Which anti-cancer diet is right for you?
If you’ve ever received a cancer diagnosis it is likely that you spent the first few hours and days after being given the news in a state of shock and disbelief. As the days passed and the shock receded you may have found, like many others, that a new state of mind came to the fore; one of grit, determination and the need to fight. And at this stage you may have felt impelled to seek out ways that you could change your lifestyle in order to support your recovery. If nutrition felt important it is likely that you sought information on the topic, delving into books and scouring the Internet for the diet that would maximise your healing abilities. A lot of people with cancer go through these stages but unfortunately at the point of the information search many hit a snag… they discover first of all that the volume of cancer-nutrition information is overwhelming, and secondly that it’s often inconsistent and sometimes downright contradictory!
If this scenario sounds familiar, rest assured, you are not alone. In fact dietary confusion is very common amongst the clients we see at Body Soul Nutrition and unfortunately confusion is often accompanied by anxiety and distress, triggered by the perceived need to get the diet exactly right in every moment.
The reason for writing this article is to bring you some clarity and relief if you are struggling to make sense of the nutrition-cancer information. However, as this is a huge topic it’s only possible to give an overview in these few paragraphs; an in-depth analysis would require several books worth of writing. So please don’t see this article as the final word on the subject of diet and cancer, instead use it as a starting point on your journey of discovery, letting it spark your interest and lead you on to more detailed information. I recommend that you get support on your journey with input from a nutritionally-qualified health professional but if this isn’t possible and you are making these decisions alone then I hope the information presented here will make the process easier and less stressful.
Four things to be aware of before embarking on an anti-cancer diet
1. Diet is an incredibly important part of the cancer recovery process
The fact that you are reading this article suggests you already know this but let me bring the point home to you even more strongly. I have witnessed first-hand the power of nutrition to transform the health and the lives of hundreds of people with cancer. I’ve seen how food has helped to recharge an exhausted body, cleanse a toxic body, rebuild a broken body and soothe a suffering body. I’ve seen how the amazing gift of food can bring joy and excitement when days are otherwise cloudy and grey. And yes, at times I believe I’ve witnessed how a change in diet has provided the missing puzzle piece that has led to a complete recovery. So I encourage you to get inspired by the possibilities that a change in diet could offer you and to embrace the changes you are going to make. This doesn’t necessarily mean sticking to a rigid set of rules 100% of the time but it does mean getting totally on board with the approach you choose and with all your heart believing in the power of food to heal.
2. Diet is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to healing
Having enthused over the healing power of food, I need now to make it absolutely clear that diet is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to restoring health. Many people turn to diet as a first step when they begin a programme of lifestyle changes and this is a fantastic place to start as diet can be a relatively easy thing to change and it can bring immediate and often significant benefits. However, it is important to realise that there are other lifestyle factors that are equally, if not more important than diet, most crucially emotional wellbeing, and blind faith in diet alone whilst ignoring other important factors is not advised. At Body Soul Nutrition we have developed a simple pie chart to display the elements we feel are essential to enable deep and complete nourishment of the body, mind and soul. Giving attention to each of these elements allows for healing to take place on all levels of our being, including the physical if this is in our highest interest. See 7 Healing Elements for more information.
3. There is no 1 diet that best serves every person with cancer
When you think about it for a moment this point seems so obvious. How could there be one way of eating to suit all people with the many different diseases that are termed ‘cancer’? And how could one diet serve a group of people each with a unique genetic profile and chemical exposure, with different medical histories and treatment programmes and with varying levels of physical activity and emotional stress? We are all unique and special in our own way and as such, we must find the foods that perfectly complement our individual needs. And yet, as many of you may have discovered, there are numerous dietary programmes claiming to be the one and only answer for people with cancer. This is not the truth and never will be.
4. Finding the perfect diet requires listening to your inner guidance
It is essential to seek out good quality information when you are choosing the right dietary approach, whether that’s through books, the Internet or speaking to experts. However, once the information gathering is done there is another vital step to take before making your final choice and that’s to notice which approach feels right to you. We are all blessed with innate healing intelligence that continually guides us, like a radar system, towards those things that support our wellbeing. For example, when we cut our finger the body knows exactly what must be done for full healing to occur, without any conscious thought or intervention from us or anyone else. If our actions do not support our wellbeing the body will let us know, it will communicate to us through our emotions and physical symptoms. While most of us are unaccustomed to listening to the body’s signals we can all learn, relatively quickly and easily. Quite simply all you need to do to tap into your source of ultimate answers is to regularly take time to get quiet and relaxed using breathing or meditation techniques and then ask yourself the question ‘does this approach feel right for me’. Once you have asked the question get on with your life with a sense of trust that all is well and remain alert for answers in the form of feelings and emotions, and physical sensations or symptoms.
