Today one of my assignments for the course I’m taking from ECornell in plant based nutrition was to write a letter to a friend who is “worried because his/her mother and aunt both had cancer and s/he worries that s/he is destined for a cancer diagnosis too! S/he is considering scheduling an early detection precancerous screening next month. Your assignment is to share some encouraging information with her.” I wanted to share my letter with you and “Steve” is a fictional friend.
However, prior to writing this letter, I ran into a friend who has been diagnosed with cancer just recently. I was saddened to hear the news and thought of him as I wrote the letter. I did try to broach the topic of nutrition gently with him as I have read about research by Dean Ornish that was encouraging, but he changed the topic so I did not push. Just a short couple of years ago, I would not have been receptive to this information either, so I try to respect where people are in their journey to health. It is hard for me, as I can hardly restrain myself from sharing, but this information is not mainstream yet and people often think we speak of quackery. I am eternally grateful I have found the plant based lifestyle and only wish I had learned about the amazing health benefits sooner.
Here is my letter:
I can relate to your worry and fear about cancer and am sorry to hear of your mother and aunt’s illness.I had always assumed I would die an early death from cancer. After all, my mother died when I was in infant at age 38 of metastatic melanoma and it is a dominant trait in my family’s genetic makeup on my mother’s side, which means my children have a 50/50 chance of having melanoma. I had even considered not having any children because I did not want to pass this legacy on to them. Both of my sisters have had multiple melanomas and two of my cousins have died from the illness. Between my mother and father’s side of the family, there are 14 of us that we know of that have been affected. When I survived to the ripe old age of 50, I decided maybe it was time to rethink my health. I had survived 6 localized melanoma lesions and I was still on this earth. Maybe I really was going to live to retire and see my kids have kids of their own. This may be part of why my mind and heart were open to changing my lifestyle to improve my health when I watched the documentary, “Forks over Knives” in November of 2012. I heard the message of hope ring through the entire film that our genes are not our destiny and that by simply eating a more nutritious diet, I might be able to change my fate. I no longer feel doomed and that is what I would like to share with you.
Along with chemical, viruses, and excessive radiation from sunlight or radioactive substances that can initiate cancer, family history can also play a role. According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, “Family history implies the presence at birth of cells already initiated: that is, the genes have been mutated, implicating genetics as a cause of cancer” (Diet and Cancer I: Chemical Causes of Cancer, T. Colin Campbell, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition Course Two: Diseases of Affluence). Dr. Campbell and others have shown through their research that nutritional imbalances are the most significant cause of cancer, consuming nutrients above or below their optimum levels which promotes cancer growth. If one returns to eating these nutrients at optimum levels, the phase of cancer development called promotion where the mutated DNA that has been altered by a carcinogen causes cells to grow in clusters and eventually form tumors, can actually be halted and perhaps even reversed. According to Dr. Campbell, cancer may even be controlled by nutrition in the progression stage where the early clusters of precancerous cells grow into small and then larger tumors and are eventually diagnosed as cancer and may spread to invade tissues elsewhere in the body, better known as metastasis. Even though supporting evidence for controlling cancer through nutrition during the progression stage is less well developed according to Dr Campbell, it is none the less a cause for hope.
The other good news to me is that in order to help prevent my less than perfect genes from flipping the switch and causing promotion of tumors in my skin that can metastasize to my vital organs, I can make some simple changes in my diet. I don’t have to buy expensive supplements or medications. In fact, Dr. Campbell notes that “nutritional control of cancer should be considered within the context of food, not (within the context of ) supplements of individual nutrients” (Diet and Cancer I: Chemical Causes of Cancer, T. Colin Campbell, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition Course Two: Diseases of Affluence). Dr. Campbell did some very provocative research with mice that showed the effect of protein intake on tumor development that supports his idea that consuming nutrients at optimum levels can halt cancer growth. One of his studies fed four different levels of protein to mice and they followed the development of liver tumors in mice that were exposed to the Hepatitis B gene. Tumors emerged and developed in animals that ate a diet in which 20% of their calories came from protein, there was less tumor activity in the animals that were fed 12% protein, and the animals that were fed diets with 6% protein had no tumor growth. Dr.Campbell notes that the amount of protein required by humans is about the same amount as rodents, or about 10% of our diet and that most humans consume diets well in excess of the amount we need. Dr. Campbell’s research went further to show that even in groups of rodents given high doses of carcinogens, but then fed a low protein, or “optimum” diet, they grew fewer foci or clusters of pre cancerous cells and tumors. In contrast, the animals that were given a low dose of carcinogen, but then fed a diet high in protein grew more foci and tumors. It is exciting to me that despite the dose of carcinogen, the important factor in the tumor development was diet. In addition to these findings, Dr. Campbell’s research also showed that animal based nutrients when fed in excess, tended to stimulate cancer and plant based nutrients tended to decrease tumor development (Diet and Cancer II: Initiation versus Promotion, T. Colin Campbell, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition Course Two: Diseases of Affluence).
I hope that this information encourages you to educate yourself about how diet can influence your risk of developing cancer and gives you hope that your genes are not your destiny. I hope that you learn that you can make a difference in your own health by choosing what you put on the end of your fork. Eating a variety of nutrient dense foods provided by a whole foods plant based diet provides me with about 8-10% of healthy plant based protein, and gives me confidence that I am doing the best job that I can in keeping the switch turned off for cancer.
Please take care,