Why I’m not going 100% vegan (and the November cancer research round-up)

Uncategorized Dec 03, 2018

I can’t quite believe we’re entering the last month of 2018. This year has been a whirlwind! Before I get stuck into the November cancer research round-up, I wanted to start by reflecting on the month of November, and specifically, on my experience of going vegetarian.

I am a carnivore through-and-through…or so I thought! But I have to admit, I haven’t really missed meat all that much. In fact, I have really enjoyed cooking with lots of new vegetables that I wouldn’t ordinarily try. My favourite new recipe was vegetable chilli with homemade guacamole – which we put on vegetable tortilla chips with a sprinkling of cheese – it was YUM!


Then for the last week of November, I decided I’d try going vegan…that wasn’t quite so successful! I am a real tea-Jenny, and I like a lot of milk in my tea (when someone asks how I take it, I say, “Add enough milk so it’s the same colour as my skin…in winter!” As a fair-skinned Scot, that’s pretty pale!!) So, I tried soya milk (bleugh!), almond milk (baulk!) and even oat-based milk (not so bleugh, but still not the same…) and after a couple of cups of that on the first morning, I just couldn’t stomach it anymore. So, I switched to black coffee, which I seldom drink. This was on Monday this week and by the end of the day, I had such terrible stomach cramps I couldn’t face drinking any more coffee either! So, on Tuesday, I decided just to revert to ordinary cow’s milk for my tea, and continued with the soya milk on my Weetabix because that wasn’t so bad.

I was also really conscious of consuming more soy products as a consequence of trying to go vegan, but for what reason?! I’m not lactose intolerant, I haven’t got any allergies to dairy or eggs, so what reason, other than eating more plants, did I have for going vegan? And although there isn’t any strong evidence to support the idea that soy might increase breast cancer risk, the logical part of my scientific brain kept saying to me, “Yes, but they’re rich in plant-based oestrogens – do you really want to be putting all that inside your body?!”

My biggest insight from this experience was that I have become much more conscious and self-aware of what I’m consuming, and what my family are consuming too (well, my daughter at least – like I have any control over what hubby eats….!). We definitely saved money on our shopping bill – meat is expensive! And I felt brighter, lighter and more alert – “eat more plants” is my new mantra (courtesy of Alison and Lauren of Wholesome.

So, I bet you’re wondering if I cheated?! Well, yes, but not intentionally…! It was Saturday evening, we’d ordered an Indian takeaway as a treat and I ordered a vegetable bhuna. When it came I said to hubby, “Oh! I thought I’d ordered the one with rice?” and he replied, “No, that’s a biryani – I’ve gone one though so you can have some of mine?” and heaped a couple of spoonfuls on my plate. It was only when I tucked in that I realised it was chicken biryani!

Will I go back to eating meat? Perhaps, but not every day like I had been. Certainly on Christmas day I’ll be having some turkey – I mean, come on! It’s Christmas! But I do think the majority of the time I’m going to choose vegetarian – I feel better for it, so why change? 

November cancer research round-up

Ok, so just quickly then, November’s cancer research round-up. This month there were 15,167 new papers published (from PubMed using the search terms “cancer” and “cancer and exercise”). I’ve had a skim through the first 200 titles for each of the 5 weeks of alerts I received and here’s my favourite four:

Antipsychotics and cancer stem cells

The first paper to catch my eye was one which described the beneficial effects of antipsychotics on cancer stem cell growth. Apparently, users of antipsychotics are less likely to get cancer than Joe public because of the cell-killing properties of this class of drugs on cancer cells. In this particular article, the researchers review the possible ways in which the antipsychotic drug, Pimozide, might block cancer stem cell growth and signalling (Goncalves, et al., 2018). 

Cancer cells can stop mesenchymal stem cells from secreting anti-growth signals

The second paper that intrigued me related to a topic that one of my PhD students is working on – mesenchymal stem cells. These are a specific type of stem cells that originate from the bone marrow or from adipose tissue (fat cells), amongst other sources, and can differentiate (mature) into certain cell types, such as bone cells or muscle cells. They differ from haematopoietic stem cells which mature to become blood and immune cells. Cancer cells have been shown to attract mesenchymal stem cells, which in turn can transform the cancer cells to make them more tumorigenic. In this particular study, the researchers showed that mesenchymal stem cells found in a high-risk myeloma expressed lower levels of a gene called IGFBP2 which is involved in suppressing inappropriate cell growth. In other words, the cancer cells have co-opted the MSCs to help them grow by silencing their normal anti-growth signals (Mehdi et al., 2018).

How do I tell the kids I’ve got cancer?

This third article that caught my eye was actually an essay written by a doctor who had to reflect back on her own training of how to deliver difficult news to her own children, aged 8 and 11, when she was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. What really struck me, though, was her acknowledgment that the standard 5-step system of breaking bad news (find out what they know, warning shot, share information, respond to their feelings, and plan the follow through) was potentially missing a crucial sixth step: hope, hopefulness, the need to share something positive (Thompson Buum, 2018).

Taking ginseng with cisplatin

The final paper I thought was really interesting was looking at the interaction between Ginseng, a herb frequently used in Eastern medicine, and cisplatin, a common chemotherapy drug. Ginseng is often given alongside cisplatin as an adjuvant therapy because it can reduce the toxic effects of cisplatin and even enhance its effectiveness. Many studies have looked at the effects of herbal medicines on the metabolism of drugs, but this study is perhaps the first to look at the effects of a drug on the metabolism of a herbal medicine. The researchers showed that cisplatin reduced the adsorption and metabolism of ginseng, and that this may be due to alterations in the gut microbiome caused by cisplatin (Zhou et al., 2018).

Coming up…

As we move into December and we all turn our attention to the Festive period and all that comes along with that, I’ve got a few posts planned along that theme. I’ve also got some exciting news to share towards the end of the year, so keep your eyes peeled for that!

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