Suggest Cancer Preventive

Cutting calories to fight cancer

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January 5, 1957 | Vol. 71 | No. 1        

Suggest Cancer Preventive

Cancer could be drastically reduced if people were not such gluttons and if increasing income and food supply did not overfeed the average person.

This way to reduce the second most common cause of death is advocated in an authoritative publication of the Nutrition Foundation by Dr. Harold P. Rusch, University of Wisconsin professor of oncology, which is the study of tumor growth, and editor of the journal, Cancer Research.

The difficult part about applying this preventive measure is that people would have to be hungry most of the time, or as Dr. Rusch puts it:

“In the opinion of the writer, there is no doubt that a drastic reduction in the incidence of almost all forms of cancer would be achieved if the caloric intake were reduced sufficiently to decrease the weight of all people to slightly below the accepted optimum.”

Unfortunately, the kind of diet Dr. Rusch prescribes is usually found only in the very poorest regions of the world, or for a short time in other areas right after a war.

The desire to eat is one of the first to be satisfied when more money and more food are at hand, Dr. Rusch reports, and the average person will not give up the joy of eating just to reduce his chances of getting a tumor, especially since it might not happen even if he becomes a glutton.

UPDATE | April 21, 2012

A substitute for cutting calories

Evidence that cutting calories improves health continues to mount. But the biology behind the benefits is largely a mystery.

A dietary plan that leaves you hungry still has its potential perks. Studies in yeast, flies, worms, fish, rodents and monkeys (SN: 8/1/09, p. 9) continue to suggest that restricting food intake helps fend off a host of aging-related diseases.

Whether erasing ailments like cancer, diabetes and dementia would extend the maximum life span in otherwise healthy humans remains unclear. But it’s not surprising that large swaths of people aren’t eager to sign up for calorie-cutting experiments.

In the last few decades, scientists have set their sights on getting around what could be called the “love-of-food hurdle.” Can you get the benefits of calorie restriction without actually restricting calories?

A substance found in grapes and red wine, called resveratrol, has shown some promise. Resveratrol acts on sirtuins, the same age-fighting molecules thought to get a boost when food intake drops. A 2008 study showed that mice treated with resveratrol had better bone health, improved coordination, lower cholesterol and better heart function. But resveratrol didn’t appear to fight cancer — what the lab mice in the study typically died of — the way a low-calorie diet did (SN: 8/2/08, p. 14).

Resveratrol results have become somewhat controversial recently. In the Feb. 3 Cell, researchers report that res-veratrol does not activate sirtuin 1 directly. And a study published last year in Nature questioned whether the increased levels of sirtuins were really responsible for extending life in worms and flies, anyway. Other potential age-defying pills have faced similar scuffles.

There’s a long way to go in unraveling the puzzle of aging. For now, the fountain of youth remains elusive. —Elizabeth Quill

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