Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cancer, Dietary Supplements, and Circadian Rhythms

Small steps are necessary to reach a goal. Below my comments I have included an article from the February 19 2008 NCI bulletin.

This article about the effects of circadian rhythm and various dietary supplements on the development (i.e. prevention) of cancer caught my eye. Back in 2003, I chose a small pilot research proposal wishing to investigate this area of study as the recipient of funds from my research endowment at The American Institute of Cancer Research. In fact, as I read through the article, I saw that the same researcher I helped to fund is the topic of this article and now has a much larger grant from NCI to do further study.

My endowment at AICR is funded by the proceeds from my book sales in addition to generous donations from others who share my vision of increasing research focused on nutritional strategies to promote cancer survivorship. Every time you purchase a book for yourself or to give as a gift, please visualize your gift going even further, like ripples spreading across the lake after tossing a pebble into the water. We just cannot see how far positive acts will spread, or how long they will all take to fully reach fruition.

Thank you, thank you to all who have purchased books in the past and to all of you who will purchase books in the future. You have helped get nutritional research on the radar screen at NCI, and my next dream to get this research from the lab bench into the hands of the public!

Thank you again. You have given me an amazing day!

I thank you God for this most amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for every
thing which is natural, which is infinite,
which is yes.
~~ e.e. cummings

Diana Dyer, MS, RD


Probing the Effects of Circadian Rhythms on Cancer
A growing body of evidence from both animal and human studies indicates that circadian rhythms - the biological rhythms that mimic the 24-hour cycle of the turning of the Earth - influence cancer in a variety of ways.

In mice and rats, disruption of circadian rhythms has been shown to increase the rate at which a variety of cancers develop. Epidemiologic studies have found elevated rates of breast cancer in women 15 and prostate cancer in men 16 whose circadian rhythms are disrupted as a result of working rotating day and night shifts.

The efficacy and toxicity of more than 30 anticancer drugs has been shown in animal studies to vary by more than 50 percent depending on the time of day that treatment is delivered. Clinical trials 17, conducted primarily in patients with colon cancer, have found as much as a twofold improvement in antitumor activity and a fivefold improvement in patient tolerability when infusions of chemotherapeutic agents are timed to circadian rhythms.

At least 12 genes are known 18 to be involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms. Loss or dysregulation of circadian genes has been identified in many types of cancer. Moreover, overexpression of certain circadian genes in cancer cells has been shown to inhibit the cells' growth and increase their rate of apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Until recently, scientists thought circadian rhythms were entirely controlled by a "master clock" in the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Recent research has shown that, in fact, virtually all cells - including tumor cells - possess their own circadian "clocks," a discovery that has opened up new avenues for research.

One intriguing finding is that whereas the SCN is synchronized primarily by the daily light-dark cycle, cellular circadian rhythms are strongly influenced by meal timing. Mice inoculated with osteosarcomas lived longer when fed during the day rather than at night (when they would normally eat, because mice are nocturnal).

Now, with funding from NCI, two research teams whose work has contributed to current understanding of the role of circadian rhythms in cancer are trying to further this line of research by probing the possible links among circadian rhythms, timing of food intake, caloric restriction, nutritional therapy, and cancer prevention.

Nutritional substances
Dr. Jack D. Burton and his colleagues at the Garden State Cancer Center in Belleville, NJ, previously found in a mouse model of breast cancer that the drug celecoxib showed circadian variation in both efficacy and toxicity. At specific times of day, the dose of the drug could be escalated 2.5-fold with no increase in side effects.

Another of Dr. Burton's research interests is the use of nutritional substances to treat and prevent cancer. Because many studies have shown circadian effects for anticancer drugs, he wondered whether nutritional agents might show similar effects.

"Many nutritional substances have been found to have both antitumor and chemopreventive effects in various animal models," he says. "But they hadn't previously been tested in a way that focused on the time of administration."

In pilot studies, the researchers administered selenium and curcumin (an ingredient in the spice turmeric) at various times to mice with implanted, human-derived prostate tumors. They found differences in the degree of inhibition of tumor growth depending on the time of administration and identified potential tumor markers that might explain this effect.

On the basis of this pilot work, Dr. Burton's group obtained NCI funding for a larger study to assess in a rat model of prostate cancer whether the chemopreventive effects of selenium and green tea extract are modulated by circadian-based administration. In this model, the rats develop prostate cancer gradually, mimicking the disease process in humans.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Roasted Garbanzo Beans

I love finding a "new food", even if retrospectively I feel like the last person in the universe to "discover it"! :-) :-)

I recently started trying recipes from the book Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann. I saw her recipe for "Cheesy Roasted Chickpeas" and thought I would try it since it was new to me, sounded tasty, was quick and easy, and I already had some cooked garbanzo beans in my freezer. (I always cook up a whole bag of dried garbanzo beans and freeze them in 1 cup portions to have on hand to quickly make my own hummus.)

