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"ALTERNATIVES IN CANCER THERAPY"
 
by Ross, R.Ph. Pelton, Lee Overholser

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Vegetarian Diets

DURING THE HEARINGS of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs in 1972, Arthur Upton, director of the National Cancer Institute, declared that up to 50 percent of all cases of cancer are caused by diet. (18) If we add the cases caused by cigarette smoking and exposure to carcinogens, especially on the job, the figure of preventable cancers approaches 80 percent. Put another way, the vast majority of cancers can be prevented!

Research reviewed in this chapter will show that a diet high in fat and protein can cause a wide range of cancers. The question is "Can a vegetarian diet impede the development of cancer and will it help to improve and restore health if a person already has cancer?" This chapter will present convincing evidence to show that a vegetarian diet may prevent a significant percentage of all cancers and can be helpful in treating and preventing the recurrence of cancer once it has developed.

Background: War and Health

For decades advocates of vegetarianism have extolled the health benefits of a meatless diet only to be denounced as extremists and quacks by the traditional medical community. Now, as we move closer to the twenty-first century, more and more medical and scientific research supports the health benefits of vegetarianism.

The two world wars provided some of the first scientific data in support of vegetarian diets, because so many European countries had to deal with restricted diets. Naval blockades cut off grain supplies that were used to feed livestock, making meat much less available. Fears of malnutrition were widespread as people had to cope with a largely meatless diet.

During 1917-18, when food restrictions were the most severe in Denmark, the entire population of Copenhagen, about three million people, was forced to live on a diet consisting primarily of milk, vegetables, and grain. In studying the effects of this supposed "terrible deprivation," Dr. Mikkel Hindhede discovered that during the year of food restrictions and dietary change there was an amazing 34-percent drop in Copenhagen's death rate. (7)

Ignoring the Lessons

Studies in Norway, Britain, and Switzerland also showed that the decrease in consumption of animal foods during the world wars produced significant health improvement in the general population. (1, 16) This enforced shift to vegetarian diets suggested a strong link between diet and disease. But the signposts were ignored. "A steak in every stomach" became the symbol of postwar American affluence as people celebrated victory and returned to their prewar eating habits.

Other factors, such as restrictions on the use of tobacco, may have had an impact on these statistics, but nutritional changes have the most immediate effect, since changes in smoking habits take many years to show up on mortality tables. Dr. Hindhede concluded, "I am convinced that overnutrition, the result of palatable meat dishes, is one of the most common causes of disease." (7)

Death and Diet

The emotional connection between a sense of deprivation and a vegetarian diet is very strong /in the American public. Many people would rather take the risk of early death than give up their meat-laden diet. At the same time, the meat and dairy industries have mounted attacks on those who advocate lowering the level of meat and fat consumed by the American public. In the face of this opposition an ever-growing body of research is demonstrating that our dietary choices are truly a matter of life and death.

In the 1970s the evidence for a link between our dietary habits and the epidemic increases in heart disease and cancer caused the United States government to study the problem. After hearing the testimony of the nation's leading cancer experts, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by then senator George McGovern, stated in its report:

Most major health problems today are diet related. Almost all of the health problems underlying the leading causes of death in the United States could be modified by improvements in the diet. The eating patterns of this century represent a public health concern as critical as any now before us. (14)

Dr. Richard Brennan, chairman of the board of trustees of the International Academy of Preventive Medicine, summed up our dietary problem in this way: "Most of the food in America today will support life, but it will not sustain health." (1)

Identifying the Culprit

With over 1,400 Americans dying of cancer EVERY DAY, cancer researchers have tried to determine which environmental and life-style factors cause cancer.

Many nutritionists believe that artificial additives such as coloring agents, flavoring agents, and preservatives are the primary offenders as dietary carcinogens. Bad as they may be, it turns out that they are not the main culprits. Senator McGovern's Select Committee summoned Dr. Gio B. Gori, director of the National Cancer Institute's Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer Program, and deputy director of the Division of Cancer Cause and Prevention, to present the latest expert scientific opinion on the relationship between diet and cancer. He reported:

Until recently, many eyebrows would have been raised by suggesting that an imbalance of normal dietary components could lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease.... Today, the accumulation of... evidence ... makes this notion not only possible, but certain.... [The] dietary factors [are] principally meat and fat intake. (5)

Since so much evidence from the front indicates that conventional medicine is losing the war on cancer, prevention stands out as an intelligent option. Reducing or eliminating meat and fat in the diet may be one of the best ways of preventing cancer. The evidence presented in this chapter indicates that a low-fat vegetarian diet can be of significant help in treating an existing cancer and preventing recurrence of cancer that has been eliminated.

