Which Dietary Factors Affect Breast Cancer Most?

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One of my favorite cancer-specific charities, the American Institute for Cancer Research, lauds the China Study and the documentary Forks Over Knives, with which they share the same bottom-line message: The healthiest diets are those that revolve around whole plant foods.

They then translate that advice into their Ten Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, featured in my video Which Dietary Factors Affect Breast Cancer Most? We now have evidence that those who follow such advice are actually protected against cancer. Breast cancer risk was reduced by 60% in women who met at least five recommendations compared with those who met none. The most important dietary advice was to be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight, eat mostly foods of plant origin, and limit alcoholic drinks.

What about other cancers? Greater adherence to the AICR dietary guidelines was also associated with significantly less endometrial, colorectal, lung, kidney, stomach, oral, liver, and esophageal cancer. In other words, adherence to dietary recommendations for cancer prevention may lower the risk of developing most types of cancer. The drop in bladder cancer did not reach statistical significance, but a larger follow-up study following 469,000 people for 11 years (the largest to date) found that just a 3% increase in the consumption of animal protein calories was associated with a 15% higher risk of bladder cancer, whereas just a 2% increase in plant protein was associated with a 23% lower risk.

AICR recommendation number ten is that cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. The same diet that can help prevent cancer in the first place can be used to help save our life after diagnosis. Adherence to the guidelines for cancer prevention was found to be associated with lower mortality among older female cancer survivors, or breast cancer and other cancers in general.

A cancer diagnosis is considered a teachable moment to get people eating and living healthier. Oncologists revel at the growth in the number of cancer survivors in this country, now ten million strong and growing. It's great that those with cancer are living longer, but even better to prevent it in the first place so we can all live longer. Not only does adherence to the guidelines lower cancer risk, but extends our lifespan because the guidelines are also significantly associated with a lower hazard of dying from heart disease and respiratory disease, suggesting that following the recommendations could "significantly increase longevity."

Just like eating to prevent cancer helps to prevent heart disease, eating to protect our heart helps prevent cancer. It sounds self-evident, but adherence to a healthy lifestyle is therefore associated with a lower risk of mortality overall. And the more healthy behaviors we have, the longer we get to live. Such factors included not smoking, walking every day, or eating green leafy vegetables almost daily.

To help differentiate the effects of diet from other lifestyle behaviors like smoking and drinking on cancer incidence, Adventists were recently compared to Baptists. Both discourage alcohol and tobacco, but the Adventists go further, encouraging a reduction of meat. In general, the Adventists had lower cancer hazard rates than the Baptists, and within Adventist populations, the vegetarians did even better, and those eating the most plants, did the best.

Why do plant-based diets appear to lower the risk of cancer? A number of fascinating mechanisms:

Specific to breast cancer:

Though plant-based beverages may be harmful: Breast Cancer and Alcohol: How Much Is Safe?

In terms of foods associated with breast cancer survival, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Image Credit: MesserWoland

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How Big Food Twists the Science

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Just like mosquitos are the vectors of spread for malaria, a landmark article published last year in one of the most prestigious medical journals, Lancet, described large food corporations as the vectors of spread for chronic disease. Unlike "infectious disease epidemics, however, these corporate disease vectors implement sophisticated campaigns to undermine public health interventions." Most mosquitoes don't have as good PR firms.

A key message was that "alcohol and ultra-processed food and drink industries use similar strategies as the tobacco industry to undermine effective public health policies and programs." What they mean by ultra-processed is things like burgers, frozen meals, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, potato chips, doughnuts and soda pop.

But how is the food industry like the tobacco industry? The "first strategy is to bias research findings." For example, Philip Morris implemented the Whitecoat project to hire doctors to publish ghost-written studies purporting to negate links between secondhand smoke and harm, publishing biased cherry-picked scientific reports to deny harm and suppress health information. In my video Food Industry-Funded Research Bias, you can see the actual industry memo describing the Whitecoat Project, designed to reverse the scientific "misconception" that secondhand smoke is harmful.

