A Cancer Diagnosis and Paleo?

by 2231 · August 11, 2011 at 05:10 PM

My worse nightmare came true. One of my best friends just got a cancer diagnosis. She is a perfect example of the Standard American Diet, but even more unhealthy. She has Inflammatory Breast Cancer. This is considered the "worst" type to get as it is very aggressive and fast growing.

At her doctor appointment today, (this being the day that they gave her the outcome of tests) also to set out her "plan" of treatment. She asked about nutrition. He said, he didn't think getting off of or staying away from sugar was going to help. He said she should take a multi-vitamin. She asked if she should stop smoking. Nope, they didn't tell her to stop smoking. I guess that is the least of their worries.

My girlfriend drank a 6 pack of coke a day, processed food was all she knew and/or fast food. She wishes she would have listened to me and has major regrets but is open to everything I have to say about nutrition despite what her doctor is telling her.

She would actually even consider alternative treatments, but she doesn't have time on her hands right now. She is schedule for some heavy duty chemo, then mastectomy, more chemo and then radiation.

I have spent the last year reading about these things, but she doesn't even know how to turn on a computer! Her prognosis wasn't good. The doctor said, "you might make it or you might not." (his exact words)

My questions for you (not that you are providing me specific medical advice) I would like general advice, like 'WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE GIVEN THIS DIAGNOSIS?

1) What are you thoughts regarding nutrition during cancer treatments?

2) Anybody out there a survivor while specifically eating paleo?

3) Do you believe there is a sugar connection?

I bought her a good quality multi vitamin, Vitamin D3, and a digestive enzyme supplement. She knows no more soda pop, candy bars, processed food, and no more fast food. She was told no sunshine exposure during chemo treatments. We live in Western Washington but I would like to take her on a sunny vacation when we are "allowed" to. Have you heard that before, no sunshine? It is contraindicated in for chemo.

Sorry, for such a long question. Thank you for your time.

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15 Replies

90 · August 10, 2011 at 03:27 PM

I am not sure if this is an old post, but I was browsing the forums and, as someone who has been through cancer recently, I thought I should jump in. This is my first post on the forum.

I had a very aggressive and rare type of ovarian cancer that is usually diagnosed in children and teens (I'm in my mid 20's). The cause of this type of ovarian cancer is still unknown. I went through surgery that left me with a massive vertical scar down my abdomen and chemotherapy. I was maybe 80% Paleo before the cancer diagnosis and I am probably 80-90% Paleo now.

My advice to you as a caretaker to your friend is as follows:

1) Yes, her crappy diet and smoking may have caused her cancer, but this is a difficult time and the last thing she needs is a guilt trip about her past dietary habits and smoking. Let her process the diagnosis and ease her in to a new way about thinking about her body and how her body should be treated. There will be plenty of time for that once chemo has ended.

2) Leave the diet aside during chemo. Chemo is tough. Tougher than many people who haven't been through it can imagine. You get highly toxic chemicals pumped into you (daily in my case) that wreak havoc throughout your body. Chemo not only kills cancer cells, it also affects other fast-reproducing cells. In my case, I experienced issues with the lining of my gut resulting in severe gastritis and ulcers, constant nausea, vomiting and fatigue, and a horrible chemical taste in my mouth from all the drugs circulating in my system. Your friend's symptoms may vary since she will be undergoing a different type of chemotherapy, but rest assured they will be horrible. Whether to go Paleo on chemo is a non-issue. The first step is to survive chemo. If her stomach is unable to tolerate animal proteins (as mine was), fat or heavy carbs, then I would suggest not pushing the issue. I found that I had to go low-fat during chemo or the gastritis ended up being quite severe. If your friend has days where she can only stomach weak tea and white bread, then so be it. She needs to get through the chemo alive, and then you can worry about a long-term healthy diet later.

3) I was advised to stay away from extreme doses of antioxidants like Vitamin C and E. Eating an orange was fine, but my oncologist suggested no high dose pills because they could potentially (and this is still debated in the medical community) affect the function of the chemo drugs. Once I finished chemo, antioxidants were fine. I take my supplements daily now. It is just the period where the drugs are trying to kill cells that is important. When in doubt, bypass the supplement/drug/herb until chemo is over. Chemo is temporary and the priority.

