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Beating Cancer With Nutrition

"I'm sorry, but you have cancer." These words from a doctor introduce fear into the heart of any patient.

The good news is that supportive nutrition therapy can significantly increase cancer patients' quality and length of life and improve their chances for a complete remission. Better yet, a healthy lifestyle that includes a wholesome diet, sufficient exercise, positive attitude and toxin avoidance can prevent up to 90 percent of cancers.

Now for the bad news. Conventional medicine does not have a high success rate with the disease. By the turn of this century, cancer will become the leading cause of death in America. During the past 26 years, NCI spent $37 billion in research with a resulting increase in cancer incidence and deaths. Clearly, medicine cannot produce a "magic bullet" to cure cancer while patients go on living on soft drinks, pollutants and stress.

On December 23, 1971, President Richard M. Nixon confidently declared a "war on cancer" and promised a cure by the 1976 Bicentennial. However, as late as 1991, a group of 60 noted physicians and scientists called a press conference and made the following statement: "The cancer establishment confuses the public with repeated claims that we are winning the war on cancer. ... Our ability to treat and cure most cancers has not materially improved." [ 1 ] In this article, I will briefly explore the reasons for failure in combating cancer and give rational directions to improve outcomes for the 2.5 million cancer patients being treated in America today.

Developing A Strategy

In early research, the techniques of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy looked like the best approaches to cancer. The goal was to cut away, burn and poison the abnormal cells. While such therapies can temporarily reduce tumor burden, they do not cure cancer. Only by changing the underlying cause of the disease can a cancer patient expect to return to health.

Doctors now know that eliminating cancer begins with changing the conditions that support tumor growth, not just applying cytotoxic therapies to kill cancer cells. Here's an analogy: Fungus grows on the bark of a tree due to the favorable conditions of heat, moisture and darkness. You can cut, burn and poison a fungus all you want, but as long as favorable conditions persist, it will flourish. Similarly, cancer develops in a human when conditions are right. Documented factors that favor tumor formation include toxic burden, immune suppression, malnutrition, mental depression and elevated blood glucose. More speculative causative factors include reduced pH, dysbiosis (abnormal bacteria in the gut), hypothyroidism, insufficient gland and organ output (i.e., insufficient DHEA, enzymes and hydrochloric acid) and parasites. Unless we correct these cancer inducers, cytotoxic therapies are doomed to failure.

The best way to correct the problem is through therapeutic use of nutrients. But, as a word of caution, while nutrition should be an integral component of every cancer patient's treatment program, nutrition therapy alone is probably insufficient for most advanced cancers. The reasons for using therapeutic nutrition in cancer treatment are numerous and include the following:

* Malnutrition: Undernourishing your body can have devastating, even fatal consequences. In fact, more than 40 percent of cancer patients die from malnutrition, not the cancer itself. [ 2 ] Cancer induces a metabolic abnormality akin to getting your car stuck on ice--the wheels spin and the engine guzzles gas, but you don't go anywhere. Yet, cancer patients often eat less food than they did before their illness began. One reason is that tumors induce a hypermetabolic state and secrete a substance called cachectin that suppresses appetite. Chemo and radiation therapy can also cause anorexia and alone are sufficient biological stressors to induce malnutrition. [ 3 ] Because cancer patients need more calories than healthy people, they eventually waste away, a condition called cachexia. Weight loss increases the mortality rate for most types of cancer, while also lowering the positive response to chemotherapy. [ 4 ]

In addition to proper eating, nutrient-dense "shakes," canned nutritional formulas, protein powders, hydrazine sulfate, enzymes, DNA loading and other therapies can reverse the weight loss that consumes far too many cancer patients. If cancer patients lose 10 percent or more of their body weight after cancer diagnosis, all other nutrition strategies are irrelevant until this problem is addressed. A word of caution: Do not fill up a fragile stomach with vitamin pills when nutrient-dense foods are more important.

* Optimum nutrition: Eating dense concentrates of nutrients can enhance the effectiveness of medical therapy. Some people worry that antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and beta-carotene might neutralize the tumor-killing ability of chemo and radiation, which are pro-oxidant therapies. This doesn't happen. In both human and animal studies, antioxidants enhance the tumor kill of chemotherapy and radiation while protecting the host tissue from harm. [ 5 ]

In fact, antioxidants greatly benefit chemo and radiation therapies. While both treatments can reduce tumor burden, they can also harm normal tissues such as the heart, kidneys, intestinal lining and bone marrow (the cradle of the immune system). Fortunately, vitamins can often help spare normal tissues. For instance, animal studies show that vitamin E protects the heart against the damaging effects of adriamycin chemotherapy while allowing the drug to continue its cancer-fighting effects. [ 6 ] Vitamin E also has a unique and unexplained anti-cancer activity. [ 7 ] In mice with induced liver cancer, vitamins C and K augmented the tumor kill while reducing organ damage from six different chemotherapeutic drugs. [ 8 ] Vitamin A (isotretinoin) enhanced the tumor-killing capacity of the chemotherapy drugs vincristine and daunorubicin in 24 patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. [ 9 ] In animal studies, injections of vitamin C prior to radiation therapy provided host protection without affecting tumor kill, suggesting that vitamin C given prior to radiation therapy can help patients tolerate the treatment. [ 10 ]

Preliminary human studies also show promise for vitamin therapy. Finnish oncologists used high doses of nutrients (to replenish deficiencies identified by blood tests) along with chemotherapy and radiation for lung cancer patients. Normally, lung cancer carries a poor prognosis, with a paltry 1 percent expected survival after 30 months of routine medical treatment. In this study, however, eight of 18 patients (44 percent) who were given nutritional supplements were still alive 72 months after chemo and radiation therapy. The oncologists concluded that patients who started antioxidant therapy earliest were most likely to live longer or experience remission [ 11 ].

