Doctors theorize diet can greatly affect cancer risk

Chances are we all have cancer to some degree and don’t know it, said Dr. Brian Lawenda from 21st Century Oncology. On March 12, he led a discussion on anti-cancer nutrition at Desert Vista Community Center.

So, how is the average American doing when it comes to staying away from foods that can cause cancers?

“We don’t do well,” Lawenda said. “Basically, if I could summarize what diets we think are best, they’re going to be plant-dominant diets with a little bit of fish and meats that are healthful versions, like organic, wild- or pasture-raised. And people are supposed to have five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, and really, I think only about 15 percent of the American public gets that recommendation.”

Americans should strive to eat two cups of fruit daily and three cups of vegetables, he said.

The doctor suggested looking at one’s plate in fractions. About 50 percent should be non-starchy vegetables, a quarter can be whole grains and only one-quarter of one’s plate should be meat. It should be a lean meat and not one that has been charred, Lawenda said. For barbecue aficionados, he suggested half cooking the meat first in the microwave, then taking it to the grill to finish it. That would avoid the charred factor.

To help people get a handle on their diet, Lawenda suggested visiting the Environmental Working Group’s site, ewg.org, which rates more than 80,000 foods found on American supermarket shelves. Using its resources, one can scan the bar code of many grocery items to see how healthy they are. The group also has apps for food, beauty products and more.

“The science of nutrition is not all that strong and robust; not like, ‘If you eat this diet, you’re going to beat cancer,’ or, ‘If you take this vitamin, you’ll beat cancer.’ We just don’t have that,” Lawenda said. “But we have population-based studies that suggest that people who eat more omega-3 rich fish tend to have lower rates of a variety of cancers. People who tend to eat more anti-inflammatory foods also tend to do better in terms of less cancers. But we don’t do that. We have processed foods, foods high in trans fatty acids, things that cause inflammation in our diet.”

Organic is the way to go, Lawenda said, as big corporations flood the soil with insecticides and other chemicals that are then drawn up by the plant’s roots and become part of its makeup.

“Some of these documentaries — ‘Food, Inc’ and ‘Forks Over Knives’ — there are all sorts of decent ‘exposes’, if you will, that tell us that all these foods we’re eating are pro-inflammatory, too high in sugar, and addictive,” he said.

It used to be thought that heredity predicted one’s chances of getting cancer. Not so. Roughly 10 percent of one’s chances come from genes, Lawenda said, and the rest comes from lifestyle choices. About a third can be traced to diet.

“Chronic inflammation, the type that is smoldering for long periods of time, is at the heart of the problem,” the oncologist said, adding that the major causes of inflammation include poor diet made up of simple carbohydrates, alcohol consumption, tobacco use, being overweight and not getting enough exercise. A diet that is non-inflammatory, his presentation explained, is based on organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, legumes, with taste being added through herbs and spices. One spice being studied for its effects on cancer is turmeric.

“I don’t know of one cancer it doesn’t have an effect on,” Lawenda said.

Eating right may help prevent cancerous cells from duplicating, but does it help once one has been diagnosed?

Las Vegas resident Dave Hults has colon cancer and has been using the dietary protocol described by Lawenda since about the first of the year. He tried chemotherapy and ended with peripheral neuropathy in his hands, but it did nothing to stop his cancer. Now, he’s looking to dietary changes to affect the cancer and stop it. He and his wife, Pat, shop at farmers markets for organic or pesticide-free foods.

The hardest part is “giving up all the bad things,” he said, “because basically you have no meat, no chicken, no processed food. Like, for breakfast I have miso soup (a Japanese seaweed soup), or oatmeal, and I use some honey in the oatmeal with blueberries.”

Treatments for cancer are getting less invasive, less traumatic and more targeted. Some cancers can be treated with concentrated doses of radiation that spare other cells. Low-tech methods of treatments such as Reiki, acupuncture, vitamin supplements, herbal tonics and lifestyle counseling (aka exercising) are also being incorporated to complement medical science.

Though new to the program, has Hults seen any results?

“This is my third go-around with colon cancer, so I’m very strict on what I’m doing,” he said. “Like he talked about all these carbs; they’re all gone from my diet. I’ve dropped about 30 pounds in less than two months.”

He’s exercising regularly and has stopped consuming all dairy.

“I feel much better. No meat, all organic,” he said. “It’s tough to go out to eat or, when you’re out gambling, not to have a toddy, but I never was a heavy drinker. I was a heavy smoker at one time, but those (urges) have all subsided. What really blows my mind is that I’ve been to three of the top, I’d say 15, cancer centers in the world in the last four months, and none of them talked about diet.”

To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email jhogan@viewnews.com or call 702-387-2949.

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