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Frequently Asked Questions

 


What are the pros and cons of juicing to help get rid of my cancer? Everyone seems to be doing it.

Juicing has become popular in recent years probably due to the fact that it makes for an additional way to get more fruits and vegetables in one’s diet. Juicing as prevention and a treatment for cancer has also gained popularity. However, when looking at the pros and cons of juicing, I would recommend caution when evaluating some of the claims you may see about cancer cures, many of which are unsubstantiated (1).

The current trend in juicing is actually inspired by an older diet known as the Gerson Diet. A German physician Max Gerson developed this diet, which is one of the many anti-cancer diets promoted to cancer patients. The Gerson Diet requires patients to eat a mainly raw vegetarian diet and to consume freshly prepared vegetable and fruit juices every hour. This diet consists of several other key elements and is more extreme than most juicing plans, but it is the inspiration for many of those on the market today (2).

Many of the proponents of juicing claim that raw foods are superior to cooked or processed foods because they contain active enzymes (2). In addition, an article on livingfoods.com (3) claims juicing removes indigestible fiber from fruits and vegetables and allows more of the cancer-fighting phytochemicals found in plants to be assimilated into the body.

Opinions on the possible benefits from consuming the enzymes from raw foods are polarized. According to Stephen Barrett, MD (4), “the enzymes in plants help regulate the metabolic function of plants. When ingested, they do not act as enzymes within the human body.” In contrast, Gabriel Cousens, MD (5) believes raw food enzymes do have beneficial health results and summarizes his interpretation of available research. However, no research cited on that web site is specific to cancer treatment benefits.

Phytochemicals are the subject of much research due to potential anti-cancer properties they possess. McEligot and colleagues (6) show evidence that including 16 ounces. of vegetable juice in a daily diet can increase the concentration of cancer-fighting phytochemicals in the body. Their research looked at blood concentrations of the phytochemicals alpha-carotene and lutein in female breast cancer patients, demonstrating higher levels in the women who consumed the vegetable juice compared to those who consumed only the raw and cooked vegetables.

Pierce et al (7) are conducting a large study in non-metastatic breast cancer patients in which dietary changes are being evaluated for their possible role in reducing risk of cancer recurrence. The Women Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) Study does include 16 ounces of vegetable juice each day. However, it is important to note that the consumption of vegetable juice is simply one component of a very healthy diet designed to optimize the intake of many foods that may be beneficial in treating cancer.

I would raise one caution with regard to juicing. Juices made predominantly from fruits, and some vegetables such as carrots, are higher in sugars than juices made mostly from vegetables. When blood sugar rises, insulin levels rise along with other insulin-like growth factors. Considerable research is currently evaluating the role that insulin and insulin-like growth factors play in causing, promoting, and affecting the outcome of a cancer diagnosis.

One research group has found an association between higher consumption of sweet foods and increased breast cancer risk (8). Fruit juices made by discarding the peeling and pulp have a more rapid absorption of the sugar, which will increase the body's insulin response. I suggest limiting the potential added risk associated with a consistent high sugar intake by either of these recommendations:

1. Avoid regular consumption of clear fruit juices or,
2. Use a type of juicer that leaves the pulp and peel in the juice as increased fiber content slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

On this website you can find several soy shake recipes that contain three servings of fruits and vegetables and use many whole foods, thus retaining the entire fiber, nutrients, and phytochemicals.

Science continues to support the relationship between eating more fruits and vegetables and a reduced risk for cancer in addition to reducing the risk for heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and other chronic diseases (1, 9, 10, 11). Though unsubstantiated as an effective isolated treatment for cancer, juicing may act as an adjunct to conventional cancer treatment by providing an easier way for some patients to consume vegetables and fruits, which are a valuable component of a balanced diet.

Juicing does provide an additional way to increase the number of fruit and vegetable servings one gets in a day. If you leave the pulp in the juice you still get the fiber as well. It can add variety to your diet and may make some vegetables and fruits that you don’t particularly like more palatable. Some of the common side effects that occur during cancer treatment, such as a sore or dry mouth, altered sense of taste and smell, lack of appetite, and nausea can all make it difficult to eat some solid foods, while foods that have been juiced may be tolerated easier.

Just remember that juicing is only one aspect of an optimal approach for both preventing and treating cancer. I strongly urge every cancer patient to proactively seek the professional expertise of the Registered Dietitian at their cancer center, clinic, or oncologist's office for a individualized nutritional assessment plus diet and lifestyle plan in order to optimize your comprehensive cancer care.

References:

  1. Weitzman S. Alternative Nutritional Cancer Therapies. Int J Cancer; 1998: Supplement 11: 69-72.
  2. Kordich J. The Juiceman’s Power of Juicing. New York, NY: William Morrow, 1992.
  3. Living and Raw Foods. The Benefits of Juicing. 1998. Available: http://www.living-foods.com/articles/benefits.html. Accessed February 28, 2003.
  4. Barrett S. Juicing. 1999. Available: http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/juicing.html Accessed February 28, 2003.
  5. NewFrontier.com - A Healthy Perspective of Sprouts - Gabriel Cousens, MD Available: http://www.newfrontier.com/asheville/sprouts.htm. Accessed February 28, 2003.
  6. McEligot A, Rock C, Shanks T, Flatt S, Newman V, Faerber S, Pierce J. Comparison of serum carotenoid responses between women consuming vegetable juice and women consuming raw or cooked vegetables. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers, and Prevention 8(3); 1999: 227-231.
  7. Pierce JP, Faerber S, Wright FA, Rock CL, et al. A randomized trial of the effect of a plant-based dietary pattern on additional breast cancer events and survival: the Women's Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) Study. Control Clin Trials 2002 Dec;23(6):728-56.
  8. Potischman N, Coates RJ, Swanson CA, et al. Increased risk of early-stage breast cancer related to consumption of sweet foods among women less than age 45 in the United States. Cancer Causes Control 2002 Dec;13(10):937-46.
  9. National Cancer Institute. 5 A Day for Better Health Program. 2002. Available: http://5aday.nci.nih.gov/q&a2002.shtml Accessed February 28, 2003.
  10. The Best Diet for Cancer Survivors. Health After 50 (Johns Hopkins Medical Letter) 13(11); 2002: 6.
  11. Living and Raw Foods. Why Juice?. 1998. Available: http://www.living-foods.com/articles/whyjuice.html. Accessed February 28, 2003.

This response was researched and prepared by Patrick Johnson as part of a graduate class at Eastern Michigan University (DTC 592 Medical Nutrition Therapy). Final editing was done and approved by Diana Dyer, MS, RD.

faq posted 4/03

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These questions and answers are intended to be of a general informative nature. Please consult with the Registered Dietitian in your cancer center or your health care provider for nutritional advice that can be individualized to your specific medical condition.

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