The Weekly Thread: why cancer is increasing globally in young adults, reducing risk of metabolic syndrome, and why too much vegetable oil causes rampant inflammation.

A paper I recently came across from the BMJ Oncology Journal titled, Global trends in incidence, death, burden and risk factors of early-onset cancer from 1990 to 2019, showed an alarming trend of a 79% increase in incidence of cancer in younger adults (aged 30-49 years of age), including a 27% increase in deaths. 

A separate editorial article also released on BMJ Oncology titled, Shifting Tides: the rising tide of early onset cancers demands attention, remarked:

“While increasing age is a major non-modifiable risk factor for cancer, the incidence of early onset cancers largely accepted to be in adults under the age of 50 is increasing. In addition, cancers historically found to be more common in older age groups are now being diagnosed in younger adults, including colorectal, breast, esophageal, gastric, and pancreatic,  among others.”

The “Global Trends” paper shows a diagram breaking down various risk factors, and there is a noticeable correlation between increased incidence of cancer and metabolic risk factors, namely, an increase in BMI (body mass index) and higher resting blood glucose.

One of the biggest factors in metabolic syndrome is an inability to metabolize blood glucose, and this can lead to body fat accumulation, and an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s/dementia, and yes, cancer. 

According to the aforementioned paper, and its subsequent analysis, the increase in metabolic syndrome and an inability to metabolize blood sugar effectively does appear to be directly correlated to this alarming increase in incidence of cancer in young adults. 

It is not the only risk factor, but as far as risk factors go, it does appear to be pretty definitively, and directly correlated.

Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 19 studies titled, Serum Glucose and Risk of Cancer: a meta-analysis, showed an RR (risk rate) of 32% of those with high resting blood glucose, or in other words, a 32% increased risk of cancer if you have high resting blood glucose. 

NOTE: When it comes to research, I prefer meta-analyses (which you may have noticed from week to week), as a meta-analysis is an overarching analysis of multiple studies, which tends to remove the biases that can show up in individual studies. Therefore, the findings of a meta-analysis tend to be more telling, more reliable, and more definitive. 

The short of all of this research and findings…

Poor metabolic health, especially high resting blood sugar levels (indicating poor blood sugar metabolism), appears to have a direct correlation on risk rate, and overall incidence of cancer, and appears to be a leading cause of this alarming rise in incidence of cancer in young adults as low quality, processed foods become more and more a part of the Standard American Diet (SAD). 

Okay, but why?

The Warburg Effect

The Warburg Effect is a phenomenon observed in cancer cells where they exhibit increased glucose uptake and conversion of glucose to lactate, even in the presence of oxygen (aerobic glycolysis). Normally, healthy cells primarily generate energy through oxidative phosphorylation in the mitochondria. However, cancer cells tend to rely more on glycolysis for energy production, even when oxygen is available. This metabolic shift is named after Otto Warburg, the scientist who first described it in the 1920s. The exact reasons for this metabolic change in cancer cells are still a subject of research, but it's believed to support their rapid growth and proliferation.

So we’ve known since the 1920s that cancer cells behave differently, and prefer glucose (sugar) for energy production. 

A paper titled, The Warburg Effect: How does it benefit cancer cells?, states the following about the Warburg Effect and cancer:

“Cancer cells rewire their metabolism to promote growth, survival, proliferation, and long-term maintenance. The common feature of this altered metabolism is increased glucose uptake and fermentation of glucose to lactate. This phenomenon is observed even in the presence of completely functioning mitochondria and together is known as the Warburg Effect.”

There’s a decent chance that if you’re reading this, you have cancer somewhere in your body, as it’s very common, and grows more and more common as we age, to have cancerous cells in the body. 

When someone gets diagnosed with cancer, what this actually means is that a pre-existing cancer has now become a problem, a potentially life threatening problem. 

The goal is not to avoid cancer altogether, as that’s probably an impossibility over time, the goal is to stay on top of cancer, and prevent it from growing, and metastasizing to the point where it becomes a problem. 

The reality is that somewhere inside your body you probably have some cells that are cancerous, or potentially cancerous, and as we’ve learned through the Warburg Effect, the more often your body is unable to metabolize blood glucose effectively, you are potentially feeding cancerous cells in your body, which can lead to their proliferation over time. 

And to boot, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and increasing your body’s ability to metabolize blood sugar is also probably the most effective way to boost metabolism. 

Here are some simple ways to help your body more effectively metabolize blood sugar:

  1. Intermittent fasting and periodic extended fasts (over 24 hours).
  2. Cold showers to start your day (3-5 minutes). 
  3. Exercise
  4. More, and higher quality sleep
  5. Cutting back on carbohydrate intake
  6. When eating carbs, focus on unprocessed carb sources like fruit, honey, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables. 
  7. Eat more protein. The greater the percentage of calories coming from protein, the more blood sugar levels stay stabilized, and metabolism increases. 
  8. Lift weights. Skeletal muscle is your body’s main glucose disposal agent. The stronger you are, the more readily your body is able to dispose of blood sugar.
  9. Supplement with potent blood glucose disposal agents and fasting mimickers like Berberine
  10. Avoid refined seed oils like canola (vegetable) oil. These oils (which I’ll touch on next) may not contain any sugar, but they negatively affect your insulin response.