Similarly, funding from these large food corporations biases research. Studies show systematic bias from industry funding, so we get the same kind of tactics--supplying misinformation, use of supposedly conflicting evidence and hiding negative data.

The same scientists-for-hire that downplayed the risks of secondhand smoke are the same hired by the likes of the National Confectioner's Association to say candy cigarettes are A-OK as well. Of course, they declared "no conflict of interest."

The similarities between strategies used by the tobacco, alcohol, and food and drink corporations are unsurprising in view of the flow of people, funds and activities across these industries, which also have histories of joint ownership--like Philip Morris owned both Kraft and Miller Brewing.

So what's their strategy? As a former FDA commissioner described:

"The tobacco industry's strategy was embodied in a script written by the lawyers. Every tobacco company executive in the public eye was told to learn the script backwards and forwards, no deviation was allowed. The basic premise was simple-- smoking had not been proven to cause cancer. Not proven, not proven, not proven--this would be stated insistently and repeatedly. Inject a thin wedge of doubt, create controversy, never deviate from the prepared line. It was a simple plan and it worked."

Internal industry memos make this explicit, stating "doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the mind of the general public." The internal industry memos list objective number one as "to set aside in the minds of millions the false conviction that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer and other diseases; a conviction based on fanatical assumptions, fallacious rumors, unsupported claims and the unscientific statements and conjectures of publicity-seeking opportunists... [We need] to lift the cigarette from the cancer identification as quickly as possible, and to establish--once and for all--that no scientific evidence has ever been produced, presented or submitted to prove conclusively that cigarette smoking causes cancer," similar to what's now coming out from the food industry, from the same folks that brought us smoke and candy.

This is part of a series of "political" blogs which includes my video, Collaboration with the New Vectors of Disease. Why don't I just "stick to the science"? When there are billions of dollars at stake, the body of evidence can be skewed and manipulated. Funders can determine which studies are performed, how they're performed and whether or not they get published at all. That's why I think it's important to take a broader view to account for the ways the scientific method can be perverted for profit.

Here are some examples:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations--2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, 2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

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Virus in Chicken Could Be Linked to Obesity

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Recently, there has been research examining the connection between poultry consumption and weight gain. One study out of the Netherlands examining about 4,000 people, correlated chicken consumption with weight gain. Another study followed 89,000 people in four other countries and found that animal protein intake was associated with long-term weight gain, and poultry was the worst, with 40 percent more weight gain than red meat or processed meat.

What makes poultry so bad? Yes, chickens are fatty these days because of the way we've genetically manipulated them--up to ten times more fat and calories than they used to have--but one bizarre theory postulated that it might be due to an obesity-causing chicken virus. In one study, one in five obese humans tested positive to the chicken virus SMAM-1, with those exposed to the chicken virus averaging 33 pounds heavier than those testing negative.

SMAM-1 was the first chicken virus to be associated with human obesity, but not the last. The original obesity-causing chicken virus SMAM-1 was able to effectively transmit obesity from one chicken to another when caged together, similar to a human adenovirus Ad-36, a human obesity-associated virus first associated with obesity in chickens and mice. Ad-36 spreads quickly from one chicken to another via nasal, oral or fecal excretion and contamination, causing obesity in each chicken. This of course raises serious concerns about Ad-36-induced adiposity in humans.

The easiest way to test this hypothesis is to experimentally infect humans with the virus. However, ethical reasons preclude experimental infection of humans, and so the evidence will have to remain indirect. In the absence of direct experimental data, we must rely on population studies, similar to how researchers nailed smoking and lung cancer. About 15 percent of Americans are already infected with Ad-36, so we can follow them and see what happens. That's exactly what a research team out of Taiwan did (highlighted in my video Infectobesity: Adenovirus 36 and Childhood Obesity). They followed 1,400 Hispanic men and women for a decade and found that not only were those exposed to the virus fatter than those who were not, but also over the ten years, those with a history of infection had a greater percentage of body fat over time.

Most studies done to date on adults have found a connection between exposure to Ad-36 and obesity, and all studies done so far on childhood obesity show an increase in prevalence of infection in obese children compared to non-obese children. We're now up to more than a thousand children studied with similar findings. Obese children who tested positive for the virus weighed 35 pounds more than children who tested negative.

