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Thread: Cancer and nutrients

  1. #1 Cancer and nutrients 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope skeptic's Avatar
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    I am interested in both facts and opinions on this. A little conundrum.

    My wife and I just guested a couple, with the woman suffering from bone cancer. She may already be beyond help, and the impression I got is that she will not be long for this world. However, what they are doing seemed wrong to me. This couple have been influenced by some 'alternative' therapists. They have been put on a diet by those therapists to try to help fight the cancer. That diet is a high nutrient one. That is : lots of fruit, green and coloured vegetables. The intake from that diet would be an excess of vitamins, anti-oxidants, flavenoids etc. In other words - high nutrient.

    However, some time ago I read an article in one of my science mags of the effect of diet on cancer (very little). One trial was reported in which a high nutrient diet was compared to a normal diet, and those on the high nutrient diet, on average, had a shorter survival time.

    Despite what the alternative therapists say, it makes sense to me that high nutrient intake would exacerbate the cancer. The thing is that cancer cells are human cells with a few mutations. They require nutrients to grow. And they grow much more quickly than normal human cells do, meaning they need more nutrients. So having a diet with excess nutrients would stimulate the cancer to grow even faster.

    If nutrients are limited, the cancer growth should slow down, since the requirements are limited. My view, partly based on this logic, and partly based on the aforesaid trial results, is that a low nutrient diet would be better (if any diet is better for slowing cancer). Eat mainly white bread, white rice, boiled skinned potatoes, and keep fruit, and healthy vegetables to the minimum required, and so starve the cancer. I was not sure enough of my facts to say anything to the couple involved. They would probably ignore my ideas anyway. But I wonder if anyone else has ideas or data that might be applicable.

    Do you think my logic is fair?
    Do you have other data on how diet affects the growth of cancers?


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    Like yourself, I see no plausible mechanism by which a high nutrient diet would limit cancer growth. Conversely, I'm not really sure a low nutrient diet would be any better than a normal diet. Cancer is cancer and it will probably grow regardless, so I wouldn't recommend depriving the rest of your body of the nutrients it needs to function. I don't have any evidence to support this though so it is just speculation.

    Hopefully the couple you referred to is not substituting evidence-based medicine with the diet and it is instead just supplemental.


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    No data. Just an anecdote.

    A friend of ours was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Terminal meaning, you should organise your own funeral now, which she did. But she was also tough as old boots. She had the surgery and the chemo and the radiotherapy. And she went on one of those high nutrient, veggies in the blender, type diets.

    She had to have a couple more rounds of surgery, chemo, radio in the years following and they persisted with the diet stuff right to the end. She lasted another nine years, and only the last 6-12 months or so were the full-blown terminal disease, sick as a dog, she'll soon die type lifestyle.

    So we had the funeral she'd organised, just that it was almost a decade later.

    -----------------------------------------

    And I suspect you might be looking at the wrong aspect of "high nutrient". Yes these diets have high nutrients, but they're not the high calorie, growth promoting nutrients like fats, sugars and proteins. They're high in minerals and vitamins which are more likely to have their biggest impact on endocrine function and those sorts of life supporting, rather than growth promoting, metabolic systems.
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  5. #4  
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    Adelady

    It makes sense that surgery, chemo, and radiotherapy will slow the cancer. But it seems to me that having a high nutrient diet is like trying to kill a weed by spraying it with fertiliser. Or kill a fire by adding fuel.

    I am not suggesting a no-nutrient diet instead. Just one in which normal cells get just enough nutrients to cope, but the higher levels needed by rapidly growing cancer cells is not provided. I lack data to demonstrate this, though, and anyone who can add something will be appreciated.
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  6. #5  
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    I put it in the same very loosely bounded group as the observations that the longest lived groups of people tend to have high nutrient, low calorie diets - very restricted in fats and proteins with sugars only from fruits. I know some of these diets go so far as to restrict fruit intake as well as eliminating refined sugars, but I wouldn't do that if I were in that position.

