,’ said Dr ChiVan Dang, director of haematology. ‘By the next day we knew very quickly that the cells we had altered to resemble cancers were dying off in large numbers.’ He continued: ‘Scientists have long suspected that the cancer cells’ heavy reliance on glucose (sugar) – its main source of strength and vitality – could also be one of its great weaknesses.’

And if cancers cannot survive without glucose, then it follows that a low-carb diet is likely to prevent a cancer starting in the first place. And just that piece of knowledge could stop all the heartbreak, pain and misery that cancer causes – not to mention the huge cost to the National Health Service. I say low-carb, not low-sugar, because all carbs become the blood sugar, glucose."

Dr. Barry's


Sherrie said...

Great post!!! :)

Wifezilla said...

Thanks for the feedback. I did have to update a bit. There were a couple of studies out there but they were hard to find. They appear to back up my claim that the medical community is not really interested in low carb because there just isn't enough money in it for them.

Anonymous said...

Great Post!! I'm going to have to check out the rest of your site, once I've read all of the blogs and forums on Gary Taubes book.

My wife has a lump in her breast and is talking to several naturalpaths before allowing the regular doctors from removing it. As I have the same LC evangalistic flaw as was described Low Carb forum, I need to be very careful about how I approach this with her. But I'm hoping your humorous blog will help. BTW, are you related to Lewis Black, the comedian?

Wifezilla said...

While not related to Lewis Black, I am flattered by the comparison. I am actually a big fan of his despite the fact we tend to hang on opposite sides of the political fence :D

If I was in your wife's situation, I would let the regular doctors operate and stick to low carb eating after that...forever. As much as I believe eating low carb can help shrink tumors, I would not ignore the benefits of traditional medicine.

Low carb may function more as a good preventative, or assistant to treatment. I would not bet the farm on it taking care of EVERYTHING since it has already progressed to this point.

In the battle against cancer, the more weapons, the better.