4) Listen to your oncologist. They likely know more than people on an internet forum (no offense). Your friend's oncologist is giving out some pretty standard advice, like avoiding the sun. Do avoid the sun during chemo. For whatever reason, skin changes during chemo and becomes extremely susceptible to burning. Her skin may also darken or become streaky, but that should go away once chemo has ended.

5) I have been Paleo since about 5 weeks after chemo ended. So far my cancer has not returned. It was Stage 3, which is pretty aggressive. I still have problems with my gut for which I get acupuncture and take probiotics. Some days it is difficult to eat meat, particularly fattier cuts. My stomach seems to be soothed by white bread and white rice, the typical "sick" food. On those days, I relax a little and have the bit of bread or rice that soothes my stomach, and on the good days, I go 100% Paleo. I also have a little milk and yogurt if necessary. Coming back after cancer treatment requires patience and flexibility. Don't try to stick your friend on a strict Paleo regimen, that will likely turn her off as she is trying to recover from her treatment. I suggest incremental changes over the long term. But yes, Paleo is a good way to go.

Cancer is one of those illnesses where the illness itself is rarely as bad as the intervention needed to cure it, at least at the beginning. I told myself every day that however bad chemo was, it was temporary and was nowhere near as bad as eventually dying from cancer. I'm here now and cancer free. I hope your friend will be too.

3576 · February 16, 2011 at 01:26 AM

Unfortunately, for whatever reason (and I hope it is because they're really, really busy--any other reason is an excuse and they have blood on their hands), doctors do not stay enough on top of research developments. But the sugar-cancer connection isn't even a recent research finding. Scientists have been aware of the sugar-cancer connection for decades, and now they even know why it exists. A lot of cancer cell types (though not all) either do not have mitochondria or have shut it off, which means they must ferment sugar for cellular respiration since they have no working mitochondria to process fatty acids. The b?!ch is, since your friend's doctor hasn't even tested to see if her cells fall under this category, she has no way of knowing whether avoiding sugar would help. IF IT WERE ME, I would get off the sugar anyway. Cold turkey. Stop eating sugars and overdoing the simple starches NOW. Go low-carb, go Atkins or paleo-Atkins (if you like), just get AWAY from anything that makes extra glucose. If she's eating meat then she'll have enough glucose for those few tissues that genuinely need it--the rest don't.

IF IT WERE ME, I would also avoid overdoing beta carotene. It's been linked with aggravating lung cancer. I don't know if the beta carotene used in the study was synthetic or natural and at this point I couldn't afford to be precious about it. I'd make sure my needs for various vitamins were met but I would not megadose any sort of antioxidant. There's some evidence that cancer cells uptake so much glucose (and shut off their mitochondria) because the sugar protects them from oxidative damage--ironically enough, since that sort of damage is accused of causing cancer, cancer cells also seem to be more susceptible to it. Dunno why. Last I heard researchers were still studying that question. But if it turns out to be true, I don't see why cancer cells wouldn't take advantage of available excess antioxidants in the system too. Might explain the lung cancer-beta carotene connection.

Lots of meds have the effect of increasing sensitivity to sunlight. Fortunately, there are Paleo foods high in vitamin D. Many are oily fish. Salmon is supposed to be one of the best food sources. If it were me, now would be the time to indulge my raging sashimi addiction. Heh. (Cooked is fine too; fat-soluble vitamins are not destroyed by heat.) I'd go for the wild-caught over the farmed though. God only knows what that fish chow has done to the farmed fishes' nutrient profile.

Oh and one more thing, if it were me, I'd check my iodine levels. A little bird told me that iodine intake seems to be related to breast cancer rates and that this may explain why Japanese women on traditional diets have a lower rate of BC than American women; many American women are low in iodine. Kelp is a Paleo source, or ought to be. I've heard various things about Lugol's and Ioderal; both have their fans and their detractors. (The Ioderal is tablet form and probably tastes a lot better! But kelp is yummier still, and also available in pressed-tablet form if I were the type to dislike seaweed. Which, I am not. Heh.)

Whatever else, I'd want my friends to stick by me, because going through a case of aggressive cancer like this would be really, really hard on me. And sometimes I might act like a jerk because I'm scared to death. A friend who can decide that it is the disease talking, and not me, would be worth their weight in gold. Just sayin'.

