Preventing and Treating Cancer


By Sharon L. Wallenberg


Cancer is currently the second leading cause of death in the developed world.  Cancer starts deep within the cells of the body.  In the cell, thousands of biological and chemical interactions occur every second.  Each cell works hard to control the use of oxygen and various nutrients, communicate messages, create new substances, and build new cells.  The trillions of cells in the body communicate, remove potentially toxic substances, repair injured cells, and prevent cells with damaged genetic material from reproducing.  Cancer begins when something goes wrong in a cell.  A cell’s DNA – the genetic blueprint deep inside a cell’s nucleus - can become damaged.  An impaired cell multiplying out of control is the beginning of cancer.  This growing mass of cells, or tumor, eventually invades healthy tissues.  The tumor can spread to nearby tissues or to the blood stream where it can metastasize, or pass on to other organs or parts of the body.


Cancer most commonly occurs where there is a continual turnover and division of cells.  The most vulnerable areas occur where old cells are continually sloughed off and new ones built: the skin, lungs, digestive tract; and in organs that secrete substances: the breast; and in organs of reproduction: the uterus, ovaries, and testes.


Carcinogens, cancer-causing chemicals found in certain foods, and tobacco, can damage the DNA in cells.  Certain foods block carcinogens from entering cells and damaging DNA, or limit the damage that occurs.  Even at later stages, out of control cell multiplication can be reduced or prevented.  The mineral selenium in whole grains and the brightly colored carotenoids found in vegetables and fruits have shown the ability to slow or stop cancer growth. Folic acid found in leafy greens, oranges, and legumes have also been proven to protect DNA.


Oxygen is fundamental to life.  Yet some of this essential substance can become unstable and cause serious problems in the body.  Chemical reactions have left oxygen with too many electrons, making it a free radical.  These are highly reactive molecules looking for other molecules to react with.  When they attack DNA inside cells, the cells can begin multiplying out of control – the beginning of cancer.  Meats, especially ones that contain nitrates, feed free radicals.  Antioxidants, which plant foods are rich in, keep free radicals in check, and protect DNA against carcinogens.


Researchers have studied people with cancer, and those seemingly protected from it.  Studies have confirmed that genes are not the cause of cancer.  Rather, eating habits, and  smoking and drinking habits determine if cancer will occur.  Adapting a vegan plant-based, rather than a meat-based diet can prevent cancer, or alter its course once it has been diagnosed.  Meat and dairy products are high in hormones, fat, saturated fat, and  cholesterol, and contain no fiber or the carbohydrates needed for energy.  Excessive hormones speed the growth of abnormal cells.  Fiber in the digestive tract can eliminate excess hormones and other toxins.


In hundreds of research studies, scientists tracked how cancer rates differ among groups of people whose lives are similar except for the way they eat.  Their genetic backgrounds are similar, but their diets are different.  A direct relationship between diet and cancer risk emerged.  The people who eat more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoid meat and fatty foods have a much lower cancer risk.  They take advantage of certain protective nutrients while avoiding risky foods.  If cancer does develop, the dietary characteristics of the vegan plant-based diet tend to improve survival.  People have moved from Japan, where the traditional diet had plenty of rice and vegetables, and very little meat or dairy products, to the United States.  They traded their diet for a U.S. menu heavy with meat and dairy.  This caused their breast cancer rates to more than triple and prostate cancer to become almost five times as common.


In 1977, a landmark document entitled “Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective” was released by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research.  An international panel of experts reviewed more that 4,500 scientific studies and summarized the effects of diet on the most common cancer sites.  They found that the leading controllable factors associated with cancer risk are:

Increased Risk: smoking, alcohol use, meat and dairy consumption, animal fat / saturated fat, total fat, grilling and barbecuing (red meat, chicken, fish), salt and salting (as a preservative), obesity, inactivity, exposure to hazardous materials.

Decreased Risk: fruit and vegetable consumption, carotenoids (protective substances in orange, yellow, red and green vegetables and fruits), Vitamin C, fiber, whole grains, and physical exercise.


Both the meat based and plant based diets supply plenty of protein.  There is as much protein in a serving of lentils, beans, tofu, soy milk, veggie burger or similar meat substitute as there is in a similar size serving of beef, chicken, fish, milk, cheese or eggs.  The difference is in the fat, hormone, and fiber content.  Fat is a serious culprit in cancer.  The plant based diet has less fat and no cholesterol or saturated fat.  The meat based diet is high in fat, cholesterol, saturated fat, and hormones.  High fat diets and excessive hormones are linked to cancer.  The excessive hormones drive the rampant cell division that occurs in cancer.  The meat based diet contains no fiber, antioxidants, or Vitamin C.  Fiber plays an important role in helping the body eliminate excess hormones and toxic substances.  Hormones are especially plentiful in milk making it a serious health risk.  Studies have shown that calcium in milk does not seem to benefit bones.  The 1997 Nurses’ Health Study at Harvard proved that milk drinkers broke more bones than people who avoid dairy.  Many vegetables are excellent sources of calcium without the side effects of hormone rich milk.


Carbohydrate, which is the ideal fuel for our bodies, is totally absent in meat.  Carbohydrate comes from the sun’s energy which is captured by plants through the process of photosynthesis.  These carbohydrates form long chains of natural sugar bundled together with fiber.  They come apart gradually to provide a slow release energy source.  Optimally we should have from 55 to 75% of our calories from carbohydrate.  This includes brown rice, oatmeal, starchy parts of beans and vegetables.  Refined starches, like white bread and table sugar, have had the fiber and nutrients removed and cause erratic changes in blood sugar levels instead of keeping it level.


Your body’s first anticancer defense is your immune system – specialized white blood cells that seek out and destroy cancer cells.  Their strength depends on a number of things, including the food you eat – get plenty of antioxidants, Vitamin C, fiber, carotenoids and omega-3 fatty oils.  Omega-3 fatty oils are found in ground flaxseed, flaxseed oils, canola oil, walnuts, and butternuts.  These are the best sources of omega-3s.


If you are undergoing cancer treatment the right foods can support you in getting well.  For many people, surgery or other treatments are essential.  Use diet with other treatments, not instead of them.  Do not return to old eating habits when the cancer crisis is over.  Cancer cells can lurk in your system for years.  The introduction of a vegan diet, exercise and other lifestyle practices at anytime from childhood to old age will help prevent cancer and be an invaluable aid in treating any cancer already in progress.


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