    I'd try to limit ordinary growth promoting nutrients like high calorie foods and maximise other supportive nutrients. (The only analogy I can think of - and it's not wonderful anyway - is using rock/ mineral dusts on garden soils and avoiding high nitrogen fertilisers. Plants grow stronger rather than faster/ weaker. )

    Data?

    As far as I can tell, you've basically got a shouting match. It'll take a while for the advocates of save-yourself!-with-veggie-juice to come to any sensible accommodation with the veggies-are-useless oncologists.

    Gotta go. Have to ferry husband to appointment.
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    If I am ever diagnosed with terminal cancer, I'm going to start eating the foods I've stopped eating.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    It makes sense that surgery, chemo, and radiotherapy will slow the cancer. But it seems to me that having a high nutrient diet is like trying to kill a weed by spraying it with fertiliser. Or kill a fire by adding fuel.
    Actually chemotherapy increases the cellular mutations, and so does radiotherapy, so it causes cancer. Weeds have been killed by fertiliser (whole ecosystems die because of overfertilisations), and fire can be killed by adding fuel, because it quickly drains all the oxygen from the fire, thus ending it.

    I have not studied cancer thoroughly but i do know that it is affected by everything you do.

    However your theory is flawed because cancer has priority when it comes to food. Cancer takes high risks multiplying and will also divide when resources are low, some may die because of malnutrition, but it will still draw more resources than non affected cells.

    The best way to fight cancer, is with prevention.
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    Zwolver

    I have seen no proper scientific evidence that chemotherapy increases mutations. It sounds like a crackpot theory to me.

    I would also be interested in your ideas of preventing cancer. One or two things are obvious, like not smoking. But cancers strike out of nowhere with no apparent cause, especially in older people. The idea that you can prevent it also sounds crackpot, apart from a few obvious precautions.
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    skeptic,

    Adjuvant chemotherapy with FOLFOX for primary colorectal cancer is associated with increased somatic gene mutations and inferior survival in patients undergoing hepatectomy for metachronous liver metastases.

    Adjuvant chemotherapy with FOLFOX for primary color... [Ann Surg. 2012] - PubMed - NCBI
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  11. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    ZwolverI have seen no proper scientific evidence that chemotherapy increases mutations. It sounds like a crackpot theory to me.I would also be interested in your ideas of preventing cancer. One or two things are obvious, like not smoking. But cancers strike out of nowhere with no apparent cause, especially in older people. The idea that you can prevent it also sounds crackpot, apart from a few obvious precautions.
    You can prevent most cervical cancers and some anal and throat cancers with the HPV vaccine.
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    Zwolver

    I have seen no proper scientific evidence that chemotherapy increases mutations. It sounds like a crackpot theory to me.

    I would also be interested in your ideas of preventing cancer. One or two things are obvious, like not smoking. But cancers strike out of nowhere with no apparent cause, especially in older people. The idea that you can prevent it also sounds crackpot, apart from a few obvious precautions.
    If you take many chemotherapies long enough, you absolutely will get cancer. After all, many chemos work by mechanisms like alkylation, which absolutely will cause mutations and cancer to occur over long enough period of exposure.
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    I have seen no proper scientific evidence that chemotherapy increases mutations. It sounds like a crackpot theory to me.
    Too right it does. I've never heard of it.

    I'd understand if someone thought that radiotherapy increases mutations, even though radiotherapy is so dangerous because it kills cells regardless of their malignant, benign, desired, undesired status.

    Chemotherapy products are also pretty nasty things. They might even increase mutations in some cells for all I know - but they're pretty good at killing cells. The problem is getting them to the right place so that they kill the cells you want to target rather than random cells all over the body.

