Saturday, February 12, 2011

Strong people are harder to kill

A friend and teacher of mine is a dedicated coach, nutritionist, and writer. He and I have been corresponding about lifestyle choices that help people with cancer and how diet and training play into the equation. My thoughts have definitely evolved over the past year-one year after finding out that thyroid cancer had spread to my bones. These days, I make significantly different choices, then I did in 2009

In 2006, I developed a nasty case of elbow tendonitis that never really went away until about a month ago. In January, I started what I was told was an "anti-inflammatory diet". I was incredulous and skeptical, but after reading lots of biochemistry over the past few years and corresponding with a guy name Mat Lalonde (PhD chemist at Harvard) and Robb Wolff (pretty much the man when it comes to dietary research), I gave it a shot. Chronic inflammation and associated neo-vascularization are extremely important for cancer, so that was another motivating factor to be fastidious with the experiment. Within 30 days, I could rock climb a few times per week for the first time in 5 years. I don't get anything associated with my cancer checked until May, so we'll see if there is any effect. The bad scenario would be progression or growth of tumors while stable disease or improvement would be excellent.

The whole concept of an anti-inflammatory diet is something that I've been interested in, but never really bought into when it comes to the science. Moreover, my attempts at following the recommendations were always de-railed by my skepticism. But after being disciplined and making sure that I'm sleeping enough and training smart, I'm convinced.

As for bike racing (I haven't written much about this lately), I'm going to spend the year taking more camping and mountain biking trips. A few mountain bike races are on my radar, but mostly I'm thinking about and looking forward to cyclocross again next fall. Last year and perhaps every year since I was a teenager, my play/sport/training has had too much emphasis on threshold level training, too much time spent in the anaerobic (or lactate) threshold zone in either cycling, climbing, or running. This year, the plan is to dedicate 8-12 weeks of the year to hard training and racing. The other 40-44 weeks minimizing stress, building strength, and aerobic base is the intention.

In terms of the specifics of healthy eating and cancer, I don't believe in a one-size fits all solution. However, I think there are common principles, the mechanisms of which I can now understand and won't get into here...but to not be elusive about what I mean by an "anti-inflammatory" diet, here's what I think is true:
-Saturated fat is my friend
-Vegetables are my main food group by volume
-Serum vit D concentrations should be in the upper range of normal
-Grass-fed beef and lamb have lots of CLA and an evolutionarily appropriate ratio of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids. CLA is excellent for people with cancer.
-Fructose can be problematic in large amounts, probably best to minimize
-Chronically spiked blood sugar is a huge problem
-Gut irritation can lead to systemic inflammation, don't eat things that irritate your gut (this is more subtle then you'd want). For me, gluten, once removed for 30 days and subsequently re-introduced is indeed a problem.
-Balancing n-3 to n-6 ratio of fats in the diet leads to better overall health and significantly lower levels of inflammation (that's a strong statement, but if I were writing a true academic piece I'd back it up. Right now, I'm just stating what I've learned and my beliefs).

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