By Dr. Mercola
Could your gut flora play a role in cancer growth? According to recent research, the answer is a tentative yes.
Findings published in the journal Nature1 report the discovery of microbial-dependent mechanisms through which some cancers mount an inflammatory response that fuels their development and growth. These findings provide new insight into how cancer cells can hijack your body's inflammatory reaction by exploiting microbial-dependent immune cells.
As reported by Medical News Today:2
"The association between chronic inflammation and tumor development has long been known from the early work of German pathologist Rudolph Virchow. Harvard University pathologist Harold Dvorak later compared tumors with 'wounds that never heal,' noting the similarities between normal inflammation processes that characterize wound- healing and tumorigenesis or tumor-formation.
Indeed, 15 to 20 percent of all cancers are preceded by chronic inflammation - a persistent immune response that can target both diseased and healthy tissues... Still, most cancers are not preceded by chronic inflammation.
On the other hand, they exploit ubiquitous, infiltrating immune cells to unduly provoke and hijack the host inflammatory reaction. Until now, the mechanism of so-called 'tumor-elicited inflammation,' which is detected in most solid malignancies, was poorly explained.
'The tumor-associated inflammatory reaction... may hold the keys for future preventive and therapeutic measures,' said first author Sergei Grivennikov, Ph.D
Noting that studies of long-term users of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin, have revealed that general inhibition of inflammation reduces the risk of cancer death by up to 45 percent, depending on the type of cancer. 'So inhibition of inflammation during cancer development may be beneficial.'"
How Even Beneficial Gut Bacteria Might Spur Colon Cancer Growth
The research centered around colon cancer. What may be surprising is that the intestinal bacteria involved in this inflammatory mechanism are not necessarily the pathogenic variety, but rather ordinarily benign microflora.
The reason for this is because as the tumor develops, it disrupts the normal, healthy functioning of tissues, and because tumors lack a particular protein that normally coats and protects tissue cells, normal microflora present in your colon can enter the tumor. Since the bacteria does not "belong" there, your immune cells recognize them as invaders, and launch an inflammatory response.
The presence of microbial products are also picked up by macrophages (white blood cells) and immune cells within the tumor, which in turn produce cytokines that further spurs the inflammatory process. One of the primary cytokines involved is Interleukin-23, which regulates inflammation and triggers the production of other inflammatory cytokines that promote tumor development and progression.
The researchers were able to reduce tumor-elicited inflammation and tumor growth by using a combination of broad-spectrum antibiotics. Antibiotics, as you probably know, indiscriminately kill off all types of intestinal bacteria, and by reducing the normal microflora, tumor growth and related inflammation diminished.
According to Grivennikov:3
"This is a very nice demonstration of how tumor-elicited inflammation in cancers that arise in the absence of underlying chronic inflammatory disease can be induced... The next step is to look for the upregulation of Interleukin-23 and related cytokines in colon cancer patients, inhibit these cytokines and determine whether these impact cancer progression and response to therapy."
While tumor growth and tumor-elicited inflammation was reduced, I would caution you to not get confused and think that heavy-handed antibiotic use might spare you from colon cancer. I believe this would be a serious mistake... The key, I think, is to place a greater focus on optimizing gut health, to prevent and naturally counteract the development of inflammation in the first place.
The idea that you might be able to halt colon cancer proliferation by eradicating your microflora, or designing a drug to prevent cytokine production is bound to cause some serious side effects. Cytokine production occurs in response to inflammation, so just inhibiting them is not actually going to resolve the underlying inflammation...
And you clearly cannot be healthy without normal gut flora, so eradicating it to prevent tumor growth would likely be disastrous in the long term. What you want to do is encourage the proliferation of beneficial bacteria, which by competitive inhibition, will limit or decimate the populations of pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and fungi. This is largely done by limiting fuel for the pathogens, which would include sugars and non-fibrous carbs, and providing loads of beneficial bacterial supplements like fermented vegetables.
As Grivennikov says, inhibiting inflammation during cancer development is likely a vital component of prevention. The question is how to properly inhibit inflammation, and in my view, inhibiting inflammation through healthy lifestyle choices makes a whole lot of sense, as opposed to taking drugs.
Your Gut Affects Your Metabolism and Genetic Expression
As time goes on, we're gaining more and more information about the important roles gut flora plays in maintaining overall health. The good news is that this is an area you can exercise a lot of control over. Your diet can quickly alter the composition of your gut flora. Processed foods high in sugar and chemical additives and low in nutrients is a surefire way to decimate the beneficial bacteria in your gut, allowing the harmful pathogenic kind to thrive.
