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All Posts Tagged: cancer

Top 6 Carcinogenic Food Contaminants

Cancer is on the rise. The number of new cancer cases in Canada is expected to rise about 40% in the next 15 years, according to a new report – Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015 – released by the Canadian Cancer Society. Almost all cancer deaths in Canada (96%) will occur in people over the age of 50, and most (62%) deaths will occur in those aged 70 and over.

Many people worry that substances or exposures in their environment may cause cancer. Food is one of them. We eat (at least) 3 times a day and what we eat has tremendous impact on our health.

But let first define what a carcinogen is.

Cancer is caused by changes in a cell’s DNA – its genetic “blueprint.” Some of these changes may be inherited from our parents. Others may be caused by outside exposures, which are often referred to as environmental factors. Environmental factors can include a wide range of exposures, such as:

  • Lifestyle factors (nutrition, tobacco use, physical activity, etc.)
  • Naturally occurring exposures (ultraviolet light, radon gas, infectious agents, etc.)
  • Medical treatments (radiation and medicines including chemotherapy, hormone drugs, drugs that suppress the immune system, etc.)
  • Household exposures
  • Workplace exposures
  • Pollution

Substances and exposures that can lead to cancer are called carcinogens. Some carcinogens do not affect DNA directly, but lead to cancer in other ways. For example, they may cause cells to divide at a faster than normal rate, which could increase the chances that DNA changes will occur.

Carcinogens do not cause cancer in every case, all the time. Substances labeled as carcinogens may have different levels of cancer-causing potential. Some may cause cancer only after prolonged, high levels of exposure (“the dose makes the poison”). And for any particular person, the risk of developing cancer depends on many factors, including how they are exposed to a carcinogen, the length and intensity of the exposure, and the person’s genetic makeup.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). One of its major goals is to identify causes of cancer. The most widely used system for classifying carcinogens comes from the IARC. In the past 30 years, the IARC has evaluated the cancer-causing potential of more than 900 likely candidates, placing them into one of the following groups:

Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans

Group 2A: Probably carcinogenic to humans

Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans

Group 3: Unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans

Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

Perhaps not surprisingly, based on how hard it can be to test these candidate carcinogens (who would want to be voluntarily subjected to carcinogens?), most are listed as being of probable, possible, or unknown risk. Only a little over 100 are classified as “carcinogenic to humans.”

Here is my list of the worst carcinogenic foods (contaminants).

A special note here, in case it wasn’t clear by now: food itself, in its natural state, is NOT carcinogenic. It is the process of preparing the food, the things we add to the food, we spray the food with, the way we preserve or “enhance” the food that will make the altered food be considered carcinogenic.

  • Processed meats: Most processed meat products, including lunch meats, bacon, sausage, and hot dogs, contain chemical preservatives that make them appear fresh, tastier and appealing, but that can also cause cancer. Both sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate have been linked to significantly increasing the risk of colon and other forms of cancer, so be sure to choose only uncured meat products made without nitrates, and preferably from grass-fed sources. (Group 1)

  • Microwave Popcorn: From the chemically-lined bag to the actual contents, microwave popcorn is at the center of lung cancer debates around the world. Not only are the kernels and oil likely GMO (which the manufacturer does not have to disclose) , the fumes released from artificial butter flavoring contain diacetyl, which is toxic to humans. Make your own organic popcorn the old-fashioned way – air popped – it tastes better, doesn’t release toxic fumes, and is a healthier choice for you. (Group 1)

  • Alcoholic beverages: all types of alcohol (fermented and those further distilled) can cause cancer in humans. Animal studies have not convincingly demonstrated that ethanol itself is carcinogenic leading to the hypothesis that other contaminants in alcoholic beverages or ethanol metabolites (acetaldehyde) are responsible for these effects. This is true only for heavy alcohol consumption (heavy drinkers). (Group 1)
  • Salted fish: This is produced in several parts of Asia using a method that appears to result in the production of carcinogenic by-products. These foods can be very high in nitrates and nitrites, which react with protein to form nitrosamines. (Group 1)

  • Pickled vegetables: They have been studied for their association with cancer mainly in Asia and especially in China. The pickling process is different from that used in many parts of the world and uses no salt or vinegar. Instead it relies on natural fermentation and can lead to contamination with mold. (Group 2B)

  • Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs): The rapidly growing industry of genetically modified crops are infiltrating our food supply at an alarming rate. More than 90% of our corn and soy are now genetically modified. The current research on the health risks of GMOs is inconclusive. In other words, researchers cannot confirm whether or not GMOs increase cancer risks. Yes still, IARC has recently labelled the corn or soy sprayed with Roundup (the active ingredient: glyphosate) as probably carcinogenic to humans. (Group 2A)

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Cordyceps: the killer fungus!

