Thursday, October 30, 2008

A quick checklist for cancer prevention

An article appeared in Self October 2008 issue. Here is the excerpt:

Slash your cancer risk in minutes a day
Little lifestyle changes can lower your odds of hearing the dreaded diagnosis. Slip them into your routine and sleep better tonight.
By Aviva Patz
From the October 2008 Issue

Slash your cancer risk in minutes a day
More from this package

Stay weight wise

Excess pounds boost cancer risk, a study in The Lancet shows. Build an exercise habit now to head off trouble: The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends aiming for 30 minutes of activity five days a week. When you hit your 45th birthday, make sure you're also doing 45 minutes of strength training twice weekly to minimize metabolic slowdown. "Beginning in our mid-40s, we lose up to a third of a pound of muscle a year and gain it back as fat, and fat burns fewer calories than muscle," says Miriam Nelson, Ph.D., director of Tufts University John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition in Boston.

Practice peace

Say ahhh! High levels of the stress hormone cortisol may inhibit a key gene from suppressing tumor growth, findings in the journal Genes, Chromosomes & Cancer suggest. Tame tension with this formula from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Healthy Lifestyle Program: 1. Take deep belly breaths. You slow and elongate brain waves, bringing on calm. 2. Watch your favorite comedy. Enjoying a good laugh activates the areas of the brain that govern humor, in turn suppressing the brain's stress regions. 3. Adopt an uplifting mantra. Try "I love my life!" and repeat it when you're happy. You will train your mind to associate the phrase with being content. Then when you're on edge, chant your mantra and you'll immediately feel at ease.

Bake, don't burn

Grilling beef, poultry and fish until it's charred to a crisp can turn amino acids and other substances in the meat into heterocyclic amines (HCAs), compounds that have been linked to cancer. "HCAs are 10 times more potent than most other environmental carcinogens," says Kenneth Turteltaub, Ph.D., a toxicologist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Try these cookin'-good tips!
Marinate meat before grilling. Soaking chicken breasts in a mixture of cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice and spices reduced HCA formation by 92 to 99 percent, notes a study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. "Marinating creates a barrier between the hot surface and meat, enough to lower the temperature and prevent HCAs from forming," Turteltaub says.
Keep the grill temp below 325 degrees, the point at which HCAs begin to form.
Grill meat or fish in punctured aluminum foil to protect against flare-ups. When fat drips on the hot coals, it forms HCAs, plus other carcinogens called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that rise with the smoke.
Microwave beef burgers for one to three minutes before browning; doing so reduces HCA production by 95 percent, according to a study in Food and Chemical Toxicology. Prior to grilling, discard the juices, which contain the building blocks of HCAs.
Flip burgers often—about once a minute. This action keeps meat juices from getting too hot and activating HCA formation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cancer Alternative Medicine(CAM)

I have subscribed to one mailing list, that is cancercaregiversareus is a yahoo mailing group. While reading the list I suddenly had this urge to write this article.

In the mailing group there are real people with real experience with life and cancer. Most people suffer uncannily from the cancer treatment alone. Be that chemotherapy, radiation, monoclonal antibody therapy or anything modern medicine can offer. Some of them incapacitates people for the rest of their lives and the quality of life is suddenly snatched away from them. I was wondering can we not try an alternative approach than going straight to our oncologists who have no idea about nutrition and healthy life style? I have read most of the stories where the doctors prescribe people to have some energy drinks that are available in stores. They have no clue that those drinks are full of preservatives, sugar and other unwanted stuff..

There are numerous examples where people have cured their own cancer by sheer will to survive and taking their treatment to their own hands. One such example is in Oprah show where Randy Pausch and an aspiring model Kris were featured together - both had cancer[ A link here]. Where she is stable with her vegetable juices, Randy passed away with all the great treatments he received. The point I am trying to make here is to create some kind of awareness among people to eat right, change life style to keep cancer at bay. Even those that are not having cancer need to adopt a healthy life style that will give them immunity from cancer.

