Anti cancer, a new way of life, by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD

I have a never-ending list of books to read. My book club is helping me get through part of this list (I have written about amazing book club evenings in the past); then there are the books I read in between book clubs. On Tuesday, heading back from Las Vegas after Cosmoprof, I decided to start a book that my mother recommended to me at Christmas. Anti Cancer, A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD. The byline is “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies; but not all of us will develop cancer.”

This book has been on the New York times best-seller list, you may have heard about it; I am hoping many of you have read it; and I would suggest that all of you who have not read it do so. I am only half way through it, and already this book has changed my habits. Indeed, after landing in DC at 11 pm on Tuesday evening, I was at the Social Safeway at 6:30 am on Wednesday purchasing flax seed, green tea, frozen edamame, and produce (I must admit that 5 days in Vegas may have increased the sense of urgency I felt to “detox”).

Context: Servan-Schreiber is a French doctor working in Pittsburgh on brain imaging, when he discovers he has a brain tumor. Throughout his personal journey with this disease, he goes through chemotherapy, radiation, surgeries, and he researches complementary therapies that help his body heal better and faster, therapies having to do with lifestyle (therapies to implement in addition to, not instead of, Western medicine). I am in the middle of the chapter on food, and am utterly fascinated. The following three points summarize the power of food (and drink) in creating an environment that makes it easier or harder for cancer cells to proliferate (direct quote from the book, page 120):

  1. Some foods are cancer “promoters” and feed into the mechanisms that fuel cancer growth.
  2. Other foods are “antipromoters.” They block the mechanisms necessary for cancer growth or force cancer cells to die.
  3. Food acts every day, three times a day. It thus has a considerable influence on the biological mechanisms that speed up or slow down cancer growth.

Here are the most powerful take-home messages I have either been reminded of (sometimes I think I am hearing my mom speak when I read Servan-Schreiber’s words), or learned, and how I have implemented them in my life in just one week.

  1. Cancer feeds on sugar. When we eat foods with a high glycemic index (sugar, white flour), blood levels of glucose increase. To deal with this increase, our bodies release a dose of insulin to enable the glucose to enter the cells. With the secretion of insulin comes the release of the IGF molecule (insulinlike growth factor), whose role is to stimulate cell growth. Both insulin and IGF increase inflammation, which stimulates cell growth and acts as a fertilizer for tumors. Conclusion: avoid sugar! This may be a challenge as data indicates that today in the Western world a person consumes about 150 pounds of sugar (data from 2000). Avoid sugar (white or brown), honey, syrups (including maple), white bread, bleached flours, white rice, overcooked white pasta, muffins, bagels, croissants, puffed rice cakes, potatoes (especially mashed potatoes), cornflakes, Rice Krispies, most other breakfast cereal, jams and jellies, sweetened drinks, sodas, and of course alcohol (except red wine during meals). While I will continue to enjoy my wine, both white and red, I will work to replace all of these sugar-heavy foods with: natural sweeteners, mixed whole-grain cereals, multigrain bread, Basmati or Thai rice, multigrain pasta cooked al dente, lentils peas, beans, sweet potatoes, yams, oatmeal, muesli, All-Bran, Special K, fruits in their natural state, water flavored with lemon, green tea.
  2. The imbalance between Omega-3s and Omega-6s is something to be concerned about. In the United States, the mass of fatty tissue in children under one has doubled between 1970 and 1990. It is hard to blame this on lifestyle, fast-food, and children being couch potatoes. Infants are not being overfed; rather, this trend is due to the change in the character of milk since 1950, a change that has to do with a decrease in the presence of Omega-3s and an increase in the presence of Omega6s. A change that acts both on the growth of fatty tissue and of cancer cells. In the natural course of life, cows give birth in spring, when the grass is greenest, and then produce milk for several months until summer’s end. Spring grass is particularly rich in Omega-3s, which then are naturally present in milk, beef, and milk derivatives such as cheese, butter, yogurt, and cream. Starting in the 1950s, the demand for milk so increased that this natural cycle had to be sped up. Instead of being fed grass, cows started being fed corn, soy and wheat, which contain practically no Omega-3s.  On the contrary, these foods are rich in Omega-6s. Omega-3s help regulate inflammation, fluidize blood, and regulate cell growth (all characteristics that create an environment in which cancer cells have a harder time developing). On the contrary, Omega-6s create inflammation, promote blood coagulation, and stimulate cell growth, creating an environment in which cancer cells can thrive more easily. Conclusion: look for grass fed beef and chickens, and add linseed (aka flaxseed) to your diet. I have been putting mine in yogurt, which gives it some crunch and a delicious nutty taste.
  3. Green tea acts like medication. Green tea contains various polyphenols called catechins, one of which is called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). EGCG is one of the most powerful nutritional molecules against the formation of new blood vessels by cancerous cells, and is destroyed during the fermentation process required to make black tea. However, it is intact in green tea. This molecule helps to block tissue invasion and angiogenesis, two processes that fuel the growth of cancer cells. Green tea also acts as a detoxifier for the body, by activating a mechanism in the lover that can then eliminate cancerous toxins more rapidly. How much green tea to drink, you may ask? Studies have shown that 3 to 5 cups of green tea per day have a significant effect on inhibiting the progression of both breast and prostate cancer. Conclusion: on Wednesday morning, I bought three brands of green tea, my favorite so far being  Yogi Green Tea Super Antioxidant. I am not at 5 cups per day, but I am getting there.

