ORLANDO, Fla.—Food speaks to our genes; its message or signal can turn the immune system on or off. Consumption of a high carbohydrate or sugar diet can increase risk of cancer. The affect of diet on cancer risk and prevention were explained in an oral presentation at the 2nd Annual Oncology Nurse Advisor Navigation Summit.1
Epigenetics is the variations caused by external modifications to DNA such as environment, exercise, stress, meditation, spirituality, and diet, explained Sharon Meyer, DiplON, CNC, of Integrative Nutrition. Sugar or glucose feeds cancer, although not directly. Insulin chaperones sugar or glucose into the cells. Insulin docks onto an insulin receptor on the cell surface enabling sugar/glucose to enter the cell, where the mitochondria convert it into energy. Too much sugar increases blood sugar and insulin levels. Over time, healthy cells are no longer able to receive sugar. Insulin receptors become sensitive to insulin and no longer respond; this is insulin resistance.
Cancer cells are poor energy metabolizers. Their surfaces are covered with insulin receptors that continually chaperone glucose into the cancer cells. Therefore, even when healthy cells become insulin resistant, cancer cells continue to accept and metabolize sugar. Insulin releases glucose into the cancer cells, it goes through the nucleus causing an epigenetic effect of turning on genes that prompt cell division. Meyer described this effect as “Like a foot on a gas pedal, stimulating cancer growth.”
“If the foods you ate could turn off the expression of your cancer genes, and turn on tumor suppressor genes, what would you have for dinner?” asked Meyer. Her answer: Vegetables. A lot of them and a variety of them. “Eat from the rainbow,” advised Meyer.
Vegetables are high in phytochemicals, which protect plants from the environment, stressors, sun, toxins, and more; humans need phytochemicals to be healthy. They are major communicators to our genes. They support detoxification, boost immunity, improve heart health, promote healthy estrogen metabolism, stimulate apoptosis, reduce inflammation, and feed the gut bugs (microbiome).
Other components of a healthy diet include fats and oils and protein. Healthy choices for fats and oils include foods such as avocadoes, fish (eg, sardines, herring, salmon), nuts and seeds, nut butters, butter, and ghee. Extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil/butter/milk, nut oils (eg, walnut, hazelnut, macadamia), and avocado oils are better choices.
Protein sources include eggs, fish, poultry, beef, lamb, and lean pork. Whole-milk dairy and whey protein are other recommendations. Animal protein should be free-range, pasture raised, or organic, and wild fish.
In closing, Meyer’s advice for patients with cancer is to eat appealing foods when they can, and not to stress over their diet. “Plenty of time to clean up later!”
1. Meyer S. Nutrition & Cancer. Oral presentation at: Oncology Nurse Advisor Navigation Summit; April 7-9, 2016; Orlando, FL.