Here are a few points I would like to suggest people with or without cancer:

1. Avoid Sugar completely.Cancer is known to feed on sugar.
2. Avoid trans fat - instead eat good fat(uncooked olive oil, flax seed oil, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed etc.)
3. If you can grow wheat grass and barley grass at home. Consume at least 1 ounce juice every morning.
4. Eat raw or half cooked vegetable that are highly pigmented.
5. Do regular exercise - atleast 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes.
6. Do yoga to relieve stress - atleast 3 times a week.
7. Try sweating everyday.
8. Try avoiding meat in all forms if possible stop eating dairy and wheat.
9. Drink plenty of water.
10. Avoid drinking, smoking.
11. If you can buy Essiac tea. They are very good for your immunity.
12. Avoid caffeine.
13. NO canned food, No packed food.
14. Resort to freshly cooked meal. Don't have those energy drinks, or drinks that are readily available in stores.
15. Stop eating outside: The food cooked outside have the least food value.
18. Try eating 3-4 colorful fruits a day.
19. Eat wild rice and vegetables regularly.
20. Meditate if you can.

These are surely going to reduce your cancer risks as well as help you get rid of your cancer if you already have it.

I was very happy to know that NIH is now funding CAM(Cancer alternative medicine)

Here is the announcement:


The National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary
and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has added four new Centers of
Excellence for Research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine
(CERCs) to its research centers program. The new centers will add to
knowledge about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches
and their potential in treating and preventing diseases and conditions
that are common among Americans.

In NCCAM's CERC program, highly accomplished researchers across a
variety of disciplines apply cutting-edge technology to projects in CAM.
The new centers and their projects are as follows.

Principal Investigator: Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D.
Institution: University of Wisconsin, Madison
Dr. Davidson's team will examine the impact of two forms of meditation
-- loving-kindness/compassion meditation and mindfulness meditation --
on the brain and body, focusing on the regulation of emotion and on
emotional reactivity. Potential applications in health include
biological and behavioral processes linked with emotions and/or stress,
such as recurrent depression.

Principal Investigator: Frederick M. Hecht, M.D.
Institution: University of California, San Francisco
Dr. Hecht and his colleagues will study a program combining mindfulness
meditation, mindful eating (the practice of awareness and attentiveness
in the present moment while eating), and a diet and exercise program,
for use in obesity and metabolic syndrome. They will test whether this
program helps alter participants' hormonal responses to stress and helps
enhance and maintain weight loss. Metabolic syndrome involves a cluster
of abnormalities--including increased cholesterol, high blood pressure,
and insulin resistance--that increases one's risk for developing
diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Principal Investigator: Mark A. Jutila, Ph.D.
Institution: Montana State University, Bozeman
This center will study biologically based CAM therapies and their
effects on immune system function in infectious and inflammatory
diseases. One project focuses on effects of botanical extracts--from
apple polyphenols, which are concentrated in apple skins, and from
yamoa, which comes from the bark of an African gum tree -- on white
blood cells, using models of infection and inflammation of the
intestinal mucosa. A second project examines two compounds in licorice
root -- glycyrrhizin and 18-glyrrhetinic acid--for their potential
antiviral effects in models of influenza and stomach virus. A third
project will focus on bacterial products to see how they treat
autoimmune diseases, like arthritis, which may also help build
understanding of probiotics' action.

Principal Investigator: Chun-Su Yuan, M.D., Ph.D.
Institution: University of Chicago
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the third leading
cause of cancer-related death. Dr. Yuan and his colleagues will examine
the anti-tumor effects of different preparations of the herbs American
ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) and notoginseng (Panax notoginseng). They
will seek to learn more, through laboratory and animal studies, about
how these herbs act upon cellular and molecular pathways of the
mechanisms of cancer inhibition.

"The new CERCs, all based on strong preliminary work, apply
natural-product and mind-body CAM approaches across a range of health
conditions that affect the American public," said Josephine P. Briggs,
M.D., NCCAM director. "Their multidisciplinary, collaborative structure
increases opportunities for improving health and discovering insights
into important aspects of human biology."

The grants provide five years of support and bring the total number of
CERCs to 11. To learn more about NCCAM's research centers, go to

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's mission
is to explore complementary and alternative medical practices in the
context of rigorous science, train CAM researchers, and disseminate
authoritative information to the public and professionals. For
additional information, call NCCAM's Clearinghouse toll free at
1-888-644-6226, or visit the NCCAM Web site at .

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- The Nation's Medical Research
Agency -- includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal
agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational
medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures
for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit .

CONTACT: NCCAM Press Office, 301-496-7790

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Give your immune system a chance..

I wrote this article for an annual newsletter for a small community of non-scientists. I thought it will be useful to post it on my blog as well. Here is the article.

