Cancer: Preventive Care

On the 26th of October 2011, Nutrition & Metabolism published an article entitled “Is there a role for carbohydrate restriction in the treatment and prevention of cancer?”

Paleo Diet Cancer Prevention Eat Vegetables

This article begins with reference to hunter-gather diets, such as the Paleolithic diet.

“The switch from the “caveman’s diet” consisting of fat, meat and only occasionally roots, berries and other sources of carbohydrate (CHO) to a nutrition dominated by easily digestible CHOs derived mainly from grains as staple food would have occurred too recently to induce major adoptions in our genes encoding the metabolic pathways.” 

They found that societies eating a highly protein-rich, low-carbohydrate diet like these, had much lower incidences of cancer. The articles went on to postulate several major mechanisms that might account for this correlation.

1.       Cancer cells feed preferentially on sugar. Carbohydrates are high in easily digestible glucose also known as sugar. So a diet low on carbohydrates should reduce tumour development or progression.

2.       Insulin and IGF-1 can stimulate tumour cell growth. Insulin is involved in the regulation of glucose in the body. High carbohydrate diets increase levels of insulin and what is known as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) which stimulate tumour cell growth. A low carbohydrate diet would be expected to reduce tumour proliferation.

3.       Insulin resistance. Many cancer patients develop insulin resistance, which makes a high carbohydrate diet more likely to cause other negative health outcomes such as diabetes.

4.       Ketones suppress cancer. Very low carbohydrate diets lead to the production of ketones which suppress cancer.

5.       Low-carbohydrate and ‘ketogenic’ diets ‘starve’ cancer. Low carbohydrate diets mimic caloric restriction and ketogenic diets mimic starvation – and these are both linked to reduction of tumour development and progression.

6.       Low carbohydrate diets can reduceinflammation. Too many carbohydrates cause inflammation, and inflammation is believed to be a risk factor in the development of cancer.

All in all, the most important thing to take away from this review is that carbohydrates, and especially excess carbohydrates are likely detrimental to your health. This is bad news for the majority of the population. The food pyramid has been around for over a generation, recommending between 6 and 11 portions of grains and carbohydrates a day.

Not only did the review find that reducing carbohydrates could suppress cancer, counter-intuitively they found grains played a major role in the development of cancer.

“Usually, CHO restriction is not only limited to avoiding sugar and other high-GI foods, but also to a reduced intake of grains. Grains can induce inflammation in susceptible individuals due to their content of omega-6 fatty acids, lectins and gluten [159, 160]. In particular gluten might play a key role in the pathogenesis of auto-immune and inflammatory disorders and some malignant diseases.”

Grains cause inflammation by themselves; hence while a high carbohydrate diet is bad for cancer patients, a grain based diet is even worse.

The overall conclusion of this review is that humans weren’t designed to eat a grain based diet. This is also the premise of the Paleo diet. The human body evolved for more than 2 million years with food found in nature: game, meat, fish, vegetables, wild fruits, eggs and nuts. The human race was thriving on this diet high in proteins and healthy fats and low in carbohydrates.

To suppress cancer and spread it from spreading any further, the literature recommends a diet low in carbohydrates. The Paleo diet is a wonderful choice for this.

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