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Diet and Multiple Myeloma (Part 5): Eating to Starve Cancer

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Diet and Multiple Myeloma (Part 5): Eating to Starve Cancer

Good Morning!  Let’s get right to Danny Parker’s column–installment number five in his series about multiple myeloma and nutrition:


Diet and Multiple Myeloma (Part 5): Eating to Starve Cancer

Ever wondered how Revlimid works? Lenalidomide is a powerful anti-angiogenic agent.

And just what is that?

Put simply, angiogenesis is the process where new blood vessels grow from existing ones. While this process if vital in everything from repairing damaged tissues after you suffer a cut to growing a new human being in a mother’s womb, it is also fundamental in the transition in tumors from a dormant state to a malignant one.

Recently, a study performed for the American Association for Cancer Research on mice fed several types of diets, reinforces some of the findings from the earlier study we covered of the 179 Connecticut women who developed myeloma. It suggests mechanisms explaining how sugars and simple carbohydrates are bad for myeloma and protein intake is good. The study found that feeding the mice a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet (similar to the South Beach Diet) reduced tumor growth rates– a finding they believe extends to human beings. “This shows that something as simple as a change in diet can have an impact on cancer risk,” reported lead researcher, Dr. Gerald Krystal, a distinguished scientist at the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre.    –media/aacr-in-the-news.aspx?d=2396

What was the attributed reason for the success of the low carbohydrate diet? You guessed it: angiogenesis. From the above study:

“… tumor cells, unlike normal cells, need significantly more glucose to grow and thrive. Restricting carbohydrate intake can significantly limit blood glucose and insulin, a hormone that has been shown in many independent studies to promote tumor growth in both humans and mice.”

The angiogenesis model also helps to explain how carbohydrate and excess sugar consumption in the Connecticut women was somewhat associated with elevated myeloma risk. The rapidly dividing cancer cells need an unusual amount of sugar for cell division, partly to grow the tangled web of fine blood vessels to supply the tumor with nutrients.

Moreover, beyond the problems with sugar and angiogenesis, we have the other challenge: diabetes. Most of us have, or will, take Dexamethasone (Dex) as part of our chemotherapy regimen against myeloma. Dex can substantially raise our blood glucose levels, particularly when taken with a sugar rich diet. High fructose corn syrup is particularly adverse in this regard as it reduces glycemic response and does not suppress hunger. Not only is elevated blood glucose temporarily bad, this combination places us a greater risk of developing Type II diabetes. So, sugar on Dex days is a clear no-no. In general, it is useful to choose foods with a low glycemic index, emphasizing whole grains and less processed foods.

There is a lot more to this. I like TED talks and I’d like to recommend you watch this inspiring presentation given by Dr. William Li.

He mentions lenalidomide (Revlimid) and myeloma as well as how the whole process of anti-angiogenesis may revolutionize cancer treatments.

Eating to starve cancer? Wouldn’t that be great? And look at all the other anti-angiogenic substances in the pantry. Some might help. Along with the blog, I include Dr. Li’s often requested slide from the presentation on anti-angiogenic foods.  You’ll note a lot of foods we’ve have already been emphasizing:


  • Blueberries
  • Turmeric
  • Raspberries
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Kale and Bok Choy
  • Cooked Tomatoes
  • Red Wine

Dr. Li is the medical director of the Angiogenesis Foundation:

According to Li, most cancers start as tiny clusters of malignant cells that remain dormant until they recruit new vessels to deliver oxygen and nutrients. Yet, after angiogenesis builds up steam, a cancer can expand like a wildfire—dividing 16,000 times in just two weeks.

Li also has a lot of other practical hints: dunking your tea bag to release more of the cancer- fighting nutrients, cooking tomatoes in olive oil to potentiate their advantages and chewing your greens well to release the nutrients. Li strongly endorses fermented soybean products such as miso (seven times the concentration of helpful compounds) and broccoli sprouts. He suggests trying to add one anti-angiogenic food to each meal.

I did find Dr. Li’s final talking point in the TED presentation particularly intriguing.

Here, he speaks of the importance of early intervention with diet before cancer takes hold. However, I wonder if this also might apply to myeloma patients in remission, nearly complete response or with smoldering myeloma.

Could anti-cancer foods (and limiting pro-angiogenic foods such as sugars and carbohydrates) make a bigger difference when the disease is not well established, or has been hammered down by a drug assault?

I think that would be in line with Dr. Li’s thinking. While, we don’t know his opinion, in a conversation in Atlantic Magazine, last March, Li was asked what was the big takeaway point he wanted everyone to hear relative to his work:

“Understanding that food is the chemotherapy we take three times per day is a game changer. We are learning that Mother Nature has imbued many foods–fruits, vegetables, herbs, seafoods, tea, coffee, even chocolate–with natural substances that can cut off the blood vessels that feed cancer and other diseases. Eating to starve cancer will pull the rug from under the cancer epidemic, and in a way that puts control in the hands of consumers, not doctors.”

While this may be a bit optimistic for those of us already with myeloma, putting some of these recommendations into action might help. Mindful of what Dr. Li suggests, let’s eat to be well and healthy.

Thanks, Danny!  I just want to add that I don’t edit Danny’s work.  We should all thank him for spending the time to organize his thoughts to help us all eat better and hopefully live longer!

Feel good and keep smiling!  Pat