The other day I saw a headline that has left me mulling over its contents, and thinking perhaps that it may cast a chink of light into that enormous vault that contains "Things we've yet to discover". Dr James Watson is best know for receiving the Nobel Prize for his work on the structure that we now know as the Double Helix of DNA - in other words he's a bright spark - so when he says something, it's probably worth listening!
His current theory is bound to cause controversy as it challenges one widely held public health idea on how best to "beat cancer" which is that we should all eat a diet rick in anti-oxidant containing vegetables as they help reduce the risks of certain cancers. Actually, there is (to my knowledge) no concrete data to suggest that eating lots of veggies will stop you from getting cancer: and before all vegetable loving people scream at me with loud howls of "Rubbish", I happen to be very "pro veggies" because:
- I like them.
- Fresh vegetables have less exposure to chemicals/hormones/antibiotics than meat and chicken do.
- They contain essential vitamins and minerals that are good for maintaining a high level of bodily health.
- Nuts, green teas, coffee, pomegranates, cruciferous vegetables etc all have positive health benefits that make them important ingredients in a well balanced diet.
But what Dr Watson is suggesting is that in LATE STAGE cancers, pumping extra anti-oxidants into your diet may in fact be COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE. From his studies, he believes that in such late stage situations, chemicals know as Reactive Oxygen Species - ROS - play a major role in what is called "planned cell death" - or Apoptosis. These ROS are found in all human cells that have outlived their normal "use-by" date and need to be cleared from the system before they cause any damage. The problem is that if these ROS are left unfettered in healthy, working cells then they can irreversibly damage key proteins and nucleic acid molecules [e.g., DNA and RNA]: so there needs to be a control procedure for ROS, and these are called Anti-Oxidants!
In the healthy person, taking anti-oxidants will help maintain balance within the cells and keep the ROS under control. But in cases of advanced cancer where there are a great many damaging malignant cells invading the system, the ROS need all the help they can get and that's when supplementing your nutrition with bucket loads of anti-oxidants may well be counter productive, and according to Dr Watson, it may be sending you to an early grave! He is also quoted as saying that “Unless we can find ways of reducing antioxidant levels, late-stage cancer 10 years from now will be as incurable as it is today.”
This highlights for me from his article are that firstly, there is no one magic bullet for cancer or indeed any health challenge - our bodies are far more complicated than that. Secondly, a healthy diet is vital for maintaining maximal health - and that definitely means eating a variety of vegetables, fruit and nuts - but it won't cure cancer! Thirdly, our bodies change over time and the needs of our bodies change too. And finally, that vast vault of unknowing is diminishing and it's thanks to people like Dr Watson who dare to challenge the "norm" and cast a new light in dark places.