Calorie Restriction and Cancer

Cancer is one of the diseases that most people fear. Cancer doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it grows silently over a period of years before it becomes detectable and causes symptoms, but by then it is sometimes too late. Calorie restriction is one of the most effective ways to prevent cancer, and later in this article, I will discuss why.

There are also many different forms of cancer, and each has to be handled in different ways. The most common way to treat cancer up until recently was chemotherapy and radiation, but in the last few years, we’ve seen a revolution in cancer treatment with more targeted therapies that leave the patient with much fewer side effects because the treatments specifically target cancer only.

Ideally, though, we want to avoid cancer in the first place and not have to go through the mental anguish and trauma that a diagnosis like this can have. So firstly, let’s go over the main risk factors for cancer.

What are the risk factors for Cancer?

  1. Age
  2. Smoking
  3. Alcohol
  4. Being overweight
  5. The sun
  6. Radiation
  7. Viruses and bacteria
  8. Hormones (IGF-1, Testosterone, and Estrogen can accelerate the proliferation of cancer cells)
  9. Toxic chemicals
  10. Genetic defects / mutations

Cancer can grow in your body for decades!

Some types of cancer can grow in your body for decades before they are ever discovered. Prostate cancer, for example, is present in almost all men by a certain age, but it is so slow-growing that it’s more likely that another disease will kill the person before cancer becomes lethal. Panctreatic cancer – which is one of the deadliest – is not usually discovered before it’s already at an advanced stage and too late for 95% of people with the treatments we have today. What may surprise you is that pancreatic cancer grows over a period of about 20 years. So it’s like other diseases in that what you do when you are young can impact your life years down the line.

 Modifiable Risk Factors

Age: One of the biggest risks of cancer is aging. When you age you develop more mutations and your repair mechanisms in the cell will not do as good of a job in repairing the DNA, leading to an uncontrolled division of the cells. The immune system will also fail in recognizing the cancer cells and they will be left to grow and not be tagged for destruction. See the graph below which illustrates the risk in cancer incidence with age for Males and Females.

cancer rates
Source: 1. Office for National Statistics. Cancer Statistics: Registrations Series MB1. 2. Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit. 3. Information Services Division Scotland. Cancer Information Programme. 4. N. Ireland Cancer Registry.


Although cancer rates increase with age, we can change our likelihood of getting the disease by changing our lifestyle. What we eat, drink, and do, will impact how our body functions. Chronological age and just the passage of time might make it seem like it’s inevitable that a mutation will eventually occur that leads to cancer, but that’s not always the case. Many centenarians and supercentenarians who live beyond 110 have avoided cancer because their body was able to resist these kinds of mutations from getting out of control. If we fundamentally slow down the aging process, then we push back cancer as well.

Smoking: It’s one of the most harmful things you can do to your body. Tobacco contains many carcinogens that cause mutations to genes and speed up the rate of cancer growth. It also suppresses the immune system, causes inflammation, and speeds up the aging process. Lung cancer is one of the most common diseases in middle age and old age, and these are mostly caused by smoking. A person that smokes is 20 times more likely to die from lung cancer than someone who doesn’t. Even second-hand smoke is dangerous, so you must avoid it if you can.

Alcohol: Drinking a lot can cause damage and scarring to the liver which leads to a greater risk of liver cancer. Alcohol (ethanol) gets converted to acetaldehyde and this stops our cells from repairing damage to the DNA, and can lead to cancer. Alcohol also raises levels of Estrogen and decreases absorption of Folate which is used to help repair DNA.

Overweight: Being overweight by consuming an excess amount of calories causes the body to be in a state of growth; a state of fast cell proliferation. Being overweight also induces low-grade chronic inflammation which damages cells and drives cancer growth.

Calorie restriction lowers the risk of cancer by up-regulating DNA repair, lowering oxidative stress and DNA damage. It lowers the levels of IGF-1, mTOR, Testosterone, and Estrogen, which all play a role in cancer. Calorie restrictions boost autophagy – a process by which damaged organelles are destroyed and replaced. Calorie restriction improves the environment where cells do their work and thus they can function in a more optimal state. Calorie restriction lowers blood sugar and insulin, two of the main drivers fuelling cancer growth. Also, antioxidant enzymes such as glutathione, catalase, and superoxide dismutase are all increased.

Okinawans practice a mild form of calorie restriction and experience the lowest rates of cancer in the world – especially for breast and prostate cancer. In some places in Okinawa, the disease is almost unheard of! Yet in the west, it is one of the most common cancers to afflict men and women. They maintain a low BMI most of their lives and are free of disease.

In rodents, calorie restriction can reduce the rate of cancer by half or more. One example of this is where researchers took mice that have a mutation are susceptible to breast cancer, and then they reduced their calories. The result: Cancer incidence dropped from 60% to just 0 – 5%.