Cordyceps sinensis is a very interesting medicinal mushroom that has been used for medicinal purposes in Asia for centuries. It is used mainly to restore lost energy and vigor and to stimulate a fatigued immune system acting like a general tonic for the body.

In addition to the English term “caterpillar fungus” there are other interesting names of this killer fungus. In Tibetan it is referred to as Yartsa gunbu. The Chinese name is dong chong xia cao (meaning “winter worm, summer grass”). The Latin name cordyceps means “club head”, and sinensis is “from China”. According to the recent DNA review of the genus Cordyceps, the new name for Cordyceps sinensis is actually Ophiocordyceps sinensis.

It grows only in the mountains of Himalaya, on the Tibetan plateau, at the altitude of 3,000-5,000 m in cold snowy marsh lands of China (Tibet), Nepal, India or Bhutan.

This fungus is also known for its unique way of reproducing. It sprouts from the body of dead caterpillar in the wild, entering the body of a live caterpillar while it is in the larval form of a large moth (Thitarodes spp.) native to the region. Upon infection from the spores, strands of filaments called “hyphae” begin to sprout from the spores that then leads to the death of the caterpillar. That’s a parasite with no scruples! The hyphae grow longer and multiply and develop into a relatively large stalk-like fungal fruiting body that emerges from the insect’s carcass after having sapped the caterpillar’s body of all nutrients thus killing and mummifying the remains. This horror movie action makes Cordyceps one of the coolest mushrooms around!

The killer fungus in action!

The fruiting body is usually up to 4 inches (around 10 cm) long and 0.3 inches (1/2 cm) wide. Unlike a typical mushroom, these are curved and finger-shaped like a small cane. They’re usually orange or brown. It can be a very important source of income for people living in rural Tibet.

Cordyceps sinensis – sprouting from buried caterpillars

BBC News reported a few years ago that some Himalayan villagers make their living by collecting the fungus along the mountainous regions of Tibet to sell to a Chinese market that can be as high as tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. In fact, the money to be made is so lucrative that it resulted in multiple homicides as villagers from one region tried to prevent outsiders from cashing in on their limited supply. It was estimated that the price of Cordyceps sinensis on the Tibetan Plateau rose dramatically by 900% between 1998 and 2008 due to the demand from the Western hemisphere and Europe Today, in order to meet this demand, Cordyceps is grown in climate-controlled greenhouses within a grain-based substrate.

Tibetan mountains

Cordyceps fungus has a long history of use in traditional medicine in China and now worldwide. It has numerous bioactive compounds, including polysaccharides and nucleosides (organic molecules that will be converted into building blocks of the genetic material DNA) which have been studied for their broad range of biological activities. Its main constituents are Unsaturated fatty acids, Amino acids and Adenosine, Adenine, Uracil, Uridine and Cordycepin (3′-deoxyadenosine). It is usually standardized to 4% cordycepic acid and 0.25% adenosine (Metagenics). Cordycepin is known as a nucleotide analogue, due to its structural similarities to adenosine.

It is sweet in flavor, slightly warm in nature and in Traditional Chinese Medicine this fungus mainly manifests its therapeutics actions in the Lung and Kidney meridians (enhances Kdnney Yang and replenishes Essence, invigorates the Lungs, stops bleeding and dissolves Phlegm).

In the Western medical world, the health benefits of Cordyceps sisnesis are:

  • Stimulation of the immune function
  • General adaptogen, resulting in more energy, strength and stamina
  • Anti-tumor properties (good for cancer)
  • Anemia (builds bone marrow)
  • Persistent cough (reduces excess phlegm and increases oxygenation in the lungs)
  • General sexual tonic and libido/performance enhancer (“Viagra” of Asia)
  • Reduces cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL, VLDl and increases HDL
  • Improves Arrhythmia
  • Improves Tinnitus
  • Hypoglycemic effects (reduces blood glucose and benefits insulin resistence)
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Blood tests for cancer

 I am writing this article to answer a question I get from some of my patients about blood tests for cancer. Is there any reliable blood test to detect cancer? Is usually what I am being asked once in a while by my patients.