The virus appears to both increase the number of fat cells by mobilizing precursor stem cells and increase the accumulation of fat within the cells. If we take liposuction samples of fat from people, the fat cell precursors turn into fat cells at about five times the rate in people who came to the liposuction clinic already infected. Fat taken from non-infected people that was then exposed to the virus start sucking up fat at a faster rate, potentially inducing obesity without increasing food intake.

Just as Ad-36 can be transmitted horizontally from one infected chicken to another in the same cage, subsequently causing obesity in each chicken, this same virus is also easily transmitted among humans, raising the question as to whether at least some cases of childhood obesity can be considered an infectious disease. Researchers publishing in the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity speculate that this animal adenovirus may have mutated to become a human adenovirus capable of infecting humans and causing obesity.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Do Dietary Toxins Contribute to Hand Tremors?

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Essential tremor, affecting 1 in 25 adults over 40 and up to 1 in 5 of those in their 90s, is one of the most common neurological diseases. In addition to the potentially debilitating hand tremor, there can be other neuropsychiatric manifestations, including difficulty walking and various levels of cognitive impairment.

Might beta-carboline neurotoxins play a role in essential tremor? Harmane is one of the most potent of the tremor-producing neurotoxins. Expose people to harmane, and they develop tremors; take it away, and the tremors disappear. What if we're exposed long-term? A recent study at Columbia University, highlighted in my video, Essential Tremor and Diet, found that those with essential tremor have much higher levels of this toxin in their bloodstream compared to those without tremor. Furthermore, the higher the harmane levels, the worse the tremor. The highest levels are found in those who have both essential tremor and cancer, suggesting harmane may be playing a role in both diseases.

How did folks get exposed to these chemicals? Primarily through meat: beef, pork, fish, and especially chicken. So if this potent, tremor-producing neurotoxin is concentrated in cooked muscle foods, is meat consumption associated with a higher risk of essential tremor? Another Columbia University study found that men who ate the most meat had 21 times the odds of essential tremor. To put that in context, if we go back to the original studies on smoking and lung cancer, we see that smoking was only linked to about 14 times the odds, not 21.

Blood levels of this neurotoxin may shoot up within five minutes of eating meat. Five minutes? It's not even digested by then. This rapid uptake is indicative of significant absorption directly through the mouth straight into the bloodstream, bypassing the stomach and, most importantly, bypassing the detoxifying enzymes of the liver. This may lead to higher exposure levels in peripheral organs, like the brain.

Due to its high fat solubility, harmane accumulates in brain tissue, and, using a fancy brain scan called "proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging," higher harmane levels have been linked to greater metabolic dysfunction in the brains of essential tremor sufferers.

Harmane is also found in certain heated plants, like tobacco. A broiled chicken breast has about 13 micrograms of harmane, and cigarettes average about one microgram, so a half pack of cigarettes could expose us to almost as much of this neurotoxin as a serving of chicken. Harman is created when tobacco is burned, and also when coffee beans are roasted. However, coffee intake has not been tied to increased risk (and neither has tobacco for that matter), so it may be something else in meat that's to blame for the 2,000 percent increase in odds for this disabling brain disease.

I also have a few videos about the other major tremor condition, Parkinson's Disease: Preventing Parkinson's Disease with Diet and Treating Parkinson's Disease with Diet

Other compounds created in cooked meats may also have implications for cancer risk:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Why Some Dietary Cholesterol Studies Fail to Show Harm

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How else can we make decisions for ourselves and our families but by the best available balance of evidence? The latest meta-analysis, pooling data from more than a dozen studies involving more than 300,000 people, indicates that there is a dose dependent association between egg consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But that doesn't mean every individual study showed evidence of harm. Even though the totality of evidence points to harm, the egg industry can cherry-pick studies that show no apparent effects.

