Interview: Elyn Jacobs with Dr. James Belanger Naturopathic Doctor
Dr James Belanger: Eating to Beat Cancer : Click Here to Download
Dr. James Belanger, who himself recovered from cancer using conventional and alternative cancer therapies, summarizes the latest research on cancer and diet and cancer fighting foods. He explains their role in making treatment more effective and in slowing or reversing colon cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer and lymphoma.
He discusses key topics like:
- The ketogenic diet and cancer
- The Low glycemic diet and cancer
- The vegan diet and cancer
- Calorie restriction
- Cancer and animal protein
- Good and bad carbs
- Omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids
- Flax and cancer
- Soy and cancer
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Fish oil
- Berries and more
About Dr. James Belanger: Dr. James Belanger is a licensed naturopathic doctor. He earned his doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine in 1998 at Bastyr University in Seattle, WA and his bachelors in Medical Technology in 1994 at UMASS-Lowell. He was valedictorian of the College of Health Professions at UMASS-Lowell. He is board certified and licensed in Connecticut and is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, the Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors and the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. He was the former secretary of the Massachusetts Society of Naturopathic Doctors and the former treasurer of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. In addition to his private practice, he currently teaches nutrition at the New England School of Acupuncture and is a guest lecturer in oncology at the University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Belanger completed a two-year residency at the Chelmsford Clinic in Massachusetts and has worked in the health care field for 22 years. In 1990, he was diagnosed with cancer and is now cancer free because of the combined use of conventional and alternative medicine. Dr. Belanger decided to pursue a career in Natural medicine because he wanted to offer people a more holistic approach to health care and was discouraged with the many limitations of conventional Western medicine. www.lexingtonnaturalhealth.com; (781) 274-6190. More from Elyn Jacobs
Transcription of Interview
Elyn Jacobs: Hello everyone and welcome to Survive and Live Well: Tips to Treat and Beat Cancer. My goal is to empower you with information to help you regain control of your health. Sit back and listen or join the chat room, send in your questions. Remember to visit my website, www.elynjacobs.wordpress.com for more details about my guests and their contact information.So I am sitting here once again with Dr. James Belanger, a naturopathic doctor practicing in the Boston area. In 1990, he was diagnosed with cancer and now is cancer free because of the combined use of conventional and alternative medicine. He pursued a career in natural medicine because he wanted to offer people a more holistic approach to health care and was discouraged with many limitations of conventional Western Medicine. He and his wife, Karen B. Braga, also an ND, are co-founders of the Lexington Natural Health Center. Jim, it is so great to have you here back on the show today….
Dr. Belanger: Yeah, thanks for having me back, Elyn.
Elyn: Well, it’s great. So, Jim, there’s so much known, yet so much confusion about diet and its role in cancer and also about the research that’s involved in trials. Can you give us a brief summary of the research on diet and cancer?
Dr. Belanger: Yeah, absolutely, you’re exactly right. There’s a lot of confusion out there and so I really try to read the published clinical research as much as I can find on diet. There’s certainly a lot of opinions on the internet, and some might be good and some might not be found in any other research… just so listeners know that there’s a website called Pubmed, which a lot of people probably are familiar with –that’s pubmed.gov — where all the published peer reviewed medical research is from, you know things from chemo to radiation to diet.
There are studies on diet [and] I would really like to see a lot more. What I want to talk to you about today are the studies that have been done mostly on animals. There are a few human studies done, but the animal studies have been very encouraging where they’re changing calories in the animals and reducing carbohydrates, or types of fats like omega-3’s, [or] just simply adding a particular food to the animals’ diet and keeping the control group, like adding cabbage family vegetables or soy or berries or something and seeing tumors shrink or not grow as fast. And you know what’s interesting about some of these studies is that in the animal studies at least — and some of the human studies — they’ve taken the tumors out and they look at genes and pathways in the cancer that influence blood vessels and proliferation or growth of the cancer.
And they found down regulations of a lot of these genetic pathways. What’s sad is they are spending lots and lots of money in creating these targeted drugs that affect certain cancer pathways. But there’s so many pathways that you inhibit one and it up-regulates and does something else. There are … actually a few human studies on this [which] have found that they inhibit blood vessels, inhibit some of these pathways, and they finally don’t create a lot of the side effects of some of the targeted drugs and they are cheap too. I just really wish that there’d be more research.
