Cancer has a sweet tooth

There’s no doubt that cancer is enjoying the 21st Century. It’s attracting lots of PR and managing to reach many more people than it used to.

Something about our modern way of life is providing ideal conditions for it to thrive. Hormonal cancers have increased more rapidly than others which gives us a clue that endocrine function may be part of the picture.

Most of the research you read will be about curing it once diagnosed, but alternative therapists are more interested in how to prevent cancer in the first place. Cancer grows when the host provides the right biochemical conditions for its survival. Cutting out cancer and killing rogue remaining cells is vital, life-saving work, but it’s equally important to change the cellular environment that allowed it to make itself at home in your body.

There are a number of factors that make cancer feel at home. They include:

  • uncontrolled growth signals
  • plenty of food for growth
  • uncontrolled inflammation 

Growth signals

Growth is an anabolic process controlled by hormones. Insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone that prompts the body to grow and store. It’s released when we eat carbohydrate and, to a lesser extent, protein. Our modern diet, full of carbs (whether that’s the ‘healthy’ whole-grain-and-smoothie variety or the ‘unhealthy’ white-bread-and-fizzy-drinks variety) ensures our blood stream is constantly circulating insulin, prompting cell growth and proliferation. That’s all the encouragement cancer needs.

Hormonal balance is often likened to an orchestra. It’s important that our hormones play nicely together, and imbalances in one hormone can affect the function of another. We know that chronically elevated insulin levels often run in tandem with high cortisol and adrenalin, they can also affect thyroid function, and influence the activity of sex hormones, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. So insulin is a prime suspect when we consider the rise in breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.

Interestingly, insulin is not released in response to dietary fat, so eating it has no direct impact on the endocrine system, though cholesterol and essential fats are important for its proper function. This knowledge alone makes it difficult to understand why fat has been cast as the villain of the piece for all these years.

Controlling growth signals is about controlling insulin, which is about reducing carb intake, moderating protein intake and increasing fat intake. So we’re not talking about a high protein diet, it’s a high fat, ketogenic, diet that brings about this important biochemical shift.

While ketogenic diets have been used to treat epilepsy for decades, the medical profession has been wary of ketosis; mainly because ketosis (a natural energy making process) is often confused with ketoacidosis (a dangerous metabolic condition that can affect Type 1 diabetics). Recent trials have shown the benefit of ketogenic diets across a variety of critical health conditions, including cancer, with great results.

Food for growth

You’ve probably been told that we all produce cancer cells every day. Mostly our immune system spots them before they get too big, but some get beyond the baby stage and become small tumours. In order to grow, cancer cells use a process called ‘anaerobic respiration’. And that gives us a powerful way to halt their progress.

The process of making energy takes food, breaks it down, and uses the fragments to make ATP, our basic unit of energy.

The body has a number of routes to make ATP; we wouldn’t have made it very far on the evolutionary timeline if we could only use carbs, as they were in short supply in the Stone Age. We can easily and safely break down carbs, proteins and fats to make energy.

We can… but cancer can’t.

Most cancer cells can only make energy through a process of anaerobic respiration. And the only fuel they can use for that is glucose. And anaerobic respiration needs a big supply of glucose to make only a small amount of energy. In fact, it needs about 20 times more glucose than a normal cell.

So, while we can live perfectly well using fats for energy – cancer can’t.

Following a diet that promotes lipolysis – in other words a ketogenic diet – has the potential to starve cancer cells and prevent new growth. And while it would be naive to assume that’s all there is to it, it would be good to know that your diet isn’t making your problem worse.

Unfortunately we live in an age that has made us suspicious of fats. We’ve been taught to fear fat, even though the data doesn’t support the hypothesis. We’ve been so conditioned that some of us dislike the very thought of eating fat.

In the world of nutrition there is a sense of shift and alignment as we finally leave behind the low fat dogma that has caused so much harm to so many people. Leading nutritional scientists have provided a new understanding that fats are safer than carbs, and ‘good fats’ should be a much bigger part of our diet than we’ve been led to believe over the past four decades. Those decades also happen to be the years where obesity, diabetes and cancer statistics have hit the roof.

Concerns about sugar and cancer are nothing new. When I was studying for my nutrition qualification in the early 2000s we were taught that sugar and cancer don’t mix.

What is new is the understanding that it’s not just sugar: all sugary and starchy foods have the potential to disrupt your biochemistry leading to hormonal imbalances, inappropriate growth signals and providing fuel for cancers to grow. That’s because sugars and starches all break down to glucose in the end. So eating a huge bowl of mashed potato or pasta is not so very different from eating a slice of home made cake. To some extent you can choose your poison. If you’re going to eat carbs at all then a slice of cake now and again is really no worse than a ham sandwich. Eating both is complete madness, of course!

There are other ways in which high sugar levels are harmful in the body. They put you at risk of other illnesses such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s, they cause you to put on weight and they lead to constant, uncontrolled inflammation that puts a strain on the immune system.

If you want to be as healthy as you can possibly be – and especially if you are recovering from cancer – you would be wise to see carbs as an occasional treat and base your core diet around the following foods:

  • meat, fish and seafoood
  • nuts, seeds, pulses and beans
  • olive oil, nut and seed oils
  • organic butter and dairy products*
  • coconut oil, ghee, butter and light olive oil for cooking
  • ex virgin olive oil and cold pressed seed and nut oils for dressings
  • lots of vegetables, mainly those grown above ground, lots of dark green leaves
  • one portion of domestically grown fruit per day.

If you’d like to read in more detail about how to eat a ketogenic diet then please download my book, The Dissident Diet. It contains everything you need to know to get started. Or book an appointment with me to get a tailor-made diet and lifestyle plan.

* Cows’ milk has attracted a lot of interest in the cancer debate, especially in relation to breast cancer. One of the molecules in milk is called ‘insulin-like growth factor’ which is, of course, designed to accelerate growth in baby cows. It’s this element that makes some commentators suggest that milk may not be a good food for people with cancer. I tend to agree and minimise it where I can. Almond milk is a great alternative.

If you suspect you have cancer, or you have had a diagnosis, it’s essential that you seek the advice of a qualified medical professional and keep in touch with your medical team at all times.

Published by

Dawn Waldron

Highly experienced nutritional and nutrigenomic therapist helping people optimise diet, lifestyle and gene expression for health and happiness after breast cancer.

4 thoughts on “Cancer has a sweet tooth”