If eggs are harmful, why don't all of the studies on heart disease and egg consumption show significant harm? It may have to do with Geoffrey Rose's "sick population" concept. If an entire population is sick, then the range of "health" may not be sufficiently broad to establish a significant association. Rose's paper is one of the most famous papers ever written in preventive medicine and should be required reading for all medical students.

Imagine if everyone smoked 20 cigarettes a day. If everybody smoked, then clinical studies, case-control studies, and cohort studies would all lead us to conclude that lung cancer was a genetic disease; and in one sense that would be true. Some smokers get cancer; others lifelong smokers never do. But if everybody smoked, we'd never know that smoking was a risk factor. Thankfully, in the case of cigarettes and lung cancer, it so happened that the original study populations contained about equal numbers of smokers and non-smokers. In such a situation, studies are able to identify smoking as the main risk factor.

But take cholesterol. In the video, When Low Risk Means High Risk, you can see the cholesterol levels of the people with and without heart disease in the famous Framingham Heart Study. There's hardly any difference because practically everybody's cholesterol was too high; it's like everyone was a smoker. The painful truth is that even someone at "low risk" for heart disease is likely to die of heart disease. Everyone who eats the standard Western diet is, in fact, a high-risk individual when it comes to heart disease.

In a sick population like ours where nearly everyone is eating lots of saturated fat and cholesterol, adding some more saturated fat and cholesterol in the form of eggs may just take us from one sorry state--probably dying from heart disease--to another sorry state--still probably dying from heart disease.

So when the current federal guidelines say we need to particularly restrict dietary cholesterol if we're at high risk for heart disease, we need to realize that nearly all Americans that live past middle age are at high risk of dying from heart disease--it's our #1 cause of death. As stroke specialist David Spence and colleagues put it, "A 20-year old man might feel safe smoking and eating egg yolks because his heart attack is 45 years or so in the future. But why would he want to accelerate the progression of his atherosclerotic plaque and bring it on sooner? Stopping egg yolks after the heart attack would be like quitting smoking after lung cancer is diagnosed."

There may in fact be a plateau of risk for smoking, too. Whether we smoke for 25 years or 35 years, our risk for lung cancer may be the same--really high, but about the same. The tobacco industry could truthfully tell someone who's smoked for most of their lives that, don't worry, you can keep smoking and your risk of lung cancer won't go up (conveniently failing to mention that if you're already at high risk and you quit completely, your risk would drop dramatically). It's like if you took a raging drunk and had them take a shot of whiskey. In someone who's hammered, it might not make much difference, but to a teetotaler, a couple shots could have quite an effect. So it's like the alcohol industry with a group of drunks saying, see, couple shots, no big deal. But that doesn't mean it's not better to be sober.

Instead of going from high risk to high risk, better to go to low risk or no risk.

This reminds me of what the beef industry tried to pull. See BOLD Indeed: Beef Lowers Cholesterol?

Is our diet really that bad? See Nation's Diet in Crisis.

Here are a few other important egg industry videos:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Dr. Greger’s 2015 Live Year-in-Review Presentation

Food as Medicine

View my new live presentation here: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet

Every year I scour the world's scholarly literature on clinical nutrition, pulling together what I find to be the most interesting, practical, and groundbreaking science on how to best feed ourselves and our families. I start with the thousands of papers published annually on nutrition (27,000 this year--a new record!) and, thanks to a crack team of volunteers (and now staff!), I'm able to whittle those down (to a mere 8,000 this year). They are then downloaded, categorized, read, analyzed, and churned into the few hundred short videos. This allows me to post new videos and articles every day, year-round, to NutritionFacts.org. This certainly makes the site unique. There's no other science-based source for free daily updates on the latest discoveries in nutrition. The problem is that the amount of information can be overwhelming.

Currently I have more than a thousand videos covering 1,931 nutrition topics. Where do you even begin? Many have expressed their appreciation for the breadth of material, but asked that I try to distill it into a coherent summary of how best to use diet to prevent and treat chronic disease. I took this feedback to heart and in 2012 developed Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, which explored the role diet may play in preventing, arresting, and even reversing our top 15 killers. Not only did it rise to become one of the Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2012, it remains my single most viewed video to date, watched over a million times (NutritionFacts.org is now up to more than 1.5 million hits a month!).

