‘Dr. Nick’* prescribes taking charge of your health

Nick Della VolpeOur Town Outdoors

Cancer drugs are a growth industry

A Jan. 24 Wall Street Journal article reported that Pfizer Inc. was trying to enlarge its share of the growing $138 billion cancer-drug business. That’s billion with a B. A patient’s typical one-year treatment is said to cost over $100,000. The article noted that Pfizer’s 17 cancer medicines are projected to bring in $8.3 billion in revenue this year. Yet the company is working, through mergers and research, to acquire more cancer-treatment products.

That’s a lot of sick people. And, unfortunately, the number is growing. The article noted that Pfizer’s oncology products are expected to outsell its heart and other primary-care medicines. There are plenty of competitors, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly and Company, and GlaxoSmithKline.

Ever wonder what’s gone wrong? A number of things, including our diet and more sedentary (yet hectic) lifestyle.

Dietary Sidebar. A recent 10-part internet presentation on dietary issues, styled “The Real Skinny on Fat,” talked about the current focus in nutrition and medical research on the use of healthy fats in a low-carb diet as way to improve the American diet and head off a growing number of diseases, especially diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses, but also Alzheimer’s and even some cancers.

Dozens of nutrition and medical experts were interviewed. Their views were varied, but generally, they posit that we have somehow been misled, or inadvertently misdirected, by the food industry and the resultant government dietary guidelines as to supposed benefits of low-fat diets dating back to the 1970s.

The internet experts said that for years research grants have been funneled to “proving” that saturated fats were the culprit in our diet.

But the low-fat hypothesis was wrong. Fat – at least healthy, natural fat – has been a human food source for eons. What we didn’t catch and eat was converted from our own belly-fat stores in lean times.

Meantime, Big Ag was touting processed seed oils (like corn, flax, canola, etc.) as healthier food sources. Are they? This just happened to coincide with their heavy commitment to those subsidized farmed grains and the food industry’s processed-carbohydrate product lines. Between those influences and our other excessive sugar-based foods, snacks and beverages, our health has suffered. We are getting fatter and sicker as a nation.

The result has been described as “metabolic imbalance,” which includes the oxidation of undesirable fats and related inflammatory illnesses. According to the program experts at least, we are damaging the internal mitochondria that power each of our cells.

Back to cancer. I have already gotten too deep into the weeds – so let me return to our theme. It seems like we are spending our energy and ever-growing health dollars trying to douse forest fires after they have burned out of control. Is an ounce of prevention still worth more than a pound of cure?

Information gleaned. Our cells are lined with a fatty membrane, which good fats nourish, and our internal mitochondria power plants were evolved to run on ketones. That’s a fuel produced by our liver when metabolizing fats – a fuel that nourishes the brain. When we rely on sugar, starches and processed foods as our primary fuel source, we release tons of the hormone insulin (which stores any excess as body fat) and indirectly block ketone production. In essence, we end up burning a “dirty fuel” (excess glucose) to run our bodies.

Dr. Thomas Seyfried

One of the program’s interviewees, Boston biologist Thomas Seyfried, Ph.D., said there is evidence that our bodies can head off development of cancers by a change in our diet. Many speakers recommended a ketogenic diet (one that includes healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, certain nuts, fatty wild fish like salmon, grass-fed beef … and low carbohydrates from leafy vegetables, which contain healthy polyphenols…) for general health. According to Dr. Seyfried, by fasting for a week or more, once or twice a year, we can avoid cancer. As I understand it, this approach accomplishes two things:

One, it reduces the dangers of oxidation and the production of radical chemicals that weaken our bodies, and can produce aberrant cancer cells. Cancer, it turns out, extracts energy through the fermentation of glucose in our body. In short, excessive carbs ain’t your friend.

Two, a period of controlled fasting (call it starvation, if you like) triggers an evolved metabolic process known as autophagy. That’s a Greek word for a survival-tool or process whereby the body consumes damaged, aged or defective cells and recycles the internal organelle material into new healthy cells. On an evolutionary basis, we were thus positioned to perform better in order to survive. Aberrant cancer cells get trashed along with other weak contributors to health.

Conclusion. I hate to say it, but there is value in keeping us sick. Ask Big Pharma. Our whole medical profession has been trained and geared toward diagnosing what disease we have contracted and then throwing medicines at it. Those efforts help, but it is a cure, not prevention. Picture helicopters dropping flame retardants on a raging wildfire. Maybe we should have removed some of the dry tinder instead? Focus more on sound nutrition.

Skeptics, add a pinch of economics to this brew. It seems Big Ag, Big Food and/or Big Pharma are content with, even complicit in, the current approach. It’s enough if this is just ignorance, instead of evil intent. We get hurt either way.

It is time to take charge of our health. We need to learn more about proper nutrition, and to add some movement or exercise to our life. Maybe better sleep, occasional fasting and even meditation.

The internet “Skinny on Fat” series referred to “food as medicine,” and “food as a messaging system” to the rest of our bodily functions. Take heed. Cultivate and celebrate good health.

(*Editor’s Note: Nick Della Volpe is a lawyer who served on Knoxville City Council. He’s not a doctor, and Knox TN Today is not endorsing his opinion. But he did lose weight by fasting, and he’s still around.)

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