Take Cancer Off the Table

“Every meal that does not consist mainly of plant-based food is a meal that has been wasted in terms of protecting ourselves against colorectal cancer.”- Ron Allison, MD 

A dear friend of the family, V, was diagnosed with colon cancer a few years ago. Although bravely committing to fight the disease and despite chemotherapy, the cancer has continued to spread. V is in a fight for her life, but she is not alone.

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Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that there are 102,480 new cases of colon cancer and 40,340 new cases of rectal cancer in the United States in 2013. Although there is about a 5% chance of contracting the disease over the age of 50, even with new treatments and advances in medicine, the scary reality is that survival rates are extremely low. Only 40% of those diagnosed with colon cancer are still alive after 5years.

Some of the strongest predictors and indicators of developing colon cancer are dietary factors. In fact, the links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.

For example, one 50 gram serving of processed meat (one hot dog) per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent! Cutting out meat and animal products reduces your overall risk of cancer as high as 40 percent. According to Harvard University studies your risk of colon cancer drops by two-thirds if you stop eating meat and dairy products- a staggering statistic. Diets in high animal fats are also associated with high cholesterol, which has been linked with the development of colorectal polyps that can lead to cancer development.

Why is meat and particularly processed meat, associated with colon cancer? The answer comes down to the basic anatomical differences between humans and natural carnivores. Unlike carnivores that can process this amount of meat due to a short intestinal tract and an extremely high level of stomach acid, our bodies are structurally more like herbivores. We have a long intestine as well as the amino acid amylase that is used for breaking down carbohydrates. If we had short intestines like carnivores the transit time of the food would be too quick to be able to do any harm. But we have long intestines with 10 times less stomach acid to digest the meat. Meat has zero fiber. The lack of fiber in meat contributes to constipation, which allows carcinogen time to affect the surrounding tissue.

Compared to diets high in meat, dairy and cholesterol, diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer. This is primarily due to high fiber content. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat, high in fiber, and rich in antioxidants, which help to prevent cancer. This association between dietary fiber intake and colorectal cancer was first proposed in 1971. Fiber also has a major role in regulating normal intestinal function and maintenance of a healthy intestinal tract including the reduction in transit time and increase of stool.6If our intestine is healthy we will produce healthy stools, preventing the formation of polyps and adenomas. Fiber supplements do not seem to help, meaning we have to have food rich in fiber and not rely on fiber supplements.

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So what should you be eating to prevent colon cancer? Studies have shown that certain vegetables are better on fighting different types of cancer. In the case of colon cancer, berries, broccoli, black beans, apples and herbal teas are wonder cancer fighters. Additionally fresh vegetables like cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts) have shown to have the highest anti-proliferative and antioxidant activities toward DNA oxidative damage. If the cell is not able to repair the damaged DNA (our genetic code) this can eventually produce cancer.

We don’t often think that one piece of cheese or a one hamburger can do us harm. But as Dr. Mary Wendt, who has treated over 400 cancer patients, says: “Think about it this way: if you eat 2000 calories per day, and you eat two cookies, that means that 20% of your caloric intake for the day is promoting inflammation, cancer promotion, and heart disease.” When it comes to cancer, every bite counts. The greatest advantage of choosing to eat plant-based is that there are no side effects, only benefits.

* For more on preventing today’s most common cancers from leading oncologists, read Chapter 9, Dear Cancer, in Rethink Food- 100+ Doctors Can’t Be Wrong!*

What’s Missing in Medical School?

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the care of and prevention of disease.”

-Thomas Edison

We look to our doctors as authorities on health and nutrition. And yet, one of the most common questions readers ask is, “Why doesn’t my doctor know about this connection between diet and disease?” It is not our doctor’s fault. The sad truth is there is a widespread lack of nutritional education in medical schools around the world.

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Think about this: in the 1950’s doctors promoted cigarettes as a healthy activity and even a useful mechanism with which to open our lungs. Today this “good health” advice seems ridiculous. Consider this: the notorious tobacco industry only generated $400 billion in health care costs over the course of 5 decades. Consuming animal foods generates over $600 billion in health care costs every 2 years.

For decades our doctors have only been relegated about 15 hours of nutritional education. The course however does not cover the actual connection between diet and disease. And yet, as our consumption of animal foods has continued to rise, so has our rate of disease skyrocketed. Today 70% of deaths in the US are attributed to chronic diseases. These diseases were almost unheard of a mere 100 years ago. The leading chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes chronic conditions used to be confined to an aging population- evidenced by their definition as “degenerative” chronic disease. Yet now we are seeing them in an increasing number of school-age children. This generation of children has the highest rates of health problems from obesity to diabetes, attention deficit disorders, and autism. One in 3 children are obese and this is the first generation of children that will have shorter life spans than their parents.

Over time we have prided our state of the art medical facilities and our healthcare approach has shifted towards a disease-centered rather than looking to prevention. Our current approach of pills, procedures, surgery, and technology pays the companies but it is costing us our health. One of the main issues is that there is little money in prevention but billions of dollars in pharmaceuticals. Dr. Loomis in Rethink Food aptly captures this problem when he states:

 “I have come to realize how our current health-care system is part of the problem and is contributing to the epidemic of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases we are seeing in today’s society. Almost all of the chronic diseases I was trained to treat are directly or indirectly, related to living a lifestyle in dissonance with the one we are designed to lead. Yet we define the optimal treatment of diseases as reaching a certain number with prescription medication(s), and then we are satisfied that we have done a good job. In reality, we are far from optimal treatment, as this approach is just putting a band-aid on the symptoms rather than addressing the true cause of the problem.” 

Optimistically, the doctors in Rethink Food acknowledge our medical education system needs to change. Today doctors, not just in the United States but from around the world, are confirming that our compounding health care problems and escalating healthcare costs are primarily linked to our consumption of meat and dairy products.  This shift is encouraging. Over time, it is our hope that we will look at animal-based foods the same way we view cigarettes, as a danger for our health. Until then its up to us to spread the message that the answers to our leading health woes are not at the bottom of a pill bottle, but on the end of our fork.