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Must read: Low carb, high protein diet may help fight cancer, CORRECTED

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By David Liu, Ph.D. and editing by Elizabeth Hutchinson

Friday June 17, 2011 (foodconsumer.org) – The Western diet has been linked with a higher risk of cancer. But now, a study in the July 1st, 2011 issue of Cancer Research suggests that a low carbohydrate, high protein diet may help slow cancer growth. 

Studies have shown cancer cells are more in need of glucose than normal cells. Glucose is a building block for carbohydrates like starch and table sugar and is present in high fructose corn syrup. Researchers now believe that a diet low in carbohydrates may suppress the growth of cancer cells. 

The current study found that murine and human cancers in mice that were fed a low carbohydrate , high protein diet grew slower when compared to the cancers in mice that were fed a Western diet that was high in carbohydrates and low in protein. The two diets had an equal amount of calories, and the tumor-bearing mice involved in the study had similar, average body weights. 

The senior author of the study, Dr. Gerald Krystal of the BC Cancer Research Centre & University of British Columbia and his graduate student and first author, Victor Ho, said in their report that high protein was used in the study because of its immune-stimulating effects and that fat was kept at the same level in both diets because of reports that it may promote cancer growth. 

It was also observed that the mice on the low carbohydrate diet had lower blood glucose, insulin, and lactate concentrations. These results are not surprising because high levels of these parameters can be triggered only after ingestion of a high level of carbohydrates. 

The authors also found that the anticancer effects of low carbohydrate diets were additive with the mTor inhibitor CCI-779 and the Cox-2 inhibitor Celebrex, a potent anti-inflammatory medication. 

The researchers also found that mice genetically engineered to acquire HER-2/neu-induced mammary cancer that ate a low carbohydrate diet did not develop cancer within one year of treatment, whereas 50 percent of the control mice on the Western diet did.  

In addition, the control mice on a Western diet were found to have gained weight, whereas the study mice did not. Furthermore, only one mouse on the Western diet lived a normal life span while all others died prematurely from cancer related deaths.In contrast, 50 percent of mice on the low carbohydrate diet reached, or exceeded, the expected lifespan. 

The researchers concluded that a low carbohydrate, high protein diet can not only restrict weight gain, but also slow cancer development and progression. 

A few things food consumers need to know.  

First, the carbohydrates used in the Western diet were mostly high fructose corn syrup and sugar, but not starch. However, it is well known that starch, a type of carbohydrate present in potatoes, rice, wheat, oats, and other grain products, is rapidly broken down to glucose in both mice and humans.   

The study suggests that eating a high starch-based diet, as is present in a typical Western diet, might boost cancer growth. and suggests that a low carbohydrate, high protein diet might help fight cancer.   

Second, epidemiological studies show that people on a plant-based diet consisting of lots of vegetables and whole seed containing grains have a much lower risk of colon cancer when compared with those on a Western diet, according to Dr. T Colin Campbell, a Cornell University Nutrition professor. 

Third, as this foodconsumer.org report is based on the study report abstract, it is not immediately clear what sort of protein was used in the low carbohydrate, high protein diet. Protein can come either from plant foods (grain or legumes) or animal foods (meat). Some studies suggest that a plant-based diet is better than a meat-based diet. 

Fourth, studies suggest that fructose, which is another major carbohydrate in the Western diet, may promote cancer growth more effectively than glucose, perhaps because it has been shown to promote obesity. The current study did not investigate the effect of fructose because it does not induce insulin secretion. 

Fifth, although a low carbohydrate diet is better than a Western diet in terms of its effects on cancer growth, we do not know if the low carbohydrate diet used in the study is the best. Could a high starch, high vegetable diet, or a plant-based diet as Dr. Campbell calls it, be more beneficial than the low carbohydrate, high protein diet? More research is needed in this regard. 

Studies have indicated that no matter what type of diet a person consumes, no one should eat more than he or she needs. Overeating leads to the development of obesity, and high ingestion of calories or energy can boost your risk of cancer as well. Read other foodconsumer.org reports for more information on this topic. 

In the end, though there are still questions about the benefits of various diets, this particular study suggests that the Western diet boosts cancer growth, progression and incidence when compared with a low carbohydrate, high protein diet.

(Acknowledgement:  We appreciate it that the senior author of the study, Dr. Gerald Krystal of the BC Cancer Research Centre & University of British Columbia helped edit this news report. The original report contained some errors and Dr. Krystal corrected them all.  Thank you Dr. Krystal!)

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