Now I see that there are recipes for oven-roasting garbanzo beans (chick peas is just another term for garbanzo beans) ALL OVER the internet! They are basically all the same technique, but I will always fondly remember this wonderful cookbook for introducing me to them.

Here is the game plan:
• 1-15 ounce can of garbanzo beans, drain and rinse (or use any amount of pre-cooked garbanzo beans, thawed if they were frozen like mine)
• 1 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
• 1-2 teaspoons seasonings to taste (choose anything like curry, Italian seasonings, nutritional yeast flakes, cayenne pepper)
• 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste (or omit)

• Toss all together in a medium bowl.
• Spread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or non-stick spray.
• Roast for 30 minutes at 400 degree F, stirring once in a while until golden brown and just crispy.
• Cool and store in an airtight container.

These are SO good that it will be hard to not eat them all in one sitting. I do think the GI effects of doing so might be noticed, even in someone like me whose GI system has adjusted quite well to consuming beans or legumes on a daily basis. :-) :-)

One of my food and nutrition goals is to consume one serving of beans or legumes on a daily basis (~1/2 cup cooked, drained) as a very good source of protein, fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, plus other vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting phytochemicals too numerous to count.

Toss a large handful into a salad like I did earlier this week or mix some into a salad like chicken salad (stretch that chicken with more beans) or even Waldorf salad. Or if you portion them out to maybe a 1/2 cup serving, enjoy them with some dried fruit for a tasty, filling, and healthy afternoon snack.

Ending with a succinct, indeed graceful, grace:

Bless our hearts
To hear in the
Breaking of bread
The song of the universe.
~~ Father John Giuliani

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, February 11, 2008

Letter writing can make a difference!

Last year I wrote a letter to Trader Joe's (via their web site) telling them that I would no longer be purchasing the frozen organic spinach they sold that was grown in China due to my concerns about the safety of foods and other products sourced from China. In addition, I would be looking with far more scrutiny at all labels and not purchasing other products that also came from China.

An article published today in USA Today says that Trader Joe's listened to the concerns of their shoppers and will no longer be carrying foods and other items that were grown or produced in China.

Your voice can make a difference, so in addition to voting with your fork, speak up and speak out about issues that concern you. The internet is a modern day wonder to help you communicate these concerns both quickly and easily.

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rediscovering Parsnips

As my husband and I make an effort to include some Michigan food products in our meals each day (even during the winter season), one food we both have come to rediscover and love is parsnips. I know my mother tried to get my 3 brothers and me to eat this vegetable. I don't really remember how she fixed them, but predictably, the 4 of us turned our noses up as the collective response was "Rejected!". Oh yes, we ate them, but not with the pleasure that my husband and I are eating them now. Have parsnips changed in the past several decades? Ha ha! Of course not, but I think that leads anyone's logic to conclude that I have changed during that time. :-)

Roasted in the oven is our favorite way to eat them, alone or with other root vegetables. Tonight I combined them with some Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, onions, and peeled apple wedges (yes, amazingly I had 4 rather wrinkled organic apples still hanging around for which I found a great use!). I tossed everything with a small amount of olive oil and curry powder, just enough to give some golden color and a flavor that was not overwhelming. Instead the flavor was complementary to both the earthiness of the potatoes, carrots, and onions and the sweetness of the parsnips and apples. I roasted everything together for 60 minutes at 400 degrees F. on a large cookie sheet. Use either parchment paper or a non-stick spray to keep the veggies from sticking. I let them cook for 30 minutes before turning them once with a spatula.

A full cookie sheet of roasted veggies easily makes a side dish to serve 4-6 people. As more of a main dish, that amount may only serve 3-4, which is what I did tonight serving them with a large tossed green salad (not local) that easily covered 2/3 of our dinner plate. The salad alone was probably 3 servings of vegetables (1 cup raw greens per serving) with the cooked veggies and apples probably adding 2 more servings (1/2 cup cooked veggies/fruit per serving). For some added protein, I topped the salad with some previously roasted garbanzo beans (yum, yum - I'll put this recipe in another posting later this week.)

