Cancers of the pancreas are hard to treat because the cells of the pancreas are energetically unique, and that has an enormous influence on how they respond to diet, to electrolytes, and to chemotherapy and radiation. Understanding this principle can help you choose the right foods to eat if you have pancreatic cancer, one of the cancers for which diet makes a huge difference.
Every cell in the human body is surrounded by a membrane that lets oxygen, hormones, nutrients, waste products, and toxins in and out. The membrane admits or ejects these substances with electrostatic charge.
Some cells, like those is the heart, have a particularly potent electrostatic charge (about -90mV in the case of a cardiomyocyte). A pancreatic cell, on the other hand, has a charge of about -4mV.
If a cell "loses its charge," typically because some electrolyte has gone out of balance, it can't release metabolic byproducts and take in oxygen and nutrients. The pancreas is uniquely at risk for various kinds of metabolic imbalances that people with a bent toward complementary therapies call "toxic," and it is also uniquely sensitive to efforts to treat it.
That's why alternative pancreatic cancer treatments that actually work aren't drastic, and don't take the place of surgery, chemo, radiation, or any other medically directed therapy.
So if you're given the dreadful diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, what can you do?
I'll talk about the scientifically explicable options first.
The very simplest thing anyone with pancreatic cancer can do to increase both length of life and quality of life is to cut salty foods out of the diet.
In 2000 and 2001 I observed pancreatic cancer patients treated by the late Dr. Demetrio Sodi-Pallares (1913-2003), a cardiologist who had taught medicine at UCLA, Michigan, and Baylor. Almost by accident he learned that the heart patients he put on sodium-restricted diets sometimes went into spontaneous remission from various forms of cancer.
Dr. Sodi-Pallares developed a more elaborate therapy for pancreatic cancer than you can do on your own: what's called a GIK (glucose-insulin-potassium) infusion and pulsed magnetic therapy in place of radiation therapy as well as severe dietary sodium restriction. Nonetheless, one of his patients, whom I met in 2001, went into remission from stage IV of a non-resectable pancreatic cancer in 1989 and was, last time I inquired in 2004, still alive. She simply strictly avoided salted foods and high-sodium foods (even foods like carrots and celery) for all those years, and, for reasons the doctor could not explain then and I can't explain now, went into remission and stayed into remission.
Dr. Sodi-Pallares developed an elaborate theory of how increasing dietary potassium and decreasing dietary sodium might cause cancer cells to go into apoptosis (die without chemo) or revert to normal, but he never secured funds to do full-scale research. If you were to search the medical literature for studies that confirm Dr. Sodi-Pallares' experience with about 20 pancreatic cancer patients over the last 25 years of his practice, you'd find exactly one--in Japanese. But I would recommend this much for anyone who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer:
- Avoid pickles, cured meats, luncheon meats, ham, bacon, and sausage.
- Don't salt your food.
- And to the extent you can, eat at least 5, preferably 9 or even more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
Quercetin is an antioxidant found in highest concentrations in onions, grapefruit, and apples, but also in a variety of fruits and vegetables. There are two things quercetin can do:
- Kill pancreatic cancer cells under laboratory conditions and
- Cause the liver to "concentrate" certain medications.
There's a great deal written about specific nutrients and pancreatic cancer, specifically folic acid, lycopene, phytoestrogens, soy, and vitamin D, but these studies are concerned with identifying foods associated with lower risk of pancreatic cancer, not curing it.
The one nutrient that is found in everyday food that probably does have an effect on pancreatic cancer once it occurs is gamma linolenic acid (GLA). This is the fatty acid found in:
- Borage oil,
- Hempseed oil, and
- Flaxseed oil
Medical science knows a lot more about GLA than it does about sodium restriction. The English-language medical literature (which is very important to your oncologist) confirms that GLA is non-toxic. At least one British laboratory study found that GLA stops the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells treated with just a few millionths of a gram of the fatty acid in a test tube. Clinical reports confirm that it seems to increase the benefits and reduce the side effects of gemcitabine (Gemzar) and high-dose 5-Fluorouracil ( also known as Efudex, Adrucil, Fluoroplex).
Another nutrient that may have an effect on pancreatic cancer once it occurs is zinc. Supplemental zinc may reduce the risk of skin reactions after pancreatic surgery.
But even then, not everybody needs to take zinc. It's easy to tell if you do. If you put a zinc supplement in your mouth, and it tastes bad, chances are you don't need it. When you are zinc deficient, you become insensitive to the metallic taste of zinc. Do not take more than 60 mg a day, and let your doctor know you are taking the supplement.
Other widely publicized natural therapies aimed directly at treating the pancreatic cancer are more "iffy," and, frankly, I don't have any personal experience with them. There are personal testimonies for life extension due to coffee enema "detox," but the part that gets left out in the natural health news is that the kind of pancreatic cancer being treated was an islet cell carcinoma, not the deadlier adenocarcinoma.
That's what you can do to attack the cancer directly. But there's still more you can do to live as well as you can as long as you can.
The first thing you need to know about avoiding wasting syndromes in pancreatic cancer is, in nutrition, timing is everything.
To rebuild muscle tissue, organ tissue, and immune cells, the body needs carbohydrates and protein at the same time. You shouldn't eat just crackers or just a protein food, eat small quantities of both at the same time.
Also, to avoid tissue loss, the body needs omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil. These fatty acids don't act as directly on cancer cells as omega-6 fatty acids found in GLA supplements. A clinical study involving pancreatic cancer patients have found that getting just about 1 ounce (28 grams--actually the study used 32.2 grams) of protein a day with 2 EPA from fish oil (what you'd get in two capsules) stopped both muscle wasting and loss of fat under the skin. The amount of supplemental protein and omega-3 fatty acids needed to improve quality of life is really quite small.
