Cancer-causing dietary supplements: what you need to know

basics Oct 12, 2018

After writing last week’s post about diet and cancer, I was a little alarmed at the idea that vitamin and mineral supplements may actually increase cancer risk, and so I decided to dig a little deeper on this issue.

You can listen to the audio version here:

Before I start, let me just say this: it’s complex, it’s not clear-cut, and it’s a bit of a minefield, but here’s what I’ve come up with… 

The current state-of-play

Many cancer patients take one or more supplements every day because they believe them to be “anti-cancer” or “anti-toxicity”, yet they perhaps don’t realise that “anti-toxicity” may be a bad thing because it might actually interfere with their treatment.

In a study involving breast cancer patients [1], nearly half of the patients interviewed were taking multivitamins, a fifth were taking vitamins C, D and Omega-3 oils; 15% were taking vitamin E, B6 and folic acid, and just...

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The good, the bad and the unicorns: diet and cancer

basics Oct 04, 2018

For today’s post, I’ve decided to try something a little different. I’ve recorded an audio version of this blog post (I guess this is technically a podcast then, right?! And there was me saying I’d probably never ever do a podcast…hmmmm).

I wanted to trial this as I think it might make your life a little easier. With the best will in the world, we don’t have time to read lengthy blog posts, and I couldn’t cut this one down any more.

So, ever the scientist, I’ll experiment with recording an audio version for a few weeks or months and I’ll see what the response is like. If it proves popular, then I guess I’ll have to start podcasting in the new year…!

You can access the audio here – download it to your phone and listen on the go:

 

Something I’m always being asked about is diet and cancer. It seems that hardly a day goes by without there being some bold claim in the media about this food...

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Exercise and cancer: what's REALLY going on inside the body?

exercise Sep 27, 2018

In the previous post, I talked about how we human beings have evolved to move. Historically, the more athletic we were, the more likely we would be to survive (you know, outrun a bear, hunt our own food, etc. etc.).

And really this is largely why we find athletic bodies so attractive. Yes, this is driven somewhat by our powerful media obsession with perfect looks, but it goes back thousands of years to ancient Greece and the first Olympics (at least!). In fact, I heard someone tell me once that if you weren’t up to par and didn’t maintain a certain level of fitness, you’d be booted out of Greece and could no longer claim citizenship! I haven’t validated that with research myself, but I did think it was interesting…!

However, although we may not have necessarily been aware of the fact that athleticism = survival, as our bodies adapted and evolved to become more physical, our cells also adapted and that is what I want to focus on today.

Last week I read...

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Born to run: evolved for movement, not inertia

I love a bit of stand-up comedy. Recently I watched an old episode of Live at the Apollo which showcased the Irish comedienne, Aisling (“Ashleen”) Bea. Here she is telling the audience why she can’t do any exercise….

Aisling Bea

I used to have that very same condition. We call it “idleitis”! Now and again it flares up. It’s a terrible thing really…. ;-)

But then about 18 months ago I moved jobs to work at Loughborough University. For those of you unfamiliar with the academic realm, Loughborough is THE place to go for sport in the UK. In fact, at the time of writing, they are extremely proud to be named number one in the world for sport-related subjects.

I, however, am NOT naturally gifted in sports. In fact, when I was 15 I used to play hockey (field hockey, not ice hockey – goodness, no! I’m not that brave!). I played for the school team and I played for a local team.

I LOVED it.

But I sucked at it.

No really, I truly...

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Thriving, not just surviving: choosing to live well with cancer

thriving Sep 01, 2018

What do you do when you’ve been told you have cancer? Have you ever wondered what it feels like? Perhaps you already know? Or perhaps you have experienced it second hand through a family member, friend, or through patients you’ve encountered.

Those three little words – “you’ve got cancer” – can evoke a whole range of emotions, from fear and shock, confusion and anger, to sadness and disappointment. It can be devastating.

My story

Just over 10 years ago, I went for an MRI scan to determine whether or not I had a pituitary tumor (I do, but it’s benign and doesn’t cause me any problems now – something I thank God for!). I still remember the feelings I had when disappearing into the MRI tunnel and the “thunk, thunk, thunk” noise that the machine makes. It was unnerving to say the least! But it was painfully waiting for results that caused me most anxiety.

At that time, I remember receiving a vase of tulips from an...

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In search of the simple: untangling the tangled complexity of cancer

basics Sep 01, 2018

We humans are complex. The more we discover, the more we realize there’s yet more to discover. Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-born American physicist, systems theorist and deep ecologist, said in his 1996 book, The Web of Life (Anchor Books, New York, USA: 1996, pp.4-138):

“The more we study the major problems of our time, the more we come to realize that they cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are interconnected and interdependent.”

Nowhere is this statement more evident than in our pursuit of finding a cure for cancer: a complex web of interconnected and interdependent problems.

 

It’s nearly 50 years since Richard Nixon declared his “war on cancer”, and yes, our understanding of the disease has grown exponentially in that time and survival rates have improved significantly, but we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of the complexities found within an individual tumour,...

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Cancer and dinosaurs (yes, really!)

basics Sep 01, 2018

If you thought cancer was a relatively new disease, you’re not alone – most people assume it’s an affliction of the modern age, but what few people realize is that it’s been around since prehistoric times.

In this short post, we’re going to travel back in time and chart the historic evidence for the existence of cancer since before humans roamed this earth, and key milestones in our understanding of this complex set of diseases.

80 million years ago

The earliest evidence of the existence of cancer comes from dinosaur bone fossils from this period that show possible evidence of containing cancerous cells.

3000 BC

Evidence of cancer was found in the remains of Egyptian mummies dating back to this period.

1600 BC

Cases of human cancer are recorded in Egyptian papyruses, including descriptions of their treatments. This invariably meant cutting out the tumor with a knife or burning them with red-hot irons (remember, they had no anaesthetic at this time!)....

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5 myths about cancer busted (and how our subconscious biases don't help)

basics Sep 01, 2018

The news is full of shock stories and fascinating “facts” about the latest thing that causes or prevents cancer, and sometimes it can be hard to know what to believe. After all, surely these stories are grounded in evidence-based science?

Well…yes and no…

Let me explain…

As a scientist, I adhere to something called “the scientific method” and within that I try to take in all the evidence available to me at the time to make an impartial judgement call on what the experimental data is showing me. However, as a scientist, I’m also human – just like everyone else in the field – and we are not immune to our own subconscious biases. One of the biggest pitfalls any scientist might find themselves unwittingly falling into is something psychologists call “confirmation bias”. That is to say, we humans look for facts and evidence that back up what we want to see.

So, let’s say in my research endeavors I’ve...

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What is cancer?

basics Sep 01, 2018

In 2012, there were over 160,000 cancer-related deaths in the UK. This accounted for over a quarter of all deaths at that time. Globally, a staggering 8 million people die of cancer each year. In 2011, £521 million was spent on cancer research in the UK, yet this deadly disease continues to claim the lives of so many victims. In 2017, an estimated $147.3 billion was spent on cancer care in the US alone, and in future years, costs are projected to grow as the population ages and the prevalence of cancer increases.

So, what exactly is cancer, and why is it so hard to eradicate? Broadly speaking, cancer is a genetic disorder insofar as it is caused by mutations that give cancer cells a survival advantage over normal healthy cells that share the same environment.

Darwinian survival of the fittest

These mutations can be inherited at birth, or can arise over time as a result of the daily insults we expose our bodies to: UV rays from the sun, cigarette smoke, fatty foods, processed...

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