Study raises new concerns
about salt and cancer risk
September 25th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
Salt is a staple. We can’t live without it. But if you eat processed or prepackaged foods you’re probably consuming an extraordinary amount of it – more than people in any previous culture have ever eaten.
Americans now consume more than 6.5 million tons of table salt (or sodium chloride if you’re using its chemical name). By contrast, in Roman times salt was so valuable it was used instead of money to pay soldiers. You can bet they didn’t use it as lavishly as we do.
Part of the reason salt is so popular is because it’s essential to our survival. Your body requires between three and eight grams of salt daily in order to perform essential metabolic functions. It’s one of the reasons you might find yourself craving a “salty” fix between meals.
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Salt plus this makes stomach cancer
six times more likely…
The problem is, much as our culture craves it, a large daily intake of salt puts you at high risk for stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer. One recent study found that people who ate between 12 and 15 grams of salt a day had about twice the risk of stomach cancer as those who limited their intake.
In fact, any regular diet of highly salted food just about doubles your risk of stomach cancer, according to research published in the British Journal of Cancer.
Sadly, there’s no shortage of stomach cancer in the modern world. It’s currently the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world. Beside salt, other factors contribute to this risk, such as age and genetic influences. But while those things can’t be altered, the rest of the risk factors can, including smoking, drinking alcohol, and poor diet—namely, salt.
If you’re infected with the bacteria Heliobacter pylori, which commonly causes ulcers, then you’re in for a double-whammy of risk. Research shows that salt together with this infection can dramatically hike your risk of stomach cancer. And it’s a common combination.
In a study published in the journal Infection and Immunity, researchers found that nearly half the population has H. pylori bacteria growing in the mucus lining of their stomachs—yet they have no symptoms. They seem to manage this microbe quite well.
But in certain cases, this type of bacteria wears down the lining of the stomach, leading to peptic ulcers. Folks with H. pylori in their gut are more likely to produce something called cagA, a bacterial oncoprotein (a protein associated with cancer).
And according to the National Cancer Institute, cagA leads to gastric cancer growth, which is why people with H. pylori are six times more likely to develop stomach cancer.
H. pylori infections are most common in areas where children are poor and grow up in crowded living conditions. It follows that the bacteria are more prevalent in developing parts of the world, which correlates with the fact that stomach cancer is also a growing problem in developing nations.
In the United States, stomach cancer is not even one of the ten most common cancers. Fewer than 27,000 Americans are newly diagnosed with the disease each year, and the five-year survival rate is said to be 65% if the cancer is found early (a big “if”). In the world as a whole stomach is the #5 type of cancer.
Easy ways to reduce your risk
The simple answer is to eat less salt. That means curbing the salt you add to your cooking, as well as breaking the habit of salting your food at the table if you’re guilty of that.
If you commonly eat Asian food with ingredients like soy sauce, duck sauce, and oyster sauce, you don’t have to salt your food at all—each of those flavorings brings plenty of sodium to the dish on its own. And keep in mind that certain ready-made meals, such as Chinese dishes and pizzas, will contain just about all of your daily salt allowance in just a single meal.
Other good health behaviors such as not smoking and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables also helps cut the risk of stomach cancer, particularly for men.
The skeptic in me has a few caveats about all this
Having told you about the findings that link salt to stomach cancer, I have a few bones to pick with the concept of a super-low-salt diet. I don’t think it’s healthy or necessary.
There’s no proven link between salt consumption and high blood pressure. Reducing salt in the diet may help lower the blood pressure of about one hypertensive person out of ten. Before I learned of the new findings on salt and stomach cancer, I would have put salt low on the list of foods you need to worry about.
So go ahead and enjoy the three to eight grams a day that are essential to life (and I’d be willing to bet the high end of that range is fine). Just be aware that eight grams is very little, less than a third of an ounce, so don’t go wild. The British study that linked high salt to stomach cancer was based on consuming 12 to 15 grams a day.
I suspect there may be no direct linkage between salt and cancer. Just a theory, but hear me out: What’s more likely is that when it comes to Americans, the people who consume huge amounts of salt are eating a lot of snack foods, a lot of processed and prepared foods, a lot of foods at chain restaurants like Burger King and McDonalds.
Given the fact that the typical diet is a nutritional disaster, why single out salt as the one and only “cause” out of a riot of possible causes? Correlation is not causation. Readers who have taken a statistics course know what I mean.
Because most Americans are underestimating their salt intake, it’s safest to stick with a whole-foods, plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with organic dairy products, poultry, fish, and raw nuts. Be sure to cut out processed foods such as cheese, chips, bread, biscuits, processed meats (like hot dogs, salami, bacon, and ham), and ready-made meals.
Not only will these eating practices help you cut down on your salt levels, you’ll also add a wealth of nutritious, cancer-preventing nutrients to your diet.
If you’re just starting to learn about healthy food, here’s a simple rule of thumb: If the label has more than five ingredients, don’t eat it. The list of ingredients shouldn’t be so long it runs off the page. And another good rule: if “sugar” or “salt” are among the first two or three ingredients on the list, don’t eat it.
The ingredients are listed in descending order, starting with the one that makes up the largest percentage of the item inside the package. For example, you’ll often find that sugar is the first ingredient in a children’s cereal, meaning there’s more sugar than wheat or anything else in the product. In effect, it’s candy.
