Is it possible to treat cancer with food?
There are many theories (anecdotal, medical, scientific and conspiracy) regarding cancer in pet parents and pets alike. We cannot speculate on these, as we do not have the medical or scientific background. We can only attest based on our own experience with fooding many fur kids with various heath issues and medical ailments.
In 1924, Otto Warburg [Ref 1] theorized cancer feeds on sugar (the metabolism of tumours and the respiration of cells, particularly cancer cells), which is what carbohydrates become during digestion. His theory supports the notion that cancer cannot process fats well. He made some ground-breaking discoveries about the mechanisms of cancer, especially about respiration and mitochondrial malfunction.
In technical terms, Warburg hypothesized that cancer growth is caused by tumour cells generating energy (as, e.g., adenosine triphosphate/ATP) mainly by anaerobic breakdown of glucose (known as fermentation, or anaerobic respiration). This contrasts with healthy cells, which mainly generate energy from oxidative breakdown of pyruvate. Pyruvate is a product of glycolysis and is oxidized within the mitochondria. Hence, according to Warburg theory, cancer should be interpreted as a mitochondrial dysfunction. There is much available on the internet you can read on this topic.
One must remember that cancer, above all other diseases, has countless secondary causes. But, even for cancer, there is only one prime cause. Summarized in a few words, the prime cause of cancer is the replacement of the respiration of oxygen in normal body cells by a fermentation of sugar.
-- Otto H. Warburg, [Ref 2]
Warburg continued to develop the hypothesis experimentally and gave several prominent lectures outlining the theory and the data [Ref 3].
Today, mutations in oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes (rogue DNA) are thought to be responsible for malignant transformation, and the metabolic changes Warburg thought of as causative, now are considered instead, to be a result of these mutations [Ref 4].
However, recent re-evaluation of the data from nuclear/cytoplasm transfer experiments, where nuclei from cancer cells are placed in normal cytoplasm and where nuclei from normal cells are placed in cancer cytoplasm, more strongly supports Warburg’s original theory than the somatic mutation theory for the origin of malignant transformation and cancer. [Ref 5] [Ref 6]
Dr. Thomas N. Seyfried (Ph.D.) [Ref 7], widely considered the godfather of the nutritional treatment of cancer, joins a growing number of researchers who say the high fat, low carb diet can treat many forms of cancer. And this is an important point, many, but not all, forms of cancer. This is because nearly all the healthy cells in our body have the metabolic flexibility to use fat, glucose and ketones to survive, but cancer cells lack this metabolic flexibility and require large amounts of glucose and cannot survive on ketones.
Dr Seyfrield theorise that by limiting carbs, we can reduce glucose and insulin, and thus restrict the primary fuel for cancer cell growth. And the challenge with today’s McKibble and McCan is high content of carbs, of course. Anywhere between 40% to 60% in a bag of McKibble is carbs, which becomes sugar once consumed. And the reason we advocate food over feed is simply low, to negligent, levels of carbs when fooding on real food. Watch this video from Dr Seyfried on the topic, titled "Cancer: A Metabolic Disease With Metabolic Solutions" [Ref 8].
"Ketosis" [Ref 9] is a word you'll probably see when you're looking for information on diabetes or weight loss. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? That depends. Ketosis is a normal metabolic process, something your body does to keep working. In pet parents, when it doesn't have enough carbohydrates from food for your cells to burn for energy, it burns fat instead. As part of this process, your body makes ketones.
If you're healthy and eating a balanced diet, your body controls how much fat it burns, and you don't normally make or use ketones. But when you cut way back on your calories or carbs, your body will switch to ketosis for energy. It can also happen after exercising for a long time and during pregnancy. For per parents with uncontrolled diabetes, ketosis is a sign of not using enough insulin.
However, ketosis can become dangerous when ketones build up. High levels lead to dehydration and change the chemical balance of your blood. Ketoacidosis [Ref 10] is what happens when ketosis goes too far. Ketones build up in your blood, and it becomes acidic. Ketoacidosis can cause a coma or death.