Research has also shown that your microflora has a significant impact on gene expression, such as the genes responsible for vitamin biosynthesis and metabolism. Probiotics have been found to influence the activity of hundreds of your genes, helping them to express in a positive, disease-fighting manner – some of which affect your body in a manner resembling the effects of certain medicines. Probiotics (healthy bacteria) has over 30 beneficial pharmacological actions that we know of, including those listed below.4
Note that probiotics downregulate interleukin-6, one of several cytokines involved in inflammatory processes, so probiotics may turn out to be an important player in helping to inhibit cytokine production – as suggested by Grivennikov above – and control inflammation that might otherwise lead to colon cancer:
||Apoptopic (cellular self-destruction)
|Radio- and chemo protective
||Upregulates glutathione and certain glycoproteins that help regulate immune responses, including interleukin-4, interleukin-10, and interleukin-12
||Downregulates interleukin-6 (a cytokine involved in chronic inflammation and age-related diseases)
||Inhibits tumor necrosis factor (TNF) alpha inhibitor, NF-kappaB, epidermal growth factor receptor, and more
The Ideal Way to Optimize Your Gut Health
Historically, people didn't have the same problems with their gut health as we do today for the simple fact that they got large quantities of beneficial bacteria from their diet in the form of fermented or cultured foods, which were invented long before the advent of refrigeration and other forms of food preservation.
You can ferment virtually any food, and every traditional culture has traditionally fermented their foods to prevent spoilage. There are also many fermented beverages and yoghurts. Quite a large percent of all the foods that people consumed on a daily basis were fermented, and each 2-3 ounce serving of an ideally prepared food can provide trillions of beneficial bacteria – far more than you can get from any probiotic supplement.
In fact, it's unusual to find a probiotic supplement containing more than 10 billion colony-forming units, but when my team tested fermented vegetables produced by probiotic starter cultures, they had 10 trillion colony-forming units of bacteria. Literally, one serving of vegetables was equal to an entire bottle of a high potency probiotic! Fermented foods also give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, so all in all, it's your most cost effective alternative.
Fermenting your own foods is a fairly straight-forward and simple process, and can provide even greater savings. To learn more, please listen to my interview with Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) who has been involved with nutrition for about 20 years.
Download Interview Transcript
Chemotherapy Can Boost Cancer Growth, Study Finds
A related news story again highlights the need to revise how we treat cancer and how we view cancer prevention. Chemotherapy is a staple of the cut, poison, burn paradigm that is conventional cancer treatment, despite the evidence against it. According to research published in the journal Nature Medicine,5 chemotherapy can damage healthy cells in such a way that they begin secreting a protein (WNT16B) that not only protects cancer cells and promotes their survival, but can also cause the tumors to be resistant to further chemotherapy treatment.
In a nutshell, what we're talking about is chemotherapy-resistant cancer... caused by the initial treatment. It's difficult to think of a worse scenario than this. The finding was reportedly "completely unexpected," and was only discovered because they were trying to determine why cancer cells can be easily killed in a lab setting yet remain so resilient inside your body. The results were confirmed on breast and ovarian cancer tumors.Co-author Peter Nelson of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle told AFP:6
"The increase in WNT16B was completely unexpected... WNT16B, when secreted, would interact with nearby tumor cells and cause them to grow, invade, and importantly, resist subsequent therapy..."
The researchers speculate that adding an antibody to WNT16B to the chemotherapy might improve the response rate and kill off more cancer cells. Another alternative might be to use smaller, less toxic doses of chemotherapy to reduce the damage to healthy cells.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
I strongly believe the cancer rates are escalating because they are in no way shape or form addressing the underlying cause of most cancers. Instead, most of the research is directed towards expensive drugs that target late stages of the disease and greatly enrich the drug companies but simply do not prevent cancer. If ever there was an area in which an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure it is cancer. I strongly believe that if you are able to work your way up to the advanced level of my health plan, that you will virtually eliminate your risk of most cancers.
Environmental and lifestyle factors are increasingly being pinpointed as the primary culprits fueling our cancer epidemic. This includes:
This is clearly not an exhaustive list as such a list would be exceedingly long. For more specifics on consumer products implicated as contributors to cancer, please review the Cancer Prevention Coalition's "Dirty Dozen" list.7
Medical researchers would like you to believe they're doing everything they can to come up with a solution. Yet all we see is research into newer drug therapies. Clearly they're not digging close enough to the root of the problem, because if they did, they'd touch on some of these lifestyle issues just mentioned. From my perspective, you ignore lifestyle factors at your own peril when it comes to cancer... Because, clearly, drug-based "advances" are not making a dent in this progressively prevalent disease.
REAL Cancer Advancements that Need to Become Mainstream Knowledge
In the last 30 years the global cancer burden has doubled, and it will likely double again between 2000 and 2020, and nearly triple by 2030 – unless people begin to take cancer prevention seriously. We CAN turn this trend around, but to do so the medical community must stop overlooking the methods that can actually have a significant impact.
Three cancer advancements in particular merit special mention. These advancements have not yet been accepted by conventional medicine, and they must be.
Number 1: Vitamin D – There's overwhelming evidence pointing to the fact that vitamin D deficiency plays a crucial role in cancer development. Researchers within this field have estimated that about 30 percent of cancer deaths could be prevented each year simply by optimizing the vitamin D levels in the general population. And if you are being treated for cancer it is likely that higher blood levels – probably around 80-90 ng/ml – would be a beneficial adjunct to your treatment plan. To learn the details on how to use vitamin D therapeutically, please review my previous article, Test Values and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency.