Don’t Neglect the Cancer-Fighting Benefits of
This Popular Heart Supplement
It’s a distressingly familiar story:
First, a natural substance shows promise as a treatment for cancer. Then a study demonstrates that even though it isn’t clear how it helps the body, this substance enables some people to survive cancers that might otherwise be fatal.
And then almost nothing.
But that doesn’t mean you have to miss the benefits of this discovery.
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No large pharmaceutical corporation or anybody else with deep pockets wants to spend the money to explore CoQ10’s cancer-fighting potential.
Fortunately, the many people who take CoQ10 as a heart supplement are reaping a benefit they didn’t expect and probably don’t know about.
It’s been more than 20 years since research in Denmark showed that women with breast cancer who were expected to die didn’t succumb when they received supplements of CoQ10 along with their other treatments.1
But nobody since then has tried to replicate this study. However, researchers have finally begun again to look into a variety of other ways CoQ10 can be used to fight cancer.
And it’s about time.
Keeps tumors from forming their own blood vessels
One of the first observations, decades ago, about CoQ10 and cancer noted that people with tumors have low blood levels of this natural substance.
Part of the reason that cancer shrinks the body’s CoQ10 supply may be linked to cancer’s large thirst for a blood supply of its own. Regular readers of this newsletter are familiar with this process called angiogenesis. Tumors activate the creation of webs of blood vessels that keep cancer cells supplied with the nutrients they need.
But research in India shows that CoQ10, if it’s available to the body, can limit the ability of tumors to grow the blood supply that allows them to become large and life-threatening.
Without blood vessels to provide them with oxygen and nutrients, tumors would never be able to get much bigger than the size of a pinhead.2 Unless cancer cells can give rise to the blood supply that researchers call “vascular support,” they die off.
Exactly how the growth of these new blood cells is cultivated by cancer is not well-understood, but researchers think it goes through several steps: First the cancer breaks through a “basement” membrane that surrounds the primary tumor.3 Then endothelial cells (the cells that line blood vessels) are somehow summoned into the damaged area where they join together, stabilizing and beginning the formation of new blood vessels.
At some time during this vessel-forming procedure, however, CoQ10 can interrupt the construction of the new vessels and hamper tumor expansion.
The Indian investigators gave breast cancer patients, who were already being treated with the drug tamoxifen, supplements containing 100mg of CoQ10, 10mg of riboflavin and 50 mg of niacin.
In the women taking the supplements, the researchers observed a “significant reduction in pro-angiogenic marker levels” – meaning the tumors were secreting less of the chemicals needed to help them grow blood vessels.
As a result, conclude the researchers, the CoQ10 along with the two B vitamins, might be able to “offer protection from cancer metastases and recurrence.” 4
Fights cancer by reducing inflammation
Despite some current studies, it’s disappointing that more research hasn’t tried to tap into CoQ10’s power as an anti-inflammatory agent. As I’ve reported before, research shows beyond doubt that inflammation is linked to cancer.
Although the inflammation response by the body’s immune system is supposed to beat back infection, and immune cells are supposed to guard against cancer growth, when certain of these cells malfunction, they actually help cancers grow and accelerate their spread.
According to Bevin Engelward, deputy director of the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences: “Chronic inflammation drives a lot of cancers, including pancreatic, esophageal, liver, and colon cancers. There are things that people with chronic inflammation could do to avoid exposures that would be problematic for them.” 5
Keeping your weight down, not smoking, exercising and avoiding processed food — including the items sold at fast food restaurants — are all ways to reduce inflammation in your body.
And taking CoQ10 is another way to reduce inflammation that can set you up to be a cancer victim.
For example, research shows that, in men, CoQ10 supplements can reduce prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels by 33%. PSA is an enzyme secreted by the prostate gland that generally reaches high levels when a man develops prostate cancer.
While the association between PSA level and the risk of prostate cancer is controversial, increases in PSA levels can be a sign of cancer in the prostate gland.
The same study also found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements can reduce PSA levels while excessive levels of omega-6 fats – the type of fat found in most of the highly processed vegetable oils we consume – increase PSA levels.
The scientists conclude that their investigation demonstrates that “Dietary supplements containing n-3 PUFA (omega 3 fats) or CoQ10 may have a protective effect against developing prostate cancer and/or a therapeutic effect in men with prostate cancer.”
Softens the side effects of chemotherapy
Even though there’s good evidence that CoQ10 can be used to fight cancer, much of the medical research now being conducted is looking at how CoQ10 can protect cancer patients from the harmful side effects of cancer drugs. I guess that’s no surprise, since finding ways to help people survive these drugs is an important goal for Big Pharma.
For instance, the drug doxorubicin, a pharmaceutical used in the treatment of breast cancer, can cause heart failure in up to one in five women who take the drug. Tests at Columbia University show CoQ10 can lower this risk.
Along with killing cancer cells, doxorubicin can lead to damage in the heart’s mitochondria, the little organelles the heart muscle needs to generate energy and keep blood pumping. The mitochondria in the heart contain an enzyme that interacts with doxorubicin to form powerful free radicals – destructive caustic substances. When these substances (known as reactive oxidative species) build up in the mitochondria, they tear through the mitochondrial membranes and lead to the death of myocytes – the long tubular cells that make up heart muscle.
The Columbia study confirms that CoQ10 protects heart cells from this type of damage while not interfering with doxorubicin’s attack on cancer cells.
A supplement with multiple benefits
By all means, keep on taking CoQ10 for your cardiovascular system. But as its role as an anti-inflammatory agent and “anti-cancer pill” becomes more well-known, I’m sure people will start taking it for those reasons, too.