Category Archives: Nutrition and Disease

How to Avoid Blood Cancers by Greg Feinsinger M.D.

There are basically 3 types of blood cancer: leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

  • Leukemia involves propagation of mutant white blood cells in the bone marrow. Normal white blood cells fight infection but leukemia cells lose this function. Furthermore, they crowd out normal red and other types of white blood cells in the bone marrow. Around 52 thousand cases of leukemia occur in the U.S. annually, and 24 thousand people die from it.
  • Lymphoma involves mutation and propagation of another type of white blood cell—lymphocytes. The most common type is non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, of which there are 70 thousand cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year, with about 19 thousand deaths.
  • Myeloma involves plasma cells—white blood cells that produce antibodies. Some 24 thousand Americans are diagnosed with myeloma every year, resulting in 11 thousand deaths.

Treatment of blood cancers has variable results, with the greatest success being childhood leukemia, which now has a 90 percent ten-year survival rate. As with other diseases, prevention is best. In his book “How Not to Die,” Dr. Michael Greger reviews foods associated with decreased blood cancer risk. As discussed in the last several columns, what we eat don’t eat can lower the risk of many types of cancer. Dr. Greger says that studies have shown that “the greatest protection appeared to be against blood cancers.”

  • Sulforaphane* is a strong cancer-fighting micronutrient present in cruciferous vegetables—arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress. Sulforaphane kills human leukemia cells in the lab, and studies have shown that high daily dietary cruciferous intake decreases the risk of lymphoma.
  • In a Mayo Clinic study, people who ate 5 or more servings of green, leafy vegetables a week had a 50 percent lower incidence of lymphoma compared with those eating less than 1 serving a week.
  • There is preliminary evidence that turmeric can slow or stop pre-myeloma changes in humans.
  • Acai berries have been shown in the lab to be effective against leukemia cells, although studies proving that they prevent leukemia in living humans have not been done yet. Of course, Big Food jumped on the favorable lab evidence—beware of “superfood” supplements and shakes, which have not been proven to have any benefit.

Dr. Greger also cites certain foods that increase the risk of blood cancers:

  • People who grow up on poultry farms and workers in the poultry industry are at higher risk for blood cancers. Eating poultry regularly also increases risk. The cause is thought to be certain viruses that cause cancer in poultry and probably in humans (we don’t know for sure yet).
  • Exposure to cattle and pigs has been associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and eating them may prove to increase risk of lymphoma although again, we don’t know for sure yet.

*In order for sulforaphane to be released from cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme called mycrosinase is necessary, and this enzyme is inactivated by cooking. One strategy you can use is to eat some raw cruciferous veggies, such as cauliflower or broccoli, before you eat cooked cruciferous veggies—that way microsinase is available to release the sulforaphanes in the cooked veggies. A second strategy is to chop or blend cruciferous veggies at least 40 minutes before you cook them, which allows mycrosinase to do its job. A third strategy is to add mustard or horseradish to cooked cruciferous veggies (mustard greens and seeds, and horseradish, come from cruciferous vegetables and contain mycronase). Frozen cruciferous vegetables are flash-heated prior to freezing, to prolong shelf life—so frozen cruciferous vegetables need to be considered “cooked.”

How to Avoid and Survive Breast Cancer (by Greg Feinsinger M.D.)

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in American women, after skin cancer. Every year about 230,000 women in this country are diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,000 die from it. Mammograms and self-breast exams supposedly lead to early detection, but in reality, this is “late detection” because breast cancer has been present for years—up to 4 decades– by the time it is diagnosed. Some of the 2-billion cells in our bodies are always mutating. We evolved to eat plants, and plants contain micro-nutrients that destroy these mutant cells before they propagate– animal products lack this ability.

Caldwell Esselstyn, M.D. is one of the two doctors (Dr. Ornish was the other) who proved that plant-based, whole food nutrition with no salt, sugar or added oil reverses heart disease.  Dr. Esselstyn, now in his 80s, started out as a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic decades ago. He was operating on young women who presented with breast cancer, and the treatment back then was radical mastectomy—a very disfiguring operation. Dr. Esselstyn started looking for a way to prevent breast cancer and found out that populations who ate a plant-based diet had an extremely low rate of breast cancer.