Give your immune system a chance

If we don’t use a particular instrument for sometime, then it gathers junk. If we don’t use our brain often, then brain cells degenerate. Similarly, if we don’t use our immune system for sometime, then immune system starts corroding. What an amazing fact it is!! Yes, this is true… It is said that “If you take medicine, then cold goes away in just a week and if you don’t, then cold gets away in 7 long days”. The reason I chose to write this article is to introduce our amazing immune system in over simplified terms that we have little or no knowledge about.
Humans are highly evolved organisms belonging to class vertebrata that have a very well defined vertebral column. Almost all life forms have immune system. But this immune system has continuously improved to reach its highest state in jawed vertebrates. Humans are the highest life forms having the most sophisticated immune system. During evolution, immune system has been continuously undergoing modifications to help us fight elimination by natural selection.

Our Immune System:

Our immune system is broadly classified into two groups;
1. Innate immunity 2. Acquired immunity.
Innate Immunity is what we are born with and acquired immunity is what we acquire during our life time against certain types of response. The response could be infection, toxins, our own cells gone bad etc. Innate immunity comes to play as an immediate response to a threat to our body from an external agent – be it bacteria, virus, toxins, proteins etc. When innate immunity realizes that its resources are not adequate enough to fight against the disease causing agent, it passes the responsibility to the more sophisticated acquired immunity. Acquired immunity uses all its inbuilt tricks to fight against the attacker until it wins. Once the battle is won by the acquired immune system, the cells remember that. So, in future if there is an attack from a similar organism then the immune system reacts immediately, effortlessly. That is why we acquire life long immunity against a particular type of disease we already had.
Typically our immune system comprises of fighter cells and fighter molecules. The fighter cells are often known as B cells(Produced by Bone marrow) or T cells(Produced by Thymus) and the fighter molecules or antibodies are produced by these fighter cells. The fighter T cells often roam around within our system through our vascular system (blood/lymph network ) and clean it up when they see any foreign particle floating around. They do this by phagocytosis(Phago -> to eat; cytosis -> cellular process [Fig 1] ). It is interesting how they recognize the foreign elements. They generally have an antenna type of molecule on the top of their cell membranes that act as a sensor. The B cells are the factories that produce the sensor molecules. Through out our life time, our immune system builds its memory to identify good and bad elements. This system is highly efficient in humans and it not only eliminates our attackers but also cleans our own dead cells, cancerous cells and any other cell that has gone wrong by a process called as apoptosis. Typically if there is a new attack on our body, generally the memory forming cells try to look at its existing database and determine if the response is already preserved in cellular memory. If it finds out that it is not listed, then it goes back to its expression system, where it creates new fighter molecules that will be a fitting reply to the attacker.
Genetics of Immunity:
The attackers to our system produce a molecule (usually a protein) called ‘antigen’ and our body’s antidote for that is ‘antibody’. Often antibody binds and incapacitates the antigen and makes it inactive[Fig – 2]. Antibodies are highly specific and can identify millions of different antigens – in other words we are capable of producing millions of specific antibodies. As per the famous one gene one enzyme hypothesis (Beadle and Tatum's 1941 Breakthrough), we should have several million of genes to produce several million of antibodies, but we have in total only 30,000 or so genes in our body, and our immune related genes are not even more than a thousand.In that case how we are capable of producing millions of proteins from just thousand genes?
Structurally antibodies are comprised of 4 polypeptide(=proteins) - 2 heavy chains and 2 light chains. Each of these 4 polypeptides have a variable region and a constant region[fig-3]. The constant region forms the structural unit of the antibody while the variable region forms the functional unit. The variable parts are the ones that make the antibody so specific. Often the variable parts are the products of alternative splicing. So, now what is this ‘alternative splicing’? In order to understand the splicing event, we need to know little bit about the structure of our genes. Our genes have coding(useful) and non-coding(not so useful) regions. The coding parts are called as exons and the non-coding parts are called as introns. In a typical human gene, the exons and introns alternate with each other. Before a gene is expressed all the exons are joined together, that is translated to form a valid protein. In alternative splicing event all the exons don’t join together in the same order or same number. They join in different permutations and combinations. For instance if a gene has 4 exons, then it may join them to form > 4 products[Fig – 4].Here, we can’t speak strictly in mathematical terms because there are a certain sets of rules in splicing, that makes the straight forward calculation very complicated. This procedure of creating a specific product against a antigen can be compared to finding a drug target for a particular disease – only it takes place at a cellular level and it happens very quickly! The moment it finds the molecule that can fight against the attacker, it remembers that and starts producing them at a very higher number. The war takes place and generates heat. That is why often we develop fever against a certain infection. Once the fight is over, the product is remembered in our cellular memory. So, when there is another attack by same organism, we already have immunity against it. This is the same principle how the vaccination works. Vaccines are often the dead bacteria or viruses that cause a disease. Once injected into the body it elicits the immune response and it stays there for the entire life time. So, the individual gets immunity against that disease for the whole life.
Sometimes, the immune system can’t fight that well especially when our immune system is week or under utilized, it generally looses the disease fighting abilities. So, it is essential in that case to have medical intervention. In order to remain healthy we need to exercise our immune system as well and strengthen it.
Immune boosters:
Healthy habits are great immune boosters. The best food for healthy immune system is colorful fruits and vegetables. Apart from food, regular exercise, adequate sleep, drinking enough clean water, vitamins(mostly from natural plant sources – they get absorbed well), reducing stress helps improve our compromised immune system. So, the bottom line here is to increase our cellular memory so that it is capable of identifying a myriad of infectious particles and fight against it without much trouble.
Certain food are know to weaken our immune system are coffee, sugar, soda, alcohol, preserved food(mostly canned food). So to conclude: stay healthy, eat healthy and do regular exercise to minimize doctor visits.