Dietary approaches for cancer support
Now that I have made you aware of some very important points to consider before embarking on an anti-cancer diet it’s time to start exploring the various nutritional approaches. However, before I do that I feel it is necessary to briefly explain the premise on which many of these diets are based.
The conventional medical approach to cancer is very tumour-orientated and treatments are based on the idea that if the tumour can be eliminated the body will be healed. There is another school of thought however, that suggests cancer is a systemic disease resulting in changes not just at the site of the tumour but throughout the whole body. Science has long validated this idea showing that deleterious changes to the body’s macroenvironment (changes at an organ and system level) and microenvironment (changes at the cellular level) occur in those with cancer but it continues to be a slow journey getting these ideas translated into mainstream medical treatments. Those using a more natural approach to cancer healing have always looked at the broader picture and certainly when it comes to dietary therapies, the intention has been to correct underlying biochemical deterioration in order to strengthen the body’s foundations and reinstate the naturally cancer hostile environment enjoyed by those in good health. At their core anticancer diets are about encouraging maximum intake of essential nutrients and accessory compounds that promote healthy biochemistry and target the cancer cells themselves, whilst eliminating anything that may undermine biochemical balance and promote cancer growth, including toxins. So now let’s get down to the nitty gritty and discover exactly how the various dietary approaches aim to shift the body’s biochemistry in a favourable direction.
There are literally hundreds of diets that have been formulated to support the healing of those with cancer and it would be impossible to cover them all in this article. However, most of them fit into loose categories which I will discuss in this section before giving an overview of some of the diets within these categories in a summary table presented later in the article.
Low carbohydrate diets
It has been known for over 100 years that cancer cells create energy from glucose in a slightly different way from normal cells, tending to rely on a process that doesn’t require oxygen. This anaerobic (without oxygen) form of metabolism requires more glucose to create the same amount of energy and as a result cancer cells tend to use utilise glucose at a faster rate than healthy cells. This has led to the theory that a low carbohydrate diet, resulting in lower blood glucose levels, might be a way to starve cancer cells of their source of fuel leading to their demise.
Almost all anti-cancer diets have sugar restriction as one of the central tenets, with refined sugars being a particular no-no and with some diets even limiting fruit intake. A reduced intake of starch, found in grains and certain vegetables, which will also lead to lower blood glucose levels (starch is broken down to glucose), also features in certain diets.
Low carbohydrate, high fat (ketogenic) diets
The ketogenic diet has the theory that a low carbohydrate diet will starve cancer cells as its central theme and restricts carbohydrate to very low levels. At the same time, and in order to ensure the healthy cells are properly nourished it encourages a high intake of fats as the breakdown of fats provides ketone bodies which normal cells are able to metabolise but cancer cells are not. Protein is limited due to its moderate blood glucose raising effect. Calorie restriction is also central to the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting (see below) often plays a role.
Ketogenic diets have been used to support people with various conditions, most notably epilepsy, but have only become recognised for their potential benefits in cancer relatively recently. The full ketogenic diet involves a lot of commitment as the diet requires a big shift away from a typical diet as well as regular monitoring of blood glucose and ketone levels. Because of the challenging nature of this diet supervision from a health professional is recommended to provide encouragement and support.
Low fat diets
The idea that a low fat diet could be beneficial for those with cancer stems from the idea that certain types of fat are cancer-promoting. Although investigation of the metabolic behaviour of tumour cells reveals they do have an altered relationship with certain fatty acids, increasing their production in order to promote survival, the evidence that dietary fats are associated with greater cancer growth is inconclusive at this time. Saturated fats have received much bad press over the last few decades but careful analysis of the research suggests they are not particularly cancer promoting. However, damaged fats formed through the processing of delicate vegetable oils, may present more of a problem due to their highly inflammatory nature.
