The Tao of Prevention and Cure.
Recently an oncologist was interviewed about their daily work with cancer patients. It was a tough, heartfelt discussion on how this professional faces the death of patients on a weekly basis, how this affects the professional’s own psyche, and if we could ever win the “war on cancer”. The societal trauma of this disease is not limited to the patients, but clearly extends to health practitioners.
But are the practitioners on the frontline fully armed? Throughout the interview there was no mention of diet, vegetables or fruit, despite the evidence and even rising awareness of the health benefits of a vegan diet. Although there are a spectrum of perspectives, many health professionals and scientists still view food as an idle globule of nutrition incapable of eliciting the precise or potent medicinal benefits attributed to drugs. Even when asked on the prospect of “defeating cancer”, the interviewee’s discussion on the philosophy of the “war” analogy replaced the recognition that multiple studies show a lowered risk of the majority of cancers and mortality by cancer is achieved by a plant based diet.
There was little chance that this was intentional; the oncologist in question appeared to not be aware of this option. The plethora of sophisticated cancer therapies and drugs continues to increase (as does the research advancing our insights), and perhaps it is this level of intricacy that validates relegating diet as an integrative medicine treatment by medical associations? After all, Dr Caldwell Esselstyn (who healed terminal heart disease patients with a plant diet) noted that his colleagues referred him to as “Dr Sprouts” in the documentary “Forks Over Knives”.
But the pinnacle of nutrition research shows the defined and specific effects of plant foods to combat specific cancers or groups of cancers. Eating blueberries can double the number of Natural Killer cells that circulate the body and kill cancerous cells (1). Sweet potatoes may lower the risk of renal cancer (2). Broccoli reduces DNA damage (a fundamental step in cancer), even amongst smokers (3). Chamomile tea may protect against thyroid cancer (4). Plant fibre detoxifies the kidneys, gut and liver via gut bacteria (removing potential carcinogens that could circulate and cause cancer) (5). Weekly raw garlic intake lowers the risk of oesophageal cancer by 80% (6). Green tea may protect white blood cells from DNA damage (7). The vegan/“whole food plant-based” diet itself has been shown to directly lower the risk of developing non-communicable cancers and metabolic syndrome; after 7 days (8,9).
All of these are interventions with several defined effects that are increased with increased intake. Diet can be used like acupuncture needles to elicit exact health goals and treatments, and we post these research findings on a regular basis here. But the closest public awareness campaigns get to promoting this information is the 5-a-day fruit and vegetable recommendation. Albeit helpful, patients diagnosed with specific cancers remain predominantly oblivious to the specific foods that could help until they are inspired to make the right Google search. Worse still, many patients understandably negate the benefits of a vegan diet because their doctor may view vegetables mainly as medically inert, amorphous calories with fibre.
The “Freakonomics” podcast had a series of episodes in August 2017 on “Bad Medicine”, covering what may stagnate progress in healthcare practice. The issues mentioned there are likely to present themselves in many professional fields and is by no means exclusive to the medical field. It is simply not the doctor’s fault, the information on plant diets and cancer is not in their training. Professor T. Colin Campbell also presents a comprehensive discussion on why Medicine is not implementing all that Nutrition has to offer in the book “Whole” (10).
However the blame-game is not productive, mainly because living patients can be helped right now. “Frontline practitioners” need to be armed with every tool possible to treat and heal, and so do the patients. Could professional cancer associations fear a fall in public perception if they are perceived to promote a diet synonymous with trendy celebrities and animal rights/global warming activists? Surely medical professionals can effectively communicate the scientific research behind preventing cancer, which we assume is better than curing cancer?
Perhaps the solution unveiled by endless experiments and medical trials appears suspiciously holistic, like some internal “plant food-feng shui” for cancer? Because the whole plant food diet has been validated by the duress of scientific enquiry, we should be able to shed all sub-conscious bias and implement food to be our medicine, “Hippocratically” speaking.
Disclaimer: If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor before implementing the opinions in this article.
N. Baiden, PhD.
1. McAnulty, L. S., Nieman, D. C., Dumke, C. L., Shooter, L. A., Henson, D. A., Utter, A. C., Milne, G., and McAnulty, S. R. (2011) Effect of blueberry ingestion on natural killer cell counts, oxidative stress, and inflammation prior to and after 2.5 h of running. Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism-Physiologie Appliquee Nutrition Et Metabolisme 36, 976–984
2. Washio, M., Mori, M., Sakauchi, F., Watanabe, Y., Ozasa, K., Hayashi, K., Miki, T., Nakao, M., Mikami, K., Ito, Y., Wakai, K., Tamakoshi, A., and Grp, J. S. (2005) Risk factors for kidney cancer in a Japanese population: findings from the JACC study. Journal of Epidemiology 15, S203-S211
3. Riso, P., Martini, D., Moller, P., Loft, S., Bonacina, G., Moro, M., and Porrini, M. (2010) DNA damage and repair activity after broccoli intake in young healthy smokers. Mutagenesis 25, 595–602
4. Riza, E., Linos, A., Petralias, A., de Martinis, L., Duntas, L., and Linos, D. (2015) The effect of Greek herbal tea consumption on thyroid cancer: a case-control study. European Journal of Public Health 25, 1001–1005
5. Kieffer, D. A., Martin, R. J., and Adams, S. H. (2016) Impact of Dietary Fibers on Nutrient Management and Detoxification Organs: Gut, Liver, and Kidneys. Advances in Nutrition 7, 1111–1121
6. Chen, Y.-K., Lee, C.-H., Wu, I. C., Liu, J.-S., Wu, D.-C., Lee, J.-M., Goan, Y.-G., Chou, S.-H., Huang, C.-T., Lee, C.-Y., Hung, H.-C., Yang, J.-F., and Wu, M.-T. (2009) Food intake and the occurrence of squamous cell carcinoma in different sections of the esophagus in Taiwanese men. Nutrition 25, 753–761
7. Ho, C. K., Choi, S.-w., Siu, P. M., and Benzie, I. F. F. (2014) Effects of single dose and regular intake of green tea (Camellia sinensis) on DNA damage, DNA repair, and heme oxygenase-1 expression in a randomized controlled human supplementation study. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research 58, 1379–1383
8. Chen, J., Campbell, T. C., Li, J., and Peto, R. (1990) Diet, Life-Style, and Mortality in China: A Study of the Characteristicsof 65 Chinese Counties, Oxford University Press, Cornell University Press, and People’s Medical Publishing House
9. McDougall, J., Thomas, L. E., McDougall, C., Moloney, G., Saul, B., Finnell, J. S., Richardson, K., and Petersen, K. M. (2014) Effects of 7 days on an ad libitum low-fat vegan diet: the McDougall Program cohort. Nutrition Journal 13
10. Campbell, T. C., and Jacobson, H. (2013) Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition, BenBella Books, Inc.