If you're anything like me, the "C" word leaves you trembling. But today there is very good news to report: Research suggests you can improve your odds of never getting cancer and/or improve your chances of recovering from it. Not with a drug or surgery, although those methods might be quite effective. This is all about the power on your plate, and it's seriously powerful.
A 2012 analysis of all the best studies done to date concluded vegetarians have significantly lower cancer rates. For example, the largest forward-looking study on diet and cancer ever performed concluded that "the incidence of all cancers combined is lower among vegetarians."
That's good news, yes. But what if we're looking for great news? If vegetarians fare so much better than meat-eaters, what about vegans? Is that an even better way to eat? We didn't know for sure until now.
A new study just out of Loma Linda University funded by the National Cancer Institute reported that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Vegan women, for example, had 34 percent lower rates of female-specific cancers such as breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. And this was compared to a group of healthy omnivores who ate substantially less meat than the general population (two servings a week or more), as well as after controlling for non-dietary factors such as smoking, alcohol, and a family history of cancer.
Why do vegans have such lower cancer risk? This is fascinating stuff: An elegant series of experiments was performed in which people were placed on different diets and their blood was then dripped on human cancer cells growing in a petri dish to see whose diet kicked more cancer butt. Women placed on plant-based diets for just two weeks, for example, were found to suppress the growth of three different types of breast cancer (see images of the cancer clearance). The same blood coursing through these womens' bodies gained the power to significantly slow down and stop breast cancer cell growth thanks to just two weeks of eating a healthy plant-based diet! (Two weeks! Imagine what's going on in your body after a year!) Similar results were found for men against prostate cancer (as well as against prostate enlargement).
How may a simple dietary change make one's bloodstream so inhospitable to cancer in just a matter of days? The dramatic improvement in cancer defenses after two weeks of eating healthier is thought to be due to changes in the level of a cancer-promoting growth hormone in the body called IGF-1. Animal protein intake increases the levels of IGF-1 in our body, but within two weeks of switching to a plant-based diet, IGF-1 levels in the bloodstream drop sufficiently to help slow the growth of cancer cells.
How plant-based do we need to eat? Studies comparing levels of IGF-1 in meat-eaters vs. vegetarians vs. vegans suggest that we should lean toward eliminating animal products from our diets altogether. This is supported by the new study in which the thousands of American vegans studied not only had lower rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, but significantly lower cancer risk as well.
This makes sense when you consider the research done by Drs. Dean Ornish and Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn; they found that a vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in only three months, turning on genes that prevent disease and turning off genes that cause breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer, and other illnesses. This is empowering news, given that most people think they are a victim of their genes, helpless to stave off some of the most dreaded diseases. We aren't helpless at all; in fact, the power is largely in our hands. It's on our forks, actually.