As a doctor I’ve got patients coming in all the time that really don’t want to do chemotherapy, radiation, take any of the… targeted drugs that are available, you know like Avastin or something, and I have to strongly recommend those things because the studies that are done on diet are [not] comparing them to the drugs, so I can’t say that it’s a replacement. But it’s sure looking very promising and I wish there were more research so patients don’t necessarily get bullied into chemo by family members and doctors, [and] that they feel that diet is a fully researched option. I mean I suppose people … want to do natural things all alone — that certainly could help, but the research is… more needs to be done.
Elyn: Right, I think you’re right that more needs to be done, but I guess many of us could go on the extrapolation theory of, okay, it looks like a cat and sounds like a cat, it’s a cat, so even if you can’t prove to me that it’s a cat, I think I’ll go with cat and bypass some of the toxic therapies. So I think a lot of us are sort of getting there, but unfortunately the mainstream doctors are really not saying other than, “yeah, eat what you want,” or “sure, vegetables are probably a good idea,” not really explaining to patients, like you say, how they can affect the pathways and the proliferation and all kinds of things that are really important that people need to know,… exactly what food can do….
Dr. Belanger: I was told that… diet had nothing to do with cancer when I had cancer, you know, 21 years ago now, but still there are doctors [who] tell patients …, diet doesn’t matter, you can eat ice cream….
Elyn: Anything to keep that weight on, while I pump in those toxins!
Dr. Belanger: You’re going to learn here today that high calorie is not a good idea.
Elyn: Yeah, let’s talk about that, can we talk a little bit more in depth about calorie restriction?
Dr. Belanger: So I only know one human study right now where they actually reduced calories and looked at recurrence rates. It was a 2011 study in women with early stage breast cancer…. They reduced the calories, they reduced the fat from an average of 51 grams to 30 grams or less and they noticed a 24% reduction in recurrence rate in these women with breast cancer. But there’s certainly been a handful of animal studies in breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and I do know they are doing some clinical trials right now in breast and prostate to see if radiation will work better in patients that are restricting calories. But just to talk about the animal part… for example they… just reduce the calories about 40% [it] seems on average in these animal studies. Their calorie intake was only about 200 calories less than usual. So it wasn’t that much, mostly fat …and then they carry it on for month or so and the tumors are like half their size on average compared to the group that didn’t knock down their calories. So it didn’t stop it completely but it slowed it down so it’s half the size after about a month. There’s a handful of studies summarizing it. But what’s interesting is… there are animal studies, they take their tumors out, there are fewer blood vessels in the tumors, cancer cells had undergone some cell death, there was fewer metastases when they gave these really highly metastatic tumors to these animals, and that’s really, really interesting — and that’s why there’s probably a human trial going on right now [to see] if the blood vessels changed in the tumors.
Blood vessels in tumors are not the same as regular blood vessels. They are more immature, they are more leaky, so they are more porous, and what happens when blood vessels are more porous like that, things leak out of the blood and deposit around the cancer. Compounds like something called fibrinogen and thrombin –they’re compounds found in our blood that can initiate clotting, but they’re in the blood and they don’t create a clot in the blood; they leak out of the blood vessel and deposit around something. They form this stuff called fibrin. And they are finding that cancer can be more resistant to chemotherapy and radiation when there’s a deposit of fiber all around the tumors; they call it the stroma. And the more leaky the blood vessels are, the more fibrinogen is formed and comes out and deposits around. And so we found actually when they took the tumors out they didn’t see this stroma around the cancer, and what’s encouraging about that is that helps chemo for example get delivered to the cancer better. Caloric restriction, restricting calories might help chemo delivery to somebody who’s doing that.
And then radiation works by mixing with oxygen and if there’s not good blood flow to a cancer because all this stroma stuff fibering around it, blood vessels collapse easier and the oxygen levels decrease in tumors and radiation doesn’t work as well…. There is an oncologist right now doing a clinical trial seeing if caloric restriction makes radiation work better. In itself it might help without the chemo and radiation…
Elyn: Right, yeah I thinks it sounds very interesting and I think they are using some of that with the ketogenic diet, which we’ll talk about in a little bit in a minute, but before we leave this area, I’d also love to talk about in addition to lowering calories, can you talk a little about reducing animal protein, because a lot of us think that we really have to have that, it’s the mainstay of many of our diets…..
Dr. Belanger: Yup, so…unfortunately I haven’t seen a study where they are doing all of the things I’m gonna talk about together, then you could really maybe make some… this caloric restriction, they just give standard mouse chow and they’re just reducing the calories and not giving them any real phytonutrients or anything like that with it. But in just that alone there was some improvement, and then in some, they just look at protein.
