Cancer & its Nutritional Therapies
The subject of preventing and fighting cancer is of course a vitally important one. Treatment of cancer should be under the direction of Cancer Specialists and preferably also a Nutrition Consultant liaising with them. A proper nutritional strategy is required and therefore an individual consultation on the matter is recommended.
The aim of this article is to describe the basic physiology of cancer and provide information about the role of nutrition in cancer prevention and treatment.
What is a carcinogen?
A carcinogen is a chemical or other environmental agent that produces cancers. Such a substance induces cell damage, affecting either the behavior of a cell (DNA damage) or the permeability of the cell membrane - frequently because of the affect of free radicals on double bonds in phospholipids and DNA. This results in a cell which is incapable of utilizing oxygen or nutrients and so it reverts to glycogen metabolism and becomes a lactate fermenting cell, growing and proliferating rapidly in an undifferentiated manner, to form a tumour mass of cancer cells. Metastasis (migration of cancer cells) may be controlled by a strong immune system.
Four major groups of carcinogen are:
- Smoke - benzoprenes from cigarettes and exhaust gases or smoked foods, which damage cells in the lungs. Food heated to high temperatures until burnt (eg fried, grilled or barbecued) contains carcinogens.
- Common food dyes, preservatives and additives. Nitrosamines are formed in the gut from nitrates in fertiliser and meat coloring.
- Metabolic by-products - including peroxides, the by-product of respiratory metabolism.
- Environmental sources - such as pesticides (eg DDT), plastics, detergent, radioactivity (eg X-rays), inhaled free oxygen radicals (FORs) from polluted air, and UV radiation from the sun. Also occupational pollutants (eg asbestos), and water pollutants and added halogens (chorine, fluoride).
What allopathic treatment is available for the cancer sufferer?
Allopathic treatment is the use of a method which is "incompatible with or antagonistic to the condition being treated" (Greek allo = different, as opposed to homeopathy from Greek homeo = same). For the cancer sufferer this includes surgery to remove cancer growth (though this does not prevent a recurrence), radiation therapy to kill off cancer cells (though this also destroys healthy cells and damages the immune system) and chemotherapy using cytotoxic drugs to kill cancer cells (this is also poison to the rest of the body but more discriminate cytotoxins are being developed).
Hormone therapy (not strictly allopathic since it uses natural products of the body, eg steroids) is also used for anti-inflammatory effect, and can be helpful in cancers of organs under hormonal control including breast and prostate. Medical immunotherapy involves reintroducing cultivated killer T-cells to boost natural defenses.
What are the main types of cancer?
The forms of cancer represent different kinds of tumour and respond differently to treatment:
- Carcinoma (90% of adult cancer) - malignant tumours of the epithelial cells lining body cavities and glandular organs, eg lung, colon, breast, uterus, prostate, etc. Melanomas are cancerous growths of melanocytes, skin cells that produce the pigment melanin.
- Sarcoma - very malignant tumours of the connective tissues, muscle, bone and cartilage.
- Leukaemia - a cancer of blood-forming organs affecting growth and development of leukocytes (white blood cells). Lymphoma is a malignant disease of lymphatic tissue, causing excess lymphoid cells. Multiple myeloma occurs in bone marrow causing excess plasma cells.
What are the characteristics of a cancer cell?
The primary characteristic of a cancer cell is that it is starved of oxygen and nutrients, and so it reverts to a non-oxygen requiring (anaerobic) form of metabolism utilizing glycogen, resulting in a build up of lactic acid. This occurs because of an increased or decreased permeability of cell walls or altered behavior due to genetic (DNA) mutation, the effect of free radical damage.
The cells lose the ability to differentiate from one another and form clumps and invade surrounding tissues. As the cancer develops, the tumour obtains its own blood supply for nourishment and elimination, competing with normal tissues for space and nutrients.
Cancer cells have the ability to migrate into the blood or lymph system where a weak immune system may fail to prevent their spread.
They are also able to move directly through surrounding tissues with the aid of pseudopodia. Some cancer cells secrete enzymes that break down collagen, the substance which binds cells and tissues together, allowing easier migration - vitamin C directly counters this process.