Many anticancer diets are low in fat, particularly the detoxification diets. And some diets include very specific recommendations regarding types of fats, including the Gerson Therapy. Dr Max Gerson analysed many different sources of fat and tested their effect on cancer growth. The only source of fat he felt did not promote cancer growth was flax oil and therefore this is the only permitted oil for those following this approach.
Low protein diets
It has been known for some time that certain amino acids (the building blocks of protein) have cancer-stimulating effects. Probably the most notable of these is glutamine as cancer cells have a particularly ravenous appetite for this nutrient. However, starving cancer cells of glutamine is not a straightforward path, first of all because the cancer cells will obtain sufficient glutamine for their needs from the body’s own production of the nutrient and secondly because glutamine has important functions in maintaining health of normal cells and tissues, including immune cells.
Other amino acids with cancer stimulating effects that have been restricted through diet in an effort to slow tumour growth include arginine and also methionine (see NORI protocol). A dietary approach that attempts to manipulate the dietary intake of several cancer stimulating amino acids as well as glucose is the Controlled Amino Acid Therapy (CAAT), this involves a strict diet together with a specific amino acid supplement. Like the ketogenic diet this is a challenging approach and professional supervision is recommended.
Whereas the dietary approaches discussed so far limit specific nutrient groups in an attempt to undermine cancer, fasting limits the intake of all food for the same reason. The reputation of fasting as a powerful way to heal reaches back far in history but it is only in very recent times that this approach is being noticed by those in more conventional circles.
Fasting gives the body a break from the continual influx of food compounds, some of which have the potential to weaken our body. In giving the body, particularly the immune system, a break it frees up valuable resources to be used for regeneration and repair. Research shows that fasting will reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, improve energy metabolism and insulin sensitivity and regulate immune activity. Studies specific to cancer have found that fasting helps to normalize the body’s environment making it less conducive to cancer growth. It can also reduce the damaging effects of chemotherapy on the body’s healthy tissues when used around the time the chemotherapy dose is given.
There are different forms of fasting; from water fasts that eliminate all food to those that allow a small intake of calories per day. Fasts also vary in length and frequency, and may be used as part of a one-off deep cleanse for the body or for a few days on a regular basis in the form of intermittent fasting.
Many anticancer diets place great emphasis on internal cleansing in order to lower the body’s burden of cancer-promoting toxins. These diets are plant-based, sometimes completely vegan, and tend to include lots of raw foods and fresh juices. Live enzymes, minerals and other nutrients from the raw foods together with a high water intake promote a cleansing effect. At the same time avoidance of processed foods, sugar, alcohol and certain other foods afford the same benefits as the previous diets mentioned. Detoxification diets tend to be relatively low in fat and contain only moderate amounts of protein; however the carbohydrate level for some of these diets is relatively high.
One of the most famous anticancer detoxification diets is the Gerson Therapy, developed by Dr Max Gerson during the first half of the 20th century. The full Gerson Therapy involves a plant-based diet with lots of raw foods and 15 fresh juices per day alongside other detoxification therapies such as coffee enemas and supplements. The Gerson Therapy is fairly challenging because of its intense nature and it requires health professional supervision. Other detoxification diets have elements in common with the Gerson Therapy but some are less intense and therefore easier to follow.
Whilst some anticancer diets have a one-size-fits-all approach, many are tailored according to the specific needs of the individual. The approach most famous for its tailored methodology is the Kelley-Gonzalez protocol, originally developed by dentist William Kelley, who used it to cure himself of pancreatic cancer, it was later further refined by Dr Nicholas Gonzalez. This approach, renowned for its outstanding success, involves a diet and supplement programme tailored according to an individual’s metabolic type.
Summary of a selection of anticancer diets
To give you more detail of some of the most well-known anticancer diets I have prepared a summary table which you can access by clicking here. Bear in mind that this is by no means an exhaustive list and you are likely to come across other diets as you begin your exploration. The table only allows for a brief summary of each diet so please see the Resources section for additional information sources.
Please note: all anticancer diets come with their various contraindications and it is recommended that you seek the advice of a nutritionally qualified health professional before embarking on any of the diets listed in the table.
Finding a diet that’s right for you
Now that you have read the summary of the various dietary approaches you may be wondering whether any of these could be right for you. Perhaps you feel a little overwhelmed at this moment which would be hardly surprising as there’s a lot of information to take in, but please understand that a decision does not have to be made this very moment; there is time for further exploration and consideration.