    But I've never heard of it as an argument against using chemo.
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    I was reading an article in New Scientist about how some cancers have been hindered when the patient succumbs to a infection that causes a high fever. Apparently the body's reaction to the fever also assists with fighting the cancerous tissue in some cases. Of course, if the infection that causes the fever ends up killing the patient then it's not much help.
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  16. #15  
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    I read the same article. It looks as if it may have some substance. But there is an awful lot written about cancer that is total bulldust. The trick is sorting out what is crap with what is possible.
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  17. #16  
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    Maybe I can make a small comment on this as I am now into my 7th year of cancer survival, which in 2010 was declared terminal (prostate cancer which had jumped into my rib area as revealed by bone scans).
    I asked all sorts of questions about diet and was told there was no convincing evidence that 'nutrients' are of any value. My own diet has always been a light one. My waist is 30.5" and my BMI is 22 which has been the same for the last 40 years - so no problem with my weight ever. I have been told that tomatoes and broccoli might be of some use but in reality I consume these only once or twice a week. Nobody has told me not to consume sugar, even though some sources suggest that cancer cells grow on sugar, but there appears to be no hard evidence.
    One study suggested a selenium diet. I bought selenium tablets and bags of brazil nuts until I read that selenium could encourage the growth of cancer cells, in contradiction to an earlier study.
    It leaves me with only the impression that nothing is clear cut on diet, unless it works like a placebo. How I got cancer is a mystery. It wasn't in my immediate family. It was nothing to do with diet as I've never indulged in food. It could be something to do with the place where I was working when I got it (toxic environment) but I'll never know.
    The only thing to be done is to place your life in the hands of the professionals.
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    The trick is sorting out what is crap with what is possible.
    I suspect we'll have to wait a while for any "sorting out" to give us any guidance.

    It's only recently that there's been enough evidence about various cancers at various stages for oncologists to have any strong backing for their judgements about which patients will (or won't) benefit most from (how much) chemo or (how much) radio in what combinations after surgery. And there are still arguments being advanced about the benefits and drawbacks of some surgeries and some specific techniques.

    Getting a good handle on which patients with which status with which cancers did well, better, worse, or no effect from which diet regimes will take a good bit longer. The people who sell the seminars and the supplements are a distinctly unreliable source. Patients and their families are not uniformly wonderful about record keeping, especially if there is any refusal or non-compliance with a diet or medication regime.

    I'd even be willing to wager (a very small amount) that some of the benefits of the throw-stuff-in-the-blender diets are very much like the benefits of an old-fashioned "invalid diet". All the food consumed is in a liquid, easily digested, form which means that, regardless of the specific nutrients involved, the patient will get the maximum benefit from whatever they manage to consume - and hold down. Whether it's a kale smoothie or beef tea or soft custard with fruit jelly or a yogurt-blueberry shake or the famous chicken soup, the most important feature is ease of consumption and ready absorption of whatever nutrients are contained in the food.
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    Thank you for sharing personal details, ox.

    I am of a similar opinion, adelady, that much of the benefit of emulsified food lies in it's ease of preparation and digestion. Fatigue and lack of appetite are common side effects for those dealing with cancer and it's treatment. Blender smoothies offer ease and diversity of diet. I find them helpful also for graveyard shift. An 'instant' lunch, healthier than many other options.

    Whatever the influence of diet, all the persons I have known with cancer have been advised by their medical support to avoid all processed foods, including hard cheese. A quick look at the American Cancer Society site seems to indicate that they are not quite so adamant in this proclamation anymore. (No surprises there. I'm sure some of the food lobbies would have been fighting that suggestion.) Their dietary advice for cancer patients is pretty much in line with the general dietary advice.

    Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: Answers to Common Questions
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  20. #19  
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    IMHO(yeh right)
    "Cancer" is a broad almost meaningless definition which covers many dissimilar mutations/problems/diseases.
    Some "cancers" grow and kill faster with "treatment"--including surgery, and some without. Some "cancers" are not usually life threatening(eg: prostate cancer). Some "cancers" are caused by viruses.
    etc...etc...
    To continue to think of all cancers as "cancer" may be completely the wrong approach.
    My mom's last husband died of cancer------he had the chemotherapy which didn't help him, but made his last year, or so, miserable.
    My mom and a cousin had breast cancer, and had surgery and lived many years after(the cousin is still alive over 25 years after the surgery)

    Starving the cancer without starving the person seems a good approach------------the "how to do that" question remains?
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    Reading this link I am drawn to the following paragraph:
    Can regular exercise reduce the risk of cancer coming back?