There are a couple of animal studies where they reduce protein to, say, about a human equivalent of about 30 grams a day of protein –and this was some lung and lymphoma studies in animals — and the survival rate doubles by just that one change in lung and lymphoma given to animal studies. But they didn’t specify animal vs. vegetarian proteins. There’s a difference. Well, for one, animal protein is richer. So like three ounces of meat or chicken is like 30 grams of protein, whereas a whole cup of lentils or something has like 15 grams or something like that.
It really is not as rich of most of the vegetarian proteins. So … you can eat a lot more of them and still be under 30 grams, whereas it doesn’t take much animal protein [and] you usually eat up to 30 grams….
Elyn: And most of us are eating significantly more than that, you know….
Dr. Belanger: Three ounces? Yeah, that’s not big; you know 18 ounces of steak or something like that…
Elyn: Or we have three ounces, three times a day, it adds up.
Dr. Belanger: …. if you fill up on all these veggies and then you have some beans, you know a whole cup of beans is still only 15 grams — that’s filling. You have a little bit here, a little bit there in your salad, nuts, seeds. Nuts don’t have as much protein — you’ll have five grams in a handful of nuts, it’s really not that much.
But there is a difference in the type of their amino acids. Proteins contain building blocks called amino acids. And there’s a particular amino acid called methionine that is found in animal protein, and there’s not as much methionine found in beans and soy and vegetarian based proteins. And there’s research showing that if you restrict methionine from animals’ diets, like they’ve done studies on that and it slows the proliferation of the cancer. The cancer likes to use methionine to help it grow and spread and so that might be a reason why vegan types of diets can slow down cancer because they are not providing as much methionine in the vegetarian proteins.
There’s another reason too. They found that lowering animal protein increases the Natural Killer T cells, these cells that help fight cancer. There’s some research on that in animals. But I do know of one [human] study…. Dr. Dean Ornish has studied a lot on vegan diet and vegetarian diet, and he kind of moved from the heart disease route to studying prostate cancer… some men that had low risk prostate cancer. They didn’t have any surgery or radiation and [he] just followed them for three months on the vegan diet and he biopsied their prostates afterwards and found that some of those growth pathways were down regulated. So you know here’s the diet affecting certain pathways in cancer [and] making them not form those proliferations. It might be in part because of methionine. Methionine intake seems to increase proliferation of cancer cells.
Now this doesn’t mean I am anti-animal protein. I totally eat it, but…make it a condiment more than, you know, you’re highlighting it in everything. So like a soup or something — you put all the beans and all the veggies and a little bit of some animal protein.
Elyn: Right, or a big plate of vegetables and just a little bit of fish or a little bit of steak or whatever it is, you know…
Dr. Belanger: Yeah… three ounces of fish is 30 grams of protein or something so… you eat all beans and veggies and all kinds of stuff and it’s filling and then lower calorie because you’re not eating as much and that might help on that. There is a particular fat in animal protein, like if the meat is grass fed or the dairy is from grass fed, there’s this fatty acid called CLA that is formed in animals when they are eating primarily grass and given things like fish oil and vegetable oils, that the rumen in their body produces this CLA and it has anti-cancer properties in there… there had been a few animal studies where they put animals on a high CLA containing dairy — like a butter that has a lot of CLA — and you know they didn’t develop cancer as much.….
So if you are going to eat animal foods, like the grass fed 100% meats, eggs from pasture raised chickens, and things like that, that might be best. And then another thing in one of the studies — don’t cook ’em on your grill and don’t fry ’em up in the pan and broil them. There are these compounds — this is really interesting — that if you cook animal food at high temperatures like on the gas grill, there’s these compounds that increase in the meats and animal protein called AGEs, advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short.
They found there are receptors on these cells for AGEs — they call them RAGE (receptors for AGEs) — and when AGEs bind to cancer cells containing these receptors, you know it stimulates growth basically. AGEs are not found in any vegan raw food vegetarian options… they’re found in roasted nuts or something like that, but in raw nuts they wouldn’t be found.
So heating — a lot of people eat raw food vegan. Somewhere towards that, it looks like the research is showing, because when you cook something that contains fats and proteins and stuff, these AGEs form, especially in red meat, but it’s found in chicken too, and bacon, pork, and all that stuff, and that might be a reason for the increase of cancer; we are just ingesting these things all the time. You have to heat the olive oil in the pan, throw the meat in there, brown it on each side… and they are finding carcinogenic compounds in those things, but when you don’t eat a lot of cooked… highly animal foods like that and more of these raw food vegan choices, you are not ingesting any of these AGEs.
Elyn: Yeah, well it sounds like double trouble because if you’re eating … meat, using a hormone injected steak from the supermarket and then you are grilling it, it sounds like a deadly recipe for disaster to me.
