Cancer Treatment and Your Diet
If there’s one thing that angers me, it’s the manner in which health professionals go about feeding their patients when they are battling illness, whether in the hospital or at home. Specifically, cancer patients are exceptionally vulnerable when they undergo chemotherapy and other forms of treatment, and nutrition is vital in order to keep cancer from recurring.
I had a very close friend and neighbor pass away from breast cancer in 2015 and I remember the years that she was undergoing treatment, with my visits sometimes including a meal for her and maybe the occasional bourbon. Her oncologist was a well-known and well-respected colleague that I considered a friend. When she told me that her instructions were to “eat anything I wanted, just keep keep my weight up,” my heart dropped. And a quick glance in her fridge confirmed my fears: soda, ice cream, hamburger meat and the dreaded Ensure. I know she’s not the exception.
Modern cancer treatment negligently ignores how food contributes to cancer progression and fails to recognize the role a strong immune system plays in recovery and achieving favorable outcome.
So why are certain foods so bad for you when you’re fighting cancer? The scientific explanations would turn this into more of a novel but there are two key points here. First is the effect of processed sugar and the second is the consequences of eating meat.
The story with meat consumption and cancer tells an important role of a protein called IGF-1, or insulin-like growth factor-1. IGF-1 is important in promoting growth both in the womb and in early childhood. Produced by the liver, it is key in bone and muscle development and sexual maturation. So although IGF-1 is critical for growth and development during childhood, if those levels remain high in adulthood, it speeds up the aging process, reduces immune function and promotes cancer. IGF-1 doesn’t just help transform normal cells into cancer cells but it helps tumors to survive, grow, spread and invade healthy tissue. Chemotherapy drugs have been developed to target the IGF-1 pathway and in fact, decreasing dietary IGF-1 levels is recognized as one of the most important ways to prevent cancer.
So what raises IGF-1 levels? It’s animal products – all animal-derived foods including milk, cheese, eggs and meat. For those fighting cancer, consuming meat and dairy actively promotes the growth of your tumor.
Then there is processed sugar. The effects that sugar has on the body is toxic and a little frightening. When you have cancer, the stakes are even higher. Processed sugar is so bad because when your body attempts to metabolize it, large amounts of free radicals are produced. Free radicals damage cells and DNA, and decrease immune function. Immune function is king when fighting cancer because infection is the most common reason that people on chemotherapy are hospitalized or pass away. A strong immune system is also the body’s primary defense against cancer and it is the cells of the immune system that find the tumor and (like Pac-Man) gobbles it up.
Sugar is also especially dangerous for those with cancer because when you eat a big dose of sugar, your body must release a big surge of insulin to clear it from your bloodstream. But insulin doesn’t only lower blood sugar levels, it’s a growth hormone and growth hormones predictably cause cancers to grow.
Plain and simple, you shouldn’t be eating things that actively make your cancer grow. If doctors prescribed cigarettes for lung cancer, there would be outrage. The same applies to dangerous nutritional advice.