4337 · February 16, 2011 at 05:14 AM

A calorie restricted ketogenic diet may help and Dr. Seyfried is the man for that... There are some cancers that metabolize glutamine, with the result that a ketogenic diet won't work on them, but I think these are mostly blood/marrow cancers, so your friend should definitely consider sustained ketosis as an adjunct to conventional therapy.

Other "alternative" treatments that may work (unlike most kooky stuff you find on the internet) include supplementing with IP-6 (inositol hexaphosphate), low dose naltrexone/ALA (there were some very promising case reports recently), and maybe high dose IV vitamin C (thouhg I might save this for a last resort (if chemo fails). I don't know how these would work (or not work) in combination. I suspect nobody does.

The obvious first thing to do is what the doctor says (re conventional treatment, not re nutrition). Her oncologist needs to know everything she is doing. For example, some chemos are thwarted by certain dietary antioxidants, so be sure to mention any supplements you might take while on chemo.

Eating well (i.e., whole foods, LOW omega 6 (between 1 and 2% of calories), decent omega 3 (2% of calories), fruits, vegetables, meats, butter, cream, eggs, etc) can only help. Ensure sufficient vit D & vit K2 too.

Hopefully she will be willing to educate herself and will have the judegment and ability to do it well. Unfortunately, most of the stuff out there is garbage so the job isn't easy... Take a look at the imminst (now called longecity, I think) forums -- they are a cut above this forum for stuff like this.

18373 · February 16, 2011 at 04:02 AM

I would stay in ketosis and intermittently fast. Besides starving the tumour, or perhaps because of starving the tumour, fasting is in clinical trials right now because it looks like it makes chemotherapy more effective and reduces the side-effects of it.

Fasting Might Make Chemotherapy More Effective

Fasting Before Chemo Protects Healthy Cells

Update on Fasting Strategy for Chemo Patients

20762 · August 11, 2011 at 03:23 PM

What ever you do, don't listen to people that say "eat this berry" or "drink this juice", it'll help make the chemo better. The reason chemo sucks (and I know) is that it's killing stuff. It is super easy to eat stuff that get in the way of the chemo and make it LESS effective. So rule #1, don't listen to the hippies.

Rule #2, don't listen to the doctors. My experience was that the doctors just told me to eat whatever I wanted whenever I could because the main goal was just to get food down when I wasn't nauseous. That's dumb. Cancer lives off of glucose (and doctors know that, ask them how a PET scan works, and they'll say things like "the cancer draws the sugar to itself and we can see where it goes"). So definitely go ketogenic and just eat mainly fats (remember gluconeogenesis will make glucose out of proteins) and just a little protein. No carbs, especially no grains or anything else proinflamitory.

523 · February 16, 2011 at 04:50 PM

I am very sorry to hear about your friend. It sounds like this could have been preventable by taking better care of herself. In my opinion, people get cancer when the body is in dis-ease. The body does not want to be in that state, but is no longer able to conquer abnormal cells in the body. The cancer usually crops up in the body's weakest cellular area. Often for women, this occurs in the breast tissue because of hormone levels.

Several years ago, I spent 3 months at a Cancer treatment facility in Atlanta for fatigue issues. 75% of the patients there were being treated for cancer. Most ended up there after they had tried everything else, chemo, radiation, etc. With specific protocols the doc's there were starving the tumors and shrinking them. They were curing the cancer by eliminating all the things in the persons life feeding it. There's was a holistic approach.

Yes, there is a sugar connection. Stop the sugar, caffeine, cigarettes, soy, grains, and any beauty products with parabens or estrogenic ingredients. You need to add iodine, Vitamin D3 (10k IU/day min) and high doses of Vitamin C to bowel tolerance daily. Try to find an alternative health provider that does IV Vitamin C therapy. She needs to build up her immune system up so her body can fight the cancer off itself. This is not possible while eating SAD.

If I were in the same situation, I would not do the chemo. The chemo will kill everything, good and bad in the body and leave her immune system in ruins. The only thing I might consider would be the mastectomy. I would work on the mind-body connection and address potential cancer causing factors in my life, ie emotional, lifestyle, diet, beauty products, water, etc. I would also utilize acupuncture, yoga, meditation, Paleo eating, cranial-sacral therapy, EFT, and visualization techniques.