Dr. Belanger: So … I really like this book…Worlds’s Healthiest Foods. And there’s a website WHFoods.org, where he’s not like 100% raw food vegan. He does talk about animal food, he talks about the best ways to cook things, low temperature like poaching, low temperature sautéing, broth, vegetable broth, chicken broth to cook something in, steaming, those things, rather than the grilling and he cites all the research and stuff, but that is the best way…. Like I mentioned, you put the meat in your soup or something, instead of frying it in the pan, browning it and then adding your vegetables…you are creating more AGEs if you do that.
Elyn: It takes a little bit of the fun out of the food, but it will make us live a little longer.
Dr. Belanger: I mean… I actually followed the raw food diet for like several summers. I didn’t do it all year round, but several summers –and I still head towards that — you know, one summer all I did was that and it’s really good; you can really eat good tasty foods. It’s different than what you’re used to, your model of browning the meats and that kind of stuff, but you can, with the right marinades and mixtures of herbs and all that stuff, you can really make some good tasty food with a little different way of thinking and cooking.
Elyn: Right, and if you absolutely must grill that steak on that Father’s day weekend, I would suggest maybe that everybody marinate it in a little rosemary or something…right, definitely marinate it in some of those things that can be of help to cut down on those AGEs….
Dr. Belanger: Oh yeah, I eat ’em every once in a while [but] it’s a cumulative thing for sure.
Elyn: Right. So, what’s your take on lowering carbohydrates to treat cancer? Do you believe that people should have minimal carbohydrates such as, you know, we’ve mentioned before that ketogenic diet, or do you think they should just be avoiding the high glycemic foods?
Dr. Belanger: I’m really actually moving more towards avoiding the high glycemic foods [and] less towards the ketogenic diet. Now this is a more recent change of mind. I recommended the ketogenic diet mostly to patients with brain tumors (metastatic or primary brain tumors) [but I] haven’t really found too many people that are very compliant with it; it’s a very difficult diet. But just recently I have read three or four studies by a group at Thomas Jefferson University that makes me really concerned about the ketogenic diet.
But for those of you who don’t know what ketogenic diet is, it’s a very low carb, high fat diet. Very low carb maybe less than 20 grams of carbs a day, and what ketogenic means is when you eat high fat, the fats get broken down to these compounds called ketones, and the thought is that cancer — this is what I learned — cancer cannot utilize those ketones and then it lowers glucose levels in your blood and insulin.
And cancer does like glucose; it contains glucose receptors. When they do a PET scan on you…[they are] giving you a radioactive form of glucose, and if the cancer cells or the cells around the cancer have glucose receptors, that will go right in there and light up compared to normal cells. I mean normal cells use glucose, but we’re talking more in the cancer cells or surrounding cells around the cancer — the stroma that I have mentioned — and it lights up. There are all kinds of papers showing that if you have high blood glucose — and I’m talking like over 87mg per deciliter, not 100 or 99… you have… a worse prognosis with breast, prostate or lung, lymphoma… so part of this ketogenic, low carbohydrate diet is…the main thing is to reduce blood glucose [and then] there’s not as much of that compound of growth factor for the cancer…. there are receptors on cancer for Insulin-like Growth Factor which can inhibit cell death.
And so there’s a book that’s been released, Cancer as a Metabolic Disease. It goes into all the biochemistry of that, and there’s certainly animal studies done on ketogenic diets showing that they can slow the growth, and even calorically restricted ketogenic diets, slowing the growth of tumors.
Elyn: Right — Thomas Siegfried?
Dr. Belanger: Yes. There’s very few human studies on any of this. There’s a couple of case reports that are in his book… a couple of kids with brain tumors, stuff like that, and you know it seems from reading those case reports, it might a help, but it’s not a cure-all or anything like that, but it might be useful so that’s really good. But a lot of human studies, they are not carrying them on for very long — 30 days, 60 days….
What happens after that? There are some researchers that you can [see] on Pubmed and Thomas Jefferson University and there’s a whole bunch of researchers that are saying that ketones can fuel growth of cancer and cause metastases…. They’ve been on the ketogenic diet [and] it seems like something switches after awhile, so what they’ve found is that if they expose cancer cells to ketones for a period of time, the genetic changes happen in the cancer cells which revert them back into like a more embryonic form. That embryonic form is more invasive. You know I was all gung ho about the ketogenic diet [until] I read these studies. It’s saying that … it promotes it and I was trying to ask, what’s the difference?