The health benefits of optimizing your levels, either by safe sun exposure (ideally), a safe tanning bed, or oral supplementation as a last resort, simply cannot be overstated. In terms of protecting against cancer, vitamin D has been found to offer protection in a number of ways, including:
- Regulating genetic expression
- Increasing the self-destruction of mutated cells (which, if allowed to replicate, could lead to cancer)
- Reducing the spread and reproduction of cancer cells
- Causing cells to become differentiated (cancer cells often lack differentiation)
- Reducing the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, which is a step in the transition of dormant tumors turning cancerous
Number 2: Optimizing Your Insulin Levels – Normalizing your insulin levels is one of the most powerful physical actions you can take to lower your risk of cancer. Otto Warburg actually received a Nobel Prize for his research on cancer cell physiology in 1934, which clearly demonstrated cancer cells require more sugar to thrive. Unfortunately, very few oncologists appreciate or apply this knowledge today.
High levels of insulin can cause major damage to your body. The most recognized of these is diabetes, but that is far from the only one. As Ron Rosedale, M.D. said in one of my most popular articles, Insulin and Its Metabolic Effects:
"It doesn't matter what disease you are talking about, whether you are talking about a common cold or cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis or cancer, the root is always going to be at the molecular and cellular level, and I will tell you that insulin is going to have its hand in it, if not totally control it."
The good news is that controlling your insulin levels is relatively straightforward. First, limit your intake of processed foods, grains and sugars/fructose as much as possible to prevent your insulin levels from becoming elevated in the first place. Replace them with healthy fats such as butter, animal fat, coconut oil, avocados, seeds and nuts.
I recently completed ten hours of interviews with Dr. Rosedale in which he goes FAR deeper into his philosophy and recommendations. I was floored at what I learned and he has once again changed my position on many important nutritional issues. One of the KEY new insights is that you need to LIMIT your protein to no more than your basic requirements, which is about one gram per kilogram of LEAN body mass, which is typically less than 70 grams for most people. If you go over this you will upregulate the mTOR pathways, which has been strongly associated with increasing your risk for cancer.
I am very excited to share this information with you once we review it as it is possible that this can help the treatment of most cancers. And it is all done with dietary regulation. Supplements can be used, but they are optional and only make the transition to fat burning metabolism easier.
Number 3: Exercise – If you are like most people, when you think of reducing your risk of cancer, exercise doesn't immediately come to mind. However, there is some fairly compelling evidence that exercise can slash your risk of cancer.
One of the primary ways exercise lowers your risk for cancer is by reducing elevated insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. Additionally, exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. Your immune system is your first line of defense against everything from minor illnesses like a cold right up to devastating, life-threatening diseases like cancer.
The trick about exercise, though, is understanding how to use it as a precise tool. This ensures you are getting enough to achieve the benefit, not too much to cause injury, and the right variety to balance your entire physical structure and maintain strength and flexibility, and aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels. This is why it is helpful to view exercise like a drug that needs to be carefully prescribed to achieve its maximum benefit.
It's important to include a large variety of techniques in your exercise routine, such as strength training, aerobics, core-building activities, and stretching. Most important of all, however, is to make sure you include high-intensity, burst-type exercise, once or twice a week, in which you raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, and then you recover for 90 seconds. These exercises activate your super-fast twitch muscle fibers, which can increase your body's natural production of human growth hormone.
Winning the War Against Cancer Begins with Your Personal Choices
You can do a lot, right now, to significantly decrease your cancer risk. Even the conservative American Cancer Society states that one-third of cancer deaths are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity, and carrying excess weight. So, in addition to the main three suggestions listed above, making the following healthy lifestyle changes can go a very long way toward avoiding all forms of cancer:
- Eat a healthy diet of whole organic foods, and pay careful attention to keeping your insulin levels down by avoiding sugar/fructose and grains. I make this easy with my recently updated and free Nutrition Plan. The key here is to radically reduce your sugar and non-fiber carbs to an absolute minimum and limit your protein to one gram per one kilogram of lean body mass.
- Only 25 percent of people eat enough vegetables, so by all means eat as many vegetables as you are comfortable with. Ideally, they should be fresh and organic. Cruciferous vegetables in particular have been identified as having potent anti-cancer properties. Remember that carb nutritional types may need up to 300 percent more vegetables than protein nutritional types.
- Get appropriate amounts of high quality animal-based omega-3 fats.
- Have a tool to permanently erase the neurological short-circuiting that can activate cancer genes. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is caused by emotions. It is likely that this factor may be more important than all the other physical ones listed here, so make sure this is addressed. My particular favorite tool for this purpose, as you may know, is the Emotional Freedom Technique.
- Maintain an ideal body fat percentage.
- Get enough high-quality sleep.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, household chemical cleaners, synthetic air fresheners and air pollution.
- Reduce your use of cell phones and other wireless technologies, and implement as many safety strategies as possible if/when you cannot avoid their use.
- Boil, poach or steam your foods, rather than frying or charbroiling them.