Ketosis is also a popular weight loss strategy for pet parents. Low-carb eating plans include the first part of the Atkins diet and the Paleo diet, which stress proteins for fuelling your body. In addition to helping you burn fat, ketosis can make you feel less hungry. It also helps you maintain muscle.
Doctors may put children who have epilepsy on a ketogenic diet, a special high-fat, very low-carb and protein plan, because it might help prevent seizures [Ref 11]. Adults with epilepsy sometimes eat modified Atkins diets. Similar research was done in dogs with epilepsy [Ref 12].
Some research suggests that ketogenic diets might help lower your risk of heart disease. Other studies show specific very-low-carb diets help people with metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes [Ref 13]. Researchers are also studying the effects of these diets on acne, cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and nervous system diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Lou Gehrig's disease. However, studies outside of these areas, and in companion animals, are very limited.
For healthy people who don't have diabetes and aren't pregnant, ketosis usually kicks in after 3 or 4 days of eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. That's about 3 slices of bread, a cup of low-fat fruit yogurt, or two small bananas. You can start ketosis by fasting, too. And if you follow the principles to fooding your pets by fasting one day a week, you are, in theory, already supporting them through ketosis.
However, it is also believed that dogs (as carnivores) are very well adapted for fasting for reasonably long periods of time, and thus the essential biochemical changes caused by changing to a high fat and low carbohydrate diet in humans cannot be manipulated in dogs. What we do need to acknowledge, is that the way we, pet parents, metabolise our food is very different to the way our fur kids metabolise theirs.
Supplements are not the answer!
Results of studies that show a protective effect of foods containing certain nutrients should not be taken to mean that these nutrients, when isolated and taken as supplements, will provide the same benefits for cancer prevention [Ref 14]. Why? Because they become food fragments [Ref 15].
In some cases, there has been an increased risk of cancer in those pet parents who take nutrient supplements at doses higher than the usual amount of that nutrient normally eaten in foods. For example, the use of beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements has not been proven to be effective in either prevention or treatment of lung cancer. In fact, several studies have shown that beta-carotene supplements increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke [Ref 16].
Can we treat cancer with food?
While food plays an important role in preventing some cancers, the therapeutic value of food in treating existing cancer is less clear (for example, pancreatic cancer and high fat diets). It is true that a person with cancer needs excellent nutrition to better cope with the physical demands of the illness and the rigours of medical treatment.
In our minds, claims that foods, vitamins or micronutrients can kill cancer cells should be viewed in the context of the claim. This is simply because there are many different cancers, just download the ebook from Drs Marc Smith (DVM) & Casey Damon (DVM) on this topic [Ref 17] To date, there is little scientific evidence or applicable public domain research that a food or supplement can cure cancer or destroy cancer cells. But this might also just be due to lack of research. How else would BigPharma keep on rewarding their shareholders?
Where we do agree, is that there can be absolutely no debate that poor diet is a contributory factor in the cancer forming process. Cancer development is a complex issue and involves a multi-step process. It does not happen overnight. Many factors may combine and in a way that is as individual as you are. Everyday each of us makes cancer and pre-cancer rogue cells as by-products of our metabolism. These are normally killed off by a healthy immune system. We believe it is easier to understand that, whilst a few factors (like radiation) may cause direct damage to your DNA, many factors (like poor diet, toxins, infection) may weaken your immune system and be an indirect cause of cancer. Our understanding of this topic is that if the immune system cannot cope with rogue DNA messages, cancer cells are freer to start their colonisation of your body. Even then they must multiply, taken on blood supplies, fire off around the body, etc.
Real nutrition for the person, or pet, with cancer is important for many reasons, including:
- The immune system needs bolstering to fight at full strength;
- The diet may be adjusted to cope with various symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhoea or nausea;
- Loss of appetite or an increased metabolism means that high-energy foods may need to be included in the daily diet;
- Extra protein may be needed to help prevent loss of muscle from weight loss.
