When vegans get cancer (article) - VeggieBoards
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#1 Old 06-09-2012, 06:52 PM
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The only thing that can make me forgive Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees for going over to the dark side (disco) in the late 1970s is the fact that he was a vegan—an “ardent vegan” no less, according to Wikipedia.

Gibb, who was only 62, died last week of colon cancer. It’s unfair when anyone dies of cancer at such a relatively young age, but especially so when they are doing all of the right things—Gibb didn’t drink alcohol either—that should protect against this disease.

I’ve lost three friends to colon cancer. Two were vegetarians who died in their early 50s, and one was a vegan who died in his early 40s. It definitely feels a little surprising when vegans die from this disease, since there is very good evidence that diet affects colon cancer risk. Red and processed meats and excessive alcohol all increase risk while fiber appears to decrease it. The environment of vegetarians’ colons—the types of bacteria that live there, for example—is significantly different in ways that protect against cancer.

One reader of this blog brought to my attention a study linking low vitamin B12 to increased risk for colon cancer. Depending on where Gibb was getting his nutrition information, this might have been a factor, although there is very little research on this.

Alternatively, it’s possible that Gibb’s diet was low in calcium, which might have placed him at increased risk. Calcium regulates cell growth in ways that are thought to lower risk for certain cancers. There is evidence to support a protective effect of dairy foods on colon cancer risk, which is most likely due to the calcium content of these foods. It doesn’t mean that vegans should start drinking milk to reduce their colon cancer risk, but it does mean that it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of this nutrient. (And, aside from the ethical considerations, I’d opt for leafy greens and soyfoods over cow’s milk as calcium sources since they have other cancer-protective effects.)

The bottom line though, is that some vegans—including those who are doing all the right things as far as we know—get cancer. It’s popular to say that a vegan diet will make you “bullet proof” against disease.  And it’s possible that some vegans become complacent because of this. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that removal of polyps through colonoscopy (advised for everyone after the age of 50) could reduce colon cancer risk by as much as 50 percent. Vegans who erroneously believe that their diet guarantees that they won’t get colon cancer might not bother with this exam, thereby increasing their risk.

I have no idea whether any of these considerations affected Robin Gibb. Sometimes despite following every recommendation for reducing cancer risk, people get cancer anyway. It is, after all, a hard disease to pin down. It develops over decades, and there is evidence that it’s what you ate 20 or 30 and 40 years ago that matters the most, not what you are eating now. I doubt that Gibb was a vegan for all of his life (although at least one article said he had been vegan for decades).

Even in late adulthood, of course, diet changes may affect the progression of cancer. Compounds in certain plant foods affect enzymes that allow tumors to spread, for example. So it’s never too late to start eating more healthfully. (That’s especially true for things like heart disease and hypertension which are more sensitive to current dietary habits.)

At any age, we vegans can expect that our compassionate diet has the added advantage of lowering our risk for certain diseases. But, vegan diets are not “miracle” cures or guaranteed prevention and it’s a mistake to ever believe that they are. As always, the only true promise that comes with veganism is that it will remove your contribution to the use and abuse of animals.

 

References cited in this article:

 Zimmer J, Lange B, Frick JS, et al. A vegan or vegetarian diet substantially alters the human colonic faecal microbiota. Eur J Clin Nutr 2011.

 Dahlin AM, Van Guelpen B, Hultdin J, Johansson I, Hallmans G, Palmqvist R. Plasma vitamin B12 concentrations and the risk of colorectal cancer: a nested case-referent study. Int J Cancer 2008;122:2057-61.

 Zauber AG, Winawer SJ, O’Brien MJ, et al. Colonoscopic polypectomy and long-term prevention of colorectal-cancer deaths. N Engl J Med 2012;366:687-9[/quote]

 

 

Posting this because it's something vegans should see and acknowledge, especially those who lean very heavily on promoting veganism as a wonder diet and a cure-all/prevent-all when it comes to disease. A plant based diet by all accounts drastically reduces one's chance of developing the worst degenerative diseases, but anyone can get them and we should not pretend we can't also when speaking of veganism with potential converts.


