This blog post is going to open up a whole can of worms for me. I feel so passionately about nutrition and I have soooo much to say so I’ve delayed writing this post because I wanted to do more research before I put just any old information out there.
Before I dive in, I want to give you a little history about my diet and health pre-cancer. I’ve been vegetarian (…well, “flexitarian”) since 2010. I chose this out of personal preference but also because there’s some decent history of heart disease in my family and I (always) like to be proactive.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”Benjamin Franklin
Last February, I also went off my birth control pill which I had been on for 12 years (OMG, I know!). I have always suspected that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS (symptoms can include irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, acne, excessive hair growth on the face/chest/back, and weight gain), since high school and the pill helped me to manage most of those symptoms for a long time. PCOS also goes hand in hand with insulin resistance as it is primarily a condition of hormonal imbalance.
This is where it gets juicy, guys. Insulin is a hormone that lowers our blood sugar and helps us to use those delicious carbs that we eat as fuel.
If a person has insulin resistance, their body has difficulty using blood glucose for energy/metabolism and blood glucose levels stay elevated or we begin to store it as fat. When blood sugar keeps increasing, the body produces more insulin, and on and on we go….
It sort of works like this:
If I eat a donut, or a bowl of pasta, my blood sugar increases. Then, my insulin levels go up to try to reduce my blood glucose. If my body has a limited number of insulin receptors in certain cells, the blood insulin level stays high and, in the long term, can increase my risk for developing diabetes (if I don’t already have it) or obesity.
There have been many studies about the link between insulin resistance, especially in people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome (yes, we’re talking about the same insulin), and cancer. As it turns out, those with high blood insulin levels are at an increased risk for tumor development and for more rapid tumor growth.
Here’s the funny thing, though – this doesn’t only happen when we eat carbohydrates (FYI all “sugars” are carbohydrates). It can also occur when we eat animal products like meat, dairy, or eggs because those foods have something called insulin-like growth factors which are similar to insulin in that they have some ability to lower blood glucose, but they primarily promote cell growth.
Now, for someone with cancer, their tumor/s, just like every other normal cell in their body, also have insulin receptors (IR) and insulin-like growth factor receptors (IGFR). It seems that for those with insulin resistance, the IR and IGFR are more sensitive, and the tumor can grow more quickly dependent on what we eat!
If I haven’t bored you to death already, then you may be starting to understand why Justin and I have chosen to be very strict about diet during my cancer treatments. We are eating primarily vegan (no dairy, no eggs, no meat, no poultry), limiting the “bad fats,” and eliminating alcohol and processed sugars. We are far from perfect at this, and I do occasionally sneak a dark chocolate peanut butter cup from Trader Joe’s, but if I am going to kick cancer’s butt, then I need to make my body the most inhospitable place for it to live!
I’ve also been doing intermittent fasting (I fast for 16 hours, then eat all my usual daily calories in the remaining 8 hours) to help regulate my blood sugar and metabolism. I’ll save you and write about the benefits of intermittent fasting in another post!
We’ve been working with a local MD who specializes in nutrition and has recently moved his practice toward working mostly with patients with cancer.
Check him (& his delicious cookbooks) out here: http://www.drshintani.com/
I’ll let you digest this totally fascinating information, but before I do, I just want to mention one more time how important it is to know your own body! Be curious, ask your doctors questions, and if something doesn’t seem right check with your doctor – your life could depend on it!
Thanks for coming to my TED talk!