It must be that you go on the diet for awhile and then these genetic changes happen in cancer cells, they change them. Cause there’s research showing that … the stroma around the cancer, that stuff that deposits around the cancer, ketones can be produced by those the stromal cells and use it to help feed the cancer. So it’s not true from … the recent studies that ketones don’t promote the growth of cancer. They don’t …maybe initially, but over time. So it’s a concern.
So I’m moving back to more of the low glycemic. Because the low glycemic diet… for those who don’t know what that means, it means you don’t want to eat carbohydrates that have no fiber in them and … like white flour or white rice and fruit juice and things, [rather]some foods that are not going to spike your blood sugar.
So you know, basically all of green vegetables and the beans and the nuts and the seeds and stuff like that…[and] really reducing a lot of starchy stuff from the potatoes, to the corn, to drinking fruit juices, soda pops, the rice… So you cut down, way down on that and then that can have a profound effect on lowering your blood glucose to under that 87 and it lowers insulin levels, fasting insulin. And it lowers insulin growth factor which seems to be the main effect of what you need to happen in your body to inhibit cancer.
And there is at least one human study that I know of where they put those people on a low glycemic diet, people with stage 3 colon cancer and they had low recurrence rates and then improved survival. So there’s a human study on that plus a whole bunch of animal studies. And you don’t form ketones when you don’t restrict the carbs that much. So that’s a concern.
And the same thing with caloric restriction, when you really restrict your calories way down and you struggle to lose too much weight, you’re going to form a lot of ketones in your body. So I’m not saying that a person should restrict calories if they are already thin for their height and weight. But for somebody that is overweight that needs to lose some pounds, they’re obviously eating too many calories and they reduce the calories, get to a more comfortable weight. If you have somebody with stage 4 cancer and you have no appetite, I mean … you’re restricting calories anyway. But calorie restriction is best for a … healthy person with a higher rate of reoccurrence or somebody with stage 4 but they’re still very healthy and they can tackle that kind of a change and they’re a little overweight and could use some lowering of the calories.
Elyn: Right, and I think those lower carbohydrate diets are really in general healthy and it’s much more user friendly than trying to figure out the whole ketogenic diet…
Dr. Belanger: Yes.
Elyn: I mean just trying to get people, like you said, just to comply with it is really hard.
Dr. Belanger: Yes, and… the thing is, there are some high carb foods that….I mean, they’re not high glycemic but they do have carbs and would interfere with the ketogenic [diet] like berries, even … tomato paste and beans. There are some grains like black rice, buckwheat that probably you’d really have to limit those. You’d have to avoid berries, but … a lot of berries could be really good. So, I’ll talk about that later.
Elyn: Yes, we’ll get to that. So, let’s move on here a little bit and talk about … fat, some things we’re supposed to avoid. For many of us we’re told, “keep your weight down, avoid that fat, eat a low fat diet.” So let’s talk about fat. What kind of fats we should be using and [what are the] best fats consumed when one has cancer?
Dr. Belanger: I’m sure you’ve heard about this, I’ll say it again, omega 3 fatty acids. You really want to increase your dose and decrease your consumption of omega 6. Omega 3 fatty acid is found in the fatty fish — the wild salmon and the sardines and the mackerels and the herrings…. You don’t have to eat animal protein. Eat walnuts, flax, chia seeds, hemp seeds – [they] have some of those omega 3’s.
And then you want to reduce omega 6 fatty acids. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in lot of vegetable oils like soy, like salad dressings or soy bean oil or corn oil, these things, or grain-fed dairy, cows eating grain — their milk is going to have more omega 6 fat in it — or meat from grain fed animals.
But if you basically eat for your fat sources, you have some flaxseeds, some walnuts, chia, …some fish, and then you’re eating beans and whole grains and leafy vegetables.
Elyn: Some avocados?
Dr. James Beranger: Avocados… have another type of fat, another beneficial fat, called omega 9. There is some research on omega 9 also but more I’d say on omega 3. But those are the two main ones. There are omega 3 fatty acids which are the walnuts, the fish, the flax, the chia, the hemp, and omega 9 which is olives, avocado and other nuts like cashews and almonds and stuff. But … in terms of cancer studies, I see more olives and avocados than almonds and cashews.
Why omega 3, what does omega 3 do? [In] some of the interesting studies, they take cancer cells, for example. And they change some of the genes to cause the cancer membranes to produce omega 3 fatty acids. So fat goes into the cell membranes of the cancer. They found in these studies when the fatty acids in the cell membranes of the cancer change to more omega 3 and less of the omega 6, the cancer cells can’t spread, migrate, proliferate, grow and metastasize as much as if they didn’t have as many omega 3’s. ….