Our grace tonight:

We are thankful for food and drink,
For appetite and the power to think,
For loved ones dear,
For home and friends,
For everything the good Earth sends.
~~Author Unknown

What foods are you eating (and enjoying) now that you "rejected!" as a child?

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Top 20 Recipes from my Website

Every once in a while I look at the stats on my web site, curious about what pages people are viewing. Here are links to the top 20 recipes people have viewed since the January 1, 2008. Some of these recipes have had thousands of hits, and some of these recipes brought people to my web site in the first place via search engines. After arriving, I hope those people wandered around a bit to look at the wealth of information I have compiled over the past 10 years on my web site, such as the many posted FAQs about nutrition and cancer plus the archived Email newsletters that I wrote and sent for five years.

Here are the top 20 recipes, in order of hits, complete with links back to the recipe on my web site. Feel free to print them out and also please wander around yourself. There is a "search engine" on my web site to help you find information about any particular topic, recipe, or even an ingredient.

Diana's SuperSoy and Phytochemical Shake
Black Olive Tapenade
Black Bean Brownies
Easy Minestrone Soup
Cabbage Rolls
Standard Soy Shake
Soy Shake Recipe #2
Banana Flax Walnut Muffins
Fresh Tomato Soup
Italian Butter Bean Soup
Pumpkin Muffins
Chicken Pot Pie
Broccoli Kale Soup
Janet's Best Oatmeal in the World!
Miso Salad Dressing
Simplest and Easiest Chili Ever!
Black Bean Salad
Banana Coffee Smoothie Recipe

Here is a simple grace to say while you are sharing these recipes:

Round the table;
Peace and joy prevail.
May all who share
This season's delight
Enjoy countless more.
~~ Chinese Blessing

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Reads

The book chosen this year for our community's book to read together is The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to his Toisanese Mother by William Poy Lee. I didn't intend to get up in the middle of the night to finish it yesterday, but a mid-winter Michigan thunderstorm late last night seemed to get my usual sound sleep out of kilter. I was glad to have a good book to take my mind off the unusual storm.

This book is a son's tribute to his mother along with an insider's view of both childhood and young adulthood in San Francisco's Chinatown, beginning in the 1950's through the tumultuous 1960's and 70's. It is a true, riveting first-hand account of a Chinese-American experience. I admit that this book has helped me to recall my visit to Chinatown's Grant Street with new eyes and has added a deeper understanding and compassion to my overall view of the immigrant experience in the U.S.

In fact, "to live life with compassion toward all" is the eight promise that Mr. Poy's mother gave her own mother before leaving her home village in China to come to America in 1950.

As I finished the book last night, I had very clear and vivid memories of my deep desire after finishing my cancer treatments in 1995 to share my compassion for other cancer survivors. Very simply, I hoped that I could find a way to share my personal experiences and professional expertise to help the millions of other cancer survivors have a cancer recovery journey that was less difficult than my own journey has been. I did not have a clue how I was going to act on these early desires, but I decided that If I could help even one person navigate and transcend the fears with both information and inspiration, I would be able to sleep well at night (well, most nights!).

Only within the past week did I hear myself tell someone that it has been nearly 13 years since my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995. Thirteen years!! Thirteen years sounds like such a long time, yet they have gone by in a flash with my compassion still deeply felt for anyone else who has traveled a cancer journey. In fact, I never go anywhere without a tissue in my pocket or purse because I know that I will meet someone nearly every single day who will share their own cancer story with me. I have learned that each individual story shared with me is inspirational and brings tears to my eyes because I truly understand the challenges each person has faced or is currently facing in order to optimize their odds for both long-term recovery and quality of life, in addition to finding meaning in life after a cancer diagnosis.

Although this book has nothing to do with cancer per se, I highly recommend taking the time to read it. After all, it is a book about optimizing odds for long term survival, improving quality of life, and finding meaning in life.

Tonight, I'll end with one of my favorite poems and a grace, both speaking about compassion. I first remember seeing this short poem by Emily Dickinson on the wall of Evanston (IL) Hospital's Kellogg Cancer Center where my first breast cancer was treated in 1984.

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.
~~ Emily Dickinson

For each of us food is the source of
sustenance, the basis of life; and when we
offer this gift to one another, we are not only
nourishing each other's bodies, we are
feeding one another's spirits. So receive --
and give -- the food of your life as the
powerful gift it is.
~~ Daphne Rose Kingma

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Monday, February 4, 2008

Easy Post-Superbowl Quesadillas

Did you read that Americans consume 30 million pounds of snack foods while watching the Superbowl (about 1200 calories and 50 grams of fat - oh my!) and then also eat dinner? Well, my husband and I did eat our share of snack foods, but as these are really a treat for us, they were our dinner. We tried some of the new whole grain chips, some low-fat chips, some veggie chips, some fruit chips (yuk, don't bother buying these - they tasted like some overly-sweetened kids' cereal!) and served them with fat-free bean dip, homemade salsa (our last jar - next year we make much more of this!) and some guacamole. Actually, the bean dip, salsa, and guacamole were all really healthy foods.  

