Author: Candelaria Maldonado, L.D.N – Clinical Integrative Nutritionist, Cancun Center
- Different cancer types call for different diet types and may require increasing or restricting specific foods to support your body and simultaneously starve cancer, cutting off its nutrients at the source.
- Cancer cells develop and thrive in acidic, low-oxygen environments, feeding mainly on sugar.
- Cancer cells adapt. Even in unfavorable environments, they can tap into different fuel sources to survive and grow. This ability plays a big role in cancer recurrence and progression.
- This article provides an overview of the different metabolic pathways (fuel sources) that cancer cells can manipulate for their own benefit and may represent potential therapeutic targets relative to the specific cancer phenotype.
Our genes for certain diseases may or may not be expressed (awakened) depending on a variety of lifestyle factors, such as diet. That’s why proper nutrition is such an integral part of our core healing program based on the 7 Key Principles of Cancer Therapy.
Hope4Cancer’s integrative treatment program includes nutritional guidance focused on patients’ unique needs and targeted to their diagnosis. Each type of cancer and the patient’s overall health status may require increasing or restricting different foods and nutrients, demonstrating the need to tailor nutritional plans to each patient.
Cancer cells develop and thrive in acidic, low-oxygen environments, feeding mainly on sugar. In contrast, a “basic” suitable diet for a cancer patient must be alkaline, anti-inflammatory, free of chemicals and synthetic hormones, hypoallergenic and especially low in simple sugars.
With these guidelines as a starting point, it’s possible — and essential — to form nutritional approaches based on variables like cancer type, patient history, and disease evolution.
Q: How do I know what the most suitable diet is for my cancer type?
Knowing your specific cancer metabolic phenotype will help understand the best nutritional approach for you based on the cancer cell fuel source you need to target. The main fuel sources for cancer cells are listed below.
1. Glycolysis: Glucose-fueled cancer
Sugar, simple carbohydrates, glucose, and fructose are the most common nutrients that cancer cells use for fuel, especially in early-stage cancer. Inhibiting this pathway is the primary goal, regardless of the type of cancer. Sugar feeds cancer cells easily and, through their metabolism to lactic acid, creates the perfect acidic environment for their development.
- Carbohydrate sources (8-12 servings daily) of fresh, organic vegetables
- Fruits low in fructose, like berries, strawberries, guavas, dragon fruit, etc.
- Complex carbohydrates with a slow insulin release response, like gluten-free whole grains and legumes (small servings, 2-3 times a week)
Combine these nutrients in the same meal to obtain a complete amino acid profile like the one obtained from animal protein sources.
Another suitable and highly recommended diet approach to inhibit this fuel pathway is intermittent fasting. Short-term fasting is known to trigger autophagy, an evolutionary mechanism through which the body can remove dysfunctional cells and recycle parts of them toward cellular repair and cleaning, essentially hitting a reset button to your body.
Additionally, intermittent fasting promotes survival and adaptation as a response to various stressors and toxins accumulated in our cells. During this process, the body responds to the lack of glucose by producing ketones for energy, providing the fat and protein that otherwise could not be used by glucose-dependent tumor cells, therefore selectively starving tumors. In early stages, intermittent fasting can also be combined with Keto clean diets, as suggested by Dr. Valter Longo’s masterpiece “The Fasting Mimicking Diet”. These strategies combined intensify each other’s benefits, reduce pain and inflammation, help sustain a healthy blood sugar and blood pressure levels, reduce insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) production, increase HDL cholesterol levels, and optimize body energy levels.
2. Lipogenesis and fatty acid oxidation: LDL cholesterol/saturated fat-fueled cancers
This pathway is especially useful for survival in advanced stages of multiple types of cancer, such as prostate or cervical/endometrial cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma, and glioblastoma. Patients with any of these diagnoses would do best to avoid ketogenic diets. Cancer cells need LDL cholesterol to build their own fatty membrane. They can obtain this cholesterol from food or they can produce their own through different pathways. Avoid saturated fat coming from animal sources like meat (beef, poultry, lamb, venison) and dairy products. Eggs from organic or free-range sources can be used in moderation (up to 6 eggs a week).
