Sunday, January 17, 2010

Culinary Cancer Combat

I watched the Food Network last night. Nothing new there, except on this episode of "Good Eats" host Alton Brown demonstrated what he has been eating for the past year.Prior to 2009 the Southerner might have been eating fluffy biscuits but that's not how he lost 50 lbs. I don't want to give away too much; but suffice to say sardines were involved. 
Although some have commented that at least one of Brown's recipes looks "icky" and "horrendous," his guidelines are in perfect alignment with those I get from my primary care doc. Her researched and non-icky recommendations are compiled in her book The Jungle Effect. She continues to spend part of her time teaching nutrition and integrative medicine nationally and internationally. Her patients here at home seek her out for her preventive medicine orientation.
But Cancer?
Can diet reduce the risk of cancer or its recurrence? Scientist David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD presented his thoughts about the human capacity to fight cancer last week in a public forum at UCSF. Since its English publication in 2008 his book Anti-cancer: a New Way of Life has been making a big splash among practitioners of integrative medicine, particularly those whose patients have cancer on their minds. Servan-Schreiber combines the street cred of a cancer survivor with the science of a brain scientist. He is charming and even self-deprecating as he shares his compelling personal story. He is also authoritative as he presents his analysis.
Once relegated to "improving quality of life" or "assuaging the discomfort of side effects" integrative oncology has now claimed a role in the prevention and treatment of cancer. Mainstream bench science is looking more closely at the micro-environment in which cancer cells divide and multiply and the hypotheses of integrative oncology are in step. The UCSF introduction of Servan-Schreiber says
Integrative Oncology includes strategies to change the tumor's micro-environment and to stimulate the body's natural defenses against cancer growth...Harnessing new discoveries on the role of nutrition, physical activity, stress management and control of environmental contaminants can have a significant impact not only on cancer prevention, but also on slowing cancer growth...modern oncology should include a combination of conventional treatments with integrative approaches.
The Science
Servan-Schreiber's website calls his dietary recommendation
"a science-based anticancer diet." He promotes "adjusting our diet so as to cut back on cancer promoters and include the greatest number of phytochemical components that actively fight tumors." He cites extensive basic research in support of his theories and continues to make updates: both his website and presentation reported on findings published since the book. But he also invokes -- in spirit, if not by name -- the precautionary principle:"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically" (emphasis mine). 
Along with the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is sponsoring clinical trials including the utility of Coenzyme Q10 and Flaxseed. Research into nutrition and cancer is in its infancy; establishing efficacy will take time. Although correlations abound it will take much more work to establish causality. In the meantime, Dr Servan-Schreiber is 14 years post cancer diagnosis, and his recommendations certainly aren't going to hurt anybody.

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