If you are a woman and want to do everything you can to prevent breast cancer, read the chapter on breast cancer in Dr. Greger’s book “How Not to Die,” and search breast cancer on his website NutritionFacts.org. If you are a breast cancer survivor, read “The Cancer Survivor’s Guide, Foods That Help You Fight Back!” by Neal Barnard, M.D. Following are some of the points made in these two books:

  • In 2014 the World Health Organization upgraded its classification of alcohol to “a definitive human breast carcinogen.”  The culprit is acetaldehyde, a toxic breakdown product of alcohol. Dr. Greger notes that the skin of grapes used to make red wine contains a compound that “may help cancel out some of the cancer-causing effects of the alcohol.”
  • Melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” appears to have a protective effect against breast cancer. Melatonin levels are lowered by bright lights including computer and TV screens during pre-bedtime hours and by eating meat (for unknown reasons). Eating vegetables raises melatonin levels (again, for unknown reasons).
  • Excess estrogen increases breast cancer risk, and women need to be hesitant about taking post-menopausal hormones (“bio-identical hormones” have not been proven to be any safer). Body fat produces estrogen, and therefore people who are overweight are at increased risk for breast cancer.
  • Diets high in saturated fat from added oil (coconut oil has the most), meat, dairy products and eggs increase breast cancer risk.
  • Regular exercise such as brisk walking for an hour a day lowers the percentage of body fat, and for that and other reasons exercise lowers breast cancer risk.
  • Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogens produced by cooking beef, pork and other meat—and fish and poultry– at high temperatures, such as roasting, pan frying, grilling and baking. According to Dr. Greger, PhIP,  “one of the most abundant HCAs in cooked meat, was found to have potent estrogen-like effects, fueling human breast-cancer cell growth.”
  • Lignans are phytoestrogens that “dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen” according to Dr. Greger. Lignans are particularly plentiful in flaxseeds, and are also found in berries, whole grains and dark, leafy greens. Flaxseed has even been shown to reduce breast cancer tumor growth. Antibiotics kill health-promoting gut bacteria which are important in activating lignans.
  • According to Dr. Greger, some studies have shown a link between high cholesterol levels and breast cancer risk, thought to be due to our bodies “using cholesterol to make estrogen or to shore up tumor membranes to help the cancer migrate and invade more tissue.” Using statins to lower cholesterol does not decrease breast cancer risk.
  • Fiber, which is found only in plant foods, helps remove estrogen via the GI tract and lowers breast cancer risk. For every 20 grams of fiber intake per day, there was a 15 percent lower risk of breast cancer in several studies.
  • Apple peels contain a compound that activates a breast tumor-suppressor gene.
  • Cancerous stem cells may be why breast cancer can sometimes recur years after apparently successful treatment. Sulforaphane, a component of cruciferous vegetables (e.g. broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower), “suppresses the ability of breast cancer stem cells to form tumors” according to Dr. Greger. Cooking destroys the enzyme that activates sulforaphane so some cruciferous vegetables should be eaten raw (or eat some raw ones before eating cooked cruciferous vegetables).
  • Soybeans contain weak phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) called isoflavones, which attach to estrogen receptors in breast tissue, preventing stronger estrogens from attaching, thereby lowering breast cancer risk. It is thought that high soy intake is why the incidence of breast cancer is low in Asian women. If you are a breast cancer survivor, you should know that according to Dr. Greger, “women diagnosed with breast cancer who ate the most soy lived significantly longer and had a significantly lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.”

 

Protect Your Brain From ALZHEIMER’S with Plants, Not Pills

This is the last article in a series about preventing Alzheimer’s, based on Dr. Neal Barnard’s evidence-based book “Power Foods for the Brain.” Other physicians have websites and have written books on this subject, but many of these books are not based on good science, and many of the authors are biased because they sell supplements. The last article discussed how metals such as copper, zinc, iron and possibly aluminum can adversely affect the brain, especially in combination with animal products.

Dr. Barnard is founding president of the respected PCRM (Physician Committee for Responsible Medicine). His book has a chapter about “foods that build your vitamin shield.” Vitamin E and three B vitamins—B6, B12 and folic acid– protect against cognitive impairment when ingested in a plant-based diet. However, studies using these vitamins in supplement form indicate they are not beneficial, and can even cause harm:

  • Vitamin E pills in doses over 400 units a day increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Vitamin A pills in smokers increase the risk of lung cancer.
  • Folate is found in many vegetables. Folic acid, present in many vitamin pills and in fortified food is made artificially and is not exactly the same as natural folate. There is evidence that folic acid increases cancer risk.