Finally, there's a case to be made for curcumin. As I note in Could Curcumin Prevent Cancer?, the antioxidant curcumin found in the curry spice turmeric does seem to activate a "cancer watchdog" gene called p53. It's possible, but not proven, that curcumin (and you'd need a supplement, turmeric or curry won't give you enough curcumin to make a difference) might slow down the proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells.
Interestingly, curcumin may cure cancer the same way sodium restriction cured the patients of Dr. Sodi-Pallares. Scientists at the University of Texas at El Paso have found that curcumin "untangles" DNA that may have been distorted in a precancerous cell. And it restores a normal electrostatic charge that helps a cell stay healthy by bringing in all the nutrients it needs.
So to recap, to enhance medically directed therapies against pancreatic cancer:
- Avoid sodium.
- Eat fruit and vegetables every day.
- Take borage, hempseed, and flaxseed oil.
- Consume carbohydrate and protein at the same time.
- Get at least 1 oz (28 grams) of protein every day.
- Get at least 2 grams of EPA every day.
Even if you don't go the alternative route, long-term survival may be possible:
A Poster Boy for Surviving Pancreatic Cancer
You may also be interested in:
"Zapping" Pancreatic Cancer with Radiofrequency Ablation
Tofu and the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer
Curcumin and Soy Isoflavones Against Pancreatic Cancer
Belly Fat, Testosterone, and Pancreatic Cancer
Sleep and Pancreatic Cancer
Probiotics and Pancreatic Cancer
Stopping Pancreatic Inflammation to Stop Pancreatic Cancer
Could Curcumin Cure Pancreatic Cancer?
Chinese Herbal Medicine for Pancreatic Cancer
Vitamin D and the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer
Folic Acid and Pancreatic Cancer
Pancreatic Cancer and L-Arginine Supplementation
Does a Red-Meat Diet Increase Risk of Pancreatic Cancer?
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q. What about flaxseed and pancreatic carcinoma?
A. It won't hurt, and it may help.
Flaxseed, that is, the ground flaxseed you can find in bags at the grocery store (but not the whole flaxseeds you get in products like Uncle Sam Cereal), provides lignans that have a number of possible benefits in other forms of cancer. I have to tell you, though, no one has found that flaxseed itself is any way correlated with pancreatic cancer prevention or remission. That doesn't mean it isn't, just that no one has proven the connection.
The alpha-linolenic acid that is in both flaxseeds and flaxseed oil is better investigated. The National Institute of Health Sciences in Japan has found that alpha-linolenic acid may help prevent the breast, prostate, colon, and pancreatic cancers caused by the food carcinogen 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP). This is a chemical that's formed as a byproduct of cooking red meat, and what it does it essentially to disable the "off" switch that causes cancer cells to go through apoptosis, or "cell suicide" when they detect abnormalities in their DNA.
The Japanese research studied alpha-linolenic acid specifically in perilla oil, not flaxseed oil, although the focus was the alpha-linolenic acid, not its source.
Q. Are there foods that cure pancreatic cancer? Are there healthy foods to eat for pancreatic cancer?
A. There is no single "miracle food" for pancreatic cancer. The important thing seems to be avoiding too much sodium and getting enough potassium. That means strictly staying away from pickles, cured meat, and most canned foods, and getting more fruits and vegetables, fruits preferable. The foods that are highest in potassium while lowest in sodium are:
- Navy beans cooked without salt,
- Longans (fresh, not canned),
- Fresh cherries,
- Sweet corn (no salt),
- Summer squash,
- Fresh plums,
- Kellogg's Puffed Rice,
- Pears, and
- White rice, cooked without salt.
Q. Is there any list of what pancreatic patients should not eat?
A. Generally speaking, high-sodium foods, especially:
- Table salt,
- Baking soda,
- Soup mixes,
- Gravy mixes,
- Pudding mixes,
- Salted cod,
- Fuyu (dried, salted tofu),
- Canned grape leaves,
- Beef jerky,
- Hot sauce,
- Fried pork skins,
- Sun-dried tomatoes,
- Ramen noodles,
- Hamburger helper,
- Instant grits,
- Pickled eggplant,
- Parmesan cheese,
- Pickled olives,
- Polish sausage,
- Processed cheese,
- Low-fat turkey or chicken luncheon meat,
- Snack crackers with cheese, and
- Pickled peppers.
A. Generally speaking, anything bitter is likely to be problematic. That's because bitter foods trigger a reflex that increases stomach acid and accelerates digestion. You have a "dump" of digested protein and fat hitting the small intestine quickly, but your pancreas can't produce lipase fast enough to take care of the fat. The result may be diarrhea, flatulence, burping, and acid reflux--and who needs all that after cancer surgery?
Q. What about homeopathy for pancreatic cancer?
A. It might not be a bad idea, but "homeopathy" is not at all the same as the "homepathic" little pills you get in bottles.
A good homeopath works with a patient to identify life issues that manifest themselves as disease. The process of working through the "junk" that leads to the health issues is at least as healing as anything you get in a pill.
Homeopathic "pills," however, may be helpful in recovery from surgery or radiation. You just don't take the homeopathy instead of the surgery or radiation. They are used with surgery or radiation. If you'd like to see the current medical literature on homeopathy and cancer, see Homeopathy for Cancer, in Current Oncology.