Category Archives: diet

Is Anything Missing From Your Calcium Supplement?

Why haven’t I updated this blog for over half a year? After much soul searching, I’m still not sure and I’m not sure it matters. What matters is:

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve got both virtual and paper folders filled with articles on vitamin K2. That was going to be my triumphant comeback post – Superhero Nutritionist using research powers to explain why a good calcium supplement should have vitamin K2.

A helpful, practical post made especially relevant by my recent recurrence of bone metastasis (alongside new lymph and liver mets). I need to keep the healthy bits of my spine and ribs as strong as possible; the right calcium supplement is essential.

A promising setup for a post that inspired many hours of research. And procrastination. Could be that the swamp of excuses pulling me down, or maybe I’ve gotten bored with this blog format. I don’t want to feel like I’m writing research papers.

I want to have fun with my writing – to let my thoughts and ideas soar in wild abandon without regard to technical details or support from scientific literature.

I want to be helpful, too, but that doesn’t seem to be enough at the moment to motivate me to write blog posts. So I’ll be trying a new approach.

Still, if you’re reading my post with the expectation that I’ll address the question posed in the title regarding calcium supplements, I’ll direct you to a Living Beyond Breast Cancer page where a Registered Dietitian answers:

What vitamins or supplements would be most helpful to someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer?

While the RD focuses on women diagnosed with breast cancer, it could be applicable to most people concerned about their bone health. I like the thoroughness of her answer – she mentions not only calcium and vitamin D but also magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and even vitamin K.

But not vitamin K2 specifically. Such an omission is a common oversight that must be corrected.

As the table below shows, vitamins K1 and K2 have different food sources (green leafy veggies vs. butter & egg yolks) as well as different functions in our bodies. There’s been a lot of research on the ability of both types of vitamin K to increase bone density and bone quality.

I got frustrated when I tried to compare the various studies, though. Some used K1 supplements while others focused on the MK-4 or MK-7 form of vitamin K2, not to mention that the research subjects ranged from mice to people in different countries and different stages of life and health. Even when I considered only those that looked at vitamin K2, there was little consistency in whether calcium, vitamin D and magnesium intake was also noted.

Such fertile ground for procrastination! I could write a thorough review of the effect of vitamin K2 on bone health.

Alas,/Fortunately, Dr. Schwalfenberg of the University of Alberta beat me to it. Published this June, his review article concludes:

  • Vitamin K2 may be useful…for the treatment of osteoporosis, along with vitamin D and calcium, rivaling bisphosphonate therapy without toxicity
  • [Vitamin K2] may also significantly reduce morbidity and mortality in cardiovascular health by reducing vascular calcification
  • Supplementation may be required for bone and cardiovascular health

Ideally, I’d be getting all the vitamin K2 that I need from food sources. But I don’t think I can (or want to) eat as much butter, eggs, or natto

as would be necessary to meet my daily K2 requirement.

What are the daily requirements of vitamin K2 for a 30-something woman with cancer cells invading her ribs and spine and other organ systems? They didn’t teach me that in grad school, nor was it covered during my dietetic internships.  If you find any studies or other info on the matter, dear reader, please let me know!

In any case, I do try to eat a nutrient-dense diet. However, at this point, it’s not realistic to think that I can get enough of all the nutrients necessary to keep my non-cancerous cells in tip-top shape through food alone. That’s why I supplement with calcium in addition to getting bisphosphonate therapy (specifically Zometa) monthly. The calcium supplements that have magnesium and vitamin K2 in addition to vitamin D are annoyingly expensive, but I hope they’re worth it.

Since I take warfarin to prevent blood clots, supplementing with vitamin K also means that I have to make extra trips to get my fingers pricked. My oncologist adjusts the warfarin dose to keep my blood in the right range of thinness based on the results from those checks. Again, my hope is that this annoyance is worth it.


I set out to write my triumphant comeback update as a declaration of freedom from writing nutritionist-y & science-y posts. Guess it’s harder for me to get off the research-y track than I anticipated. Oh well, I’ll aim to be more adventurous in my next post.

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The Shocking Truth About Methionine

I’m experimenting with my headlines – apologies if this one seems too click-baity.

Yet the headline is not misleading. In my journey down the proverbial rabbit hole of methionine research, I experienced multiple shocks.

There’s nothing inherently shocking about methionine. It’s one of the nine essential amino acids – building blocks of protein that our bodies cannot make and therefore must come from our diet. Once our digestive system breaks down the proteins that we eat into amino acids, they can be used for energy or as components in proteins that we need for normal growth and repair. Elementary stuff that I learned in Bio 101.

