‘All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all us will develop cancer.’

David Servan-Schreiber, is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. After undergoing chemotherapy and surgery for brain cancer he researched scientific data, in search of natural defences against cancer.

Dr Servan-Schreiber makes clear that he is not anti-medicine. The approaches he suggests are intended to complement conventional medicine, not replace it.

In anti-cancer he presents some current medical research thinking about the immune system, inflammation and angiogenesis as they relate to cancer and then considers foods, spices and herbs that may reduce angiogenesis and inflammation – as well as the potential importance of meditation and yoga in countering stress, which can both increase inflammation and block the body’s own NK cells (a specific type of white blood cell which attack and ‘kill’ different types of cancer cells)’

He also describes readily available sources of substances that inhibit NF-kappaB, a key substance secreted by cancer cells, which helps cancer grow and spread. One piece of good news is that green tea and red wine appear to help inhibit NF-kappaB.    

Overall anti-cancer suggests the value of a good diet (eg a Mediterranean diet; avoiding refined sugar and flour; and also avoiding trans fats and animal fats); physical exercise; stress management; and the support of family and friends.

As explained elsewhere on www.agewatch.org.uk research findings should be treated as having an escalating level of robustness eg experiments on cells in culture in the laboratory or on mice may suggest a possible way forward, as may epidemiological studies, but large scale ‘double blind’ studies of people are most convincing. Much of the research Dr Servan- Schreiber quotes relates to cells in culture, to mice, to anecdotal accounts of specific individuals, to small scale studies with people or to epidemiological studies. As such what he suggests may work but it is probably too soon to see the approaches he suggests as a panacea.

At the same time, the approaches suggested are unlikely to hinder. As the author says at one stage, ‘What’s to prevent us from eating better during chemotherapy or afterwards?’ It is also not surprising to see few large scale ‘double blind’ studies on natural foods and exercise, as these offer little potential income for pharmaceutical companies.

Anti-cancer, a new way of life – Dr David Servan-Schreiber (Penguin 2008 ISBN 978–0–718–15429 –5)

Published 15/01/2011