CHAPTER 4 – HOW NOT TO DIE FROM DIGESTIVE CANCERS
I have just read this book and it has really made me stop and think about the food I eat.
In How Not to Die, Dr Michael Gregor examines the top causes of premature death for heart disease , cancers, diabetes and more – and explains how nutritional and lifestyle interventions can sometimes trump prescription pills and other pharmaceutical and surgical approaches, freeing us to enjoy better health.
It’s a very BIG book with a HUGE reference section. Every month I’m going to try and pick out the key points for each section and I highly recommend reading the book for yourself. Prevention is better than cure. I am not advising anyone to follow the suggestions in the book, i’m just passing on the information.
Your skin covers about twenty square feet.
Your lungs, if you were to flatten out all the tiny air pockets, could cover hundreds of square feet.
Your intestines could cover thousands of square feet. Therefore what you eat may could be your greatest exposure to risk factors.
Three of the most common cancers of the digestive tract are colorectal cancer (colon and rectal), pancreatic cancer and oesophageal cancer. The foods you eat can indirectly affect cancer risk, for example, by exacerbating acid reflux or through direct contact with the lining of the digestive tract.
The average person has a one in twenty chance of developing colorectal cancer of the course of his or her lifetime. Fortunately it is amongst one of the most treatable cancers, as regular screening has enabled doctors to detect and remove the cancer before it spreads.
However, in its early stages it rarely causes symptoms. If the cancer is not caught until its later stages it is more difficult and less effective.
Whilst regular screening is essential to detect it, prevention is even better.
Cancer rates in India are much lower than in the United States. The use of turmeric in Indian cooking has been proposed as one possible explanation. This may also be due to the types of food they are putting the spices on. India is one of the world’s largest producers of fruits and vegetables, and only about 7% of the adult population eat meat on a daily basis. What most of the population does it on a daily basis are dark green leafy veg and legumes such as split peas, chickpeas and lentils, which are packed with another class of cancer-fighting compounds called phytates.
Stool size matters! The bigger and more frequent your bowel movements the healthier you may be. A study has shown that the incidence of colon cancer increase when the average stool rate drops below half a pound. You can weigh yourself before and after you “go” to. The link between stool size and colon cancer may be related to how long it takes food to travel from mouth to toilet. The larger the stool the quicker the transit time as food is moved along easily. So even if you go daily you may still be constipated as it could be last weeks food.
E.g. a man eating a plant based diet could be 1-2 days, 5 or more days if eating a conventional diet
E.g. a woman eating a plant based diet could be 1-2 days, 5 or more days if eating a conventional diet
You can measure your own transit time by eating beetroot and noting when your stools turn pink! If they taken less than 24-36 hours you’re probably meeting the healthy half pound target.
Phytates The highest rates of colorectal cancer have been recorded in Connecticut and the lowest in Kampala, Uganda. Fibre intake could be the key as Ugandans consumed diets around whole plant foods. But its not just fibre. Phytates are natural compounds found in the seeds of plants, i.e. all whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. People who eat high phytate foods also have greater bone mineral density, less bone loss and fewer hip fractures. Phytates may also help protect against colorectal cancer. A six year study of 30,000 Californians showed that higher meat consumption was associated with a higher risk of colon cancer.
When you eat beans, nuts and seeds, phytates are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and readily taken up by tumour cells. Phytates target cancer cells through a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing activities. Phytates can sometimes cause cancer cells to apparently revert back to their normal state – i.e. stop behaving like cancer. This cancer cell “rehabilitation” has been demonstrated in vitro in colon cancer cells, as well as in cancer cells of the liver, breast and prostate.
High phytate intake has been associated with less heart disease, less diabetes and fewer kidney stones.
Too much iron?
The results from 2 studies carried out over 25 & 35 years, were published in 2012. They found that eating processed and unprocessed meat was associated with a risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and overall shortened life spans. The findings suggested there may be something harmful in the meat itself. One possibility is heme iron, the form of iron found in blood and muscle. It is a double edges sword though as too little iron equals a risk of anaemia and too much may increase risk of cancer and heart disease. The human body has no way to rid itself of excess iron, we have just evolved to regulate the amount of iron absorbed when it comes from nonheme iron variety found in plants. The healthiest sources of iron are whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dried fruits and green leafy veg. Avoid drinking tea with meals as this inhibits iron absorption. Consuming Vitamin C can enhance iron absorption.
Pancreatic cancer is one of the most lethal forms of cancer, with just 6% of patients surviving five years after diagnosis. As many as 20% of pancreatic cancer cases may be a result of tobacco smoking. Other modifiable risk factors include obesity and heavy alcohol consumption. Significant dietary factors can also play a role in the development of this deadly disease. The consumption of fat from all animal sources (meat, dairy products and eggs) was significantly associated with pancreatic cancer risk, no correlation was found with the consumption of plant fats (nuts, seeds avocados, olive oil, and vegetable oil.
Chicken and pancreatic risk
Research has found a 72% increased risk of pancreatic cancer for every 50g of chicken consumed daily, about a quarter of a chicken breast.
There is also a potential risk to people working in poultry slaughtering and processing plants.
Treating pancreatic cancer with curry
Pancreatic cancer is amongst the most aggressive forms. Untreated most patients die 2 to 4 months after diagnosis. Unfortunately only 10% of patients respond well to chemotherapy. Curcumin, the colourful component of the spice turmeric, appears able to reverse precancerous changes in colon, pancreatic and lung cancer cells. Not enough substantial evidence but there is some, Dr Greger recommends taking it. Prevention of this disease is critical.
Oesophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the oesophagus, the muscular tube carrying food from your mouth to your stomach. Early on there are few symptoms but as the cancer grows, swallowing difficulties can develop. The primary factors are smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD, also called acid reflux) in which acid from the stomach gurgles up into the oesophagus, burning the inner layer and causing inflammation that can eventually lead to cancer.
Eliminate acid reflux through diet
Centering your diet around antioxidant-rich plant based foods may cut in half your odds of getting oesophageal cancer. The most protective foods are red, orange, and dark green leafy veg, berries, apples and citrus fruits. Fibre intake appears to decrease the risk of acid reflux. Strawberries, fresh or freeze dried also may help.