Probiotics and cancer – The Probiotic Solution – Excerpt

Mark A. Brudnak

From the forthcoming book: The Probiotic Solution

Cancer is a group of many related diseases that begin in cells, the body’s basic unit of life. To understand cancer, it is helpful to know what happens when normal cells become cancerous.

The body is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells grow and divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This orderly process helps keep the body healthy. Sometimes, however, cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed. These extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Tumors can be benign or malignant.

* Benign tumors are not cancer. They can often be removed and, in most cases, they do not come back. Cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Most important, benign tumors are rarely a threat to life.

* Malignant tumors are cancer. Cells in these tumors are abnormal and divide without control or order. They can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. That is how cancer spreads from the original cancer site to form new tumors in other organs. The spread of cancer is called metastasis. Leukemia and lymphoma are cancers that arise in blood-forming cells. The abnormal cells circulate in the bloodstream and lymphatic system. They may also invade (infiltrate) body organs and form tumors.

Most cancers are named for the organ or type of cell in which they begin. For example, cancer that begins in the lung is lung cancer, and cancer that begins in cells in the skin known as melanocytes is called melanoma.

When cancer spreads (metastasizes), cancer cells are often found in nearby or regional lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands). If the cancer has reached these nodes, it means that cancer cells may have spread to other organs, such as the liver, bones, or brain. When cancer spreads from its original location to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind, of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. For example, if lung cancer spreads to the brain, the cancer cells in the brain are actually lung cancer cells. The disease is called metastatic lung cancer (it is not brain cancer).

Possible Causes and Prevention of Cancer

The more we can learn about what causes cancer, the more likely we are to find ways to prevent it. In the laboratory, scientists explore possible causes of cancer and try to determine exactly what happens in cells when they become cancerous. Researchers also study patterns of cancer in the population to look for risk factors, conditions that increase the chance that cancer might occur. They also look for protective factors, things that decrease the risk.

Although doctors can seldom explain why one person gets cancer and another does not, it is clear that cancer is not caused by an injury, such as a bump or bruise. In addition, although being infected with certain viruses may increase the risk of some types of cancer, cancer is not contagious; no one can “catch” cancer from another person.

Cancer develops over time. It is a result of a complex mix of factors related to lifestyle, heredity, and environment. A number of factors that increase a person’s chance of developing cancer have been identified. Many types of cancer are related to the use of tobacco, what people eat and drink, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, and, exposure to cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) in the environment and the workplace. Some people are more sensitive than others to factors that can cause cancer.

Still, most people who get cancer have none of the known risk factors. In addition, most people who do have risk factors do not get the disease.

Some cancer risk factors can be avoided. Others, such as inherited factors, are unavoidable, but it may be helpful to be aware of them. People can help protect themselves by avoiding known risk factors whenever possible. They can also talk with their doctor about regular ‘checkups and about whether cancer-screening tests could be of benefit.

These are some of the factors that increase the likelihood of cancer:

* Tobacco. Smoking tobacco, using smokeless tobacco, and being regularly exposed to environmental tobacco smoke are responsible for one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States each year. Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death in this country.

Smoking accounts for more than 85% of all lung cancer deaths. For smokers, the risk of getting lung cancer increases with the amount of tobacco-smoked each day, the number of years they have smoked, the type of tobacco product, and how deeply they inhale. Overall, for those who smoke one pack a day, the chance of getting lung cancer is about 10 times greater than for nonsmokers. Cigarette smokers are also more likely than nonsmokers to develop several other types of cancer, including oral cancer and cancers of the larynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and cervix. Smoking may also increase the likelihood of developing cancers of the stomach, liver, prostate, colon, and rectum. The risk of cancer begins to decrease soon after a smoker quits, and the risk continues to decline gradually each year after quitting.

People who smoke cigars or pipes have a risk for cancers of the oral cavity that is similar to the risk for people who smoke cigarettes. Cigar smokers also have an increased chance of developing cancers of the lung, larynx, esophagus, and pancreas.

The use of smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff) causes cancer of the mouth and throat. Precancerous conditions, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, often begin to go away after a person stops using smokeless tobacco.

Studies suggest that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, also called secondhand smoke, increases the-risk of lung cancer for nonsmokers.