Cancer cells also do not produce the enzyme which breaks down essential fatty acids (delta-6-desaturase) and thrive on arachidonic acid (found plentifully in meat and milk). Essential fatty acids such as GLA from Evening Primrose oil counter this imbalance.
What are metastases?
One property of malignant cells is their ability to undergo metastasis - the spread of cancerous cells from the initial (primary) tumour to a body cavity or fluid (blood or lymph) or by migration through tissues,which may result in the development of metastases - secondary tumours.
Why is the disarming of free radicals so important in cancer prevention?
It is important to disarm free radicals because they can damage double bonds in phospholipids of cell walls and of DNA, altering cell permeability and causing genetic mutation affecting cell behavior (including abnormal growth patterns such as proliferation of undifferentiated cells). Damaged mitochondrial membranes (the energy power-houses inside every cell) reduce the ability of cells to utilize oxygen.
The vitamins C, E and A (beta carotene) have an anti-oxidant effect, disarming free radicals. They work closely with the important anti-oxidant enzymes Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) containing zinc, manganese and copper, and Glutathione Peroxidase (GP) containing the mineral selenium.
What nutrients have been shown to be effective in the prevention and/or treatment of different types of cancer? Nutritional therapy is not a cure for cancer, but certain vitamins and minerals may prevent deterioration and spread of the cancer, and boost the immune system.
The primary anti-oxidants are: vitamins C, A (beta carotene) and E, and the minerals zinc and selenium. Many other natural substances also have powerful anti-oxidant effects, such as Pycnogenol, Lycopene, CoEnzyme-Q10, N-Acetyl Cysteine.
Minerals that support the anti-oxidant enzyme SOD are: manganese, and copper and zinc in 1:15 ratio; and to support the anti-oxidant enzyme GP: selenium.
Immune enhancing vitamins are: B2, B5, B6 and B12; folic acid*; vitamins A, C and E and zinc*. (*Growth enhancing so if malignancy present, use to normalise levels only).
Nutrients to detoxify carcinogens: vitamins C and A, and selenium
To help restore normal cell membrane development and cell oxidation: Essential Fatty Acids (such as Evening Primrose oil, seed oils and fish oils).
Potassium keeps cells alkaline and is toxic to cancer cells, so keep the diet high in potassium (fruits) and low in sodium (salt).
What diet will help?
By improving the diet towards Optimum Nutrition, all the family will benefit.
Avoid foods with added salt. Avoid sugar and other foods with concentrated sweetness. Avoid processed and fast foods with long lists of preservatives and additives. Avoid frying foods and avoid artificially processed tea or coffee. Avoid drinking much alcohol and certainly don't smoke.
What supplements should I take?
If cancer has been diagnosed, you should always seek approval from your doctor for a nutritional strategy. Nutrients simply enhance health and only your doctor will know if an allopathic treatment is necessary as an urgent life-saving measure, and some drug prescriptions conflict with normally required nutrients.
However, prevention of cancer is something every responsible adult can take in their own hands, and the principles are clear. First and foremost, optimum nutrition is required, and this will help to protect you from environmental carcinogens, and to strengthen all the body systems in case you have an inherited weakness. Secondly, supplementing the diet with nutrients proven to help prevent cancer is a wise step to take.
Vitamin C, taken in generous doses (such as 3g or more over the day), is the primary nutrient to help prevent cancer and, indeed, to promote good health. High levels of vitamin C may cause slight diarrhoea - if this occurs, reduce the amount slightly, then gradually increase back to the original amount, or even more if your gut will tolerate this vital anti-cancer substance. Do not suddenly cease this supplementation, however; to do so may result in deficiency symptoms as the body has got used to high amounts in circulation.
In addition, Proanthenol is a very powerful antioxidant which works synergistically with vitamin C and this combination is the best anti-cancer measure you can take. The product has also been shown to inhibit tumour production in the skin and to protect against the carcinogenic effect of tobacco smoke.
Selenium is a vital element to both prevent and treat cancer. A synergistic mix with other antioxidants such as vitamins A, C and E and glutathione, etc (they need each other to work best) is desirable.
A clean and rapid colon is required to prevent colon cancer and supplementation of Acidopholus along with adequate fibre in the diet is of assistance here.