To answer this question I need first to introduce the notion of Tumor Markers.

These are substances that are produced by the cancerous cells or by the other cells (usually neighboring cells) in the body in response to the detection of cancer or other benign (non-cancerous) conditions.

A tumor is by the definition any abnormal growth of cells, a mass of cells; even a collection of fluid would qualify as a tumor in the world of pathology. Tumors could be benign (not dangerous per se) and malignant (a threatening type of tumor). Also used, there is the term neoplasm, which is another way of saying tumor, in a more academic fashion.

Stages of growth of a tumor

Now, when these cells start to multiply without control, the mass itself starts to produce some chemicals that are called tumor markers. Most tumor markers are made by normal cells as well as by cancer cells. Most of the time, they are produced at a higher number in cancerous conditions. These substances can be mostly found in the blood, but also they show up in urine, stool, tumor tissues or other tissues or bodily fluids of patients with cancer.

To date, based on the listing from National Cancer Institute (USA) website, there are more than 30 tumor markers that are used in clinical care. Some are associated with only one type of cancer, others are associated with two or more cancer types. There is no “universal” tumor marker that can detect any type of cancer. So far. Let’s hope that medicine and oncology with all the grants and pharmaceutical power behind it will find this universal marker in the near future.

The problem with these tumor markers is that sometimes, benign tumors can cause the levels of some tumor markers to increase too. This is a serious limitation to which oncology didn’t find an answer yet. On top of that, tumor markers have not been identified for every type of cancer. I mean, simply put it, there is cancers that do not have tumor markers, do not have something specific to be identified and measured. Cancer is a tricky bastard that is.

Because of these things, tumor markers cannot be used alone to diagnose cancer. They are combined with other tests, of which the BIOPSY is the gold standard in oncology (a pathologist examines the biopsied cells in the lab). Seeing is believing here.

The most common blood tests used in screening for cancer and showed to reduce the cancer deaths are:

  • Alpha-fetoprotein blood test

This test is sometimes used, along with ultrasound of the liver, to try to detect liver cancer early in people at high risk of the disease.

  • CA-125 test

This blood test, which is often done together with a transvaginal ultrasound, may be used to try to detect ovarian cancer early, especially in women with an increased risk of the disease.

  • PSA test

This blood test, which is often done along with a digital rectal exam, is able to detect prostate cancer at an early stage. However, expert groups no longer recommend routine PSA testing for most men because studies have shown that it has little or no effect on prostate cancer deaths and leads to overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

  • High-sensitivity Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT)

This test has been shown to reduce deaths from colorectal cancer. Colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy are also done concurrently here and help prevent colorectal cancer because they can detect abnormal colon growths (polyps) that can be removed before they develop into cancer.

  • Calcitonin

It is a blood test used to aid in diagnosis, check whether treatment is working, and assess recurrence for medullary thyroid cancer.

  • Lactate dehydrogenase

This test is used to assess stage, prognosis, and response to treatment for tumors like: Germ cell tumors, lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma, and neuroblastoma.

So, unfortunately, the general answer to the question that prompted this article is NO. There are no reliable blood tests that will detect cancer by themselves. There are tests that will raise the alarm for malignancy but these tests are usually done after you have symptoms or are done for screening if you are a high-risk patient for a specific cancer due to your family history (someone in your family died of some cancer at an early age). The symptoms, prior risk, combined with tests (blood or genetic) and imaging will complete the picture for a doctor and a diagnosis will be made and provided.

One word about the genetic testing.

This seems to be the future of cancer screening. Genetic-based testing can tell an individual about their predisposition for certain types of cancer as well act as a tool for the early detection of cancer. These tests are much more accurate than the older generation of cancer markers.

 

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Immunotherapy in Cancer: a new concept?

Cancer. A dreadful word. People shrug in dislike when they hear it. For some it evokes the closeness of death and the fear of the great unknown. For others it is just a word that need to be fought against and conquered.

Where did this word, by the way, cancer, come from?

