His book is an amazing illustration of the healing abilities of food and how it can create an environment for the body to flourish or fail, depending on what food is eaten.
The author David Servan-Schreiber, a neuropsychiatrist, was diagnosed with brain cancer for the first time 15 years ago. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy and went into remission. When asking his oncologist what he should do to “lead a healthy life and what precautions to take to prevent relapse”, the answer was that there was nothing special to do and to lead life normally. He was told there were no specific scientific evidence that any of these approaches can prevent a relapse. After months of research he began to understand how he could help his body protect itself from cancer. This book is the compilation of the evidence he gathered, filled with solid and fascinating research to illustrate the many ways in which cancer can be fought and prevented.
Beating the odds: Servan-Schreiber cites cases and studies of cancer patients who beat the odds. Among them was the following:
In a 2005 study, 93 men with early-stage prostate cancer chose not to undergo surgery, but instead to monitor the tumor. Under Dr. Dean Ornish this group of cancer patients was split in two groups. One group was simply monitored with regular PSA tests(prostate-specific antigen – the higher the level, the greater the likelihood of cancer) and the other group enrolled in a program that involved a vegetarian diet with supplements (Vitamins E, C, selenium, omega-3 Fatty acids), exercise (180 minutes of walking per week) and stress management (yoga, breathing, imagery, progressive relaxation) in addition to a weekly support group meeting. Of the 49 patients who changed nothing, 6 had to undergo ablation of their prostate, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Additionally, their PSA levels had increased by 6% (doesn’t include those men that had to withdraw due to worrisome PSA levels). None of the 49 patients enrolled in the mind-body program required such treatments and their PSA levels decreased an average of 4%. Even more interesting was that the blood of these patients was 7x more capable of inhibiting cancer cell growth.
Cancer’s weaknesses: Cancer cells act unhindered and escape the mechanisms of normal bodily control. However, under certain circumstances they are disrupted and lose their virulence: 1) when the immune system mobilizes against them, 2) when the body does not create the inflammation that promotes growth, and 3) when blood vessels do not reproduce to supply the cancer with energy to grow.
The cancer fighting approaches he illustrates in the book are focused on addressing all 3 of the above mentioned. Among them are:
Immune system activation through proper diet. A strong immune system is favored by the Mediterranean diet, Indian and Asian food (as opposed to the conventional high-sugar, high carb Western diet).
Family and friends (vs social isolation)
Self acceptance (vs denial of true identity)
Regular physical activity (vs. sedentary lifestyle).
Cancer and Nutrition
Anti-inflammatory diet: sugar consumption has risen from 4 lbs per year by our ancestors to 150 lbs per year per person. Sugar consumption promotes insulin release and IGF (insulin-like growth factor) stimulation, which stimulates cell growth and inflammation (considered a “fertilizer” for tumors)
Servan-Schreiber illustrates several cases of patients who transformed their diet and experienced a significant life extension or cancer cure. Various foods that can be used like medications are illustrated:
Tumeric: potent anti-inflammatory inhibits cancer growth by reducing inflammation and by inducing cell death (apoptosis) and slowing the growth of new blood vessels necessary for tumor expansion, and increasing efficacy of chemotherapy.
Soy isoflavones: tofu, tempeh, miso and edamame play an important role in fighting cancer (not recommended as concentrated supplement or for breast cancer) as they fight angiogenesis.
Green Tea: Polyphenols inhibit progression of cancer and increases radiotherapy efficacy. EGCG in green tea is one of the most potent molecules against new blood vessel formation by cancer cells. Drinking more than 3 cups a day reduces breast cancer and prostate cancer risk.
Fruits and Vegetables: At least 5 fruits and vegetables a day greatly reduce cancer risk.
Mushrooms (shitake, maitake, oyster, kawaratake, enokitake) directly stimulate the immune system
Garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, chives: antibacterial properties, blood sugar regulation – thus reducing IGF and cancer growth.
Berries: contain anthocyanidins and ellagic acid that kill cancer cells and reduce growth of abnormal blood vessels
Spices: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, and mint are rich in essential oils and promote apoptosis in cancer cells and reduce their spread by blocking enzymes they need to invade tissues.
Brighly colored fruits: flavonoids slow cancer growth
Omega-6 fatty acids (soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil: should be reduced to avoid inflammation. Boost your intake of Omega-3 Fatty acids (coldwater fish, flaxseeds, walnuts).
Probiotics: inhibit growth of colon cancer cells, facilitate bowel movements and thus reduce colon cancer risk, help detoxify. Prebiotics, which stimulate probiotic formation are garlic, onions, tomatoes, asparagus, bananas and wheat.
Animal products: should be grass-fed or labeled “omega-3’rich” and should be organic to avoid growth hormone, which stimulates cancer cell growth. Should be limited to 11 oz per week. Currently we eat about 12 ounces per day.
“Why is nutrition advice still missing from the conventional treatment of cancer?” He illustrates how in the medical culture changes in recommendations to patients are only allowable when there have been a series of double-blind studies demonstrating the effectiveness of a treatment: “evidence-based medicine”. Additionally, nutrition is still rarely taught in medical school and there is still considerable disagreement among experts about what is effective and what isn’t.
In subsequent chapters the mind body connection is addressed and the benefits of stress reduction. The effects of visualization, meditation, massage, exercise and psychotherapy are addressed as a means to create a healthy “terrain”, a healthy body that is a poor breeding ground for disease.
As a final comment, the suggestions in this book are not meant to replace common western approaches to treating disease but thought as complements to addressing cancer as an acute problem, while restoring the body’s normal functions to fight and prevent cancer.
View an interview with the author: