GoVeg: Cancer is the number one killer of people in China. What actually is cancer?
Dr. Xu: One way to look at cancer is to think of it as our own cells misbehaving. I tell people that your cells are like your children. If you give them a good environment they will thrive. We must provide a good environment for our cells if we do not want cancer to develop.
GoVeg: So how do we provide a good environment for our cells?
Dr. Xu: The most important way we create the environment for our cells is with the food we eat.
GoVeg: So what should we eat to give our cells the best environment.
Dr. Xu: A low fat plant based diet is best. Dr. Dean Ornish did an interesting experiment that proves just that. He had three groups of people and he took blood from them which he applied to a petrie dish with cancer cells on it. Here are the results:
Group one (meat eaters who did no exercise): their blood killed a similar number of cancer cells as the ‘no blood’ control.
Group two (meat eaters who exercised): their blood’s ability to kill the cancer cells increases many fold.
Group three (vegans who exercise): further doubled the number of cancer cells killed.
GoVeg: What about other factors in creating a healthy environment for our cells?
Dr. Xu: There appears to be a strong link also between feelings and attitude and cancer- negative feelings can harm the environment for our cells.
GoVeg: We have all heard stories of children and young people who contracted cancer. Surely this is not caused by diet and attitude.
Dr. Xu: There are genetic predispositions. As I said in our first interview, women with harmful BRCA gene mutations are much more likely to develop breast and reproductive cancers than other women.
This is not something we can do anything about but also it is not as big a factor as the environment we create for our cells. I like to think of health issues generally, and cancer in particular, as having two types of contributing factors: ones that we can control and ones that we cannot control. As individuals we should concentrate our efforts on those factors that we can control.
Diet is something we can control. Studies have shown that meat and dairy eating can increase the likelihood of developing breast cancer by 100% for people with genetic predispositions. They have also shown that people who regularly drink soy milk are 60% less likely to develop breast cancer. As a woman you cannot control whether or not you were born with a harmful BRCA gene mutation. You can, however, replace cow’s milk with soy milk and eat a low fat vegan diet.
GoVeg: People often talk about carcinogens, things that trigger cancer. A well known example is asbestos in old buildings triggering lung cancer. Many people worry about carcinogens in air pollution. Are there carcinogens that can trigger cancer in food?
Dr. Xu: Yes. Research shows that cancer rates are 40% lower among vegans than among non vegans. One known reason for this is the carcinogen HCA, which is produced when meat is cooked, heated or burned. Vegans have an intake of zero HCA. Meat eaters take in a lot.
GoVeg: Can a low fat vegan diet reverse cancer once it has been triggered?
Dr. Xu: The evidence is not as strong as for heart disease, but it is still encouraging. More research needs to be done but a vegan diet has been shown to reduce IGF-1 activity. IGF-1 is a growth factor in cancers so reducing its activity reduces the growth of cancer. In a study specific to prostate cancer, Dr Dean Ornish put forty people with signs of prostate health problems on a vegan diet for a year and compared their levels of PSA with a similar group that ate a conventional diet. PSA (prostate specific antogin) is an indicator pf potential prostate cancer. At the end of the year, the vegan group had an average reduction in PSA of 4-6%. None of them required medical treatment for prostate cancer. The meat eaters averaged an increase in PSA of 6% and 6 of them required treatment.
GoVeg: Are sarcomas different from other cancers and do they also respond to a low fat vegan diet?
Dr. Xu: Most cancers begin in epithelial cells of the body. Epitheliel cells line the inner or outer surfaces of the body. These cancers are called carcinomas. Sarcomas, on the other hand, form in middle layers as opposed to epithelial layers. They are much rarer so the amount of information is much less. However, it is still a question of the health of our cells so the findings in relation to carcinomas would probably apply. At any rate no harm would be done by assuming this and moving to a low fat vegan diet.
Dr Xu, who has a PHD in Physiology, has been working for PCRM since 2010, firstly in Clinical Studies, now on the Kickstart China Program (21 Day Vegan Kickstart). He travels widely in China to educate people on the importance of a low fat plant based diet.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine was founded by Dr Neal Barnard in the USA. After he graduated as a medical doctor in the 1980s, Neal Barnard’s work acquainted him with things that shocked and worried him- the use of dogs in medical experimentation was one. Another was the fact that many other doctors he met smoked and ate meat even though they knew both were unhealthy. It seemed to him that the medical industry needed more compassion and also needed to be more thoughtful about the causes of ill-health, rather than just treating the symptoms.
Dr Barnard started PFRM to practice medicine with compassion. It had two aims:
1. To support plant based eating with evidence based research
2. To fight against the use of animals in experiments in medicine and other fields.