Gene Expression Can Be Turned Off
Recently, attention has been shown to the part that genetics play in the origins of cancer. For example, since the discovery of the tumor repressor genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer One and BReast CAncer Two), many woman have been tested to see if they have the mutated form of these genes. While the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes produce proteins that repair or destroy damaged genes, a mutated form of these genes will fail to produce the needed repair mechanisms. Without functioning tumor repressors, mutated genes will escape the elimination process and produce cancer cells, making those who have mutated BRCA genes more susceptible to cancer.
These discoveries received a great deal of media attention when Angelina Jolie decided to have prophylactic surgery in hopes of avoiding what she saw as the inevitable dangers of breast cancer. Most people now believe that they have no choice in the matter of major health issues. They believe they must simply face the future with resignation, knowing that they must succumb to the “fate” that they’ve inherited from their ancestors through their genes.
What seems to have escaped the media frenzy are the even more astounding discoveries being made about gene expression. This research is revealing that our genes are not our fate. Lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, can turn genes off or on like flipping a switch. These findings teach us that there is hope for all of us, even with our genetic weaknesses, if we will just eat healthier and move more.
T. Colin Campbell, in his best-selling book The China Study, talks at length about his studies on the effects of diet on cancer growth. He was able to control the development of cancer in rats simply by increasing or decreasing the amount of animal protein that he fed them. A decrease (below 5%) in animal protein not only halted cancer growth, but actually reduced the size and quantity of tumors that had already developed. He was careful to note that the protein found in plant sources had no such effect on cancer development. Only animal protein had this dangerous effect.
Dr. Campbell explains that cancer progresses through three fundamental steps. The initial step is mutation of the genes within a cell. This is generally caused by some form of carcinogen in the environment, or in our diet. The rats in Dr. Campbell’s study were purposefully exposed to carcinogens in order to create mutated genes. The rats fed more animal protein did have the expected high number of cancerous cells as a result of this exposure. However, the rats fed the lowest doses of animal protein had surprising resistance to the carcinogens, and created very few cancerous cells. The animal proteins in their feed were actually making the rats’ cells more susceptible to cancer.
The second step in cancer progression happens when the cancerous cell does not go through the natural process of cell death, which is the usual fate of mutated cells. Instead, the cancer cells produce cancerous daughter cells, developing into a colony of cancer cells that we call a tumor. By reducing the animal protein in their feed, Dr. Campbell was able to not only stop this progression, he was able to reverse the process. Tumors that had already begun to grow actually shrank when animal protein exposure was minimized.
The third step in cancer progression happens when the cancerous mass metastasizes, or breaks apart and travels through bodily fluids to other parts of the body. Dr. Campbell’s research demonstrated that reducing the animal protein in the diet actually kept the tumors in the rats from metastasizing. Dr. Campbell’s research showed that he could halt cancer at all three steps through minimizing the amount of animal protein that the rats were fed.
Dr. Campbell was turning cancer on and off, simply by regulating the amount of animal protein in the rats’ diet. A diet below 5% casein turned the cancer off, and a diet above 5% casein turned the cancer back on again. Not only does consumption of animal protein help tumors to grow and migrate to other parts of the body, but animal protein can actually lead to the production of cancerous cells to begin with. Animal protein is carcinogenic.
The recent announcement from the World Health Organization (WHO), recognizing red meat (identified as “beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat”) and processed meats (ham, bacon, hot dogs, sausages, jerky, deli meats, chicken nuggets, and so forth) as carcinogens, is evidence of the overwhelming consensus of the research. However, the WHO has only acknowledged the role of red and processed meats. They have yet to recognize the part that dairy and white meats play as well. Since Dr. Campbell’s research was done largely with casein, the protein found in milk, the WHO caution has not gone far enough.
It is not just red meat and processed meats that we need to be cautioned against. All animal protein is carcinogenic. Not only that, but initiating mutations is just one step in the process that Dr. Campbell uncovered. Animal protein actually plays a part in all three steps of cancer production. Dr. Campbell turned his rats into cancer making machines merely be feeding them 20% animal protein. The USDA Food Guidelines for humans calls for a normal consumption of up to 35% of calories from protein. No wonder the United States has among the highest rates of cancer in the world!
You may be hesitant to believe that work that was conducted in a laboratory environment on rats directly applies to human beings, and that would be a healthy bit of skepticism. Much animal research has been found to be useless when it was repeated in human trials. For that reason, Dr. Campbell was not content to settle for laboratory work alone. His work on the China Study was the largest nutrition study ever conducted on human populations. They studied the effects of diet on the prevalence of disease in populations throughout China.
Their conclusions were completely in keeping with what Dr. Campbell had learned in his lab. Those populations who ate the most meat were also most likely to develop cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases common in the western world today. Those populations that subsisted on the most plant foods showed remarkable resistance to all of those common western diseases.
IGF-1 and Cancer Growth
One mechanism that may play a part in the growth and spread of tumors is a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 is produced by the liver, and is necessary for the growth and repair of the body. For infants and children, IGF-1 is vital, helping their bodies to develop into a normal sized adults. For adults the cells need to replace damaged cells, and those lost in the normal processes of cellular death. IGF-1 signals to the cells when there are materials available to help them to reproduce.
The danger comes when the body creates an overabundance of IGF-1. Higher than normal levels of IGF-1 have been linked to cancer (see one study here, another here). Meat and dairy products have been shown to stimulate an overproduction of IGF-1, and can contribute to the growth of tumors. One study, for example, concluded that “respondents ages 50–65 consuming moderate to high levels of animal protein display a major increase in the risks for overall and cancer mortality; however, the risks may be somewhat decreased if protein does not come from an animal source.” In other words, eating animal proteins increases cancer risk, while eating plant proteins does not.
A team of medical practitioners led by Dr. Dean Ornish conducted clinical trials with patients who had already developed prostate cancer. Their work demonstrated that a remarkable reduction in prostate cancer was possible through lifestyle changes, including severely reducing the amount of animal protein eaten. Over the course of the year, the control group had six men (about 12% of the control group) had to drop out of the study in order to obtain standard treatment for their prostate cancer. None of the experimental group had to drop out. At the end of the year, blood from both groups was tested to see how well it would destroy cancer cells in a petri dish. The blood from the experimental group that had been eating a mostly plant-based diet was eight times more effective in killing cancer cells.
M. F. McCarty has also been able to demonstrate a link between diet and IGF-1 levels. He found through his research that a plant based diet could be the key to significantly reducing the number of deaths from cancer each year. He concluded, “Low-fat vegan diets may be especially protective in regard to cancers linked to insulin resistance–namely, breast and colon cancer–as well as prostate cancer; conversely, the high IGF-I activity associated with heavy ingestion of animal products may be largely responsible for the epidemic of ‘Western’ cancers in wealthy societies.”
Current research is overwhelmingly pointing to the fact that animal protein is a major contributing factor to the high incidence of cancer today. We contribute more money than any other nation toward cancer research while all the while ignoring the findings that are pointing us to a drastic change in diet. The science points to the fact that we need to eat more plant foods, and eliminate animal foods from our diet. By feeding your family a whole food plant based diet, you will drastically reduce the risk of cancer for your family.