“It doesn’t matter what you eat,” says oncologist Karol Sikora, who also writes how he believes “cancer patients are being given false hope by juice cleanses and detoxes.”
Writing for The Hippocratic Post, Professor Sikora warns there’s no “magical diet” for cancer, adding that when it comes to restrictive diets for cancer patients, he is “sceptical but tolerant.”
At this point I think it would be good for me to stress that I too believe there is no magical diet for cancer. However, there is a large body of research that has shown many plant based foods may lower cancer risk and that processed foods and animal products increase risk. This is why I have an issue with Professor Sikora’s article.
He talks about “any diet which restricts calories is a bad idea.”
This kind of reductionist view on nutrition does my head in.
All calories are NOT THE SAME.
For example, which is healthier, 100 calories of donut or 100 calories of broccoli? It is not just the amount of calories being consumed, but the type of calories.
Professor Sikora focuses on the alkaline diet, saying that he is concerned about advice to “cut out all dairy because this is an important source of Vitamin D,” adding that studies “studies that show that Vitamin D can extend cancer survival rates”.
According to the National Health Service (NHS) website, good food sources of Vitamin D are:
- oily fish – such as salmon, sardines and mackerel
- fortified foods (i.e. foods with added Vitamin D)
The NHS also advise that In the UK, cows’ milk is generally NOT a good source of Vitamin D.
We get most of our Vitamin D from sunlight on our skin. The vitamin is made by our body under the skin, in reaction to summer sunlight. As sunlight in the UK is limited for around 6 months of the year, I advise taking a Vitamin D supplement.
Professor Sikora also states that protein is restricted on alkaline diets, saying “you can eat fish and eggs on the alkaline diet, but not red meat. This is also a rich source of iron which is needed for healthy blood production.”
Seriously? Does this professor know so little about nutrition that he thinks you can only get protein and iron from red meat? What about leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans, lentils…
In 2015 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified processed meat as a carcinogen (a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue) and the World Health Organisation advised avoiding all processed meats and eating limited quantities of red meat.
According to a Harvard Medical School study of more than 120,000 people, red meat increases the risk of death from cancer and heart problems. Why on earth would anyone suggest it is a good diet for cancer patients?
Speaking about alkaline diets, Professor Sikora says “Two of my patients, on their own initiative, are using the alkaline diet, which claims to halt the spread of cancer by making the body fluids more alkaline, and they both tell me that it has helped them feel better. But I must say that there is no evidence that it has made any real difference at all.”
In 2013 Television presenter Tim Lovejoy shared that although the alkaline diet couldn’t save his brother from cancer, he was glad that he persuaded him to try it.
“It’s unbelievable, for someone you love to be told they’re not going to live any more,” Tim told the Daily Mail. “It’s the most horrific thing anyone could go through. Disbelief takes over. You sit around for hours asking, are the doctors right? I broke down.”
Within three months, doctors had given up hope for Tim’s brother James, who was just 37.
“The tumour just took over,” says Tim. “After a few treatments of chemo the doctors said there was nothing more they could do. They basically just sent him home to die.”
In the absence of any medical help, Tim discovered there were alternative practitioners all too willing to take on such desperate cases and found a holistic therapist who persuaded James to rid his diet of meat and acidic ingredients in favour of juices and alkaline foods.
“The juices were made from things like broccoli and beetroot – a lot of vegetables. The only things we used to sweeten them with were apples. He couldn’t eat any fried food or anything acidic. He became a vegetarian.”
The rationale for the alkaline diet is that cancer cells thrive in a slightly acidic environment in laboratory conditions, so an alkaline body should be unfriendly to cancer cells.
“I helped him do it, but he made the conscious decision,” Tim says. “And his quality of life was so much better once he went alkaline. I remember quite early on he ate a bacon sandwich and felt really sick after it and said, ‘I’m not doing that again. I don’t feel well.’ The alkaline diet provided easily digestible foods that didn’t upset his stomach and cause greater stress on his internal organs.”
“He was able to live his life,” says Tim. “The great thing about doing the diet is, rather than sitting around waiting for other people to do stuff for you, you’re being proactive. It gave my brother the feeling he had more control,” adding “He wasn’t ready to die. He became very positive, talking about his future and where he was going to travel to next.”
Professor Sikora says there is no evidence that an alkaline diet is beneficial and that “the only way to prove it would be to carry a randomised controlled trial on many different patients – some of whom use the diet and others who don’t.”
Whilst there may not be any scientific evidence, can eating a healthy unprocessed diet really do any harm? Surely it is better to support the body’s natural healing capabilities than to ignore them?
I suspect it is unlikely that we will see a full scientific study anytime soon, but given that vegetable and plant extracts (such as broccoli) continue to be investigated by pharmaceutical companies working on new cancer treatments there must be some benefit to consuming them!
I can’t comment on why Professor Sikora felt compelled to write his article, but let us not forget that he is an oncologist: a doctor who manages a person’s care and treatment once he or she is diagnosed with cancer. It is about treatment rather than prevention and focuses on the use of drugs, surgery and radiation.
Professor Karol Sikora is the founder of Genesis Care (formally Cancer Partners UK) which offers radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy, all ‘under one roof’.
Perhaps dietary and lifestyle advice that helps to lower cancer risk is bad for business?
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