But if you really cut down on all those omega 6 sources, you really reduce your intake of grains, red meats and grain fed dairy products and vegetable oils — not all vegetable oils, but mainly corn oil, soy bean oil, and a lot of foods that are made with those things. So you wake up in the morning and you have a bagel with cream cheese, you’re not going to have omega 3 in there … and then you had pizza, ham and cheese in your sandwich, that’s all a lot of omega 6 again, and you start changing your cell membranes over to omega 3 by cutting out those foods and upping the walnuts and the fatty fish and the flax, then over time, if you have cancer, the cancer cell membranes start to have more of the omega 3 in them. According to these studies, they might inhibit their ability to migrate, because there’s certainly research showing that yes, high fish or high omega-3 in animals inhibits cell growth and reduces the risk for spreading….
There are some interesting studies coming out on walnuts particularly. Walnuts are not super high in omega 3 but they’re the only nut that has omega 3. Almonds don’t have omega 3’s. Cashews, Brazil nuts, they don’t have omega 3, but walnuts do — about 20% of their total fat. They’re more omega 6 than 3, but they do have 3.
Elyn: But in case you like good balance, you still have to have a nice ratio.
Dr. Belanger: Exactly. Then like I mentioned, grain fed meats don’t have any omega 3, but two ounces equivalent of walnuts would be for people, but they gave them to animals. Estrogen negative breast cancer, which is not the good one to have, colon cancer, prostate cancer…[they] just carried it on for a month or a couple of months, the cancer didn’t grow as much. It still grew, but it grew by like 1/3 or l/4 the size than the group that didn’t get that. Simple thing, just adding some walnuts to their diets — kept everything the same — and it grew to about 1/4-1/3 the size. And it might be because of the omega 3’s and it might be some other things in the walnuts. But they took the tumors out and they had fewer blood vessels.
Then there’s a whole bunch of studies on flaxseeds, human studies showing lower mortality in women with breast cancer. There’s animal studies on melanoma and colon cancer showing that [flax] reduces the risk of metastasis, and melanoma’s a big one for metastesis…
Elyn: And that’s what drives me crazy when so many doctors tell people, “Oh don’t eat flaxseeds, my goodness, that’ll raise your estrogen levels,” and I want to shoot that doctor. No, we need this flaxseed!
Dr. Belanger: There’s been studies showing lower mortality in breast cancer patients, human studies on breast cancer patients. And they’ve done studies where they gave women about three heaping tablespoons of flaxseed, ground flaxseed, and then they did breast biopsies afterwards and noticed decrease in proliferation indexes…and it even decreases that HER–2 gene thing.
Some women have an over expression of this growth factor receptor called HER–2, and it makes the cancer more aggressive, and they do have a couple of drugs … Herceptin is one. And that’s good but they’ve done studies on animals showing that when they combined flax with that drug Herceptin, that the animal survived longer than Herceptin alone. And so it didn’t interfere with Herceptin and it actually decreased the expression of that growth factor. So you don’t have to block it as much with the Herceptin. Again, more studies would be great. That would be a very nice human study to do. ….
The only bad thing you hear about flax is, okay, yes, flax turns into something in the gut called Enterolactone. And when we searched into Enterolactone in a test tube mixed with estrogen positive breast cancer [cells] and it stimulated them. But that is in the test tube and much higher levels of enterolactone than you could form in your gut when you ingest the flaxseed. So that was a test tube study, whereas animals studies have shown nothing but positive things and those human studies that we talked about. So that’s the only thing that kind of probably started off the cascade of people thinking that flax was bad.
But you do need the healthy bacteria in your gut to activate the flax, so it’s important to either have a food source of something that contains probiotics like sauerkraut because it has the cabbage in it, or take a probiotic pill, or the flax might not work as well in your body. Soy is the same thing.
Elyn: It’s good to know.
Dr. Belanger: But you do need that. And I mentioned chia seed, not as much research on chia seed as there [is] on flax and walnuts. And chia seed does have omega 3’s but it lacks these things that are called lignans that are in the flax that might make flax better because flax is not just omega 3. It’s omega 3 and contains these things that are lignans which have a lot of anti-cancer properties.
But anyhow, chia seed has been studied on animals. It caused more cancer cell death in colon cancer, and when they took the tumors out, they found they’re full of T cells, T cells that kill all the cancer cells, good T cells. I say have a variety of them….
Elyn: I like them all in my cereal, yes.
