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Healthy "Artful Living" Moment #5: Beating Digestive Disease the #4 Killer

Posted on February 11 2018

There are aspects of Dr. Michael Greger’s chapter on digestive cancers in his book How Not To Die that are a little awkward to discuss, but in the hopes that this information will help people avoid these cancers, let’s proceed.

Digestive cancers include colorectal (colon and rectal) cancers which kill 50,000 Americans annually, pancreatic cancer (46,000 annually) and esophageal cancer (18,000 annually). If cancers are linked to diet, it is most apparent with these cancers, which are all involved with our digestive system.

Colorectal cancer strikes about 5% of all Americans, but it is also one of the most treatable cancers, especially if detected early. In fact, there are more than one million colorectal cancer survivors in the US. The only challenging aspect to treating colorectal cancer is catching it early, because in its early stages there typically are no obvious symptoms. Therefore, starting at age 50 (or older), you should get tested every year with a stool test, or every five years with a sigmoidoscopy or every ten years with a colonoscopy. But there are things you can do to help prevent this cancer in the first place.

Turmeric is a spice that appears to help prevent colorectal cancer. For example, as compared to people in the India, women in US have ten times greater likelihood of getting colorectal cancer and men have eleven times greater likelihood of getting the disease. One factor that may explain this difference is the fact that Indians use a lot of turmeric as well as fruits and vegetables in their cooking as compared to Americans. There have been a number of clinical experiments where people who were experiencing symptoms like abnormal cells in the colon lining were given curcumin (which is the yellow pigment in turmeric) and the number of abnormal cells dropped by 40% within thirty days.

The fruits and vegetables in the Indian diet also help prevent colorectal cancer, principally due to cancer-fighting compounds called phytates. Phytates (which come from plant seeds in whole grains, beans, nuts, etc.) appear to detoxify excess iron in the body, which otherwise can generate a very harmful kind of free radical called hydroxyl radicals. In petri-dish studies, phytates inhibit the growth of virtually all human cancer cells tested so far (including cancers of the colon, breast, cervix, prostate, liver, pancreas, and skin) while leaving normal cells alone. Phytates target cancer cells through a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing activities. They also appear to boost the activity of the body’s natural killer cells, which are white blood cells that form your first line of defense against cancer. Even more amazing, phytates can apparently cause some cancer cells to revert back to their normal state. This cancer cell “rehabilitation” has been demonstrated in vitro in colon cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, and prostate cancer cells.

Pancreatic cancer is a killer. Only 6% of those who have the diagnosis live for 5 years after being diagnosed. Therefore, it is crucial to prevent getting pancreatic cancer in the first place. About 20% of pancreatic cancer is caused by smoking. Other risk factors include obesity and heavy alcohol consumption. But diet appears to be another contributing factor.

In the huge NIH-AARP study cosponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the AARP, 545,000 men and women aged 50 to 71 (the largest study of diet and health in history) were evaluated for a decade for diet and health consequences. Because of the size of the study, it was possible for the scientists to even separate out the effects of different kinds of fat, i.e. fat from plant sources vs. fat from animal sources. The consumption of fat from animal sources was significantly associated with pancreatic cancer risk, but no correlation was found with the consumption of plant fats. In another study of 477,000 people conducted by the European Prospective Investigation in Cancer and Nutrition study it was found that there was a 72% increased risk of pancreatic cancer for every fifty grams of chicken consumed daily (fifty grams is about a quarter of a chicken breast). Similar results were found for lymphomas and leukemias. The research team speculated that the growth-promoting drugs fed to chickens or cancer viruses carried by the chickens might be the cause. The connection of pancreatic cancer and chicken is strengthened by the finding that 30,000 poultry workers showed nine times the likelihood of getting both pancreatic and liver cancer as the general population.

The American Medical Association argued in an editorial in their Archives of Internal Medicine that reducing meat consumption would yield multiple benefits for world health. Aside from reducing meat consumption (particularly chicken), is there anything else that can be done to reduce the likelihood of pancreatic cancer? Well, curcumin in turmeric may help fight pancreatic cancer. In a study funded by the National Cancer Institute and done at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, patients with advanced pancreatic cancer were given large doses of curcumin. Of 21 patients the researchers were able to evaluate, two responded positively to the treatment. While two out of 21 patients doesn’t seem impressive, it is actually about the same positive response rate as the standard chemo regimen that is typically prescribed for patients with advanced cancer, but with zero adverse effects as compared to the chemo treatment.

As is true of many cancers, chances of esophageal cancer are increased by smoking, heavy alcohol consumption but also gastroesophageal reflux, or acid reflux. Again, there are few early warning signs of esophageal cancer, except for acid reflux, and it is a deadly form of cancer, with only a 20% five-year survival rate. So, reducing the incidence of acid reflux is one of the most important interventions you can make to reduce your chances of esophageal cancer.

Acid reflux (evidenced by heartburn and the regurgitation of stomach contents) causes millions of doctor visits and hospitalizations every year. In fact, it is the highest cost digestive disease in the US, having increased six fold over the past 30 years. About one out of four people suffer weekly heartburn and/or acid regurgitation. This compares to 1 in 20 people in Asia. In 45 studies over the past two decades, the most consistent association with cancer of the esophagus  was the consumption of meat and high-fat meals. Red meat is associated with cancer of the esophagus, whereas poultry is associated with cancer down around the stomach-esophagus border. When fat is consumed, the sphincter muscle at the top of the stomach relaxes, allowing acids to creep back up into the esophagus. Those who eat meat have been found to have twice the odds of reflux-induced esophageal inflammation compared with vegetarians.

Aside from not eating animal fats, vegetarians enjoy more of another weapon in the fight against esophageal cancer, our old friend fiber Since fiber is only derived from plant-based foods, vegetarians have an obvious advantage in the consumption of fiber.  High fiber intake can reduce the incidence of esophageal cancer by as much as one-third by helping to prevent the main cause of acid reflux: the herniation of part of the stomach up into the chest cavity, called a hiatal hernia. More than one in five Americans suffer from a hiatal hernia. Because people who don’t eat a lot of fiber-rich plant foods tend to have smaller, firmer stools that can be difficult to pass, they then have to strain to push out the stool, which over time can push part of the stomach up and out of the abdomen, allowing acid to flow up toward the throat. Pushing and straining during a bowel movement can also cause outpouching from the wall of the colon (diverticulosis) and back up blood flow in the veins around the anus, causing hemorrhoids.

Eating plants, especially strawberries, may bring additional benefits. In a randomized clinical experiment of patients with precancerous lesions in their esophagus who were asked to consume powdered strawberries, the progression of the disease was reversed in about 80% of the patients in the high-dose strawberry group. Most of the precancerous lesions either regressed from moderate to mild or disappeared entirely. Half of those on the high-dose strawberry treatment walked away disease-free.

Juice Plus Garden, Orchard and Vineyard capsules contain the powdered dehydrated juice of more than 30 fruits and vegetables. If you want increase your consumption of plant-based foods, there is no easier or more convenient way to do so. In addition, if you decide to reduce your consumption of animal-based foods and substitute more plant-based foods, you may want to consider using a Juice Plus Tower Garden which will permit you to aeroponically grow plant-based food both indoors and outdoors. You can enjoy your own organically grown plant-based foods year-around. Come into Objects of Desire Artful Living and inspect my indoor Tower Garden. It is quite impressive.


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