Hindsight Not 20/20 (Part 2) Including Something About SUGAR

In retrospect, I did -mostly- take my own advice. But there were absolutely gaps in diet and lifestyle that could have caused my immune system to miss a rogue mutated cell and allowed it to replicate and spread.

Rest

Work, household responsibilities and errands, kid responsibilities and quality time…welcome to adulthood. By the time you sit down with a little free time to think at 9:30 or later, you usually don’t march straight to bed. Sleep debt would be restored on most weekends, so I thought. Like many parents, I was mostly happy to keep this routine going for years.

Inadequate sleep over periods of time causes multiple hormonal changes that can lead to chronic inflammation and a weak immune system. Again we’re probably describing 90% of the middle aged world.

Past Medical History

In my mid twenties there were some GI issues that were initially diagnosed as autoimmune in nature. Ironically, this nearly coincided with the period that I was otherwise feeling great from having significantly lightened the training and nutrition load. When the specialist observed that imaging and blood tests were clear, he seemed genuinely happy. I gladly accepted his explanation. “This autoimmune issue is definitely not something that goes away, especially when you have long stopped taking any medication. It must have been an incorrect diagnosis.”

At my initial consultation, the specialist at Hopkins grilled for every detail regarding this. Paraphrasing the doc: “It’s a fairly common pattern, though by no means always, and most people do not get a complete ~15-year respite.”

Diet

Eating a reasonable amount of fruit has never been a problem. But I disliked most vegetables as a kid and almost definitely ate too little as an adult. There was some effort. You know…need to lead the kids by example. Nearly everyone -thinks- they eat fairly healthy. The single shard of lettuce and 1/8th of a tomato on my turkey sandwich were not cutting it.

When you spend much of the work day on your feet, have a three day per week habit of fairly intense training, enjoy some yardwork and yard play, you cannot get stronger or even meet your caloric needs by eating a lot of salads and brussel sprouts. Well, including them may be possible with a shift in mindset, but I had little impetus for taking the time and effort.

I should have made better effort in the vegetable department.

Fats

Drastically lacking healthy Omega-3 fatty acids is certainly another gap. Again, this is much of America. As an adult, I knew the benefits but rarely if ever ate foods that contained them. I’m just not the type of guy who goes with the Mahi Mahi, throws on some sardines, or grills salmon that neither he nor five fairly picky eaters at home are crazy about. I was going to get around to eating more fish or taking a supplement for at least ten years. I had little reason to remember to add in the chia seeds.

Over the years I have largely made good on what I believe are still good guidelines: saturated fats, especially those in relatively unprocessed foods, are not to worry about for most (but not all) of us. Trans- and unsaturated fats should be limited as much as possible. I’ll have two burgers, no fries please. And that brings us to…

Carbohydrates

I have observed that a person’s claims about carbs, or knowing how sucrose, glucose, and fructose differ structurally and in their metabolic pathways, often matters very little when celebrating, partying, undergoing stress or fatigue, or watching night time TV and pounding m&ms. ; )

Now the part that seems to keep coming up.

Does eating sugar cause or selectively “feed” cancer growth?

I have asked 4 highly respected medical doctors, 3 local and 1 a world renowned cancer specialist. Some of them I have pestered twice regarding this. All of them carry a reputation well known for practicing medicine with a holistic approach, taking time to learn with an open mind as well as listen to patients and prod the soft, traditionally unscientific edges. All have conveyed the same message. Here I summarize most what they have said, wrote, or sent me to read:

-Sugar **in the diet** neither causes nor accelerates cancer. It does not feed cancer any more than it feeds our healthy cells.
-Cancer cannot be “starved” of **blood sugar** with a low-carb diet, although it can “steal” that which normally goes to the rest of the body.
-In a few ways, cancer can cause our metabolism to change in ways that mostly break down the body’s own fat and muscle in order to supply **blood sugar** to the organs that need it most, especially the brain.
-Taking in a lot of sugary drinks and foods is never a great idea. Everyone, and especially cancer patients, needs the nutrients that are missed if we routinely fill up with junk.

I was neither a sugar addict nor a sugar Nazi. Desserts were usually social in nature. I could take it or leave it, and usually left it. Sugar does sneak into so many non-dessert foods, but I never really had the time or inclination to patrol that realm because I -was- healthy and active. That, and it has long been known that for nondiabetics, sugar ingested in a mixed meal (with protein, fat, and/or fiber) does not create the same blood sugar “swing” that pure sugar or starchy foods create.

Here I’m going to add something that I wish every lay person would keep in mind.

Sugar in our diet is absolutely not the same as **blood glucose** levels after the sugar is absorbed in the intestines, which depends on a LOT of fairly complex factors. The body -normally- has a number of ways to maintain, and needs to maintain blood glucose within a fairly narrow window.

Many of the claims that alternative healthcare providers want to make about sugar are in fact due to metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and dislipidemia) that causes **blood sugar** levels to go haywire and cause problems, even WITH a diet that would normally be considered healthy.

High sugar intake over a long period of time (among other factors like inactivity) is definitely associated with the development of metabolic syndrome, and those who are even moderately “overweight” are indeed at greater risk of various cancers.

I have managed to largely avoid Google “research,” outside of this delectable issue. The vast majority of well established, reputable and purely informative web sites (not selling a process or product) reiterate the same message. Here is one of the most informative yet clear and concise pieces that I have seen. It comes from the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society:

Does Sugar “Feed” Cancer?

Lastly, I’ve recently read two cancer/healing books by Dr. Jeffrey Rediger, M.D., M. Div, faculty at Harvard Medical School, who now routinely leads research teams in the areas of neuroscience and integrative medicine. I leave you with a paragraph from his book Cured.

“My deep dive into the study of how nutrition can roll this back had been illuminating. It was clear that for a lot of people, changes in diet were like a doorway into healing. But they were not nearly all the same changes. And here’s the hitch: I kept seeing cases where the individual made no real diet changes and still experienced healing. Or conversely, there were those who made all the right dietary changes and didn’t make a dent in their illness. I knew diet was often a piece of the puzzle…But I couldn’t ignore the evidence: diet wasn’t the whole picture. The diet changes often came with a rippling outward of other meaningful changes in their lives.”

Tomorrow I hope to write briefly on two possible gaps such that Dr. Rediger speaks of, and summarize.

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