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Show 1161: What Is the Evidence for Food as Medicine? (Archive)

In examining how our diets can alter angiogenesis, Dr. Li has turned up plenty of evidence for using food as medicine to beat cancer.
Dr. William Li, author of Eat to Beat Disease.
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What Is the Evidence for Food as Medicine? (Archive)

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Angiogenesis–the growth and development of blood vessels in the body–may seem like an obscure topic. However, angiogenesis is a critical phase in the development of tumors. If it can be blocked when it is inappropriate, we don’t get cancer. If not, we may need all the resources of modern oncology to help us recover. Is there a way we can use food as medicine to regulate angiogenesis?

Oncologists haven’t always been able to suggest things patients can do to help themselves recover from cancer. Lately, however, they have made progress in learning how we can recruit our own immune systems to fight off cancer. They have discovered that our gut microbiota, the balance of bacteria living in our large intestines, can have a significant impact on how well immunotherapy works against certain cancer. 

How Do We Influence Our Gut Microbiota?

Perhaps the most important influence on the microbiota within us is how we feed them. Fortunately, many of the foods they prefer are also beneficial for our own bodies and can help regulate angiogenesis–slow it when it is trying to feed a tumor or speed it up a bit when we need it for healing. There’s quite a bit of evidence for this way of using food as medicine.

Food as Medicine to Prevent Cancer:

Dr. William Li wants us to understand that health is an active process. In addition, in his TED talks and his book, he tells us how we can eat to beat disease. Which foods will inhibit angiogenesis and which one promote it? How can our diet suppress the development of cancers? How can we utilize our microbiota as a defense system? He also has focused on how our body can regenerate itself, at least in part, and how our DNA repairs itself. What can we do to encourage and enhance these defense systems?

Some of the foods that Dr. Li discusses in this interview include broccoli sprouts, mushrooms (including ordinary white button mushrooms) and barley, rich in beta-glucans. Both green and black tea as well as stone fruits like plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots are great food as medicine. Onions and garlic are other foods that can activate the immune system. Here is our favorite mushroom-barley soup recipe.

Helen Graedon’s Mushroom Barley Soup is more or less a no-recipe recipe, in the grand tradition of experienced cooks. Sauté chopped onion, about a cup, in your favorite oil. Add about half a cup each of chopped carrot and celery and a cup and a half of chopped fresh mushrooms. When the onions are soft and the mushrooms beginning to turn golden, add about two quarts of broth. Helen usually used homemade beef broth, but chicken or vegetable broth also works. Add about a cup of barley and around two ounces of dried mushrooms, soaked, and simmer until the barley is done. (This might take 40 minutes, depending on whether the barley is pearled or not.) Add a good big handful of chopped parsley before serving. If Helen had leftover peas, green beans or lima beans, she’d add them towards the end of the cooking. Season to your taste with salt and pepper.

This Week’s Guest:

William W. Li, MD, is an internationally renowned, Harvard-trained medical doctor, researcher, and president and a founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation. His groundbreaking work has led to the development of more than 30 new medical treatments, has impacted more than 50 million people worldwide, and covers more than 70 diseases including cancer, diabetes, blindness, heart disease, and obesity. His TED Talk, “Can We Eat to Starve Cancer?” has garnered more than 11 million views. Dr. Li has served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and presented at the Vatican’s Unite to Cure conference.

Dr. Li is the author of Eat to Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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comments (12 total)
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I have heard and read so much about anti-inflammatory foods that are said to support good health – Dr Li packages his advice beautifully and I can’t wait to print out the list that enables me to decide what to eat on a weekly, if not daily, basis! The mushroom and barley soup sounds delicious!

I get Reflux (saw your interesting article) when I eat any grain, and it’s very painful. Please suggest to me what I can replace barley with in your soup recipe
Thank you.

The problem is… factory farming and fast food models have made our food a huge sorce of carcinogens. Food is medicine…unless its filled with hormones, dyes, chemical additives etc. It is important to stress the importance of clean food because many people still don’t get it. It is also disheartening to see negative commments from members of the traditional western medical community on this issue. Please stop being part of the problem by telling cancer patients that diet does not matter.

Am looking for a mushroom barley soup recipe. I bought some mushrooms Saturday so I’m ready to go!

Thank you for this presentation. We need more of this! What is it Hippocrates said?

This is utter nonsense. No vetted and independently verified scientific studies provided. How come everyone didn’t get cancer before we could store these foods? Just vague feel-good advice.

I am always suspicious of people who claim to be experts but don’t even understand the etymology of their area of expertise. Dr. Li started his discussion by defining “angiogenesis,” but stated that “angio” is Greek for “heart.” It is not. It is Greek for “vessel.” Since angiogenesis is in the name of his foundation, he SHOULD be able to get the etymology correct.

So grateful for today’s conversation! Thank you for sharing this relevant, time to start tomato seeds, and encouraging information that we have the ability to improve & preserve our health every day. It’s encouraging to know that there is passion & investment is being made into studying this food & health. It appears to me, to be coming full circle, by design.

Thanks, Terry and Joe for your interview w/ Dr. Li. Without knowing it, he is repeating what Ayurveda has known and has been promoting for thousands of years. Ayurveda goes much further of course and show us us what foods are best for our particular constitutions. This nuanced wisdom is now being confirmed by researchers like Dr. Li. There is nothing “new” about this science.

As I have in the past, I recommend that you interview expert Ayurvedic practitioners like Mary Thompson (https://www.marythompsonayurveda.com/) and Mary Alice Quinn, Ayd, (https://maryalicequinn.com/), both Clinical Ayurvedic Specialists. These women are brilliant in their ability to translate Ayurveda in laymen’s language. Both are far more knowledgeable than Kulreet Choudry whom you interviewed some years ago.

Ayurveda is the oldest system of medicine on the planet and its wisdom is constantly being confirmed by people like Dr. Li. I urge you to get to the source of this wisdom–Ayurveda, the 5,000 year-old Science of Life.

Thanks again for your always excellent work.

I have received a great deal of good information from People’s Pharmacy, proven to be useful. However before I bought Dr. Li’s book, I looked him up under “quack watch” which i always do. This came up from “Rational Wiki” which I’ve not used before, but I think it’s worth reading.

William Li is a woomeister who claims that we can eat our way out of cancer and other diseases using a practice he calls “angiogenesis therapy.”

Angiogenesis is what happens when the body grows new blood vessels — it’s really a thing, look it up in your freshman physiology text. The woo comes in when Li argues that “angiogenesis therapy” promotes the growth of new blood vessels in order to “to replenish the blood supply to chronic wounds to speed healing, and [prevent] unnecessary amputations.”[1]

In reality, angiogenesis can make you worse if you have metastatic (malignant) cancer. When a tumor metastasizes in a new area of the body, it starts out tiny, but sends out signals telling the surrounding tissue to grow new blood vessels so that it can feed. Without angiogenesis, the new tumor can’t grow bigger than a pin head. In fact, one cancer management therapy that’s under serious study is the use of angiogenesis inhibitors such as thalidomide to prevent new blood vessels from forming.[2]

That is precisely what Dr. Li said. Know what condition you are treating before you start the diet.

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