How Not to Die from Cancer


vegan-diet-for-breast-cancer-preventionAfter Dr. Dean Ornish conquered our #1 killer, he moved on to killer #2. What happens if you put cancer on a plant-based diet? Ornish and colleagues found that the progression of prostate cancer could be reversed with a plant-based diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors—and, no wonder.

If you drip the blood of those eating the Standard American Diet onto cancer cells growing in a petri dish, cancer growth is cut down about nine percent. Put people on a plant-based diet for a year, though, and their blood can do this. The blood circulating within the bodies of those eating plant-based had nearly eight times the stopping power, when it came to cancer cell growth.

Now, this was for prostate cancer—the leading cancer killer specific to men. In women, it’s breast cancer—the #1 cancer killer of young women. So, researchers wanted to repeat the study with women, using breast cancer cells instead. But, they didn’t want to wait a whole year to get the results. Women are dying now. So, they figured, let’s see what a plant-based diet could do after just two weeks against three different types of human breast cancer.

Cancer growth started out powering away at 100%, and then dropped, after eating a plant-based diet for 14 days.

Here’s the before picture. A layer of breast cancer cells is laid down in a petri dish, and then blood from women eating the Standard American Diet is dripped on them. And, as you can see, even the blood of women eating pretty poor diets has some ability to break down cancer.

But, after just two weeks eating healthy, blood was drawn from those same women. So, they acted as their own controls. Same women; two weeks later; their blood dripped on a new carpet of breast cancer cells. And, this is all that’s left. Just a few individual cancer cells remained. Their bodies cleaned up! Before and after, just two weeks eating healthy. Their bloodstream became that much more hostile to cancer.

Slowing down the growth of cancer cells is nice. But, getting rid of them is even better. This is what’s called apoptosis, programmed cell death. After eating healthy, their own bodies were able to somehow reprogram the cancer cells, forcing them into early retirement.

This is what’s called TUNEL imaging, measuring DNA fragmentation: cell death. So, dying cancer cells show up as little white spots. So, again, this is the before, what the blood of your average woman can do to breast cancer cells. She can knock off a few. You can see one dying cancer cell there, in the upper left.

But then, after 14 days of healthy plant-based living, her blood can do this. It’s like you’re an entirely different person inside!

The same blood now coursing through these women’s bodies gained the power to significantly slow down and stop breast cancer cell growth—after just two weeks eating a plant-based diet.

What kind of blood do we want in our body? What kind of immune system? Do we want blood that just kind of rolls over when new cancer cells pop up? Or, do we want blood circulating to every nook and cranny in our body, with the power to slow down and stop cancer?

Now, this dramatic strengthening of cancer defenses was after 14 days of a plant-based diet, and exercise. They had these women out walking 30 to 60 minutes a day. Well, if you do two things, how do you know what role the diet played? So, researchers decided to put it to the test.

This is measuring cancer cell clearance. This is what we saw before; the effect of blood taken from those who ate a plant-based diet (in this case, for an average of 14 years), along with mild exercise—just like out walking every day. Plant-based diet, and walking—that’s the kind of cancer cell clearance you get.

Compare that to the cancer-stopping power of your average sedentary American, which is basically nonexistent.

This middle group, though, instead of 14 years on a plant-based diet—14 years of a Standard American Diet. But, 14 years of daily, strenuous, hour-long exercise, like calisthenics.

The researchers wanted to know, if you exercise hard enough, if you exercise long enough, can you rival some strolling plant-eaters over there?

And the answer is, exercise helped—no question. But, literally 5,000 hours in the gym was no match for a plant-based diet.

Same TUNEL imaging as before; even if you’re a couch potato eating fried potatoes, your body’s not totally defenseless. Your bloodstream can kill off a few cancer cells. But, exercise for 5,000 hours, and you can kill cancer cells left and right. But, nothing appears to kick more cancer tush than a plant-based diet.

We think it’s because of animal proteins—meat, egg white, and dairy proteins increase the level of IGF-1 in our bodies. Insulin-like growth factor 1, a cancer-promoting growth hormone involved in the acquisition and progression of malignant tumors.

Here’s the experiment that really nailed IGF-1 as the villain. The same as last time; go on a plant-based diet. Cancer cell growth drops; cancer cell death shoots up. But then, here’s the kicker. What if you add back to the cancer just the amount of IGF-1 banished from your body because you started eating healthier? It effectively erases the “diet and exercise” effect. It’s like you never started eating healthy at all.

So, the reason one of the largest prospective studies on diet and cancer found the incidence of all cancers combined was lower among those eating more plant-based may be because they’re eating less animal protein, less meat, egg white, and dairy protein—so, end up with less IGF-1, which means less cancer growth.

How much less cancer? Middle-aged men and women with high protein intakes had a 75% increase in overall mortality, and a four-fold increase in the risk of dying specifically from cancer. But, not all proteins—specifically animal protein; which makes sense, given the higher IGF-1 levels.

The academic institution sent out a press release with a memorable opening line: “That chicken wing you’re eating could be as deadly as a cigarette,” explaining that eating a diet rich in animal proteins during middle age makes you four times more likely to die from cancer—a mortality risk factor comparable to smoking cigarettes.

What was the response to the revelation that diets high in meat, eggs, and dairy could be as harmful to health as smoking? Well, one nutrition scientist replied that it was potentially dangerous to compare the effects of smoking with the effects of meat and dairy. Why? Because a smoker might think, why bother quitting smoking if my ham and cheese sandwich is just as bad for me? So, better not tell anyone about the whole animal protein thing.

That reminds me of a famous Philip Morris cigarette ad that tried to downplay the risks by saying, hey, you think secondhand smoke is bad (increasing the risk of lung cancer 19%). Well, hey, drinking one or two glasses of milk every day may be three times as bad (62% higher risk of lung cancer). Or, doubling your risk frequently cooking with oil. Or, tripling your risk of heart disease by eating non-vegetarian. Or, multiplying your risk six-fold by eating lots of meat and dairy. So, they conclude, let’s keep some perspective here! “…[T]he risk of lung cancer from second-hand smoke” may be “well below” that of other “everyday…activities.” So, breathe deep.

That’s like saying, don’t worry about getting stabbed, because getting shot is so much worse.

Uh, how about neither? Two risks don’t make a right.

Of course, you know, Philip Morris stopped throwing dairy under the bus once they purchased Kraft foods. Just sayin’…

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous “meat defamation” trial. Currently Dr. Greger proudly serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United

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