Monday, December 31, 2012

What Can You Eat If You Have Cancer?

The other day, I saw a patient who had been diagnosed, a number of years ago, with metastatic breast cancer (it had already spread to the lymph nodes in her arm).  She was advised to undergo chemotherapy, but decided instead to undergo a rigorous process of fruit and vegetable juicing. Here she was now years later standing in front of me with no apparent evidence of cancer.  What is the take away from this story? For me, there is none. Anecdotal stories of cures from cancer by food alone offer no compelling scientific evidence. Perhaps the surgeon had effectively removed all the cancer and that is why the patient had no recurrence?  Perhaps she had a very slow growing tumor that continues to spread but goes undetected?  Maybe the fruits and vegetables actually did make a difference? Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that eating healthy foods helps ward off diseases, but the question remains: can you depend on them for a cure?

The problem is that cancer is a confounding disease and can act dissimilar from one person to another even when it is of a similar histology (micro-anatomy) such as squamous, adeno, or sarcoid types of cells. Also, our bodies immune responses to cancer is also different because of our diverse genetic make-ups. That's why we sometime hear of someone being diagnosed with cancer and then passing away a few short months later, while others with similar cancers enjoy many more years of life. It is also true that certain cancers, such as pancreatic cancer, are often discovered very late in their course and often portend very poor short-term outcomes.  Ultimately, the staging (how extensive it is and if it has spread beyond its primary location) of a cancer really does make a difference. The sooner you find cancer, the more effective interventions usually prove to be.

Yesterday, I spent time reviewing various websites that proffer advice on how to eat properly when one has cancer.  What I found was frightening and I am sure very confusing for someone searching for the right answers. The government based sites recommended eating meat and milk products to maintain strength while virtually every other site discouraged consumption of such food materials because of their links to causing and propagating cancer.  The government sites seem to offer their information on the basis of what the government considers healthy eating.

There can be little doubt of the sway of the Dairy and Cattle Associations on the government's recommendations. This is well established.  Nevertheless, a person with cancer is left guessing which set of directions to follow. Unfortunately, I profess some uncertainty in answering this very question. However, I will try.

Based on everything I have read to date, meat and dairy products seem more problematic than helpful when dealing with cancer.  Fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, and wild Salmon seem more helpful than problematic.  Sugar, other than the natural fructose found in in fruits (don't confuse with high fructose corn syrup, which is horrible), seems universally bad.

Given the choice between conventional therapies and home grown remedies, I would choose both.  My relative battling cancer has made that very choice. He is being bombarded every day with a heavy dose of juicing which includes pomegranates, papaya, berries, apple, citrus fruits, collard greens, turmeric, cinnamon, etc., while also taking prescribed medicine. He is getting the best of both worlds.

As a side note, the person who prepares his food got carried away one day and tried to sneak some very healthy sardines into his smoothie. Suffice it to say, it did not go well. There are limits to what kind of foods can be combined together at one time and still be palatable.  Cancer patients with taste buds need to at best enjoy their food like everyone else, and at worse, not detest it.  There are ample good recipes for combining healthy ingredients; while some experimentation is encouraged, it is advised to not get carried away such as by throwing blueberries and sardines together.

For example, while recently traveling, I got to enjoy a smoothie of my own. There was an airport kiosk offering a smoothie they called "Habit." It contained fresh squeezed orange juice, whole banana, fresh pineapple, raw kale and spinach, and nothing else other than ice. There was no sugar of any type added and I must tell you it was delicious. I understand why they call it "Habit" because I could get use to drinking one of those smoothies every day.

By the way, on another note, this morning I received an email from Harvard Medical School titled "The Top Health Headlines of 2012." The fifth headline was "Do vitamins and other supplements live up to their promise?"

I read the accompanying article and here is a quote from it worth noting:

"Despite their popularity, there is no evidence that multivitamins enhance health or prevent illness. In fact, both the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and a National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference concluded that multivitamins do not offer protection against heart disease or cancer."

Now the truth be told, I don't agree with everything I read from Harvard Medical School because sometimes the information provided is outdated or simply wrong. Therefore the information provided is merely offered as another view about the ubiquitous multivitamins and dietary supplements.  As always, consult with your physician before initiating taking any pills.

In summation, although no one can tell you definitively what foods can stop cancer once it develops, it seems prudent, if you or someone you know find him or herself in that situation, to eat like we ate thousands of years ago when meat and dairy were in short supply, and we lived off the land and ate fresh oily fish.

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