In 2013 I developed the sequel, More Than an Apple a Day, in which I explored the role diet could play in treating some of our most common conditions. I presented it around the country and it ended up #1 on our Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2013. Then in 2014 I premiered the sequel-sequel, From Table to Able, in which I explored the role diet could play in treating some of our most disabling diseases, landing #1 on our Top 10 Most Popular Videos of 2014.

Every year I wonder how I'm going to top the year before. Knowing how popular these live presentations can be and hearing all the stories from folks about what a powerful impact they can have on people's lives, I put my all into this new 2015 one. I spent more time putting together this presentation than any other in my life. It took me an entire month, and when you see it I think you'll appreciate why.

This year, I'm honored to bring you Food as Medicine, in which I go through our most dreaded diseases--but that's not even the best part! I'm really proud of what I put together for the ending. I spend the last 20 minutes or so (starting at 56:22) going through a thought experiment that I'm hoping everyone will find compelling. I think it may be my best presentation ever. You be the judge.

You can watch it at no cost online, but it is also available on DVD through my website or on Amazon. If you want to share copies with others, I have a five for $40 special (enter coupon code 5FOR40FAM). All proceeds from the sales of all my books, DVDs, downloads, and presentations go to the 501c3 nonprofit charity that keeps NutritionFacts.org free for all, for all time. If you want to support this initiative to educate millions about eradicating dietary diseases, please consider making a donation.

After you've watched the new presentation, make sure you're subscribed to get my video updates daily, weekly, or monthly to stay on top of all the latest.

-Michael Greger

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Why Deep Fried Foods May Cause Cancer

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In the latest study on dietary patterns and breast cancer risk among women, healthier eating was associated with eliminating three-quarters of the odds of breast cancer, whereas less healthy eating was associated with up to nearly eight times the odds. Included in the unhealthy eating pattern was the consumption of deep-fried foods, which have previously been linked to breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, oral and throat cancers, esophageal cancer, and cancer of the voicebox. No deep fried foods? What's a Southern belle to do? Instead of deep fried foods, how about the traditional Southern diet, characterized by high intakes of cooked greens, beans, legumes, cabbage, sweet potatoes and cornbread, which may reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer significantly.

What about the consumption of deep-fried foods and risk of prostate cancer? Researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington found that eating French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and doughnuts was associated with about a third greater odds of prostate cancer. After stratifying for tumor aggressiveness, they found slightly stronger associations with more aggressive disease, suggesting that regular intake of deep-fried foods may contribute to the progression of prostate cancer as well.

What in deep fried foods is so bad for us? Just heating oil that hot can generate potentially carcinogenic compounds, and then known carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons form when the muscles of chickens and fish are cooked at that temperature. Deep-fried plants, on the other hand, can form acrylamide.

I did a video about acrylamide back in 2008, suggesting it's a probable human carcinogen (See Acrylamide in French Fries). Since then, studies have suggested pregnant women may want to cut back on French fries to protect the growth of their baby's body and brain. Based on a study (highlighted in my video, Cancer Risk from French Fries) feeding people a little bag of potato chips every day for a month, it now seems acrylamide may also cause inflammation as well, which could explain its purported role in cancer progression.

Acrylamide intake has been associated with endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, and esophageal cancer. How much cancer risk are we talking about? Taiwanese researchers examined lifetime cancer risk and French fry consumption. The researchers picked on French fries because they comprise by far the greatest percentage contribution of acrylamide to the diets of children. They estimated that, at most, one or two boys and girls out of every ten thousand would develop cancer eating French fries that they would otherwise not have developed if they hadn't eaten French fries. So it's not as bad as eating something like fried fish, or fried chicken, but how much is that saying?

The level of cancer risk in both boys and girls associated with French fries depends on how long and hot they're fried. In Europe, the food industry swore that they'd self-regulate and control fry times to decrease acrylamide levels, but we've yet to see any subsequent change in acrylamide levels in French fries.