    This has not been looked at for all types of cancer, but there have been studies of survivors of breast, colorectal, prostate, and ovarian cancers. In these studies, people with higher levels of physical activity after diagnosis lived longer and had less chance of the cancer coming back. Still, more studies are needed to see if exercise has a direct effect on cancer growth.
    In the meantime, since physical activity is known to prevent heart and blood vessel disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, cancer survivors should try to have a physically active lifestyle.
    Elsewhere I read that cancer cells cannot thrive in a highly oxygenated environment, which if true makes me wonder why cancer sufferers are not given access to an oxygen machine. If this is to be considered then no athlete or sports person should ever get cancer, but of course they do.
    I mention this as a comparison to the idea that a healthy diet will stave off cancer, when no evidence really exists.
    When coming face to face with the doctors they would always ask me first if I was a smoker, and I always had to tell them that I had never smoked in my life. They never ever asked me about diet. And yet...my mother was a smoker into her 70's and she lived to 91. My father smoked into his 60's and lived to 80. Both died from heart related conditions.

    I don't have any advice to give to anyone who has cancer because I realise just how complex an issue this is. There is a newly published diet book which suggests that a fasting diet could be of benefit to anyone who has the determination to go ahead. No food for 4 days or even 7. We are all the product of ancestors who survived in harsh conditions to live long enough to procreate. Many survived famine, so we can assume that a controlled fast may well be of benefit.
    What could be of interest for future study is a reduced calorific intake in conjunction with an increased activity level. High calorific intake damages cells.
    I am healthy enough to walk, cycle, jog, run and do aerobic exercise. I set myself a target of walking at least 30 miles a week, which is only an average of about 5 miles a day (2 hours). For those who can manage it there is the high intensity (HIT) exercise routine which is making copies of a recently published book by the same author as the diet book (Dr. Michael Mosley) in the UK fly off the shelves. The method I favour is to find a running trail of about 2 miles and alternate between a walk and a run which leaves me breathless. In my experience this is much better than jogging at a steady pace.
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    I am not suggesting a starvation diet. One of the common side effects of cancer is wasting. When a person is losing weight rapidly, starving does not seem to be an appropriate recommendation. Nor do I truly know what would be best, which is why I am asking these questions, in the hope that someone may have encountered better data.

    My suggestion, diffident as it is, is that a reasonably high calorie diet combined with low nutrients (such as vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals etc) might 'starve' the cancer. Obviously it will not cure the patient. But combined with chemotherapy etc., it might deliver a double hit to the cancer. Maybe.


    Just as an example , take vitamin C. The average woman needs a minimum of 40 milligrams per day to maintain robust good health. But she can go for a long time on less (say 25 mgm per day) without developing scurvey. If a female cancer patient was on a diet with no more than 25 mgm per day of vitamin C, would that suppress the cancer growth, since cancer cells need a lot more vitamin C than normal cells?
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    I have seen no proper scientific evidence that chemotherapy increases mutations. It sounds like a crackpot theory to me.
    Too right it does. I've never heard of it.

    I'd understand if someone thought that radiotherapy increases mutations, even though radiotherapy is so dangerous because it kills cells regardless of their malignant, benign, desired, undesired status.

    Chemotherapy products are also pretty nasty things. They might even increase mutations in some cells for all I know - but they're pretty good at killing cells. The problem is getting them to the right place so that they kill the cells you want to target rather than random cells all over the body.

    But I've never heard of it as an argument against using chemo.
    Radiotherapy uses multiple angles to increase the dose of a small area. All the surface that was used to increase the dose to the desired plane has been affected by the radiation. And radiation causes mutations, and mutations cause cancer.

    Chemotherapy works the same way, it causes cancer. But because most carcinogenic cells multiply much faster, they die off a lot sooner because chemotherapy inhibits (not halts, just slows) DNA multiplication in some cases and the product cell will be incomplete and die off. This is not true for all chemotherapy drugs, but for some.

    I didn't say it using chemo is bad. But it should not be considered a wonder drug that cures cancer. It cures cancer like guns win wars. By casualties. I think chemo isn't applied soon enough in some cases, but in other cases, like preventing cancer with chemotherapy, the doctors really don't understand what it does.

