What’s Being Vegan Got to Do with It?

February 7, 2018

I will admit that I have been on something of a long rant these days as I watch junk food being peddled to us as real food and the accompanying pharmaceutical ads (with their breathy disclaimers of side effects) supposed to ward off the impact of these foods on humans.


As a cancer survivor, I can’t help but get chills every time I hear of someone’s diagnosis…so I get chills a lot these days as I hear more and more heartbreaking stories of serious illness. I remember the day I was diagnosed (34 years ago), like yesterday. The panic settles into your DNA as you sit listening to someone telling you that your life is over; to get your affairs in order. It’s so surreal, you become paralyzed. Then you grieve for all that you won’t do, see, feel, taste, love or accomplish. Then you rage at your fate, finally accepting that this is your new reality.


And then you do something about it…or at least I did (with the help and support of the love of my life).


Adopting a vegan macrobiotic diet to treat my terminal cancer was not considered a very bright idea at the time, but it was the ‘80’s and we knew a lot less about the impact of nutrition on wellness.


All these years later, there’s good news…and great news. Research suggests you can reduce your risk of getting cancer and even improve your chances of recovering from it. Drugs, treatments and surgery might be quite effective, but I’m talking about your kitchen becoming your pharmacy, the power of your plate if you will.


A recent meta-analysis of all the best studies done to date on diet and disease, including cancer revealed that vegetarians have significantly lower cancer rates. The largest forward-looking study on diet and cancer concluded that “the incidence of all cancers combined is lower among vegetarians.”


That’s the good news. Vegetarians can reduce their risks of cancer significantly, but what about vegans? That’s the great news. Until 2014, we had great antidotal stories and accounts, but nothing concrete.


But everything changed, as it always does.


A study out of Loma Linda University funded by the National Cancer Institute reported that vegans have lower rates of cancer than both meat-eaters and vegetarians. Yup, you read correctly. Vegan women had 34% lower rates of cancers like breast, cervical and ovarian cancer. This was compared to a group of healthy omnivores who ate substantially less meat than the general population (two servings a week or more). The study also controlled for non-dietary factors like smoking, alcohol, and a family history of cancer, so overall, study of healthier people, which makes the impact of plant-based eating all the more important. The study wasn’t vegans versus junk food eaters.


On top of this, an interesting and complex series of experiments was performed in which people were placed on different types of diets. Their blood was then drawn and dripped on human cancer cells growing in a petri dish in an effort to see which diet might prove more effective in suppressing cancer cell growth. Women placed on healthy vegan diets for just two weeks had blood cells that suppressed the growth of three different types of breast cancer. Think about that. The blood from these women gained the power to significantly slow down and stop breast cancer cell growth in just fourteen days of eating a healthy vegan diet! Similar results were found in men with regard to prostate cancer (as well as against prostate enlargement).


Imagine those results after a year (or more) of healthy plant-passionate eating!


How is this possible? How can a simple diet change make our bodies inhospitable hosts to cancer? And in some cases, in just a matter of days? Georges Ohsawa, the father of macrobiotics used to say that one could begin to reverse cancer in just 10 days with diet changes. Turns out he might be right. And the interesting thing is that Ohsawa was saying these things back in the 1950’s. Modern science seems to be just catching up.


From a scientific standpoint, the dramatic improvement in cancer defenses after two weeks of eating plant-passionately is thought to be due to changes in the level of a cancer-promoting growth hormone in the body called IGF-1. Eating animal products, particularly protein, increases levels of IGF-1 in our bodies but…within two weeks of switching to a healthy vegan diet, IGF-1 levels drop sufficiently to help slow the growth of cancer cells. Wait…what?


If you want to reduce your risk of cancer, just how “vegan” do we need to be? Studies suggest that we really should move toward eliminating all animal products from our diets, but any step in this direction is beneficial to our wellness. Most of us are aware of a number of studies that concluded that vegans had lower rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension as well as cancer.


When you consider the findings by Dr. Dean Ornish and Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn that a healthy, balanced vegan diet caused more than 500 genes to change in three months, turning on genes that prevent disease and turning off genes that cause breast cancer, heart disease, prostate cancer and other illnesses, Georges Ohsawa makes more and more sense.


Most people think they’re a victim of their genes, unable to ward off the most dreaded diseases, from heart disease to cancer and diabetes. The truth is that we hold the power over our wellness and it begins within the perimeter of our dinner plate.


It’s time to wake up and realize that the only thing over which we have control is what we eat day in and day out. I find it interesting that many people have never heard this information, even though it’s been almost four years since its release to the public. Could it be that there are special interests that might not want us to hear that we can, not only prevent, but cure cancer by ditching animal products and junk food? Could it be that food manufacturers might not want to hear this kind of news? Would the Colonel or Ronald McDonald, Wendy or Mr. Perdue want you to run screaming from their food and hit the produce aisle of your nearest market? I think not.


Interestingly, the current administration has just cleared the path for a former corn syrup lobbyist to join the Department of Agriculture to advise the Secretary on the dietary guidelines for Americans. What do we honestly think will happen here to these guidelines, the very foundation of helping Americans create health and wellness? Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!


We must never forget that business is not in the business of health and we must choose how we’ll create our day-to-day wellness. Studies like those out of Loma Linda are clear. Consider this: a medical website featured the top foods to prevent and treat cancer (yup, treat). They include: leafy green vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, berries, bright orange veggies like squash and carrots, fresh herbs and spices, whole grains, beans, tofu, nuts and seeds. All of these foods are the staples of a healthy vegan diet. Go figure.


So maybe Georges Ohsawa wasn’t dreaming so many years ago. Maybe we can prevent and even cure cancer with food. It just takes will.