We evolved to get vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients through the food we eat. Sudden, huge doses of vitamins in pill or liquid form are not natural, and can cause harm such as oxidation and inflammation, that contribute to several maladies including heart disease, cancer and dementia.

According to Dr. Barnard, here’s how you can get brain-healthy vitamins through what you eat:

  • Traces of vitamin E are present in broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, mangoes and avocados. Larger amounts are found in nuts and seeds– particularly almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and flaxseed. Dr. Barnard mentions a study that showed that “every 5 mg. of vitamin E in a person’s diet reduced the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 26 percent.”
  • Best sources of B6 are whole grains, green vegetables, beans, sweet potatoes, bananas and nuts.
  • Sources of folate are broccoli, green leafy vegetables, beans, peas, citrus fruits, and cantaloupe.
  • The caveat is that there is one supplement we should take, particularly if we are vegan– vitamin B12, which is made by bacteria in dirt. B12 is found in meat, fortified cereals, fortified soy milk and nutritional yeast. With treated water and pre-washed produce, most of us don’t eat much dirt these days. Vegans should take a 1000 mg. B12 supplement daily, and Dr. Barnard argues that even meat-eaters should take a daily 2.5 mg. supplement, particularly if over age 50 (older people don’t absorb B12 from their diet as well).

Previous articles have discussed how Alzheimer’s may prove to be a vascular disease. While that hasn’t been proven yet, we do know that Alzheimer’s patients have clogged arteries in their brains, and that the risk factors for heart disease (such as hypertension, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes) are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s. Therefore, what’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Avoid or at least cut back on meat; dairy; eggs; processed food; added oil, salt and sugar. Eat mostly, or ideally exclusively,  vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

In a recent video on his website nutritionfacts.org, Dr. Michael Greger talked about the marked increase in Alzheimer’s in Japan over the past few decades, as meat, dairy and egg consumption increased by 500 percent. We know what we need to do to ensure healthy brains as we age. Why is it so difficult, then, for so many Americans to modify their lifestyle? Next week’s column will be about food cravings.

Docs in Aprons, Chefs in Scrubs

Food stepped back into fashion with farmers markets and smart chefs. Beguiled by scrumptious stalks and orange spice, we were seduced not scared.  But now we fear fatty cows. Food isn’t just a hot date anymore and we’re wondering where to turn.

Well, food as medicine is forging new alliances these days—savvy, healthy alliances—from medical schools and culinary institutes to local restaurants and global symposiums. Help is on its way.

Though a 2010 study from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that two-thirds of disease is preventable through healthy lifestyle choices, only about a quarter of medical schools had even a single course devoted to nutrition. That was then.

Today at least four major universities, including Tulane and Baylor College of Medicine, are putting med students in aprons and discussing topics once taboo—like cooking and cancer, yoga and prevention.

In March, celebrity chef David Bouley partnered with Wegman’s supermarkets to co-sponsor a New York City lecture by Dr. Thomas Campbell, T. Colin Campbell’s son and co-author of The China Study . The host was Bouley’s trendy Next Door restaurant which served up a healthy four-course meal.

And on the west coast, physicians, nutritionists and healthcare execs join world class chefs for an annual Napa Valley conference co-sponsored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and The Culinary Institute of America.

Imagine four days of hot science peppered with cooking classes and lip-smacking healthy meals. What a feast!

 

 

 

Eggless in America

Would you like your plants poached or fried this morning?

That question may be up sooner than we think. Earlier this month I posted a blog about Hampton Creek, a San Francisco start up backed by Bill Gates and other luminaries that created Just Scramble, a plant based egg substitute.

This week, news of massive egg shortages in the fallout of avian flu has corporate food giants knocking down that company’s doors. As much as one third of U.S. egg production is broken down for use in thousands of products from hotdog buns to pancake mix.

At least a dozen companies, including McDonald’s and General Mills, are now seeking Hampton Creek’s products to meet their quotas. Ironically, they may include Unilever, the maker of Hellmans’ mayonnaise, who unsuccessfully sued Hampton Creek over their right to use the word “mayo” in Just Mayo – their first eggless product released last year.

According to a May 21st report in the New York Times, the flu is forcing farmers to kill more than 38 million infected birds, 33 million of which are laying hens.

Bill Gates knows a hot trend when he sees one, but no one could have predicted this massive flu, which is being tagged the biggest livestock crisis in U.S. history. More reasons—and more urgent reasons—for all of us to consider the benefits, short term and long, of a whole foods plant based diet.