By: Dr. Lori Dickson, BHSc, ND
Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada, with the number of new cases expected to increase mainly due to population growth and aging. (Health Canada, 2012 Statistics) It is estimated that 186,400 new cases of cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) will be diagnosed in Canada and 75,700 cancer deaths will occur. (www.publichealth.go.ca). Just as the causes are complex, so are the treatment options. More than any other disease, cancer has people going on the internet and adding every supplement they can find that’s claimed to cure cancer. This is one area in which the integrative practitioner, has a responsibility to help guide people so decisions can be tailored to each individual.
The importance of diet in treating and preventing cancer is long established. There are clinics such as the Gerson clinic in Mexico that has longstanding success on treating cancer by dietary manipulation alone, focusing in particular on the elimination of cancer toxins and providing potentially deficient essential nutrients to support the immune system and liver. (http://gerson.org) Many of the diets advocated for the treatment of cancer in humans are vegetarian, but this may not be applicable to most cancers where the production of ketone bodies and following a low glycemic diet is essential.
Growing evidence supports the basic principle in cancer nutrition of minimizing simple sugars and complex carbohydrates, and favoring protein and unsaturated fats as the main energy sources. The production of ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate not only inhibited the growth of several tumor cells in vitro, but also reduced the number of B16 melanoma deposits in the lungs of C57BL/6 mice by two thirds. (Magee BA, Potezny N, Rofe AM, Conyers RA: The inhibition of malignant cell growth by ketone bodies. Aust J Exp Biol Med Sci 1979, 57:529–539.) This inhibitory effect of beta-hydroxybutyrate and acetoacetate on tumor cell growth was confirmed in colon and breast cancer cell lines (Fine EJ, Miller A, Quadros EV, Sequeira JM, Feinman RD: Acetoacetate reduces growth and ATP concentration in cancer cell lines which over-express uncoupling protein 2. Cancer Cell Int 2009, 29:14.) as well as in neuroblastoma cells.
This is based on studies of the metabolic requirements of cancer versus host cells. Cancer cells use protein for energy and will utilize certain amino acids, such as arginine, at the expense of the host.
As cancer progresses, alterations in normal patient metabolism occur; often these changes are irreversible without treatment and adequate nutritional support. Diet in cancer patients can be extremely challenging when the patient has a low appetite, or decreased ability to swallow food. Cachexic patients need high energy in the form of fat, and even carbohydrates may have to be reintroduced at this stage, even though they give the tumor an energy supply.
For the very sick patient, who are only able to ingest small amounts of foods – fats will provide more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates. The biochemical response to food deprivation (even 24 hours of anorexia) leads to substantial dependence on fat derived fuels.
Ideally, all patents must be taken off refined commercial diets and put on raw whole food diets. Caretakers need good instructions on how to create a good diet for their loved one. They must be willing to spend the time putting the diet together every day, using high quality foods. Cheap fatty meats laden with carcinogens and old vegetables from the bottom of the fridge are as unhealthy to the person as a refined diet. Those with cachexia may not be able to handle raw food diets. At this stage, cooking the food, feeding it warm and not cold, and using high energy convalescence products is required.
Pay attention to the full spectrum of colors in fruit and vegetables which provide a good mineral/vitamin spread. If vitamin/mineral supplements are used, they must be bio-available and ideally sourced from whole plants. Typically most vitamins purchased at a drug store, or walmart are NOT high grade, and need to be cautious to overloading the system with products that have fillers or are difficult to break down. Additions to the basic diet include eggs, cottage cheese (especially if the liver is showing measurable signs of stress), spirulina, wheat grass, alfalfa juice and barley greens.
Reducing the acid load is helped by vegetables, fruits and the additions mentioned above combined with the elimination of refined carbohydrates, grains, sugars and dairy foods. Evidence indicates the cancer progresses more in an acid environment. There are also theories that take this understanding down to a basic imbalance between active ionized potassium providing positive electric potentials in health, versus negative potentials created by the ionization of sodium in disease. It is suggested that alongside detoxification, activated ionized minerals are essential for healing. The addition of digestive enzymes is useful, especially in someone that has been eating a refined diets for years.
In conclusion you need to assess each cancer case individually to determine your specific nutritional requirements, as well as the frequency, consistency and method of delivering the food. With supplements, it is safer to give none than everything under the sun. if you do not know how they work, start with a corrected and appropriate diet and do nothing else.