Dr. Belanger: Yes, walnuts on your salad, flaxseed for your smoothies, have some fish, yes, all that stuff. One of the interesting things is fasting. There’s this one study showing that it takes awhile for those omega 3’s to get into your cell membranes. It could take like three months depending on how restrictive you are. But, you know, if you want to get it into your body really quickly you fast for four days. Day one, day five, day nine, day thirteen, where all you have is you can take some fish oil pill or something, and then just really low calorie foods, no fats besides the fish. And then by the end of the fourteen days, you’ll have a lot of omega 3’s in your cell membranes. So that’s a quick way to get it in. If you don’t fast, and you have these other fats that you might be eating, they compete and they won’t get into your body as much.
A lot of people take a fish oil pill and they expect that’s going to really change all the ratios. And that depends on what you’ve got in there competing with it [like] eating a lot of omega 6, the fish oil is kind of getting diluted out. Yet, if you do take a fish oil supplement, which I don’t think you really have to, you want to reduce all the competing fats, all those omega 6 fats that might be in you.
Elyn: But I always like to tell people about eating fats…I like everyone to eat avocados because you feel full and then …you’re not hungry, so you are reducing your calories just naturally because when you take the fat out of everything, you’re hungry.
Dr. Belanger: Yes. I want to talk later about carotenoids like beta carotene, alpha carotene, lycopenes — all those things You can’t absorb them if you don’t have any fats. You have to have some fats if you’re going to eat something that has carotenoids or you’re not going to absorb it and you won’t get the anti-cancer benefits. But avocados, I couldn’t find that much on avocado in terms of cancer. But there are some test tube studies that they might inhibit cancer growth. And they [are] high in magnesium and folic acid, [and] they got those omega 9’s. Olives, there’s certainly a lot of research on olives and anti-cancer things in olive oil. Get the unfiltered extra virgin olive oil because they have more of those polyphenols … that have the anti-cancer properties.
Elyn: Yes, Jim. We have somebody asking…she is starting to switch from olive oil to grape seed… so we would like to know your opinion on that.
Dr. Belanger: Well, most of the research I’ve seen is with cancer is on grape seed extract, which contains these things called polyphenols. There’s really not that much in the oil. I’m not really familiar with the research on the oil. I certainly found research on olives and cancer…. I really wouldn’t cook with the oil, period. I would add it later because … even if it’s not smoking, you oxidize the fatty acids. So if you want to cook, you put a little bit of vegetable broth in a stainless steel pan, heat it in low temperatures, saute the vegetable just a few minutes so they’re still crunchy, then add your olive oil or your flax oil or something afterwards ….I really haven’t seen much on grape seed oil and cancer, lots on grape seed extract.
Elyn: Right, yes, that’s a good one. But before we run out of time here, let’s just get into soy a little bit. So what is your position on soy? It’s a very controversial one, andI know we can’t do it justice in a few minutes, but at least speak to some of it.
Dr. Belanger: I’m all for soy. Really, I cannot find much negative studies on soy for cancer, even breast cancer. Yes, now there was some controversy again with animals, post menopausal, you know, animals with low estrogen levels and breast cancer. But animals metabolize the soy different than humans.
There’s a 2013 meta-analysis where they analyzed five different studies. One of them was in the Journal of the American Medical Association — over 11,000 patients, estrogen negative, estrogen positive breast cancer, premenopausal, post menopausal …, non Asian women, women from California, and lower risk of a reoccurrence with women with breast cancer of any type and lower risk of dying from the cancer. And these are not soy pills. These are soy foods.
Elyn: But not genetically modified….
Dr. Belanger: Definitely not, not genetically modified, organic. They didn’t specify fermented [or] non fermented, but fermented soy products like tempeh and miso are probably better. So I support it, and definitely with other cancers I support it. Besides, soy might act [like] more of an estrogen receptor antagonist, because they’ve done studies in women where they checked uterine linings, breast density, estrogen levels in the blood. They don’t find that it affects any of that stuff. It doesn’t increase the lining of the uterus and stuff like that. Soy foods [that is]. Soy pills might, if you start taking a lot.
But, like a serving of three or four ounces of some soy product, like tempeh or miso, would be the best, a cup of miso soup. It provides maybe thirty or so milligrams of these things called isoflavones. Just that, not a ton, and not a lot of pills. But some women are concerned that it interferes with Tamoxifen… human studies have shown that it doesn’t interfere, doesn’t seem to add any benefits but it didn’t interfere.
But the women that are on Aromatase inhibitors like Femara, Arimidex, Aromasin, it made it work better. Human studies showing lower reoccurrence rates in women — not metastatic women, but early stage breast cancer patients on Arimidex, combining it with eating some soy food [produced] lower recurrence rates. And it’s because soy might even act as an Aromatase inhibitor itself, and so maybe that’s how it works….