265px-Methionin_-_Methionine.svgCanonical form of methionine

But until a friend sent me an article from Dr. Gregor’s Medical Nutrition Blog, I had no idea that many cancer cells have a metabolic defect – an absolute dependence on methionine.

Researchers at the University of California became aware of this defect in cancer cells back in 1974. They reported that when normal and malignant cancer cells are put in a growth medium that includes methionine, only malignant cells remain in the flask after three weeks. That flask serves as the control in which the crowding out of normal cells by the malignant cells is expected.

In contrast, if the medium contains homocystine (a methionine precursor) but no methionine, the cancer cells die. After just one week, only normal cells remain in the methionine-free flask.

Amazing bitmoji

How had I never heard of this? How do I get that to happen to the cancer cells inside me?

In the article my friend had sent me, Dr. Gregor advises lowering methionine intake through a “predominantly vegan diet.” So I need to go vegan after all? What exactly would it mean to drastically decrease my intake of this one amino acid?

Sorting foods by methionine content in the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 shows that parmesan cheese, eggs, many different types of fish and seafood, as well as beef, lamb, pork, turkey, chicken, ostrich and antelope have the highest amounts of methionine per 100 grams (g) of each food.

Methionine Nutrient Lists 1st 25 USDA

It’s clear that high-protein animal foods are rich in methionine, but sesame flour actually has more methionine (1.66g methionine per 100g of flour) than whale meat (1.35g methionine per 100g of meat).

image by yamachem
image by yamachem

Spirulina (a form of blue-green algae), soy protein isolate and brazil nuts are also up there, with 1.15g, 1.13g and 1.12g of methionine per 100g, respectively. In comparison, chuck eye beef and a hind-shank of lamb have only 1.06g of methionine each per 100g.

Looks like restricting dietary methionine isn’t quite as simple as just following a vegan diet. It would have to be a vegan diet with quite a few additional restrictions.

Skipping to page 201 of the 200+ pages of foods ranked for methionine content by the

Methionine Nutrient Lists last pages USDA

National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 reveals that I wouldn’t even have to be strictly vegan. I could successfully follow a virtually methionine-free diet by making duck, turkey and goose fat my staple foods. Along with various hydrogenated vegetable oils and beer.Best Buds emoji

True, many great veggies and fruits have 0.01g of methionine per 100g or less. So, all joking aside, I do believe that I’d have the discipline to follow an ultra-low methionine diet. I could give up cheese, salmon, seeds, nuts, whale and countless other foods in favor of mostly fruits and veggies. Of course, I’d need to supplement with pea protein powder, which is naturally low in methionine.pea-protein-amino-acid-profileWhile there’s still about 0.15g of methionine per serving, that’s a trade off I’d have to make to ensure I’m getting enough of all the other essential and conditionally essential amino acids.

Plus, I’d need to take vitamin B12, vitamin D3, vitamin K2, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, calcium, iron pills and likely other nutrients that I haven’t even thought of.

The change would be costly and might leave me slightlyHangry bitmojiat times. Despite all that, it would be worth it if the drastic reduction in methionine killed all my cancer cells. But would the same thing that happened in that methionine-free flask happen in my body too? I want to believe emoji

For how long would I have to restrict methionine? Would I be risking my health by keeping methionine intake so minimal?

Surely, scientists must have answered these questions over the 40+ years since the breakthrough discovery was made at the University of California.

In my next post, I’ll dig into this 40+ years of research to uncover more shocking truths.

As for my turmeric cooking adventures, I must report that I haven’t tried making any new turmeric dishes since the last post. However, I have again successfully prepared both the turmeric potatoes and the turmeric stew that I blogged about in my previous postsSide by Side turmeric

That’s two turmeric dishes in one week! I’m especially proud of my kitchen prowess since this second week of cycle 4 on my Xeloda chemo meds has zapped my energy levels. Nothing like the promise of good food to rally me off the couch and to the stove.

 

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Should I Go Vegan to Fight Breast Cancer?

Yes Or No Emoji

I’m researching and writing this series of posts with a bias. For nearly eight years, I’ve eaten a mostly Paleo or Primal diet.

A common misconception about the Paleo diet is that it’s very meat-heavy. That may be true for some Paleo enthusiasts, but the bloggers and podcasters that I follow have always emphasized eating plenty of fruits and veggies, choosing high-quality whole (non-processed or minimally-processed) foods with the highest nutrient density, and self-experimentation to personalize the diet to each individual situation.