The Vegetarian Alternative

Vegetarian diets are by definition without meat and are therefore much lower in fat. There is an ever-growing number of studies being published that relate diet to cancer. Several studies have found that the populations around the world with the lowest meat consumption have correspondingly low rates of colon cancer. (2, 12, 13, 19, 20) In a study of Seventh-Day Adventists, a group that is traditionally vegetarian, death rates were about one half of those seen in the general population. (11)

The value of a vegetarian diet in preventing cancer appears to extend to both men and women. One study found that women who eat meat daily, compared with those who eat meat less than once a week, have a risk of breast cancer that is 3.8 times higher. (8) An investigation of the diets of Chinese women who moved to the United States found a dramatic increase in breast cancer rates when they changed from a traditional Chinese to a Western diet. (17) Also, men who consume meats, eggs, or dairy products daily, as opposed to sparingly, were found to have a 3.6-times higher risk of fatal prostate cancer. (6)

From Deficient to Safe

Articles appear frequently in the popular press contending that a vegetarian diet can lead to protein deficiency and other nutritional problems. Frances Moore Lappe's book Diet for a Small Planet emphasizes the need for careful food combining to be sure of getting adequate levels of essential amino acids. However, in the tenth edition, based on updated research, she came to the conclusion that a varied vegetarian diet would meet all protein requirements, even without paying close attention to protein combining. (9) The general consensus now is that a "varied" vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate. A 1973 literature review in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association concluded that vegetarian diets could provide all the essential nutrients. (Ha)

A 1989 study of vitamin status in vegetarians found that vegetarians get more essential nutrients from their diets and absorb those nutrients more efficiently than do non-vegetarians. (10)

The old scare that vegetarians don't get enough vitamin Bis unfounded. The human body can store at least a two-to-three-year supply of vitamin B^, and the RDA is exceedingly small, only 2 micrograms, or two millionths of a gram. (4)

A breakthrough in recognition and acceptance of vegetarianism occurred in 1988 in a position paper published by the American Dietetic Association. This mainstream nutritional organization sanctioned vegetarian diets as healthful. The paper also stated that vegetarians are at lower risk for colon, breast, and lung cancer. (4)

The China Health Project

The most convincing research supporting the health benefits of a vegetarian diet has just been published from a large, ongoing study titled "The Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health, and Environment," commonly referred to as the China Health Project (CHP). (3) This study is being called the grand PHX of dietary studies, and it essentially delivers a knockout blow to our American animal-protein dietary patterns. The team of international scientists, headed by T. Colin Campbell of Cornell University, has confirmed, with unprecedented authority, a number of relationships between diet and health.

Some of the major dietary guidelines emerging from this landmark study are the following:

  • Consuming large amounts of fiber can protect against colon cancer.
  • Childhood diets that are high in protein, fat, calories, and calcium promote early growth but produce higher rates of breast cancer among women, later in life.
  • Consuming high amounts of protein can lead to cancer and other degenerative changes.

The Chinese eat one third less protein than Americans (64 gm/day vs. 91 gm/day ). However, a much more telling figure is that only 7 percent of the Chinese protein comes from animal sources, compared with 70 percent for Americans (4 gm/day vs. 64 gm/day).

The China Health Project finds that a primarily vegetable-based diet is not only completely safe but much more healthful than an animal-based diet.

These studies clearly point out that people on vegetarian diets are less likely to develop cancer. If vegetarian diets effectively help to prevent cancer, it does not take too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that a vegetarian diet might also be healthier for people who already have cancer.

Mechanism of Action

In an important paper presented in Cancer and Nutrition, titled "Cancerostatic Effect of Vegetarian Diets," Dr. Eduardo Siguel proposes that vegetarian diets may reduce the risk of developing cancer because "there is a potential cancerostatic effect of vegetarian diets that is based on a selective alteration of the metabolic pathways of fatty acids in neoplastic cells." This means that, in addition to lowering the levels of known carcinogens like saturated fats and excess protein, a vegetarian diet may alter the way tumor cells process fat and thereby prevent the runaway growth that characterizes fatal cancers.

This change in the processing of fats may also account for the effect vegetarian diets have on slowing or stopping the growth of established cancers. (15)

It is strange that medical doctors always counsel cancer patients to change their diets, the same way they recommend that smokers who have lung cancer or heart disease stop smoking immediately. It has been clearly established that a high-fat, low-fiber diet is a strong element in the formation of colon cancer. Early detection of cancerous polyps can lead to the removal of the entire cancer.

Unfortunately, patients who are apparently "cured" of colon cancer often experience a recurrence of the disease. The evidence presented in this chapter supports the hypothesis that a vegetarian diet can prevent precancerous cells from developing into a cancer. Advising patients to change their diet is as important in treatment as any other therapy.

The mortality rate from breast cancer is increasing in the United States, despite rising rates of early detection and treatment that are supposedly effective in eliminating such cancers. Part of the problem may be that American women are eating an increasingly high-fat, low-fiber, fast-food diet, as are men. We are now recognizing the link between a high-fat, meat-based diet and heart disease. It is time to make the same connection between cancer and a high-fat diet and to recognize that vegetarianism is a viable, healthy alternative to the traditional American diet.

Side Effects

The most common side effect attributed to vegetarian diets is the possibility of protein deficiency. Research cited earlier (4, 9) shows that a well-rounded vegetarian diet provides plenty of protein. A vegetarian diet that combines a variety of grains, such as corn, rice, and wheat, with legumes, such as beans and lentils, will provide more than enough of the daily comple-nient of essential amino acids. Amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa are grains that contain substantial amounts of most essential proteins.

Vegetarians need to exert no more effort in getting a balanced diet than meat eaters. In fact, the serious and glaring vitamin and mineral deficiencies that can result from a junk-food diet are virtually unknown among vegetarians. So pass the broccoli and eat healthy!

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