Fig – 1: Phagocytosis

Fig – 2 : Antigen – Antibody binding

Fig – 3 : Structure of a immunoglobulin

Fig – 4 : Gene Structure and alternative splicing

Thursday, October 16, 2008

BMC cancer journals

BMC has a special cancer issue. The link is here

Once you get to the site, you will see a large number of other cancer related journals on the menu bar. They are all free!!

BMC Cancer
BMC Medical Genomics
Breast Cancer Research
Cancer Cell International
Current Oncology Reports
Current Treatment Options in Oncology
Genome Medicine
Head & Neck Oncology
Infectious Agents and Cancer
International Seminars in Surgical Oncology
Journal of Biology
Journal of Carcinogenesis
Journal of Experimental & Clinical Cancer Research
Journal of Hematology & Oncology
Molecular Cancer
Radiation Oncology
World Journal of Surgical Oncology

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cancer alternative treatment

This has been my favorite topic for the last 3 years. Having said that does not mean I completely shun traditional treatment. I strongly believe there is always a non-invasive alternative way to deal with this. I have been looking for research as well as other articles published online on this subject and collected quite a few.

The other day I happened to see Oprah's page on "confronting death". Following is the uplifting excerpt of the show:

In 2003, Kris was a model and aspiring actress. Then she received devastating news—she had a rare form of cancer that was in its most serious stage. Kris immediately set to figuring out what to do about the cancer…and picked up a camera to record the process.

After getting prescribed drastic treatments—including a recommendation for a triple organ transplant—Kris searched for other opinions and explored alternative options like health food and yoga. Her journey was made into the documentary Crazy Sexy Cancer, which aired on TLC, and the book Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. "A lot of people look at me like I have 10 heads when I say it, but cancer's been my guru, it's my teacher," Kris says in the film. "It teaches me every day the hard things and the beautiful things."

Years later, Kris says the tumors on her liver and lungs are completely stable. "I'm happy and, I think, healthier than I was before I was diagnosed," she says.

In her kitchen, Kris whipped up a special health cocktail for Dr. Oz using cucumber, celery, sprouts and kale. "It's green," she says. "Whatever is in the refrigerator that's green, it's in my juice."

"And it tastes good," Dr. Oz says.

Kris says this healthy lifestyle is far removed from her old self. "I did martinis before, now I do green drinks," she says. "I knew when I was diagnosed with cancer the only thing I could control was what I ate, what I drank and what I would think. I thought the best place to start was with what I put in my mouth. It's one of the many reasons I think I feel better."

The biggest change Kris says she made in her fight with cancer was in her mind. "I think that life is just too sweet to be bitter," she says. "Once I was able to change my focus, desperation led to inspiration. Once I was able to do that, I looked around me. I made so many changes and I thought, 'This is an awesome life. I mean, honestly, I don't think anybody has a better life than me.'"

Instead of focusing on cancer and death, Kris says she focuses on staying in the moment of living. "How do you live your life with the knowledge of cancer?" she says "I might not ever be able to get rid of it, but I can't let that ruin my life."
link here