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Anticancer, A New Way of Life, by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber

As I sit at my computer across from my husband who had to ungergo Mohs surgery last week, reading an email from a dear friend announcing that she has early stage breast cancer, and drinking green tea, I am reminded of everything I learned this summer from David Servan-Schrieber’s book Anticancer, A New Way of Life. The byline is “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies; but not all of us will develop cancer.”

This book has been on the New York times best-seller list, and on my mother’s must-read list for a long time. Finally, this summer, I gave in to her advice and read it.

The book begins with the reader getting to know Servan-Schreiber, a French doctor working in Pittsburgh on brain imaging, when he discovers he has a brain tumor somewhat by accident. Throughout his personal journey with this disease, he goes through chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and he researches complementary therapies that help his body heal better and faster, therapies having to do with lifestyle (therapies to implement in addition to, not instead of, Western medicine). He passed away last year, after having lived with his cancer for 30+ years.

Reading this book, I learned much about cancer, and most importantly perhaps I learned about some changes I could easily implement in my own lifestyle, to live healthier, hopefully longer. The following three points summarize the power of food (and drink) in creating an environment that makes it easier or harder for cancer cells to proliferate (direct quote from the book, page 120):

1. Some foods are cancer “promoters” and feed into the mechanisms that fuel cancer growth.

2. Other foods are “antipromoters.” They block the mechanisms necessary for cancer growth or force cancer cells to die.

3. Food acts every day, three times a day. It thus has a considerable influence on the biological mechanisms that speed up or slow down cancer growth.

Here are the most powerful take-home messages I have either been reminded of (sometimes I think I am hearing my mom speak when I read Servan-Schreiber’s words), or learned, and how I have implemented them in my life.

1. Cancer feeds on sugar. When we eat foods with a high glycemic index (sugar, white flour), blodd levels of glucose increase. To deal with this increase, our bodies release a dose of insulin to enable the glucose to enter the cells. With the secretion of insulin comes the release of the IGF molecule (insulinlike growth factor), whose role is to stimulate cell growth. Both insulin and IGF increase inflammation, which stimulates cell growth and acts as a fertilizer for tumors. Conclusion: avoid sugar! This may be a challenge as data indicates that today in the Western world a person consumes about 150 pounds of sugar (data from 2000). Avoid sugar (white or brown), honey, syrups (including maple), white bread, bleached flours, white rice, overcooked white pasta, muffins, bagels, croissants, puffed rice cakes, potatoes (especially mashed potatoes), corflakes, Rice Krispies, most other breakfast cereal, jams and jellies, sweetened drinks, sodas, and of course alcohol (except red wine during meals). Conclusion: while I will continue to enjoy my wine, both white and red, I will work to replace all of these sugar-heavy foods with: natural sweeteners, mixed whole-grain cereals, multigrain bread, Basmati or Thai rice, multigrain pasta cooked al dente, lentils peas, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, oatmeal, muesli, All-Bran, Special K, fruits in their natural state, water flavored with lemon, green tea.

2. The imbalance between Omega-3s and Omega-6s is something to be concerned about. In the United States, the mass of fatty tissue in children under one has doubled between 1970 and 1990. It is hard to blame this on lifestyle, fast-food, and children being couch potatoes. Infants are not being overfed; rather, this trend is due to the change in the character of milk since 1950, a change that has to do with a decrease in the presence of Omega-3s and an increase in the presence of Omega6s. A change that acts both on the growth of fatty tissue and of cancer cells. In the natural course of life, cows give birth in spring, when the grass is greenest, and then produce milk for several months until summer’s end. Spring grass is particularly rich in Omega-3s, which then are naturally present in milk, beef, and milk derivatives such as cheese, butter, yogurt, and cream. Starting in the 1950s, the demand for milk so increased that this natural cycle had to be sped up. Instead of being fed grass, cows started being fed corn, soy and wheat, which contain practically no Omega-3s. On the contrary, these foods are rich in Omega-6s. Omega-3s help regulate inflammation, fluidize blood, and regulate cell growth (all characteristics that create an environment in which cancer cells have a harder time developing). On the contrary, Omega-6s create inflammation, promote blood coagulation, and stimulate cell growth, creating an environment in which cancer cells can thrive more easily. Conclusion: look for grass fed beef and chickens, and add linseed (aka flaxseed) to your diet. I have been putting mine in yogurt, which gives it some crunch and a delicious nutty taste.

3. Green tea acts like medication. Green tea contains various polyphenols called catechins, one of which is called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is one of the most powerful nutritional molecules against the formation of new blood vessels by cancerous cells, and is destroyed during the fermentation process required to make black tea. However, it is intact in green tea. This molecule helps to block tissue invasion and angiogenesis, two processes that fuel the growth of cancer cells. Green tea also acts as a detoxifier for the body, by activating a mechanism in the lover that can then eliminate cancerous toxins more rapidly. How much green tea to drink, you may ask? Studies have shown that 3 to 5 cups of green tea per day have a significant effect on inhibiting the progression of both breast and prostate cancer. Conclusion: I have been taster various green tea brands, my favorite so far being Yogi Green Tea Super Antioxidant. I am not at 5 cups per day, but I am getting there. I have also learned that the way of making green tea so as to optimize its benefits requires steeping it for about 10 minutes, and drinking it within the hour. No recycling of tea bags …