    Skeptic asked me about ideas how to prevent cancer in the first place. I have some ideas, like DNA screenings, where scientists look for possible carcinogenic genes. The NK cells have a task of maintaining the mutations. Measuring the amounts in the blood, and concluding there are too many, would be an indication of either a viral infection, or a bigger chance for cancer due to a mutation in some DNA repair mechanism. A lower amount of NK cells could indicate a shortage, which could also increase the chance for cancer.

    Nobody ever tried (as far as i could find) looking for NK cells to determine the chance for cancer before. I wonder if there is some truth in it. Can anyone fill me in on this?
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    Quote Originally Posted by sculptor View Post
    IMHO(yeh right)
    "Cancer" is a broad almost meaningless definition which covers many dissimilar mutations/problems/diseases.
    Some "cancers" grow and kill faster with "treatment"--including surgery, and some without. Some "cancers" are not usually life threatening(eg: prostate cancer). Some "cancers" are caused by viruses.
    etc...etc...
    To continue to think of all cancers as "cancer" may be completely the wrong approach.
    I would like to highlight this statement because, as sculptor points out, cancer refers to such a broad array of pathology that it would be very unwise to treat it as one generalized thing, for which generalities can made: something like analplastic thyroid carcinoma, which may have the worst prognosis of all the cancers out there, is hardly comparable to a well differentiated basal cell carcinoma, which isn't going to be metastasizing anywhere. Trying ascribe some diet, or lackthereof, to "cancer" is not a useful endevour imo, because it would totally depend on the cancer and the treatment - and the people who tend to push some special diet almost certainly have little knowledge of the specific cancer or the specifics treatments, and how to adjust diet accordingly. I think in this sort of situation, I'd defer to the oncologist and pharmacist on whether a diet would interfere with therapy (eg supplimenting folate while taking methotrexate, a folate antagonist), and if there was no data to show interference, assume a healthy diet is best, as it usually is.

    Also, I think quality of life is a critical thing that needs to be addressed - would starving a patient with an already poor prognosis, with the hopes of some marginal or theorized benefit, be better for them given all the co-morbidities that come with malnutrition? If there was evidence to show that something like this was beneficial, and the person who would suffer through it deemed it worthwhile, then well enough, but otherwise I would think it would be better to be as strong as possible, for as long as possible, instead of giving up the potentially last weeks-months-years of one's life to their disease.
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    I agree, Misha, that starving an already suffering patient would be wrong. That is not what I was interested in. My interest was the impact of a low nutrient diet, in conjunction with orthodox cancer treatment. So, if you gave the patient heaps of calories, but minimal vitamin C, for example, would that weaken the cancer sufficiently for the orthodox treatment to have more impact?
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    I agree, Misha, that starving an already suffering patient would be wrong. That is not what I was interested in. My interest was the impact of a low nutrient diet, in conjunction with orthodox cancer treatment. So, if you gave the patient heaps of calories, but minimal vitamin C, for example, would that weaken the cancer sufficiently for the orthodox treatment to have more impact?
    Again, it would be highly dependent on the cancer, and while it may be that it could be beneficial for some cancers, I'm skeptical that it would be of any massive use. Thing is, the big problem with cancer is that the cells don't apoptosis when they're supposed to for any number of reasons (be it they're getting uninhibited growth signal or the apoptotic pathway has been knocked out by mutation), so taking away an anti-oxidant like vitamin-C might make a significant impact on their mortality. In the mean time, your normal cells are exquisitely sensitive to oxidative damage, so you might send them down the tubes disproportionately, which is the opposite of the goal.