The first step in making your decision is to do some further research into any of the diets that appeal to you by reading, listening to interviews and perhaps speaking to experts. If you have someone close to you who can assist with this information gathering process that is ideal. You may decide not to follow any of the approaches listed in the table but instead take elements from some of them in order to create a diet that suits you as an individual. If this is your preferred plan of action it is recommended that you enlist the help of a nutritionally qualified cancer specialist in this process so that the approach can be tailored to meet your exact needs. On the other hand, if a dietary programme such as those listed, feels too intense you may just want to start with a few healthy eating changes in order to support your general health. Many books can assist you with this and I particularly recommend ‘Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life’ by David Servan-Schreiber, Michael Joseph 2001.
To end this article I want to re-emphasise a point I made earlier which is to listen to your inner guidance before making a decision regarding which path to follow. I believe this is the most important piece of advice I can give you and it is not just me that feels this way. Dr Nicholas Gonzalez, whose anticancer diet therapy is one of the most successful on record, was careful not push his therapy onto patients who had been encouraged to come along to see him by their well-meaning family but against their will. He knew that if their heart wasn’t in it, it would likely be unsuccessful.
“the single most important determinant as to how a patient does whatever they choose to do… is their belief system.” Nicholas Gonzalez, MD.
So take as much time as you need to research and reflect, and when you are ready, take a leap of faith and jump in! Embarking on a dietary therapy is always an adventure, with lows as well as highs, but if you let your heart guide you it is inevitable that you will reap rewards along the way.
The Breuss Cancer Cure by Rudolph Breuss, Books Alive 1995
www.curezone.org/diseases/cancer/breuss.asp – this article provides a good overview of the Breuss diet
www.budwigcenter.eu – this centre in Spain has been given permission by Dr Budwig to use her protocol. The site provides lots of information and guidance for those wishing to follow this approach.
The Oil Protein Diet by Johanna Budwig, Apple Publishing Co Ltd., 2006
Cancer: the Problem and the Solution by Johanna Budwig, Nexus Hirneise – Handels GmbH; 1 edition, 2008
Controlled Amino Acid Therapy (CAAT)
www.apjohncancerinstitute.org – this non-profit organisation founded CAAT and their website provides lots of background information
www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=3408 – this article on the Cancer Active website gives an overview of the use of fasting in cancer
www.gerson.org – The Gerson Institute was founded by Max Gerson’s daughter and provides education and training in the Gerson Therapy
A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases and the Cure of Advanced Cancer by Max Gerson, Gerson Institute 1958.
The Gerson Therapy: the Proven Nutritional Program for Cancer and Other Illnesses by Charlotte Gerson and Morton Walker, Kensington Publishing 2005
www.drkelley.info – this is the official site for the protocols of Dr William Kelley
www.dr-gonzalez.com – this website provides details of Dr Gonzalez’s work and his medical practice
What Went Wrong: The Truth Behind the Clinical Trial of the Enzyme Treatment of Cancer by Nicholas Gonzalez, New Spring Press 2013
Cancer as a Metabolic Disease: On the Origin, Management, and Prevention of Cancer by Thomas Seyfried, Wiley-Blackwell 2007.
www.matthewsfriends.org – Matthew’s Friends provides support to families of children with epilepsy wishing to use the ketogenic diet. The site provides lots of information about the ketogenic diet. Contact them for information about the trial with brain tumour patients.
www.patriciadaly.com – Patricia Daly is a cancer survivor and nutritional therapist specialising in the ketogenic diet
The Cancer Prevention Diet by Michio Kushi, St Martin’s Griffin 1993
www.kushiinstitute.org – the Kushi Institute provides education and training on the Macrobiotic approach to healing
www.nori-uk.com/home.html – UK office
http://www.chrisbeatcancer.com/how-candice-marie-fox-healed-advanced-thyroid-cancer-it-wasnt-just-pineapples/ – cancer survivor Candice-Marie Fox discusses with Chris Wark how she healed from cancer using the NORI protocol
www.cancersupportinternational.com – this website offers information and support to those wishing to use the Plant Programme.
Your Life in Your Hands: Understand, Prevent, and Overcome Breast and Ovarian Cancer by Jane Plant, Virgin Books 2007
www.annwigmore.org – the website of the Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute provides information and support for those who want to use this approach.
The Wheatgrass Book by Ann Wigmore, Avery Publishing Group, 1987