Let us say that your hobby is rebuilding antique engines. To clean metal parts, you use chemical solvents. You apply the highly flammable liquids with rags. As you work in the basement, you are careless and the rags pile up in an open plastic garbage can, overflowing onto the floor. You love the smell it gives to the workshop. One day a tiny, almost microscopic spark from a work light, lands in the rags. Your house burns to the ground.
So it is with diet. Many of us spend a lifetime eating high sugar, high fat, high salt and highly processed food. Over years, this does immense damage to our bodies. And then, one day, along comes a spark … a mutation occurs. And then we have cancer. Too late to clean up the basement workshop. Almost as important, there is no way to put the fire by throwing on more oily rags.
Never does a day go by in the office, when a patient does not tell me about a state-of-the art low sugar, low fat, alkaline, organic-protein, vitamin-enhanced, kale-fortified, green algae colored, oriental tea flavored, super-diet, which is going to cure his cancer. Somehow, after decades of a saturated fat, glucose-infused, additive-poisoned, ultra-manufactured diet, combined with a sedentary, high stress, alcohol-soaked, tobacco-smoked life, from which has grown a mutating metastasizing neoplastic monster; a miraculous last minute Puritan-Hail-Mary-purge is the key to cure.
I try to be supportive, collegial and do my best to educate. I understand that such radical lifestyle changes are attempts to seize control in the face of a terrible threat. However, I must admit that I am frequently seized by the urge to scream, shout, rant and throw my stool across the exam room. Therefore, here I go:
The diet that kills you is not the one you eat when you already have cancer. The diet that kills you, like the rest of your lifestyle, is the one you have eaten for your entire life! Not fair? Perhaps, but absolutely true and anyone that tells you different is a charlatan and a fool. Several facts make this as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise:
- Cancer comes from your own previously healthy cells. Breast cancer comes from normal breast cells. Lung cancer? Healthy lung tissue lining your pristine airways. Leukemia? You got the idea, perfect blood cells which become damaged.
- Most cancer occurs when something during your life, tobacco, radiation, chemicals (think the encyclopedic list of additives on that bag of flavored potato chips) or basic diet choices, damage and mutate mission critical genes in healthy cells.
- These genes are growth switches. Once these damaged genes no longer control growth, and cells start to grow, then it is too late. Stop smoking? Too late. Reduce your weight or start to exercise? Years too late. Start to eat the purest of foods, from the high pasture farms of Zen masters who meditate on the perfection of their product? You are kidding. Too too late.
- Finally, and this is critical; Cancer starts from your own cells and the only real difference between normal cells and wildly growing malignant cells (cancer) is that their growth control gene(s) is turned on. This means that every cancer eats the same things you do. The same sugar. The same fat. The same vitamins. The same proteins. You cannot kill a cancer by changing what you eat, unless you literally starve yourself to death. Simply making your diet more perfect, will not kill the cancer. The harsh horrible reality is that it is too late. And, sadly, occasionally, a more perfect diet may even help the cancer grow.
Does this mean you should continue to eat a lousy diet, just because you already have cancer? Is it OK to continue to smoke? Is it time to visit a nuclear waste site? Absolutely not. It means that the goal of your improved diet is not to kill the cancer.
The goal of an ideal lifestyle for a cancer patient is to give the body the best chance to fight the disease. Reduce complications, tolerate therapy and heal. A comprehensive and complementary prescription for curing cancer combines things that make you strong, such as rest, exercise, stress moderation, social contact and proper diet, with medical techniques to directly destroy the neoplasm. When the ship is sinking you need to both fix the hole and bail out the water.
Adequate hydration, lots of chicken and fish, nuts, red meat only three times a week, plenty of fruit and vegetables, no pharmaceutical grade manufactured ultra-dose vitamins, and limited alcohol. Stay in touch with your body, it knows what it wants. If it tastes bad, your body does not want it. If you develop a craving, your body is broadcasting a need or deficiency. The human body has been fighting disease for millions of years. It knows better than you. Listen.
While I am saddened by those whose lives of nutritional excess or disruption, release the demon of disease, I worry about the 80-year-old who completely changes a life-time pattern of eating, on the misconception that radical nutrition will stop the cancerous growth. If she rapidly wastes, then wounds do not heal, complications will follow. I am infuriated by those that prey on the fear and guilt of sick patients with snake oil alternatives rapped in the labels of “natural”, “pure”, “organic”, justified by bizarre ideas of immunity, acid base metabolism or mega-dose nutrients.
However, I am encouraged and motivated by the strength of patients who work hard to fight, cure, rebuild and recover. I am in awe of those that with all their thoughts, might and soul, go into battle against cancer. I am humbled by the ability and success of such warriors to regain healthy lives.