    I'm not sure about that at all, only pointing out that targeted therapy to the individual cancer is probably going to reap a lot more benefit. When you're dealing with fast growing cancers, for instance, something like methotrexate, which prevents nucleotide formation by antagonizing folate (basically blocking DNA and RNA formation), prevents the very active cells from replenishing, and they die off en-mass as a result. Our own fast dividing cells don't like it much either, and neurons can also get hit because they are pretty demanding cells, but the cancer cells are the hardest hit. To contrast that, slow growing tumors are very hard to treat, and things like the above wouldn't work because it would destroy our own cells far sooner than the cancer. Therapies which damage DNA long term (eg. radiation and other chemotherapeutics) work, but again, they hit our own cells, and was pointed out, cause increase in the risk of developing other cancers.
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  27. #26  
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeptic View Post
    I am not suggesting a starvation diet. One of the common side effects of cancer is wasting... When a person is losing weight rapidly, starving does not seem to be an appropriate recommendation. My suggestion, diffident as it is, is that a reasonably high calorie diet combined with low nutrients (such as vitamins, phytonutrients, minerals etc) might 'starve' the cancer. Obviously it will not cure the patient. But combined with chemotherapy etc., it might deliver a double hit to the cancer. Maybe.
    I was not suggesting that a starvation diet will fight cancer. From what I have heard some patients have found that they have benefitted from fasting or a particular diet in conjuction with radical treatment. Now this could be the placebo effect or it could be real. If a person is losing weight rapidly then it seems like a good idea to counteract that with a greater intake of food, but this would be of no benefit or even harmful as the cancer could 'feed' on the extra calories.
    Like I say, as a cancer patient myself I will not offer any advice because I think this is best left to the professionals. In the last 6-7 years I have seen many doctors and have attended clinics on about 60 occasions (37 of those for radiotherapy). However there is one piece of advice I do give to any sufferer if they haven't already done so. Get hold of the relevant cancer charity phone line. These people will talk to you about your concerns for as long as you like (that is my experience) when the doctors only have a limited time to offer. Talk to them about diet. They will have heard all your questions before and will give the best answer available.
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    Current research has been done before that suggests that periods of severe starvation do indeed help to fight cancer through sensitization to chemotherapeutics. Since I'm apparently limited in the number of urls I can post, you'll have to look up these articles yourselves via something like pubmed:

    "Metabolic targets for cancer therapy"
    Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2013 Nov;12(11):
    "Fasting Cycles Retard Growth of Tumors and Sensitize a Range of Cancer Cell Types to Chemotherapy"
    Sci Transl Med. 2012 March 7; 4(124): 124ra27.
    "
    Cancer research. Can fasting blunt chemotherapy's debilitating side effects?" Science. 2008 Aug 29;321(5893

    Interestingly, this is at odds with the current ACS guidelines for patients with neoplasms to increase caloric intake .
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  29. #28  
    ox
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    I'm always a bit concerned that someone who suspects cancer or has been recently diagnosed could find their way to a thread like this be distracted from the taking the treatment available from first rate professionals with the best methods that have ever been developed to save life. There have been plenty of people who have tried alternative therapies and it has cost them dearly.
    My own treatment was radical radiotherapy (May - July 2011). It sounded terrifying but my fears were unfounded, and I even quite enjoyed the experience. Sure it drained my energy at the time, but within a few weeks I was climbing mountains.
    That does not mean that you cannot supplement your treatment with something to enhance your well being. Personally I think my body likes a bit of famine and a bit of exercise at the same time, and I'm not convinced that any dietary change is of any great value. If there was any evidence for a superfood to fight cancer then why has it not been spashed around the world in headlines by now?
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  30. #29  
    Northern Horse Whisperer Moderator scheherazade's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ox View Post
    I'm always a bit concerned that someone who suspects cancer or has been recently diagnosed could find their way to a thread like this be distracted from the taking the treatment available from first rate professionals with the best methods that have ever been developed to save life. There have been plenty of people who have tried alternative therapies and it has cost them dearly.
    My own treatment was radical radiotherapy (May - July 2011). It sounded terrifying but my fears were unfounded, and I even quite enjoyed the experience. Sure it drained my energy at the time, but within a few weeks I was climbing mountains.
    That does not mean that you cannot supplement your treatment with something to enhance your well being. Personally I think my body likes a bit of famine and a bit of exercise at the same time, and I'm not convinced that any dietary change is of any great value. If there was any evidence for a superfood to fight cancer then why has it not been spashed around the world in headlines by now?
    Your sentence which I have highlighted in bold is very true, not only for cancer but also for other diseases. Fear is the greatest enemy for many who are diagnosed and the choices they make are not always based on knowledge but on the emotions they are experiencing.
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