Over the past several years, the Paleo diet has begun to morph into a lifestyle, with advocates emphasizing the importance of stress management, moving/staying active, getting enough quality sleep and even maintaining good social connections.

For me, going Paleo wasn’t so much about going gluten-free or loading up on meat as it was about giving up highly processed food that I felt nearly addicted to. EatingIceCreamCupcake

Fruit replaced cookies and bagels got switched out for pumpkin seeds and almonds. Hamburger buns became mushroom buns. That meant that my fruit and vegetable intake skyrocketed, while my meat consumption actually decreased.

I also became aware of the health benefits of choosing wild-caught salmon, grass-fed beef and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. Being so choosy comes at a high cost. As a graduate student and later an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, I could only afford to have grass-fed beef or wild-caught salmon as an occasional treat. My main sources of protein were eggs from pastured chickens, sardines and sometimes cheese or yogurt.

I considered my eating habits to be predominantly pescatarian, and started to use the terms nutritarian (or nutrivore? Best terminology TBD) to describe the philosophy behind my dietary choices.

On many occasions my nutritarian aspirations were restricted by cost, cooking skills or taste buds. Still, I thought I was doing pretty well.HealthyLivingEmojiAnd then I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.

I felt like the universe was playing a joke on me. As a Registered Dietitian, I counseled people on making healthy food and lifestyle choices. How ironic that practicing what I preached failed to protect me.

Who knows, though – maybe I could have avoided cancer if I’d changed my eating habits as a teen. Or maybe something about my Paleo-ish diet did contribute to the cancer’s development. Not enough organic produce? Too much cheese? Too much animal protein? Too much kale?

Numerous studies do show an association between meat intake and cancer. However, in her evidence-based analysis of this link between meat and cancer, Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D., concludes that: yes meat does

Dr. Ballantyne’s point-by-point examination of the cancer-promoting substances in meat and how they can be neutralized by plant foods, especially cruciferous vegetables, helped me to not be overly swayed by stories like Kris Carr’s.

Kris was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer (40-80 cases per year in the U.S.) called epithelioid hemangioendothelioma in 2003. She went on to direct the documentary Crazy Sexy Cancer and to author several New York Times best-seller vegan cookbooks.

CrazySexyBook

Kris’s story is, indeed, crazy sexy inspirational. She was able to use a devastating diagnosis of stage 4 cancer as a catalyst for improving her life. Most intriguing of all, her cancer appears to have been stable for over thirteen years and counting! Would I see the same crazy sexy results if I became a vegan like her?too sexy emoji

Another blogger, Dr. Elaine Schattner, offers a medical perspective on how Kris Carr has been able to thrive with cancer for so long. Epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (EH) comes in two forms – one that’s aggressive and another that isn’t. Kris luckily has the latter, non-aggressive form of EH. She’s been able to stay in wait-and-watch mode since receiving her diagnosis, and has never had chemo, radiation or major surgery to treat her cancer.

It’s entirely possible that Kris’s diet has helped to keep her cancer at bay. But Dr. Schattner’s post convinced me that Kris’s current well-being is due in large part to the type of cancer she has rather than any particular diet she might be following.

It’s also impossible to tell whether the vegan aspect of Kris’s diet is necessary. The results she sees could be entirely due to her shift from junk food to whole, minimally-processed food that includes a wide variety of fruits and veggies. Foregoing meat may have nothing to do with her or her followers’ success on the diet.

Or so I thought, until a friend emailed me a link to an article about methionine.

Woahemoji

More (much more) about that in my next post.

For now, I’ll leave you with a pic of the latest turmeric dish made by yours truly, with a bit of assistance from my patient fiance:

SoupwithEdits

Inspired by this post’s topic, I followed the Superfood Veggie Soup recipe from my Turmeric Pinterest board, with some modifications. I didn’t include carrots since I only like them raw, but I upped the garlic to five cloves, threw in some bay leaves and added an extra teaspoon of turmeric. My frozen veggies were okra and mixed mushrooms, and I substituted kale for Nori.

I made the stew for dinner a few nights ago but found it even more delicious when I heated it up for lunch the next day. I couldn’t taste the turmeric so threw in another tablespoon for the whole pot of leftovers. I think it’s just right at two tablespoons of turmeric for the entire pot, though the recipe only calls for two teaspoons.

The stew is all gone now, the turmeric-stained ladle licked clean. I’m thinking of making it again next week. Any suggestions for what veggies I can add to complement the mushrooms, kale, okra, tomatoes, garlic and onions?

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