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#2 Old 06-09-2012, 07:39 PM
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I've thought for a long time that being aggravated all the time greatly increases the chance of getting cancer, which if true, means I'll certainly get cancer. I'm expecting to get it. I even hold on to pants I've had for over 15 years, which are too small for me now, because I assume the day will come when I'll have cancer, and they will fit me again.

 

I know, I'm ****ing nuts. And I'm ok with that ( I guess ? I'm even too ****ing nuts to know for sure)

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#3 Old 06-09-2012, 10:34 PM
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I've never promoted veganism as any miracle diet and I never really related to those that do. Different mind sets, I guess. I live in a small town that use to be a smelter town 50 something years ago. Every single person who grew up during the smelter that I know of (and I've known maybe a dozen) has died of cancer. The optimists and cynics, the health freaks and smokers. They all have died of cancer. I don't expect to be invincible, and I think it is just silly to think that any diet could make you.

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#4 Old 06-10-2012, 01:56 AM
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Good point, and I too never really talk about the health benefits of veganism. I'm not really convinced there's anything to conclude based on studies/etc on vegan diets - certainly most things I have seen have had small sample sizes and seem to contradict one another (or are on cultures very different to westernised culture, with a very different lifestyle).

 

I also think that the big focus on diet/lifestyle on health at the moment (which I understand, considering the norm is an unhealthy diet and lifestyle with little exersise) it's really really easy to over estimate the importance of it. Yes diet and lifestyle have a massive impact on the statistical likleyhood of you getting certain illnesses, but genetics also play a big role, and it shouldn't be a supprise that healthy people also get sick because diet and lifestyle are not the only factors (they're just the only ones we can control).

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#5 Old 06-10-2012, 10:03 AM
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In not really sure how to convince people who promote veganism as a panacea that they ought to stop and be more sensible. I kind of think those people are nuts. They're not exactly likely to listen to reason, seeing as how they've adopted an irrational perspective. I mean, it's not like they just need a little education. They're like the people in vegan cults. I think it's best if we just appreciate the good they do for animals by living this way and just try to focus our own efforts on promoting veganism as a compassionate lifestyle that's generally beneficial to ones health and the environment.
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#6 Old 06-10-2012, 12:55 PM
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Thanks for posting this article.  It was a bit of a wakeup call for me.  I've been avoiding getting my baseline colonoscopy - the one they recommend at 50 - because I've been some sort of vegetarian for the past 15+ years, there's no family history of colon cancer, and I've never had any sort of bowel trouble.  I was planning to wait until I am 55 or even 60.  But maybe I should reconsider....


It is our choices that show what we truly are far more than our abilities. ~A. Dumbledore
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#7 Old 06-10-2012, 01:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Poppy View Post

Thanks for posting this article.  It was a bit of a wakeup call for me.  I've been avoiding getting my baseline colonoscopy - the one they recommend at 50 - because I've been some sort of vegetarian for the past 15+ years, there's no family history of colon cancer, and I've never had any sort of bowel trouble.  I was planning to wait until I am 55 or even 60.  But maybe I should reconsider....

There really is no reason to wait for this important test. Family history would mean you should get a colonoscopy earlier than 50 - the age of 50 is precisely for people without family history. By the time people have bowel symptoms from colon cancer, it is usually very advanced and may be too late for treatment. Sure, a vegetarian diet may be protective, but you have not been vegetarian since birth, and as the article states, a vegetarian diet only reduces your risk, it does not eliminate it. The test itself is not a big deal - with sedation, most people do not even remember it (although you can certainly choose to do it without sedation). The bowel prep is definitely not fun, but it's a small price to pay for a test that is effective both for screening and treatment.
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#8 Old 06-10-2012, 06:20 PM
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Quote:
It develops over decades, and there is evidence that it’s what you ate 20 or 30 and 40 years ago that matters the most, not what you are eating now.