People who use tobacco in any form and need help quitting may want to talk with their doctor, dentist, or other health professional, or join a smoking cessation group sponsored by a local hospital or voluntary organization. Information about finding such groups or programs is available from the Cancer Information Service (CIS) at 1-800-4-CANCER. CIS information specialists can send printed materials, and also can give suggestions about quitting that are tailored to a caller’s needs.

* Diet. Researchers are exploring how dietary factors play a role in the development of cancer. Some evidence suggests a link between a high-fat diet and certain cancers, such as cancers of the colon, uterus, and prostate. Being seriously overweight may be linked to breast cancer among older women and to cancers of the prostate, pancreas, uterus, colon, and ovary. On the other hand, some studies suggest that foods containing fiber and certain nutrients may help protect against some types of cancer.

People may be able to reduce their cancer risk by making healthy food choices. A well-balanced diet includes generous amounts of foods that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and low in fat. This includes eating lots of fruits and vegetables and more whole-grain breads and cereals every day, fewer eggs, and not as much high-fat meat, high-fat dairy products (such as whole milk, butter, and most cheeses), salad dressing, margarine, and cooking oil.

Most scientists think that making healthy food choices is more beneficial than taking vitamin and mineral supplements.

* Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation from the sun causes premature aging of the skin and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. Artificial sources of UV radiation, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, also can cause skin damage and probably an increased risk of skin cancer.

To help reduce the risk of skin cancer caused by UV radiation, it is best to reduce exposure to the midday sun (from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Another simple rule is to avoid the sun when your shadow is shorter than you are.

Wearing a broad-brimmed hat, UV-absorbing sunglasses, long pants, and long sleeves offer protection. Many doctors believe that in addition to avoiding the sun and wearing protective clothing, wearing a sunscreen (especially one that reflects, absorbs, and/or scatters both types of ultraviolet radiation) may help prevent some forms f skin cancer. Sunscreens are rated in strength according to a sun protection factor (SPF). The higher the SPF, the more sunburn protection is provided. Sunscreens with a SPF of 12 through 29 are adequate for most people, but sunscreens are not a substitute for avoiding the sun and wearing protective clothing.

Alcohol. Heavy drinkers have an increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, and liver. (People who smoke cigarettes and drink heavily have an especially high risk of getting these cancers.) Some studies suggest that even moderate drinking may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer.

* Ionizing radiation. Cells may be damaged by ionizing radiation from X-ray procedures, radioactive substances, rays that enter the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, and other sources. In very high doses, ionizing radiation may cause cancer and other diseases. Studies of survivors of the atomic bomb in Japan show that ionizing radiation increases the risk of developing leukemia and cancers of the breast, thyroid, lung, stomach, and other organs.

Before 1950, X-rays were used to treat noncancerous conditions (such as an enlarged thymus, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, ringworm of the scalp, and acne) in children and young adults. Those who have received radiation therapy to the head and neck have a higher-than-average risk of developing thyroid cancer years later. People with a history of such treatments should report it to their doctor.

Radiation that patients receive as therapy for cancer can also damage normal cells. Patients may want to talk with their doctor about the effect of radiation treatment on their risk of a second cancer. This risk can depend on the patient’s age at the time of treatment as well as on the part of the body that was treated.

X-rays used for diagnosis expose people to lower levels of radiation than X-rays used for therapy. The benefits nearly always outweigh the risks. However, repeated exposure could be harmful, so it is a good idea for people to talk with their doctor about the need for each X-ray and to ask about the use of shields to protect other parts of the body.

Chemicals and other substances. Being exposed to substances such as certain chemicals, metals, or pesticides can increase the risk of cancer. Asbestos, nickel, cadmium, uranium, radon, vinyl chloride, benzidene, and benzene are examples of well-known carcinogens. These may act alone or along with another carcinogen, such as cigarette smoke, to increase the risk of cancer. For example, inhaling asbestos fibers increases the risk of lung diseases, including cancer, and the cancer risk is especially high for asbestos workers who smoke. It is important to follow work and safety rules to avoid or minimize contact with dangerous materials.

* Hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Doctors may recommend HRT, using either estrogen alone or estrogen in combination with synthetic progesterone (progestin), to control symptoms (such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness) that may occur during menopause. Studies have shown that the use of estrogen alone increases the risk of cancer of the uterus. Therefore, most doctors prescribe HRT that includes progestin along with low doses of estrogen. Progestin counteracts estrogen’s harmful effect on the uterus by preventing overgrowth of the lining of the uterus; this overgrowth is associated with taking estrogen alone. (Estrogen alone may be prescribed for women who have had a hysterectomy, surgery to remove the uterus, and are, therefore, not at risk for cancer of the uterus.) Other studies show an increased risk of breast cancer among women who have used estrogen for a long time; and some research suggests that the risk might be higher among those who have used estrogen and progestin together.

Researchers are still learning about the risks and benefits of taking HRT. A woman considering HRT should discuss these issues with her doctor.

* Diethyistilbestrol (DES). DES is a synthetic form of estrogen that was used between the early 1940s and 1971. Some women took DES during pregnancy to prevent certain complications. Their DES-exposed daughters have an increased chance of developing abnormal cells (dysplasia) in the cervix and vagina. In addition, a rare type of vaginal and cervical cancer can occur in DES-exposed daughters. DES daughters should tell their doctor about their exposure. They should also have pelvic exams by a doctor familiar with conditions related to DES.

Women who took DES during pregnancy may have a slightly higher risk for developing breast cancer. These women should tell their doctor about their exposure. At this time, there does not appear to be an increased risk of breast cancer for daughters who were exposed to DES before birth. However, more studies are needed as these daughters enter the age range when breast cancer is more common.

There is evidence that DES-exposed sons may have testicular abnormalities, such as undescended or abnormally small testicles. The possible risk for testicular cancer in these men is under study.

* Close relatives with certain types of cancer. Some types of cancer (including melanoma and cancers of the breast, ovary, prostate, and colon) tend to occur more often in some families than in the rest of the population. It is often unclear whether a pattern of cancer in a family is primarily due to heredity, factors in the family’s environment or lifestyle, or just a matter of chance.

Researchers have learned that cancer is caused by changes (called mutations or alterations) in genes that control normal cell growth and cell death. Most cancer-causing gene changes are the result of factors in lifestyle or the environment. However, some alterations that may lead to cancer are inherited; that is, they are passed from parent to child. However, having such an inherited gene alteration does not mean that the person is certain to develop cancer; it means that the risk of cancer is increased.

The Probiotic Solution

Cancer is basically aberrant growth of cells. The body has a limited number of cells. If one dies, it is replaced with an exact copy of itself in the exact location it was. The whole body is like that. What happens in cancer is those cells normally stay in the same place and grow in a specific way and replicate, make copies, at a specific time. So the cells start to grow uncontrollably, which in and of itself is not bad. The problem is that they then do a number of things: release toxins, disrupt the normal functioning of whatever tissues or organs they happen to be in, and they consume a lot of energy.

What causes them to grow uncontrollably are mutations at the gene level. The way that happens is several fold. First, they may be attacked by something like a virus. The virus will attach itself to the normal human cell and then inject its DNA (genetic material) into the DNA of the normal cell. That may, but not always, disrupt the normal functioning of the otherwise healthy cell. Alternatively, the mutations can be suffered as a result of exposure to mutagenic compounds. Mutagenic compounds are simply chemicals or substances that cause the DNA to be different. For instance, the DNA is made up of four small letters that are organized in a precise way, such as GATCCCAAG. That small piece of DNA always looks just like that, even after the cell divides. That is how the DNA or genetic code is passed on from generation to generation. If say the “T” is changed to a “C” by something that causes mutations, then the code would read GACCCCAAG. That tiny change can make the difference in whether that cell lives or dies .

How do the mutations happen? Well, everything a cell does, everything, is the result of what the DNA ‘says’ and it says it by how those letters are arranged. There are compounds that can actually come in and change those letters. Those compounds are what we collectively refer to as mutagens or carcinogens. There is a minor difference but it is not relevant to our discussion. When that DNA is doing its job, the cell is happy and lives, then dies a normal death at a predetermined time. All cells live and die. That is normal. They will also divide a limited number of times.