Pre-, Probiotics and Bacteria
More importantly, you can eat all the best, most nourishing foods in the world but you will derive little, or no benefit, from them if you do not have the right balance of beneficial bacteria in your gut. And this is a critical point to remember when you look at your fur kids. Beneficial bacteria have been found in more than 4000 research studies over the last couple of years to [Ref 18]:
- control about 85 per cent of your immune response;
- can make vitamins like biotin, folic acid and vitamin K (all essential to the cancer fight);
- release short chain esters like sodium butyrate from certain food combinations. Such esters stop inflammation, and bad cholesterol, and sodium butyrate kills cancer cells;
- bind to (chelate with) toxic substances like nitrosamines and oestrogenic compounds plus heavy metals like cadmium and mercury to eliminate them from the body;
- digest microbes and yeasts ingested with your food; these are organisms that will weaken you.
Most significantly, your gut bacteria seem to get ill first - they lose their overall numbers and diversity. And you cannot get well until they get well [Ref 19].
In our minds, prevention is better than cure. It was Hippocrates who first said that “All illness begins in the gut”. It is therefore no surprise that research is starting link cancer and the state of your gut health. Please do read our article(s) on the use of antibiotics, as antibiotics = anti-life. If anything, it seems that all the collateral available on the internet concur on one topic – sugar is the fuel for cancer. And in terms of diet, carbs are the primary source for sugar. In the end, prevention should be the strategic approach to these horrible diseases.
Also consider introducing pre- & probiotics in your, and your pets’ diets. As Dr. Anuska Viljoen phrase it, “we need to get rid of the weed, we need to seed or re-seed the correct bacteria, and then we need to feed the bacteria with real food” [Ref 20].
References and Research:
- Otto Warburg (WikiPedia)
- Brand, R. A. (2010). "Biographical Sketch: Otto Heinrich Warburg, PhD, MD". Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 468 (11): 2831–2832 (PubMED) . doi:10.1007/s11999-010-1533-z (PubMED).
- Warburg, O. (1956). "On the Origin of Cancer Cells". Science. 123 (3191): 309–314. doi:10.1126/science.123.3191.309 (PubMED). PMID 13298683 (PubMED).
- Bertram, JS (December 2000). "The molecular biology of cancer". Molecular aspects of medicine. 21 (6): 167–223. doi:10.1016/s0098-2997(00)00007-8 (PubMED). PMID 11173079 (PubMED).
- Seyfried, Thomas N.; Flores, Roberto E.; Poff, Angela M.; D’Agostino, Dominic P. (March 2014). "Cancer as a metabolic disease: implications for novel therapeutics" (PubMED). Carcinogenesis. 35 (3): 515–527. doi:10.1093/carcin/bgt480 (PubMED). PMID 24343361 (PubMED).
- Seyfried, Thomas T.N. (July 2015). "Cancer as a mitochondrial metabolic disease" (PubMED). Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology. 3 – via PMC.
- Thomas N. Seyfried (BC)
- Thomas Seyfried: Cancer: A Metabolic Disease With Metabolic Solutions (YouTube)
- Ketosis (WikiPedia)
- Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) (WebMD)
- The Ketogenic Diet: Uses in Epilepsy and Other Neurologic Illnesses (PubMED).
- Ketogenic Diet Linked to Seizure Reduction in Dogs with Epilepsy (American Veterinarian)
- Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets (PubMED)
- Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet (PubMED)
- Epidemiological and Clinical Studies of Nutrition (PubMED)
- Beta-carotene and lung cancer in smokers: review of hypotheses and status of research (PubMED)
- What Every Dog Owner Should Know About Cancer: An Arsenal of Medical, Holistic, and Alternative Options (PETTao)
- Gut Microbes, Diet, and Cancer (PubMED)
- The Microbiome and Its Potential as a Cancer Preventive Intervention (PubMED)
- How your gut bacteria may protect you from cancer (Medical News Today)