 

Do you recall which source you cited stated the above?  I'd be interested in reading it but would like to avoid sifting through all of them if I can. :)  My oncologist said it takes 10 years to develop.  This is the first time I heard more than 10 yrs.

 

Diet is one factor but there are certainly others.  I don't have a genetic predisposition and got it very young, so the doctors did a risk analysis and believed mine was related to the enormous amounts of secondhand smoke I was exposed to since infancy.  It was my only risk factor.  I was in heavily smoky restaurants for much of my day (family place), lived with a chain smoker and later worked in a building with lots of indoor smoke.  As an entertainer Gibb was probably in the same situation.

 

In any case, yep, veg*nism is not a magic vaccine against all diseases, though it does help.


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#9 Old 06-10-2012, 08:05 PM
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Originally Posted by imagineaa View Post

Do you recall which source you cited stated the above?  I'd be interested in reading it but would like to avoid sifting through all of them if I can. smiley.gif  My oncologist said it takes 10 years to develop.  This is the first time I heard more than 10 yrs..

10 years is generally now long it takes for polyps to become cancerous, which is why you should get colonoscopies every 10 years. However, the effects of diet on future cancer risk probably go back longer than that and might be cumulative -- for example, there is no reason (at least that I am aware of) to think that eating a healthy vegan diet for 15 years erases the effect of 30 or 40 prior years of a low fiber, meat heavy diet.
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#10 Old 06-12-2012, 07:52 PM
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Protective effects are just that; they are not guarantees. We take the steps we hope will flip the odds in our favor, and most of us focus on ailments that run in our own families.

 

It might sound over the top to say "Changing your diet can reverse your heart disease and your Type II diabetes" but it's demonstrably accurate. It's also more involved than just giving up animal products. But diet has not been shown to make it impossible for a cancer to take hold, or to reverse the course of one already present. If a vegan diet could do that, Steve Jobs would still be running Apple. One sad truth is that the longer you live, the more likely you are to come down with some form of cancer. So some people who manage to dodge heart attack and stroke run into some cancer they would have missed if something else had killed them decades earlier. My mother, a lifelong non-smoker, died with lung cancer at 88. Something gets us all eventually, but that doesn't mean its wrong to promote the health benefits of veganism. Frankly, if someone is promoting veganism, skipping over the health benefits seems a wasted opportunity. People aren't idiots, by and large. There's so much territory between "you'll never be sick again" and not mentioning it at all.

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#11 Old 06-12-2012, 10:20 PM
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With my family history, cancer is a very real possibility for me. I used to obsess about it so much that I almost convinced myself a couple times I had cancer that I did not have. I no longer obsess. If it happens and my prognosis is dim, I will leave this world on my own terms. Still, a healthy vegan diet is protective against many cancers, while the SAD is not. And I have no plans to undergo a colonoscopy, ever. :p

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#12 Old 06-12-2012, 10:27 PM
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Originally Posted by imagineaa View Post

 

Do you recall which source you cited stated the above?  I'd be interested in reading it but would like to avoid sifting through all of them if I can. :)  My oncologist said it takes 10 years to develop.  This is the first time I heard more than 10 yrs.

 

Diet is one factor but there are certainly others.  I don't have a genetic predisposition and got it very young, so the doctors did a risk analysis and believed mine was related to the enormous amounts of secondhand smoke I was exposed to since infancy.  It was my only risk factor.  I was in heavily smoky restaurants for much of my day (family place), lived with a chain smoker and later worked in a building with lots of indoor smoke.  As an entertainer Gibb was probably in the same situation.

 

In any case, yep, veg*nism is not a magic vaccine against all diseases, though it does help.

I thought I read that about Christopher Reeve's wife too, a nonsmoker who died of lung cancer. She was constantly exposed to secondhand smoke. I am glad it's been banned from most public places in my state now.  

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