Yes, it is definitely possible to turn it around using alternative therapies. If you haven't already, get some of Suzanne Sommers books on cancer-prevention. I do not consider Sommers an authority on cancer, but the medical resources mentioned in her books are valuable. I would recommend talking to some alternative doctors who deal with cancer. Sadly, most mainstream MD's are not up on holistic methods.

13583 · February 16, 2011 at 01:23 AM

1) I would ask the question "Would a paleo diet HURT anything?" If no, then there's no reason not to try it.

3) Look into the work of Dr. Robert K. Su, who has written a lot on the relationship between cancer and sugar. I have not personally read his work in-depth, but I listen to his podcast and he mentions it a lot. Here's a link to start with:


I lost a sister to cancer and I know if I had it, every idea under the sun would be given a fair shot.

7300 · February 16, 2011 at 01:17 AM

I believe ketones would be therapeutic. I haven't thought a ton about it beyond that though.

I would suggest asking paul jaminet, over at the perfect health diet, what he thinks. He has posted a few things on cancer and is quite knowledgeable. He also has an excellent book if you haven't read it already.

3035 · August 11, 2011 at 04:40 AM

I asked Dr. Ron Rosedale about this. He said for sure don't feed the cancer. Ketogenic, moderate protein. He doesn't have agreement with all the science of Dr. Burzinski but does agree that the diet in use in the Houston clinic is very low carb, no sugar. Check out this video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0ibsoqjPac

1304 · February 16, 2011 at 02:03 AM

Patrick and Noreen Quillin are the authors of Beating cancer with nutrition: combining the best of science and nature for healing in the 21st century:simple, safe, and effective natural methods to improve outcome for cancer patients (2001)

You can also check the website http://www.patrickquillin.com/, and Patrick Quillin interview at Underground Wellness, podcast dated 6/23/10.

I haven't read the book, but the interview is very interesting. It discusses, among other things, the healing properties of therapeutical doses of Vit C.

2369 · February 16, 2011 at 01:31 AM

I would look into work by Dr. Seyfried at Boston University in carbohydrate restriction and its effects on brain tumors. There is a great podcast by Jimmy Moore with the doctor on Moore's website.

My sister has colon cancer, metastasized to her liver. She is on her fourth chemo, but has had not spread of the cancer since the first notice of the two spots on her liver. They have not increased in size. She took info from me to her doctor about Vitamin D3 and its importance in cancer prevention after I gave her the info. He OK'ed her to take 10,000 IUs per day. She hasn't pursued the carb restriction yet but I am hoping to talk to her again and see if she will give it a go. She is a CW food nightmare and the only one in my family to get colon cancer. Years of junk will do a load of damage.

25189 · August 11, 2011 at 05:10 PM

Here is my response to every patient with a new cancer diagnosis. http://jackkruse.com/what-to-do-with-new-cancer-diagnosis/

5100 · June 07, 2011 at 01:39 AM

These are all good suggestions and I believe going ketogenic is a reasonable option.

One other advice: stay away from pickles and fish oil capsules!

1344 · February 16, 2011 at 01:24 AM

I second Kayb. I am very sorry to hear this and your friend needs a better doctor. Not only for the callousness, but also for the lack of understanding of sugar, smoking etc.

If I were to get the same diagnosis, I would:

  1. Go Paleo (no grains, legumes, dairy)
  2. Highest quality meats, organic veggies, little to no fruit
  3. Research Vitamin B17 - see here for a person who healed her cancer naturally:


  1. Scour the internet (NaturalNews.com, Gerson treatment, Budwig Protocol) - Here are JUST A FEW links.



  1. Order Susan Somers book and perhaps seek treatment from the alternative doctors


  1. Skip the chemo if possible - perhaps trying to buy some time for the alternative remedies - Chemo kills healthy immune system too - which is what we need when we are fighting off disease.

I am very anti mainstream medicine for many reasons. There is very little proof that these things help in the long term.

Prayers for you and your friend. She is in the fight of her life. Let her know that she has choices and she is not only entitled to a second opinion, her life depends on better care and support than she is being offered.

38 · February 16, 2011 at 01:11 AM

*I am sorry to hear about your friend. I am no expert on this, I just started at the begining of the year. But I will say this, she needs to find another doctor, one with more compasion! I am in awe about the way he spoke to her.

You are a good friend!*

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