By Dr. Mercola
The deadly lung cancer that develops from chronic asbestos exposure, and occasionally from exposure to other environmental toxins, is called mesothelioma.
Rates of mesothelioma have increased nearly four-fold since the 1980s.1 This aggressive cancer is typically deadly with no known cure for most people diagnosed.
However, a new study sheds light on one strategy that shows promise in slowing tumor growth; namely, an arginine starvation diet.
The 'Achilles' Heel' of Mesothelioma?
Researchers from Queen Mary's Barts Cancer Institute have revealed that cancer cells starved of the amino acid arginine may lack the ability to grow and survive.
The study, which was presented at the World Conference on Lung Cancer in Sydney, Australia, found that about half of the tumor cells lacked the ability to make arginine (as cells are normally able to do), and had to be 'fed' the amino acid in order to survive. Arginine is produced in your body via the food you eat and digest.
For the study, treatment with an arginine-lowering drug slowed down disease progression and extended progression-free survival by nearly six weeks compared to those who received only typical supportive care.
Whereas most cells can internally synthesize arginine, certain cancer cells are thought to have a major metabolic defect that makes them unable to do so. Polaris, the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the drug (called ADI-PEG 20), noted:2
"Because arginine is one of the 20 amino acids that are essential for protein synthesis and survival of cells, it is believed these cancer cells become dependent upon the external supply of arginine to survive and grow.
ADI-PEG 20 is designed to systemically deplete the external supply of arginine, which causes arginine-dependent cancer cells to die while leaving the normal cells unharmed. Multiple cancers have been reported to have a high degree of arginine-dependency."
While the featured study did not discuss this, a far safer but likely equally effective alternative to dangerous drugs to lower arginine would be to use the amino acid lysine. This is the amino acid that is typically used to treat oral herpes.
Why Starving Cancer Cells of Arginine May Be Lethal
L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide and is actually the only known nutritional substrate in your vessel lining available to endothelial cells (a layer of cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels) for nitric oxide production. In other words, the lining in your vessels (endothelium) need L-arginine to create nitric oxide.
Nitric oxide is a common air pollutant released by automobile exhaust and other sources (it's also the explosive chemical in dynamite). Ironically, nitric oxide is also the gas released in your body as a cellular signaling molecule to help promote healthy blood vessel flexibility and dilation -- a discovery that earned three scientists the 1998 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
The use of a gas, in this case nitric oxide, for signaling between cells in your body, was an entirely new concept until just over a decade ago, but now it's known that nitric oxide:
- Enhances your blood flow when produced by blood vessel cells
- Helps support healthy blood pressure levels that are already within the normal range
- Is used as a signal molecule in your brain and immune system
Intermittent Fasting's Anti-Cancer Potential
It is a good idea to replicate our ancient ancestor eating patterns and "starve" yourself just a little bit each day, or a couple of days a week. This is called intermittent fasting and could have a highly beneficial impact on your health and longevity. Intermittent fasting is not about binge eating followed by starvation, or any other extreme form of dieting. Rather what we're talking about here involves timing your meals to allow for regular periods of fasting.
I typically use intermittent fasting about 75-90% of the time, but you could also fast a couple of days a week if you prefer, or every other day. There are many different variations.
According to Dr. Stephen Freedland, associate professor of urology and pathology at the Duke University Medical Center, "undernutrition without malnutrition" is the only experimental approach that consistently improves survival in animals with cancer, as well as extends lifespan overall by as much as 30 percent. Alternate-day fasting has also been shown to reduce cancer rates by reducing cell proliferation.3
According to some experts, like Dr. Thomas Seyfried, the most important aspect of cancer prevention and treatment is intermittent fasting, or overall calorie restriction, which includes eating less of everything.
Along these lines, research has shown that intermittent fasting with compensatory overeating did not improve survival rates nor delay prostate tumor growth in mice. Essentially, by gorging on non-fasting days, the health benefits of fasting can easily be lost.
I view intermittent fasting as a lifestyle, not a diet, and that includes making healthy food choices whenever you do eat. Also, proper nutrition becomes even more important when fasting, so you really want to address your food choices before you try fasting.
Using the Ketogenic Diet to Starve Cancer Cells
A ketogenic diet calls for eliminating all but non-starchy vegetable carbohydrates, and replacing them with healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, olives, butter, eggs, avocados, and nuts) and limited amounts of high-quality protein. The premise is that since cancer cells need glucose to thrive, and carbohydrates turn into glucose in your body, then lowering the glucose level in your blood though carb and protein restriction literally starves the cancer cells into oblivion.
Interestingly, arginine is found in foods high in protein, so by limiting your protein intake, you may also naturally limit some cancer cells' external arginine source. Additionally, low protein intake tends to minimize the mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) pathway that accelerates cell proliferation.
The strategy Dr. Seyfried suggests is a low-carb, low to moderate protein, high-fat diet, which will effectively lower your blood sugar. This is an easily measurable parameter that you can check using a diabetic blood glucose meter. This ketogenic diet will also elevate ketone bodies, as fat is metabolized to ketones that your body can burn in the absence of food. When combined with calorie restriction or intermittent fasting, the end result will put your body in a metabolic state that is inhospitable to cancer cells.
Unless you have a very serious disease, I believe it is best for most people to implement intermittent fasting slowly over six to eight weeks. You begin by not eating for three hours before you go to bed, and then gradually extend the time you eat breakfast until you have skipped breakfast entirely and your first meal of the day is at lunchtime. Of course, you are only consuming non-starchy vegetables for carbs, low to moderate protein and high-quality fats. One of the things I've noticed is that once you've made the transition from burning carbs to burning fat as your primary fuel, the desire for junk foods and sugar just disappears like magic, making this a lifestyle that is easy to maintain.
A ketogenic diet along with intermittent fasting can be easily integrated into whatever cancer treatment plan you decide to follow. Personally, I believe it's absolutely crucial, no matter what type of cancer you're trying to address. To get more specifics about using a ketogenic diet and calorie restriction for the treatment of cancer, I highly recommend picking up Dr. Seyfried's book, Cancer as a Metabolic Disease.