Synergy in cancer prevention

I’ve been doing some writing on lifestyle and cancer risk for work, so naturally I decided to bring my work home with me by watching a UCTV video lecture on “Natural Defenses in Preventing and Treating Cancer.” Yeah, twist my arm.
Dr. David Servan-Schreiber is a physician, neuroscientist…and cancer patient. He quite accidentally found out in the early 1990s that he had brain cancer. After undergoing conventional treatment (surgery, chemo, radiation) twice, he started looking at what he could do boost his body’s natural defenses. (In case you’re not aware, we all have cancer cells. In most of us, however, our body’s defenses manage to identify and destroy these cells before they have a chance to proliferate and cause a problem.)
Not surprisingly, he is now a proponent of integrative medicine, i.e., medicine that combines the best of “conventional” medicine with the best of “alternative” medicine. He’s also the author of “Anticancer: A New Way of Life,” which I am now eagerly awaiting from the library. If you visit the site, you can get a pretty good overview of what he recommends for boosting our bodies natural defenses against cancer, in terms of nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle measures.
If you are at all interested in cancer prevention, I highly encourage you to watch the lecture. It’s just under an hour long, and is quite accessible (i.e., no complex biochemistry or medical lingo). You can click on the YouTube image below, or link to it on the UCTV site here.
One element of his talk that I particularly liked was synergy. In other words, it’s not enough to just eat broccoli OR eat dark chocolate OR drink a glass of red wine OR exercise OR eat healthy fats. While many foods and behaviors have anti-cancer benefits, they work in synergy with each other. He said this is actually similar to conventional drug therapy: whether you’re treating cancer or AIDS or tuberculosis, a combination of drugs (often three) is generally used.
Too often, people latch onto the latest news story about how dark chocolate is good for you or whatnot, and think that if they start chomping away, that they are being healthy. It’s not about a single healthy action, it’s about a healthy lifestyle. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Another thing he mentioned was that sugar feeds cancer. True in a petri dish, true in our bodies. [Update 8/9/14: I now know that this is not precisely true. Cancer does use sugar for fuel, but what is really a problem is having high blood sugar, for two reasons. One, more sugar floating around in the blood means more sugar that can be used by cancer cells. Two, high blood sugar generally goes hand in hand with insulin resistance, and when you are insulin resistant you have more insulin floating around in your blood, and cancer cells have insulin receptors that are often functional even when the insulin receptors on your normal cells are not. Insulin encourages cell growth, which is not something you want with cancer cells!]
He showed this ad. I about hyperventilated when I saw it, so naturally I tracked it down online so I could share my horror:

Turns out this ad, which is ALL OVER the interwebs, is actually a hoax. But I’m still horrified, because I’ve seen similar ads touting sugar as an “essential nutrient” in old, old copies of National Geographic and Life magazines. So even though the ad copy is a bit excessive (which is what made me start wondering if it was a hoax in the first place), it is sadly similar to the truth. In case you can’t read the text, here’s what it says:

For a better start in life start COLA earlier! How Soon Is Too Soon? Not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start drinking soda during that early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and “fitting in” during those awkward pre-teen and teen years. So, do yourself a favor. Do your child a favor. Start them on a strict regimen of sodas and other sugary carbonated beverages right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness. 

– Promotes active lifestyle!
– Boosts personality!
– Gives body essential sugars!

This totally reminded of the Mad TV sketch where the kids are horrified to find out that their mom smoked around them when they were babies, let them play with broken glass, and set them on the dashboard on car trips. “We didn’t know!,” she pleads with them. “We didn’t know!”