What additional wisdom does this book hold? I am only half-way through… On that note, let me go read…

Antioxidants for anti-aging

At Alchimie Forever, we believe phyto-antioxidants are the most powerful way to prevent and repair signs of skin aging. Indeed, antioxidants are not new to beauty and skin care industries and have been on everyone’s lips over the last few years, touted to be the latest “miracle in a jar.” But what exactly are antioxidants? What do they do? How do they work? And which ones should you use?

To understand antioxidants we must understand oxidants

Oxygen, essential to life, is metabolized in the body by successive reductions, leading to superoxide anion (O2.), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and hydroxyl radical (.OH) generation. These different molecules are named reactive oxygen species (ROS), or oxidants; some are free radicals (defined by the presence of an unpaired electron), whereas others are non radical (such as H2O2, singlet oxygen 1O2).

Oxidants, when present in significant quantities, lead to oxidative stress which in turns damages cellular structures.

Exposure of the skin to UV is the main cause of oxidative stress: UV exposure induces the production of high quantities of oxidants, which damage DNA, lipids, membranes, intracellular and extracellular proteins, and sugars. Oxidants have both immediate and long lasting deleterious effects to the skin, including the appearance of actinic keratoses,  a  citrin coloration of the skin (lipid peroxidation), a loss of collagen and elastin (protein alterations), and finally skin cancer (DNA alterations).

Antioxidants: a way to fight oxidants

Antioxidants, as their name indicates, are the opposite of oxidants. What oxidants break, antioxidants can repair.

Endogenous antioxidants

The first key distinction in the family of antioxidants is whether they are endogenous (those produced by the human body) of exogenous (those not produced by the human body). Indeed, human cells are equipped with a series of endogenous antioxidants to deal with the damages caused by oxidants. Such endogenous antioxidants include the following enzymes: superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and thioredoxine reductase. As we age, these endogenous antioxidants are gradually depleted over time; this consumption is accelerated by an increased production of oxidants. Hence the importance of exogenous antioxidants.

Exogenous antioxidants

          Synthetic antioxidants: the case of Idebenone

Idebenone is one of the better known synthetic antioxidants. It is an organic compound of the quinone family and promoted commercially as a synthetic analog of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Idebenone’s antioxidant role involves both the scavenging of oxidants as well as a preventative role in lipid peroxidation. It seems idebenone’s antioxidant properties function by virtue of the electron-donating properties of the hydroquinone form.

Idebenone is present in skin care products from brands such as Prevage (owned by Allergan) and True (which licenses idebenone from Allergan).

          Phytoantioxidants

The alternative to synthetic antioxidants are natural antioxidants, namely those derived from plants. Plants, like human beings, suffer from UV-generated oxidative stress – they live in the sun after all! Plants are, however, unable to protect themselves by moving into the shade or by using sunscreen. Consequently, plants have developed effective antioxidant strategies to protect themselves against the oxidizing stress induced by their environment, in particular UV exposure.

Phytoantioxidants fall into four main groups, namely enzymes, terpens, polyphenols, and vitamins. Some of the best known, and most studied phytoantioxidants are carotenoids (a terpen), and flavonoids and anthocyanins (polyphenols).

Green tea

Green tea contains four major flavonoids: epicatechin, epicatechin-gallate, epigallocatechin, epigallocatechin-3-gallate. These molecules have the ability to scavenge oxidants including O2.-, .OH, H2O2 and 1O2. It has been shown that epigallocatechin applied topically with exposure to UVB inhibits the production of H2O2 in the dermis and epidermis. Numerous skin care brands use green tea, including Elizabeth Arden and Replenix.

Rosemary

Rosemary contains various antioxidants, in particular phenolic diterpens: carnosol and carnosic acid represent over 90% of the antioxidant properties of rosemary extract. These lipophilic molecules scavenge lipid free radicals, thereby enabling the reduction of lipid peroxidation and inhibiting oxidative damages to skin surface lipids. Carnosic acid also has photoprotective potential. Alchimie Forever and Clarins are two brands that use rosemary in their skin care products.

Grape seeds

Grape seeds are major sources of resveratrol and quercetin. The stilben resveratrol inhibits lipid peroxidation induced by UVB and significantly decreases UVB-induced skin thickness and oedema. The iron chelator flavonoid quercetin maintains and protects the activities of glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase after exposure to UV radiation. Caudalie is an example of a skin care brand using grape seeds (and grapes) as its signature ingredient.

Tomato

Tomato is rich in lycopene, a widely studied powerful antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic carotenoid with strong reducing ability and the most effective carotenoid in the scavenging of the oxidant 1O2. Lycopene also scavenges lipid radicals, reduces lipid peroxidation and prevents erythema caused by UV radiation on the skin. Kiehl’s and Alchimie Forever both use tomato extract in their products.

Antioxidants represent a key therapeutic approach to preventing skin aging. More specifically, research indicates that the combination of multiple antioxidants at low concentrations represents the most effective approach. Indeed, different antioxidants (whether synthetic or natural) have difference mechanisms of action and target different parts of the cell, thus offering synergies when combined. In the world of antioxidants, 1 + 1 is not 2 but rather 5. As such, the more antioxidant products you use, the better off your skin will be!