Posted on March 18 2018
In another instructive chapter from Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, he addresses the three major blood cancers: leukemia (52,000 diagnoses and 24,000 deaths per year), lymphoma (70,000 diagnoses and 19,000 deaths per year), and myeloma (24,000 diagnoses and 11,000 deaths).
Blood cancers are like other cancers in that they all exhibit uninhibited cell growth of abnormal cells, but the cells do not cluster into a tumor but circulate throughout the body in our blood stream. In leukemia, the bone marrow which normally produces red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection and platelets to help the blood to clot starts to produce abnormal white blood cells which are unable to fight infections and which crowd out healthy red and white blood cells, reducing the body’s healthy blood cell count.
Lymphoma is a blood cancer of lymphocytes (specialized white blood cells) which can multiply quickly and collect in lymph nodes in the armpits, neck and groin. Lymph nodes help filter blood, but the quickly multiplying lymphocytes crowd out healthy cells and impair the body’s ability to fight infections.
Myeloma is a cancer of the plasma cells which normally produce antibodies that stick to invaders and infected cells to neutralize them and tag them for destruction. Cancerous plasma cells displace healthy cells and produce abnormal antibodies that clog the kidneys. Most (90%) of myeloma sufferers have cancer cells growing in multiple bones in their bodies (multiple myeloma) and this condition is considered incurable, so prevention is key.
How can one try to prevent these cancers from occurring? The research to date is more indicative than definitive, but in a study of 60,000 people who were followed for more than 12 years, Oxford University researchers found that those who consume a plant-based diet were less likely to develop all forms of cancer, and the greatest protection appeared to be against blood cancers.
In laboratory studies, cruciferous vegetable compounds killed human leukemia cells in a petri dish while having little effect on the growth of normal cells. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, watercress, bok choy, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips, arugula, radishes, wasabi and all forms of cabbage.
Yale University researchers followed 500 women for eight years who all had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (all the types of lymphoma other than the rare kind that attacks young adults, which is called Hodgkin’s lymphoma). The patients all were receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but the ones who ate three or more servings of vegetables daily had a 42% improved survival rate over those who ate less. And the Iowa Women’s Health Study (35,000 women studied for decades) found that higher consumption of cruciferous vegetables was associated with lower risk of getting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the first place. And the Mayo Clinic found that individuals eating five or more servings of green, leafy vegetables a week had roughly half the odds of getting lymphoma compared with those who ate less than one serving per week.
So, vegetables seem to provide protection from blood cancers. What about fruits? Little research has been done, but in a study of acai berries (a delicious Brazilian fruit which is available in the frozen fruit section of your supermarket-if you are lucky), researchers dripped an acai berry extract on leukemia cells which triggered the self-destruct mechanism in up to 86% of the leukemia cells. And sprinkling acai berries on immune cells called macrophages in a petri dish appeared to enable the cells to engulf and devour up to 40% more microbes than usual.
On a personal note, I love acai berries and I make a Brazilian “acai bowl” every Sunday as my special breakfast treat. It is simply a thick smoothie (banana, frozen acai berry, other frozen fruit, soy milk and Juice Plus Complete protein powder) and then I top it off with granola or some other topping. Yummm! You may also be able to find acai bowls in trendy health food restaurants. The frozen acai berry is normally $7.99 at Kroger for a package of four packets of frozen juice, so that works out to be only $2 per serving (plus all the other stuff, of course). But it is delicious and it is considered a “super fruit” because it is so good for you. This is what I mean by “artful living is healthy living” because you can artfully enjoy life and what it has to offer (like acai berries) and live healthy too.
Multiple myeloma is dreaded because it is incurable, even with aggressive treatment. So what can you do to prevent it in the first place? Multiple myeloma is typically proceeded by a condition called MGUS or Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance, because when it was first discovered, no one understood the significance of finding elevated levels of abnormal antibodies in the body. It is now known to be a precursor to multiple myeloma, and about 3% of Caucasians over age fifty have it (and the rate among African Americans is about 6%). The chance of the condition progressing to myeloma increases about 1% per year, so it is not a quickly developing condition. But, the only way to detect MGUS is through a blood test, because there are no symptoms.
Is there anything you can do to reduce the chances of getting MGUS? Well, maybe. Researchers at the University of Texas collected multiple myeloma cells and put them in a petri dish. Without any intervention, the cancer cells quadrupled within a few days (that’s how quickly this cancer can grow), but when a little curcumin (the ingredient in turmeric spice that gives it the yellow color) was added, the myeloma cells’ growth was either stunted or stopped altogether. We have already discussed the tendency of curcumin to counteract lung disease (see Healthy “Artful Living” Moment #3: Beating Lung Disease the #2 Killer). So, there may be additional reasons to add more turmeric spice to your cooking.
Finally, it may be wise to reduce your consumption of chicken. In the extremely large European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (ERIC) study done in Europe of over 400,000 people for nine years, of all the animal products studied, poultry tended to be associated with the greatest increased risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, all grades of follicular lymphoma, and B-cell lymphomas. The ERIC study found that the risk increased between 56% and 280% for every 50 grams of poultry consumed daily (a single chicken breast may weigh as much as 384 grams). The researchers are not sure why poultry is associated with such elevated risk levels, but they speculate it might be due to the antibiotics and other drugs that are fed to chickens to promote growth, or it might be due to the dioxins found in some poultry meat which have been linked to lymphoma. These findings correspond to the findings that workers in poultry slaughterhouses have higher rates of cancers of the mouth, nasal cavities, throat, esophagus, rectum, liver and blood than do workers in other industries.
So, eat more vegetables, acai berries, turmeric spice, and less chicken. And of all of these suggestions, the easiest and most pleasant suggestion is to consume more acai berry smoothies (and adding Juice Plus Complete protein shake mix makes it a meal!) You can purchase the Juice Plus Complete at Objects of Desire Artful Living. You have to go to Kroger or Meijer’s for the acai berries.