But even besides the effects on estrogen receptor antagonists, it’s been shown to decrease blood vessels, decrease things that lead to metastasis and invasiveness of the cancer, inflammation. It’s been shown to make chemos works better in animal studies combining soy isoflavones …[with] Cis-platin, Gemzar, radiation, showing that it can make them work better by having the chemo and the radiation promote cell death.
Dr. James Belanger: I’m all for it, but I really would stick with more of the food and not texturized soy protein or something like that. So just like a bowl of miso soup, a few ounces of tempeh or something like that.
Elyn: Good thing I had that meal of lentil miso soup for lunch yesterday! Dr. Belanger: Yes. To look at everything and say, “This has lecithin, I can’t have any soy,” I mean, I really don’t see any evidence. Initially, there was with the animal studies and the test tube studies, but there’s been many human studies since that have proven otherwise.
Elyn: Okay, so we only have about three minutes left, so if we could perhaps name a few of your other favorite anti-cancer foods.
Dr. James Belanger: Okay, so just a few, you could try these things: Cruciferous vegetables, especially Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, mustard greens and green cauliflower, if you can find it. There are compounds in cruciferous vegetables called glucosinolates — which are the highest in those foods — that can inhibit cancer progression. There have been studies done on prostate cancer particularly. But there are all kinds of animal studies. Try to eat them more raw. When you cook them, you destroy some of the glucosinolates. Or steam them lightly. Try to eat them as fresh as possible; if they’ve been sitting around in your refrigerator a long time, those anti-cancer compounds [are] reduced. But Brussels sprouts are the tops, when you can get them, for those glycosinolates. Broccoli … doesn’t even compare to Brussels sprouts, and the older the broccoli is, the less there is.
Carotenoid containing foods — foods that have those orange pigments, but they don’t have to be orange. Spinach, dandelions have tons of … carotenoids — like alpha carotene, beta carotene — but pumpkin is extremely high. So get BPA free canned pumpkin and mix it in things. It’s a great thing. Lycopene containing foods, especially… cooked tomato products have more lycopene. Lycopene has a lot of anti-cancer [activity]. Organic cooked tomato pastes, tomato sauces –- great thing.
Seaweeds — everybody is into iodine now. Iodine has all kinds of anti-cancer properties they are finding. It does not just inhibit breast cancer, but lung, melanoma, prostate, pancreatic cancer. You don’t get iodine from too many food sources except for sea vegetables, seaweeds, especially kelp. There was research done on brown kelp in particular. So it has a lot of anti-cancer properties. So get those sea vegetables, buy powdered kelp — they have it in health food stores — and sprinkle it on your food. A good teaspoon or so a day might be a good dose.
Berries, all kinds of berries — especially the blueberries. If you can find black raspberries, there’s a human study on colon cancer. Black raspberries inhibited proliferation pathways… But blueberries, strawberries, organic, grapes. Asparagus — that’s something that’s coming out on the internet, but it’s true that there’s research on it. Asparagus inhibits cancer. And don’t chop off the bottom of the asparagus — that’s where there’s more anti-cancer compounds….
Elyn: Cook them in your soup maybe or something?
Dr. Belanger: Yes, put them in your soup. All kinds of allium vegetables — which means garlic, scallions — scallions probably the top — but onion, yellow onions over white onions (they have more high anti-cancer compounds), red onions are great, shallots…. Anything that has a blackish-blue pigment: black beans, black rice. If you’re going to eat a potato, eat those blue potatoes. There’s something in there called anthocyanins, which are found in blueberries, which have all kinds of anti-cancer properties. You eat those things, they’re found in black beans too. They’re found in black rice — anything that has bluish-black pigment in there, it’s great. You’ll find that in purple cauliflower, for example. Artichokes [are] really high in antioxidants— a lot of anti-cancer properties in artichokes. And it can be actually the artichokes hearts … in glass jars. Those are really good, yes.
Elyn: Right, good, perfect, because we are out of time, so Dr. Belanger, thank you very much for sharing your expertise. I think we learned a ton today, and you really added a lot of clarity to that entire confusing issue of diets, so thank you very, very much for joining us.
Dr. Belanger: Thanks for having me. I enjoyed it.
Elyn: And this has been Survive and Live Well: Tips to Treat and Beat Cancer on Cancer Support Network W4CS.com, where you can listen live Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m. If you missed any part of today’s show, you can catch that on my website, www.elynjacobs.wordpress.com. This is your host, Elyn Jacobs: One on one cancer coaching, empowering you to treat and beat cancer. See you next week.