* Bolstered immune functions: The immune system is a complex collection of 20 trillion diversified cells that patrol the body looking for invaders such as bacteria, virus and tumor cells. When doctors say, "We think we got it all," they mean, "There are less than a billion cancer cells in your body that are undetectable with current diagnostic equipment. Now we must rely on your intact immune system to find and destroy the remaining cancer cells." Fortunately, an abundance of data links nutrient intake to the quality and quantity of immune factors that fight cancer. [ 12 ]

* Selectively starving tumors: Whereas essential nutrients support the patient's healthy tissues, junk foods can nourish the cancer. For instance, sugar intake feeds the cancer and suppresses a patient's immune system. Tumors are primarily what are called "obligate glucose metabolizers," meaning they must feed on sugar. [ 13 ] Americans consume about 20 percent of their calories from refined sugar, but don't tolerate it well due to stress, obesity, sedentary lifestyles and low chromium and fiber intake. An epidemiological study of cancer victims in 21 countries suggests that high-sugar intake is a major risk factor for breast cancer. [ 14 ] When animals were fed diets equal in calories from carbohydrates, the group eating more simple sugars developed significantly more mammary tumors than the group fed complex carbohydrates (starches). [ 15 ]

Cancer patients can blunt the rise in blood glucose by eating foods with a low glycemic index (meaning the sugars are more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream). From best to worst, glycemic indices are meats, nuts, seeds, oils, vegetables, legumes, fructose, whole grains, refined starches (i.e., white flour), fruit and refined sugar. It is best for cancer patients to avoid white sugar and sweet foods in general and never to eat anything sweet by itself. For instance, a patient may only eat a small piece of fresh fruit after a mixed meal of protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber and fat.

Nutrients Slow Cancer

In early nutrition research, nutrient functions were linked to classical nutrient deficiency syndromes--vitamin C and scurvy, vitamin D and rickets, niacin and pellagra. Now nutrition researchers are finding various levels of functions for nutrients. For example, while 10 IU of vitamin E is considered the RDA, 800 IU was shown to improve immune functions in healthy older adults. [ 16 ] While 10 mg of vitamin C will prevent scurvy in most adults and the RDA is 60 mg, 300 mg was shown to extend life span in males by an average of six years. [ 17 ]

RDAs apply to healthy people and don't cover special nutrition needs that arise from metabolic disorders, chronic diseases, injuries, premature birth or drug therapies. [ 18 ] Most cancer patients probably need far more than the RDA of a variety of nutrients to aid recovery. Many nutritional factors both directly and indirectly help fight tumor cells. Mechanisms include preventing carcinogen formation, increasing detoxification, inhibiting abnormal cell replication controlling expression of malignancy, blocking precancerous cell divisions, and enhancing cell-to-cell communication. [ 19 ]

Oncologists at West Virginia Medical School in Morgantown randomized 65 patients with transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder into two groups. Group one received a one-a-day vitamin supplement providing the RDA, plus placebo pills. Group two received the RDA supplement plus 40,000 IU of vitamin A, 100 mg of vitamin B6, 2,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E and 90 mg of zinc. At 10 months, tumor recurrence was 80 percent in the control group (RDA supplement) and 40 percent in the megavitamin group. Five-year projected tumor recurrence was 91 percent for controls and 41 percent for the megavitamin group. Essentially, high-dose nutrients cut tumor recurrence in half. [ 20 ]

In a non-randomized clinical trial at the Hoffer Clinic in Victoria, British Columbia, Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., and Linus Pauling, Ph.D., instructed cancer patients to follow a diet of unprocessed food low in fat, dairy and sugar coupled with therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals. All 129 patients received oncology care. The control group of 31 patients who did not receive nutrition support lived an average of less than six months. The 98 cancer patients who did receive the diet and supplement program were categorized into three groups: poor responders (19 patients or 20 percent) who lived an average of 10 months--a 75 percent improvement over the control group; good responders (47 patients or 48 percent), who had various cancers including leukemia, lung, liver and pancreas and who lived an average of six years; best responders (32 women or 33 percent) who had reproductive organ cancers (breast, cervix, ovary, uterus) and lived more than 10 years. In other words, nutrition support increased average life span by 12 to 21 fold for 80 percent of these patients [ 21 ].

Retrospective analyses show that therapeutic nutrition helps cancer patients. Of the 200 cancer patients studied who experienced "spontaneous regression," 87 percent made a major change in diet (eating more vegetables and less meat), 55 percent used some form of detoxification (herbs, enemas, chelation therapy or other methods) and 65 percent used nutritional supplements. [ 22 ] Of 1,467 patients with pancreatic cancer who made no dietary changes, 146 (10 percent) were alive after one year, while 12 of the 23 matched pancreatic cancer patients (52 percent) consuming macrobiotic foods (primarily brown rice and vegetables with small amounts of fish and poultry) were still alive after one year. [ 23 ]

Parting Comments

The real reason for our losing battle with cancer lies in erroneous thinking. We are physical and metaphysical beings who must become part of the cure, just as surely as we are a part of the disease. We must embrace rational cancer therapies proven both effective and minimally damaging to normal tissues and we should encourage synergism between restorative therapies like n