Usually, most of the DNA is kept tightly packed for a number of reasons, one of which is that by packing it together, the stuff that does the packing actually protects the DNA from carcinogens. In order for the DNA to make something, typically the end product is a protein; the DNA has to be unwrapped. This increases the chances of a bad compound attacking the DNA. The more often that DNA has to open to do something, the greater the chances it will be attacked and hurt. The DNA has to open for things such as replication/duplication and just normal bodily functions. There are things that it does to increase its survival chances but all those too depend simply on its own code. How well or poorly it survives is directly dependent on the sequence of those four letters which in turn can be affected by toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic compounds.

So where do probiotics come in? They actually function in a number of ways First, they can make substances that will interact with the offensive materials and “detoxify” them. Second, they car actually take in the toxic materials and process them by various pathways and make the toxins less toxic. Third, the probiotics can physically keep out bad bacteria. This is good not just because the bad bacteria such as the infamous E. coli can produce substances that make us feel sick and can even kill us but because those same bad bacteria car take what would otherwise be innocuous materials and make them into carcinogens!

How do the probiotics do this? Well they can physically displace the bad bacteria. In the gut, there is limited space. In order for a bacteria, either good or bad, to exert an effect on the health of the human host, it has to spend a little time hanging out. In order to do that, it literally has to hang out. That is to say, it will attach to the lining of the GI tract. This is known as bacteria adherence. Certain bacteria occupy certain areas of the GI tract. For instance, lactobacillus tend to inhabit the upper portion known as the small intestine. The Bifidobacterium tend to inhabit the colon mainly. Probiotics normally live and die just like human cells. As they age, they too can be mutated so they do not bind as well. When that happens, there is an increased chance that any bad bacteria that are passing by might adhere in their place as they start to lose their foothold on the intestinal lining. When the bad bacteria are established where they should not be, they can do a few things and none are good. Fi rst, they can chew away at the lining of the intestine. This causes the cells to have to be replaced and as I said above, that requires the DNA to open, which increases the chances of mutagenesis.

Second, they can produce toxic compounds that will destroy the good bacteria and the human cells. Again, the human cells would try to replace themselves and have to divide again. If you only have a limited number of lives, it is not good to be using them up quickly by being forced to replace yourself constantly.

Third, the bad bacteria can take potentially noxious substances and make them very carcinogenic. Those carcinogens then would go on to wreak havoc in the normal cells as they try to go about their usual lives. The bad bacteria also do something the good bacteria do, but they do it the opposite way. Both good and bad bacteria condition their environments. That is to say, they can alter things such as the pH by secreting or not secreting acids. They can also produce bactericidal compounds that will kill off the opposite type of bacteria. If the bad bacteria are doing this, then there will be more of the bad guys around causing trouble.

So what does one do? First, one would supplement with probiotics. There are over 400 species (types) of probiotics in the normal GI tract so how does one pick the right one? Well, there are a number of companies that have tried to come up with what they believe are the most predominant bacteria normally found in healthy people. Typically, that boils down to 10-20 different probiotics. While probiotic research goes back over a hundred years, it was not until the last 20 years that the techniques required to mass-produce and actually test the probiotics were available. That is in large part why there are so few type of probiotics available. That and most of the companies want to sell you their super wonderful probiotics and they do that by showing how many studies are done for their strains. With a limited amount of funds available for research, it makes more of an impact on you, the consumer, to see that there are 100 clinical studies done on LA-5 or BB-12 than it does to see 100 studies done on one hundred b ugs, most of which are not available.

So, why keep taking the probiotics? If one takes a large amount, pushes out all the bad ones, and the good ones adhere making everything all nice. Simply because the toxic and potentially toxic compounds and bad bacteria never stop coming. There is a constant onslaught. The result is that the good bacteria are under constant assault and they can suffer mutations the same way normal cells do. When that happens, the cells eventually end up the same way human cells do; weakened or dead. If the probiotics are weakened or dead, then they cannot detoxify the noxious compounds and fend off the bad guys. The result is that the bad guys will eventually win. That is why one wants to continually supplement the diet with new, fresh, viable probiotics. That way, fresh troops are constantly on guard and protecting your health.

Correspondence: Mark A. Brudnak, PhD, ND, VP Technology, MAK Wood, Inc., 1235 Dakota Drive, Units E-F, Grafton, Wisconsin 53024-9429 USA, Email:

COPYRIGHT 2002 The Townsend Letter Group

COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group

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