So what did I do for Monday night's dinner? I cleaned out the refrigerator, lined up all the little bits of this and that still hanging out from the last couple of days and combined them into some tasty, easy, and healthy quesadillas.

Here is what I found and put between 2 tortillas and grilled on my Jenn-air cooktop:
• Whole grain tortillas - 2 per serving (found at Trader Joe's)
• Leftover pinto bean dip from the Superbowl (2-3 Tbsp spread on one tortilla)
• Leftover Red Pepper Pesto Sauce (link is to the recipe on my web site) (1-2 Tbsp spread on the other tortilla
• Leftover chicken breast (about 1 ounce shredded on one tortilla)
• Leftover cooked and peeled sweet potato (about 1/2 cup cut into small pieces smashed and spread on one tortilla)
• Leftover cheddar cheese (about 1-2 Tbsp. shredded and spread onto one tortilla)

Put 2 tortillas together, heat on your grill, in the oven, or in a non-stick frying pan until the tortillas and fillings are thoroughly warmed through and ready to eat (be careful not to burn). 

Serve with any left over salsa and guacamole. I also serve this with a tossed green salad if I have not already eaten greens of some type earlier in the day. 

Obviously this is a flexible recipe. You may use anything you find in your refrig that sounds good to your family. I have added leftover cooked greens in the past. I would have loved to have had some caramelized onions ready to add. 

In addition, I have made quesadillas in the past using refried black beans instead of pinto beans, which I think gave the final recipe a fuller flavor. I have used small amounts of smoked gouda cheese, which is just downright scrumptious, and very little is needed because the cheese is so full of flavor. 

So enjoy an easy dinner night. Having some tortillas on hand (in the freezer is ok as they just take a minute to thaw at room temperature) makes this an easy dinner anytime when you have little bits of foods that need to be used up. 

Here is the grace I said tonight:

Let us live together, eat together
Together, let us do noble deeds and share the fruits
Let us understand each other, casting aside jealousy and ill-will
Let us all work for peace and peace alone.
~~Hindu Prayer

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Don't just reach for the "organic" label

True story - my husband comes home with a jar of organic peanut butter. He's as pleased as can be, but here comes the spoiler, "Diana the label reader". (Yep, it takes me forever to grocery shop - sometimes I see friends in the store who "lap me" - what? are you still in this aisle??)

Why is it that some companies trying to capture a share of the organic foods market seem to cater to the lowest common denominator, by which I mean those "focus groups" filled with people who have been conditioned over the past several decades by our food companies to prefer food products with added sugar, fat, and salt?

The brand of peanut butter that my well-meaning husband bought contained "organic sugar" (yikes, who needs the extra calories from sugar in their peanut butter?), "organic palm oil" (yuck, who wants palm oil with its health and environmental concerns in their food?), and just plain old salt (at the tune of 55 mg sodium per serving, not outrageously high, but again who needs it? I don't, nor does the vast majority of us.)

The company and/or brand does not matter. The label is what matters along with your subsequent actions (that is called voting with your pocketbook and/or fork). I have written this company via their web site saying I will not purchase their product again (and hopefully my husband won't either!) pointing out that if they used great tasting organic peanuts to start with, no focus group would want all this additional "stuff" (polite word) in their food. Formulated as it is with these additional ingredients, their peanut butter is no longer a food but instead has morphed into a "food product" as thoroughly discussed in Michael Pollans' excellent new book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.

My take home message from this experience is for us to not take the word organic for granted, assuming that the product is healthier for us. Instead, I hope that I've helped my husband and all of us to "take time"; take time to read and understand the significance of the information on labels, take time to plan meals, take time to cook and prepare foods to eat, take time to say a grace before meals, and most of all, take time to enjoy eating meals with family and friends.

Here is another of my favorite graces, a beautiful simple blessing to end this post about giving thanks for our food and not taking it for granted.

So often bread is taken for granted,
Yet there is so much of beauty in bread --
Beauty of the sun and the soil,
Beauty of human toil.
Winds and rain have caressed it,
Christ, himself, blessed it.
~~Christian prayer

Diana Dyer, MS, RD