Researchers continue to urge that the cooking temperature should be as low as possible and the cooking time should be as short as possible, "while still maintaining a tasty quality" of course. We wouldn't want to reduce cancer risk too much--they might not taste as good!

Blanching the potatoes first reduces acrylamide formation, but potato chip companies complain that, not only would it muck with the flavor, but it would reduce the nutritional properties by leaching away some of the vitamin C. But if we're relying on potato chips to get our vitamin C, acrylamide is probably the least of our worries.

More on heterocyclic amines:

There are some things we can do to counteract the effects of these carcinogens, though:

I touch on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in Meat Fumes: Dietary Secondhand Smoke and Is Liquid Smoke Flavoring Carcinogenic?
Certain fats may play a role in breast cancer survival as well: Breast Cancer Survival, Butterfat, and Chicken and Breast Cancer Survival and Trans Fat.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

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How Curry Can Kill Cancer Cells

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It is estimated that the human body consists of ten or so trillion cells. Almost all of these cells get turned over within approximately 100 days. That means we're like a new person every three months. We reinvent ourselves physically. And since we're physically made of air, water, and food--those are essentially the only inputs--we are what we eat, literally and physically. In a sense our body has to rebuild itself every three months with the building materials we deliver to it through our stomach. Our mouths are like the access road to the continual construction site of our body. Trucks roll in three times a day. What do we want them to deliver? Some shoddy cheap stuff we scrounged around for or bought at the discount outlets that's just going to fall apart? Or do we want to build our foundation solid? We are each walking inside the greatest known architectural structures in the universe. Let's not ruin such grand blueprints by consuming junk.

We only own the biological real estate we're born with, so if we need to rebuild every three months, we also need a wrecking crew. If we're replacing ten trillion cells every hundred days, that means we have to kill off about 100 billion cells every day. Out with the old, in with the new. We do that primarily through "apoptosis," pre-programmed cell death (from the Greek ptosis, meaning "falling", and apo, "away from"). For example, we all used to have webbed fingers and toes. Literally. Each one of us did in the womb until about four months, when apoptosis kicked in, and the cells in the webbing kill themselves off to separate our fingers.

However, some cells overstay their welcome: cancer cells. They don't die when they're supposed to by somehow turning off their suicide genes. What can we do about that? Well, one of the ways the yellow pigment in curry powder kills cancer cells is by reprogramming the self-destruct mechanism back into cancer cells. Let me just run through one of these pathways.

FAS is a so-called death receptor that activates the FAS associated death domain, death receptor five, and death receptor four. The FADD associated death domain then activates caspase-8, which "ignites the death machine," and kills the cell. (To see the diagram of the pathway, go to my video Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death). Where does curry powder fit into all this? In cancer cells, curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric that makes curry powder yellow, upregulates and activates death receptors (as shown in human kidney cancer cells, skin cancer cells, and nose and throat cancer cells).

Curcumin can also activate the death machine directly (as shown in lung cancer and colon cancer). Caspases are so-called "executioner enzymes," that when activated, destroy the cancer cell from within by chopping up proteins left and right--kind of like death by a thousand cuts.

And that's just one pathway. Curcumin can also affect apoptosis in a myriad other ways, affecting a multitude of different types of cancer cells. It also tends to leave normal cells alone for reasons that are not fully understood. Overall, researchers "showed that curcumin can kill a wide variety of tumor cell types through diverse mechanisms. And because curcumin can affect numerous mechanisms of cell death at the same time, it's possible that cancer cells may not easily develop resistance to curcumin-induced cell death like they do to most chemotherapy."

For more on turmeric and cancer, check out Back to Our Roots: Curry and Cancer and Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric.

Other herbs and spices such as garlic and amla have similar selective effects against cancer cell (See #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure).

I talk more about this concept of "apoptosis," programmed cell death in:

What else can turmeric do? Here's the videos I have so far (with more on the way!):

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Steven Jackson / Flickr

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Why are Cancer Rates so Low in India?