It means crab, from the Latin karkinos and it was first named like this by Hippocrates, the father of Medicine. Initially he described the many tumors he encountered as being hard as a rock and reminded him of the hard shell of a crab. It was later translated as cancer (the Latin equivalence of crab) by the two other famous Ancient doctors in medicine, Celsus and Galen, whom, upon inspection and dissection, noticed that all the veins and tributaries of malignancy around that mass of tumor cells look just like a crab’s legs extending outward from every part of its body. And so the term really stuck in Medicine.

The term Oncology is another Hippocratic term and it originated from onkos, is a Greek word, and it simply means masses. I think that’s probably a lot better word than cancerologist!

Now, there is a growing body of research in the field of cancer called immunotherapy and it’s on the rise these months. Simply explained, Immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy, is a type of cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer. It uses substances either made by the body or in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.

There are several types of immunotherapy, the most promising being: Monoclonal antibodies; Non-specific immunotherapies; Oncolytic virus therapy; T-cell therapy and Cancer vaccines.

And even though the medical establishment is saying that this approach is new and promising, I can’t stop thinking that we, the complementary healthcare practitioners, we were way ahead of them on this! Seriously? It is mostly what we do! The most of the bulk treatments we offer to our patients are, by this definition, immunotherapies! And they are as old as Medicine itself!

What else was the employment of herbal medicine in Ancient Greek? Of the use of Acupuncture in Ancient China? Or the water treatments in Europe 100 years ago? If not immunotherapy, what else? It was always in the philosophy of the ancient healers to Strengthen the terrain!…Alkalinize the body!…Improve the functioning of the body!…Detoxify and purge the systems!…to have a better chance of surviving when confronted to all kinds of malignancies, cancer included. These are all immunotherapies!

Immunotherapy as a concept is not new, my dear medical doctors colleagues. It has been used at least by naturopaths in last 100 years with good results. Our forefathers, from Priessnitz, father Kneipp, Felke, to Otis Carroll, Benedict Lust and Henry Lindlahr, all preached these concepts and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in their time through immunotherapies!

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MITOSIS: the true miracle of life

Have you ever wondered what is the basic biological process that allows all living organisms to develop and grow, to replace worn-out cells and tissues, to (sometimes) regenerate body parts and even asexual reproduce?
Enter MITOSIS, in my opinion, the true miracle of life.
By formal definition, MITOSIS is a process that takes place in the nucleus of a dividing cell, involves typically a series of steps consisting of prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase, and results in the formation of two new nuclei each having the same number of chromosomes as the parent nucleus.

mitosis_stages-svg
In 1855, Rudolf Virchow, a German researcher, made a fundamental observation about all living creatures: every cell originates from another cell, or “omnis cellula e cellula,” in the original Latin. This process signals the new generation of life. The term was described for the first time by the Polish histologist Wacław Mayzel in 1875. The name is derived from the Greek word “mitos” – meaning “warp thread”, because chromatin of the cell nucleus appears as long threads in the first stages of this process.
Mitosis allows the cells in your body to divide and regenerate, your hair to grow, your skin to heal after being wounded. Almost all of the DNA duplication in your body is carried out through mitosis.
Think of it for a minute.
There is a process that allows an entity to create two identical copies of itself with the same shape, functionality and characteristics. Truly miraculous! From one, through an invisible process, you get two! And all three are identical to one another! To truly comprehend the miraculous nature of this seemingly obscure biological process, try yourself to imagine how you can create from one chair two identical chairs!, or from one table, try to split in half so you can have 2 identical tables, same size, same functionality! Impossible, right? Well, the human cell does it every time with a successful rate of more than 99.99%! How incredible is that!
In my opinion, I think here resides the divine intervention that scientists and theologians sometimes argue about in the ever-lasting debate of the origin of life and in the famous Evolutionism vs Creationism tug-of-war controversy. For me, there is no other explanation.

mitosis

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Marijuana vs Cigarettes: which one is more dangerous?

I am writing this article to answer a question an patient of mine asked me the other day; in fact many Canadians often wonders if marijuana is as dangerous as cigarettes.

So, what do you believe, which one is worse?

I will present to you the facts and let YOU decide.

But let’s take it concisely.

