So I stumbled upon this recent post on Mother Nature Network on the use of a paleo diet for cancer. Confused by the death of a healthy eating friend, she questions whether her paleo diet is really helping her stay healthy and cancer free. To pour gasoline on the fire, there’s even evidence of a neanderthal skeleton with a tumor. What are we to do?
While I don’t think the existence of a non-human skeleton with cancer debunks the paleo diet (although any death before the modern period is apparently proof against it), it bears going into why and how a paleo diet could possibly stop the mother of all diseases.
The Warburg Effect
According to research conducted at UCLA by Dr. Thomas Graeber, cancer cells undergo a profound shift in the way they get their nutrients. It is based on an observation by Nobel Laureate Otto Warburg, who noticed that cancer cells went through the process of glycolysis up to 200 times faster than healthy cells.
How is it possible for them to do this? By ingesting glucose of course. The mitochondria of cancer cells are fundamentally unequipped to dealing with ketones and other metabolites of fat consumption, but can stay happy when there is glucose in the bloodstream. As a matter of fact, some estimate that cancer cells have as many as 18 times the amount of insulin receptors than normal cells.
Maybe the author’s ‘health freak’ friend was eating a vegetarian diet high in grains, was eating starches to support extended cardio training, or something similar. There could be more to this after all.
Prevention and starvation
So if we’re in a situation where there are 16 times the insulin receptors on a cancer cell, we are effectively in a situation where cancer cells will grow 16 times faster, gram for gram, with any insulin spiking carbohydrate you consume. Have you passed the rolls yet?
The implications are obvious for someone who has already been diagnosed with cancer. There are stories abound of people who have used a low carb paleo diet to overcome the mother of all diseases. Like chemotherapy, in which you take enough poison to kill the cancer but not you, you can starve yourself enough to kill the cancer but survive.
Wait, I misspoke. You don’t actually have to starve yourself, you just have to cut out the insulin spiking grains, starches and sugars in your diet. Load up on salad dressing, intelligently cooked meats, avocados and whatever fatty foods you like – the cancer can’t use it! Even modern medicine is finally coming around to this idea. Insulin potentiation therapy has been shown to reduce the doses needed for chemotherapy by 85-90%.
Due to lifestyle factors, contaminants in the environment and even stress, there are cells that can and do go rogue at any time. Our bodies have the mechanisms to make these cells go through controlled death but when they don’t well hey, we have a big problem. As someone who has lost loved ones to cancer unexpectedly it’s not something I take lightly.
Can a paleo diet be your second line of defense? Maybe. There has never been a controlled study on the incidence rates of cancer for people on paleo vs. standard diets. But knowing the basic facts about cancer cell metabolism would lead one to believe that staying in ketosis as much as possible would be protective. If the first line of defense gives out, maybe a bloodstream barren of grain and starch based insulin would starve it out before cancer can do damage.