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It is estimated that many tumors start around the age of 20. However, detection of cancer is normally around the age of 50 or later. Thus, it takes cancer decades to incubate. Why does it take so long? Recent studies indicate that in any given type of cancer, hundreds of different genes must be modified to change a normal cell into a cancer cell. Although cancers are characterized by the dysregulation of cell signaling pathways at multiple steps, most current anticancer therapies involve the modulation of a single target. Chemotherapy has gotten incredibly specific, but the ineffectiveness, lack of safety, and high cost of these monotargeted therapies has led to real disappointment, and drug companies are now trying to develop chemo drugs that take a multitargeted approach.

Many plant-based products, however, accomplish multitargeting naturally and are inexpensive and safe compared to drugs. However, because drug companies are not usually able to secure intellectual property rights to plants, the development of plant-based anticancer therapies has not been prioritized. They may work (and work better for all we know), and they may be safer, or even fully risk free.

If we were going to choose one plant-based product to start testing, we might choose curcumin, the pigment in the spice turmeric (the reason curry powder looks yellow). Before we start throwing money at research, we might want to ask some basic questions, like "Do populations that eat a lot of turmeric have lower cancer rates?" The incidence of cancer does appear to be significantly lower in regions where turmeric is heavily consumed. Population-based data indicate that some extremely common cancers in the Western world are much less prevalent in regions where turmeric is widely consumed in the diet.

For example, "overall cancer rates are much lower in India than in western countries." U.S. men get 23 times more prostate cancer than men in India. Americans get between 8 and 14 times the rate of melanoma, 10 to 11 times more colorectal cancer, 9 times more endometrial cancer, 7 to 17 times more lung cancer, 7 to 8 times more bladder cancer, 5 times more breast cancer, and 9 to 12 times more kidney cancer. This is not mere 5, 10, or 20 percent more, but 5, 10, or 20 times more. Hundreds of percent more breast cancer, thousands of percent more prostate cancer--differences even greater than some of those found in the China Study.

The researchers in this study, highlighted in my video Back to Our Roots: Curry and Cancer, conclude: "Because Indians account for one-sixth of the world's population, and have some of the highest spice consumption in the world, epidemiological studies in this country have great potential for improving our understanding of the relationship between diet and cancer. The lower rates of cancer may, of course, not be due to higher spice intake. Several dietary factors may contribute to the low overall rate of cancer in India. Among them are a "relatively low intake of meat and a mostly plant-based diet, in addition to the high intake of spices." Forty percent of Indians are vegetarians, and even the ones that do eat meat don't eat a lot. And it's not only what they don't eat, but what they do. India is one of the largest producers and consumers of fresh fruits and vegetables, and Indians eat a lot of pulses (legumes), such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils. They also eat a wide variety of spices in addition to turmeric that constitute, by weight, the most antioxidant-packed class of foods in the world.

Population studies can't prove a correlation between dietary turmeric and decreased cancer risk, but they can certainly inspire a bunch of research. So far, curcumin has been tested against a variety of human cancers, including colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, breast, prostate, multiple myeloma, lung cancer, and head and neck cancer, for both prevention and treatment. For more information on turmeric and curcumin, check out Carcinogen Blocking Effects of Turmeric Curcumin and Turmeric Curcumin Reprogramming Cancer Cell Death.

I'm working on another dozen or so videos on this amazing spice. This is what I have so far:

Amla, dried Indian gooseberry powder, is another promising dietary addition:

I add amla to my Pink Juice with Green Foam recipe. Not all natural products from India are safe, though. See, for example, my video Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse than Lead Paint Exposure.

More on the antioxidant concentration in spices in general in Antioxidants in a Pinch. Why do antioxidants matter? See Food Antioxidants and Cancer and Food Antioxidants, Stroke, and Heart Disease.

Which fruits and vegetables might be best? See #1 Anticancer Vegetable and Best Fruits for Cancer Prevention.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: peddhapati / Flickr

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A Low Methionine Diet May Help Starve Cancer Cells

NF-July8 A Low Methionine Diet May Help Starve Cancer Cells.jpg

When designing an antibiotic, we can't create a drug that destroys DNA because that's something that both humans and bacteria share in common. It would kill bacteria, but it might kill us, too. Instead, many antibiotics work by attacking bacterial cell walls, which is something bacteria have that we don't.

