Not too long after actor Christopher Reeve succumbed to his neck injuries, his wife Dana died of lung cancer. Her death brought the reality of this disease home for many people. That's because Dana never smoked. And yet, she died of cancer in her lungs. Why? What could cause this disease in an otherwise healthy woman?
The surprising answer could be a nutrient. But it's not just any nutrient.
The nutrient is phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential mineral. Normally, you wouldn't hear any negatives about it. We can't live without it. But, like iron, too much can be quite problematic. What's more, we now have to deal with inorganic phosphate. This unnatural form of phosphorus is common in processed foods. And it could be the culprit in what is now the world's most common cancer... cancer of the lung. It might explain why lots of people are getting the cancer but have never smoked.
A Korean group studied mice with lung cancer for four weeks. Might not seem like a long time, but mice don't live more than a few years. The researchers randomly selected the mice to eat a diet of either 0.5% or 1% phosphate. This is about what is in the SAD (Standard American Diet). The researchers then evaluated the animals for tumor mass.
I'll let lead author veterinarian Myung-Haing Cho tell you the findings: "Our results clearly demonstrated that the diet higher in inorganic phosphates caused an increase in the size of the tumors and stimulated growth of the tumors. Our study indicates that increased intake of inorganic phosphates strongly stimulates lung cancer development in mice, and suggests that dietary regulation of inorganic phosphates may be critical for lung-cancer treatment as well as prevention."
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Lung cancer is epidemic. I've seen growing numbers of non-smokers with the disease. This is interesting for dietary phosphorus in men has gone from about 470 mg per day in the mid-1990s to 1,495 mg daily. The Food and Nutrition Board estimates phosphorus consumption in the U.S. has increased 10% to 15% over the past 20 years.
Food manufacturers are currently adding phosphates much more frequently to a large number of processed foods, including meats, cheeses, beverages, and bakery products. One slice of whole wheat bread contains 64 mg. One carbonated soda has about 44 mg.
Phosphorus is ubiquitous in foods. If not, we wouldn't be here. But in whole unadulterated food, it is in the right proportion and molecular form for healthy consumption. In the processed arena, it is just another chemical throwing off your biochemistry.
This is just another reason to avoid all processed foods. Don't worry about the phosphorus content of whole foods as found in nature. Nature didn't expect us to be dumping pounds of inorganic phosphorus into our bodies each year. But do worry about all the phosphates you're getting in processed foods. They could cause - or at least encourage - cancer.
Frank Shallenberger, MD
AJRCCM, January 2010; www.thoracic.org
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