Instead, choose healthy fats, sourced from either:
- Plant-based options like avocado, seeds, nuts, olive, coconut, and flaxseed oils
- Animal-based options like Ghee (only based on Ayurveda’s medicine original recipe) and wild cold water fish (not farm-raised)
Squalene, for example, a triterpene compound abundant in breast milk but also present in olive and amaranth oil, has an inhibitory effect on a specific fat pathway that cancer cells use for producing their own cholesterol. Healthy fats in your diet will help you lower your carb and protein levels, maintaining an optimal macros distribution for starving your cancer while helping your liver improve fat metabolism and achieve healthier cholesterol production.
3. Glutaminolysis: Glutamine/arginine fueled cancer
As metastatic advanced cancers – especially triple negative breast, pancreatic, lung and prostate cancer, lymphoma and glioblastoma – become more metabolically complex and aggressive, they prefer this fuel source.
Glutamate (glutamic acid), an independent amino acid different from glutamine and the main byproduct of glutaminolysis in cancer cells, is converted through different metabolic pathways into lactate, which is used to support fatty acid production. Glutamine breakdown is also used by cancer cells to manufacture their own DNA and organelles as well as their own glutathione to protect themselves from lactic acid excess, oxidation and chemotherapy drugs.
The tricky part is that glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the human bloodstream and is necessary to maintain intestinal, immune, and nervous system health. In other words, you can not simply starve your body from it. The most effective approach is to inhibit or block glutamine uptake by cancer cells specifically.
This can be targeted naturally with:
- EGCG (green tea) which contains L-theanine, an amino acid known as a glutamate antagonist that inhibits important enzymes vital for glutamine breakdown
- Ursolic acid (berries, basil, oregano, lavender, rosemary, peppermint), both as a potential blocker for cancer cell transportation pathways and glutamine uptake
- Curcumin (turmeric root), both as a potential blocker for cancer cell transportation pathways and glutamine uptake
Avoiding some natural food sources of free glutamate, which is the amino acid form that is not bound to proteins and is actually much more bioavailable for cancer cell uptake, is highly recommended. The main sources of free glutamate are tomato sauce, bone broth, nutritional yeast, and fermented foods (including fermented soy). Protein powder formulas or collagen powders could be a risk as well, so watch for BCAA (branched-chain amino acid)-based formulas only.
Arginine is a non-essential amino acid abundant in many foods, though the human body can easily produce it as well. It plays an important role in immunomodulation and balancing hormones. There is growing evidence that L-asparagine – another amino acid abundant in asparagus, beef, poultry, and potatoes – is involved in an exchange coordination transportation of extracellular amino acids like serine (especially linked to some types of breast cancer) and arginine inside cells, up-regulating mTORC1 activation, nucleotide synthesis and cell proliferation which supports tumor growth. Individuals with advanced metastatic cancers should consider avoiding asparagine sources on a permanent basis.
Nutrition plans tailored to specific cancer types offer patients a natural opportunity to support their bodies and simultaneously starve cancer, cutting off its nutrients at the source. To avoid falling into extreme diet choices, cancer patients of all diagnoses can benefit from following a diet that is:
- Low glycemic/pescatarian;
- Consists of plenty of organic, fresh, seasonal veggies, spices, and herbs;
- Low in fructose fruits;
- High in fiber, gluten-free whole grain, and legumes;
- And contains a controlled weekly serving of free-range eggs.
Regardless of the type of cancer diagnosed, your immune system (based 70% on your gut health) is the warrior fighting and doing the healing. Your bacterial microbiome must be fed properly to maintain healthy functioning. For that, a colorful, well-balanced diet with bio-active and functional food variety is the key.
Note: The information in this blog post is meant to serve as general guidance only. Nutrition requirements and restrictions could change based on each patient and overall health conditions. For specific instructions and advice, always consult with a professional dietitian.
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