Similarly, antifungals can attack the unique cell walls of fungus. Pesticides can work by attacking the special exoskeleton of insects. But fighting cancer is harder because cancer cells are our own cells. So fighting cancer comes down to trying to find and exploit differences between cancer cells and normal cells.

Forty years ago, a landmark paper was published showing for the first time that many human cancers have what's called "absolute methionine dependency," meaning that if we try to grow cells in a Petri dish without giving them the amino acid methionine, normal cells thrive, but without methionine, cancer cells die. Normal breast cells grow no matter what, with or without methionine, but cancer cells need that added methionine to grow.

What does cancer do with the methionine? Tumors use it to generate gaseous sulfur-containing compounds that, interestingly, can be detected by specially trained diagnostic dogs. There are mole-sniffing dogs that can pick out skin cancer. There are breath-sniffing dogs that can pick out people with lung cancer. Pee-sniffing dogs that can diagnose bladder cancer and--you guessed it--fart-sniffing dogs for colorectal cancer. Doctors can now bring their lab to the lab!

It gives a whole new meaning to the term pet scan :)

Methionine dependency is not just present in cancer cell lines in a Petri dish. Fresh tumors taken from patients show that many cancers appear to have a biochemical defect that makes them dependent on methionine, including some tumors of the colon, breast, ovary, prostate, and skin. Pharmaceutical companies are fighting to be the first to come out with a drug that decreases methionine levels. But since methionine is sourced mainly from food, a better strategy may be to lower methionine levels by lowering methionine intake, eliminating high methionine foods to control cancer growth as well as improve our lifespan (see Methionine Restriction as a Life-Extension Strategy).

Here's the thinking: smoking cessation, consumption of diets rich in plants, and other lifestyle measures can prevent the majority of cancers. Unfortunately, people don't do them, and as a result hundreds of thousands of Americans develop metastatic cancer each year. Chemotherapy cures only a few types of metastatic cancer. Unfortunately, the vast majority of common metastatic cancers, such as breast, prostate, colon, and lung, are lethal. We therefore desperately need novel treatment strategies for metastatic cancer, and dietary methionine restriction may be one such strategy.

So, where is methionine found? In my video, Starving Cancer with Methionine Restriction, you can see a graph of foods with their respective methionine levels. Chicken and fish have the highest levels. Milk, red meat, and eggs have less, but if we really want to stick with lower methionine foods, fruits, nuts, veggies, grains, and beans are the best. In other words, "In humans, methionine restriction may be achieved using a predominately vegan diet."

There are also compounds in animal products that may actually stimulate tumor growth. See, for example, How Tumors Use Meat to Grow: Xeno-Autoantibodies. Animal protein may also boost levels of the cancer-promoting hormone IGF-1 (The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle). Combined, this could all help explain why plants and plant-based diets have been found effective in potentially reversing some cancer processes. See Cancer Reversal Through Diet?, Strawberries versus Esophageal Cancer, and Black Raspberries versus Oral Cancer.

So why isn't every oncologist prescribing a low-methionine diet? One researcher notes that "Despite many promising preclinical and clinical studies in recent years, dietary methionine restriction and other dietary approaches to cancer treatment have not yet gained wide clinical application. Most clinicians and investigators are probably unfamiliar with nutritional approaches to cancer." That's an understatement! "Many others may consider amino acid restriction as an 'old idea,' since it has been examined for several decades. However, many good ideas remain latent for decades if not centuries before they prove valuable in the clinic....With the proper development, dietary methionine restriction, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may prove to have a major impact on patients with cancer."

Why might the medical profession be so resistant to therapies proven to be effective? The Tomato Effect may be partially to blame.

In my video, Anti-Angiogenesis: Cutting Off Tumor Supply Lines, researchers come to the same plant-based conclusion from a different perspective, starving cancers of their blood supply.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Image Credit: PNNL - Pacific Northwest National Laboratory / Flickr

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