Cigarettes:

  • Increase the risk for heart disease and stroke (main culprit: nicotine)
  • Can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body; lung cancer is just the most common form.
  • Smoking is a cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus and can make it harder to control. The risk of developing diabetes is 30–40% higher for active smokers than nonsmokers.
  • Affect a woman’s fertility and can affect her baby’s health before and after birth.
  • Affect men’s sperm, which can reduce fertility and also increase risks for birth defects and miscarriage.
  • Smoking can affect bone health.
  • Smoking is a cause of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Can damage your eyes and increase your risk for cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens that makes it hard for you to see) and age-related macular degeneration (damage to a small spot near the center of the retina, the part of the eye needed for central vision).
  • Women past childbearing years who smoke have weaker bones than women who never smoked, and are at greater risk for broken bones.
  • Affect the health of your teeth and gums and can cause tooth loss.
  • Smoking causes general adverse effects on the body, including inflammation and decreased immune function and thus reduces the overall health of the smoker.

 

Marijuana:

  • can have an impact on brain development; can cause short-term memory impairment and slowness of learning.
  • can impair lung function similar to that found in cigarette smokers; more serious effects, such as cancer and other lung disease, can follow extended use, due to carcinogenic effects of the smoke; it has been reported that cannabis smoke contained higher amounts of ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and nitrogen oxides, but lower levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); the relationship between marijuana and lung cancer is not so well studied, like in the association between cigarettes and cancer.
  • decreased sperm count and sperm motility.
  • low rate of addiction compared to tobacco (it is estimated that around 10% of users will become addicted); but with the increased concentration of THC (the active ingredient) in marijuana, gone from 1% to around 12%, this will soon start to increase as well.
  • have a negative effect on driving ability; acute cannabis use increases the risk of an automobile crash.
  • interference with ovulation and pre-natal development.
  • impaired immune response, lowering the ability of the body to fight infections.
  • possible adverse effects on heart function, but less in significance, because does not contain nicotine.
  • by-products of marijuana remaining in body fat for several weeks, with unidentified consequences. The storage of these by-products increases the possibilities for chronic, as well as residual, effects on physical and mental performance, even after the acute reaction to the drug has worn off.

Well, that’s all folks.

If you’re asking me, I think the cigarettes are worse, with heavier and longer-term impact on your health and wellbeing. But both of them do have serious side effects that do not need to be dismissed lightly.

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Randomness

Is this the actual order and growth of the Universe?
Is this the way things unfold themselves in life? Could this be it? Only by random?
Could this be explanation in medicine to the toughest question that a patient with cancer can ask you: Why? and Why me?
This concepts troubled me for a while now and I wanted to share something with you from the medical field so I can steer away of the philosophical side of the concept and keep you awake for the next 5 minutes.
Christian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein, cancer scientists at Johns Hopkins University, published a study in 2015 that added more fire to this issue in which they were saying that, in cancer, randomness plays a bigger role we thought it did. What they alleged basically is that many cancers are caused by random mutations that happen when healthy stem cells divide.
Tomasetti and Vogelstein suggested looking at cancers in two categories, those that are primarily due to genetic bad luck (randomness), and those that are due to that unfortunate roll of the genetic dice plus environmental or hereditary factors. Hereditary factor,s in general, account for only 5-10% of all the cancers. So, they determined that melanoma, ovarian cancer, many brain cancers, lung cancer among non-smokers, the most common leukemias and bone cancers, for example, are pretty much out of people’s control. They’re the result of the random mutations caused by the stem cells dividing in these tissues — bone, blood, ovaries, brain and skin — and in time becoming malignant and out of control. For these cancers, changing your lifestyle or trying other interventions to stop the cancer from occurring in the first place won’t help much, they say. But being watchful about screening, and picking up the first signs of trouble early, can be life-saving and it is very well-advised.
For the others cancers, basal cell carcinoma, lung cancers in smokers, liver cancers and colorectal, changing your lifestyle, quitting the bad behaviors are critical and worth pursuing. Two cancers are missing from this study, breast cancer and prostate cancer, and this is because the studying of the stem cell population in these tissues is not so extensive and leaves room for too much speculation.
The most positive outcome of this study I think is that it can help reduce stigma and comfort some cancer patients who blame themselves for their illness. This is huge with some patients. These findings also suggest more cancers will appear simply because aging increases the number of stem cell divisions and this will lead in time to tumors and cancer. Aging that leads to more random mutations in time.
Randomness? Bad luck? Good luck? Are these fundamental notions that provide good answers to whatever happens in your life? Could this be it? I would like to think and hope that there is more than this. But to truly debate this we need to introduce the notions of God, spirits and life purpose and this would be beyond the purpose of this posting.

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