In Rhesus monkeys on calorie restriction, it has been shown that calorie restriction had eliminated cancer when the monkeys were put on the diet from an early age (NIH study). The study is still ongoing, but the effect on cancer was so dramatic, the authors mentioned it in their last update on the 30-year study.

The Sun: UV rays can cause two types of cancer: Melanoma and Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC). The former cancer is the worst and is thought to be caused by regular tanning and sunburn. It’s one of the deadliest cancers, but almost completely avoidable by protecting your skin. Also, the sun will really age your skin too! So make sure you use sun protection and get your vitamin D from supplements if you need to.

Radiation: There are different types of radiation and it causes double-strand breaks in the DNA and the DNA repair mechanisms are unable to properly reconstruct the DNA and repair it properly. As the DNA is instructions to create proteins in the body, any mutations that occur in critical genes to sustaining life will ultimately be very harmful and deadly.

Viruses and Bacteria: One of the most common stomach cancers is caused by a bacteria known as H.pylori. A lot of people carry this bug and sometimes there are no symptoms, but it can survive in stomach acid and cause inflammation and damage to DNA. Another virus that affects women is cervical cancer and this can be protected by using the vaccine that is available to protect against HPV.

Hormones: IGF-1 is required by the body and is mainly responsible for normal cell proliferation. When we produce too much of it though, we can get into a state where the cell is proliferating in a hyper-state and this increase the risk of DNA mutations and cancer. In animals that have mutations to the IGF-1 receptor, they are immune to cancer. The same goes for people with Laron syndrome! They have almost no detectable IGF-1 and not one person with the disease has ever died of cancer. So lowering IGF-1 to about 150 (the lower end of the reference range) is a sensible thing to do. In animals, lower IGF-1 is thought to be partly responsible for the longevity advantage from calorie restriction.

Testosterone is an anabolic hormone and required for significant muscle growth. Unfortunately, it also increases mTOR and this may have a role in cancer. Testosterone is also largely responsible for prostate cancer which is hormone-dependent. Calorie restriction can lower testosterone in people that practice it, but still, maintain high enough levels to feel energetic and not have any issues.

Estrogen is responsible for breast cancer in women and is lowered by calorie restriction. Calorie restriction might be one of the most effective ways to prevent breast cancer. For a woman, it is important that she eat healthy from a young age.

Toxic chemicals: These can be found in foods, sweeteners and are typically labeled on the back of products with names that you can’t even pronounce. There is some debate over whether not food additives cause cancer, but in some cases like exposure BPA from plastics can cause cancer. Since nature gives us all the sweetness we need, why not sweeten up things naturally? And store products safely… Or simply eat fresh!

Genetic Mutations: I would highly recommend someone get a 23andMe test to look at your genetic profile to see how much at risk you are. And then if needed, get it confirmed by a doctor. Genes that have the strongest evidence for raising the risk of cancer hugely are  BRCA1 and BRCA2. Lifestyle choices might lower the odds of developing cancer, but mutations in these genes are serious enough to warrant close attention.

Foods and Drink to Fight Cancer

Cruciferous vegetables: Fresh Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Kale, Cabbage, Cauliflower

Garlic: Prevents cancer in its first stages, but not very effective after that. (see other benefits of garlic)

Brazil Nuts: Contains a mineral called selenium which is important for the immune system!

Mushrooms: White button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms great for boosting immunity because they have beta glucans (AHCC).

Green Tea: Tea is highly beneficial in the prevention of cancer. Choose Matcha green tea because it’s better quality and contains a higher level of EGCG which is the main active component in tea that fights cancer.

Supplements to Fight Cancer

Vitamin D3 – Important for the innate and adaptive immune system. In the winter months when our vitamin D levels are low, the white blood cells are slow to respond to abnormal cells; but when the summer comes along, and we get enough vitamin D, the white cells can more easily deal with cancer cells. In one randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial, they gave vitamin D and showed that after 5 years, the people that received the vitamin D3 had a 77% reduction in colon cancer. Find the best vitamin D supplements.

Beta Glucan: It’s found in oats and also mushrooms. It is a powerful immune system enhancer and can also balance out the innate and adaptive immune system and make them function better. I highly recommend taking this supplement. Taking it during the winter months might also help you ward off any viruses.

Green Tea: Look for a supplement that contains both a little bit of caffeine and EGCG as they work together better. Green tea must also be taken away from any milk products because they contain casein which binds to the catechins in green tea or supplement and makes it less effective.

Garlic: Take a garlic supplement. Make sure it is the right product though and contains something called Allisure (stabilized allicin).

What if you have already got cancer or know someone who has?

All the advice above still applies in this case. If being treated, you must make sure by consulting with a doctor to see whether or not the supplements interfere with the treatment. For immune system enhancers like Beta Glucan and Vitamin D3, there should not be any contraindications and could boost survival as shown in clinical trials.

Fasting might also be beneficial too, see the post HERE