Of the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein, fats are the most important for survival. 

We’ve discussed quite a bit about the importance of protein for living optimally, especially longer in life

Fats however, are probably the most critical overall. 

You can survive without carbohydrates. 

You cannot survive without fats. 

In fact, there is a very real thing called “rabbit starvation”, where individuals who’ve survived off hunting rabbits have actually starved to death, because the rabbits are so lean that they don’t get enough fat to survive, and they die from malnourishment. 

There are, however, many kinds of fats, and too much of certain types can increase risk of disease, whereas other fats are very effective at reducing risk of disease, can help boost metabolism, improve brain function, and reduce systemic inflammation. 

Ideally, you want to ensure you’re getting a good mix of all kinds of fats to ensure maximal benefits from the dietary fat you consume.

This is the final week of this segment where I’m breaking down each individual type of fat for you, discussing the benefits of it, and the best food sources for said fats.

In this final week, I’m going to discuss polyunsaturated fats, which along with saturated fats, are probably our most misunderstood fats. 

In the prior weeks, we’ve discussed medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), saturated fats, and monounsaturated fats if you’d like to read up or review. 

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are a type of dietary fat characterized by their chemical structure, which contains multiple double bonds in their fatty acid chains. These double bonds create kinks in the fatty acid chain, preventing them from packing closely together. This structural feature distinguishes them from saturated fats (no double bonds) and monounsaturated fats (one double bond).

Polyunsaturated fats are classified into two main types based on the location of the first double bond relative to the methyl end of the fatty acid chain:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: The two most common omega-3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and more, and in plant-based foods like flax oil, walnuts, and algae. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their potential health benefits, including supporting cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, and seem to show a strong correlation towards overall longevity and health span.

2. Omega-6 Fatty Acids: This specific polyunsaturated fat is very misunderstood, is typically far too prevalent in the Standard American Diet (SAD), and have been shown to be pro-inflammatory and reduce insulin sensitivity when consumed in higher amounts, and in a disproportionate ratio to omega-3 fatty acids. 

Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oils (like soybean, corn, and sunflower oils), nuts, and seeds. The former aforementioned (vegetable oils) are the fats that we typically tend to overconsume, and have pro-inflammatory effects on the body, which we will now discuss more in-depth.

Omega 3’s vs. Omega 6’s

It’s important to note that both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential to the body. 

While omega-6 fatty acids are essential for the body, an excessive intake of them relative to omega-3s can create a pro-inflammatory response in the body, and is quickly being recognized as one of the leading causes of disease and metabolic syndrome in the body. 

An ideal ratio of omega-3:omega-6 fatty acids in the body is 1:1, meaning for every one omega-3 molecule there is one omega-6 molecule. 

So again, both types of polyunsaturated fats are necessary, however, the rub is that the average American has an omega-3:omega-6 ratio that is way off, oftentimes upwards of 1:9, meaning for every one omega-3 molecules in the body, there are nine omega-6 molecules. 

Ratios well above 1:1 cause rampant inflammation in the body, trigger your immune system to activate when not necessary, and can dramatically reduce insulin sensitivity, which as mentioned above, reduces your body’s ability to metabolize blood sugar. 

Unfortunately, these omega-6 polyunsaturated fats are EVERYWHERE, and even worse, they’re typically found in rancid, oxidated, refined sources like vegetable oils. 

To be perfectly honest and frank, an abundance of refined omega-6 fatty acids in one’s diet is probably as big of a health concern as overconsuming processed sugars, however, it’s not being talked about as much. 

Canola Oil is an industrial lubricant!?

Canola oil, aka vegetable oil (which is a great name if you want to represent it as healthy) is actually rapeseed oil, and most likely was never meant to be consumed by humans. 

The original use of rapeseed oil was as an industrial lubricant. 

Don’t believe me? Read this. (And any internet search on the topic will yield ample results)

The same goes for “vegetable shortening”. 

Eventually, synthetic chemistry came along, and through this, they were able to create synthetic lubricants, and thus, the market for rapeseed oil dried up. 

So what to do with all this rapeseed oil?

Well, it’s technically edible, so let’s feed it to humans and call it vegetable oil, a healthy, mild oil, with a high heat threshold for cooking. 

And unfortunately, everything is cooked in this oil cause it’s cheap. 

It’s used in processed foods. 

It’s often used in place of butter to make things vegan. 

So not only do many of us unknowingly consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, and thus, have an omega-3:omega-6 ratio that is way off, the majority of those omega-6s are not coming from ideal sources.

Increase Omega-3 Intake, Decrease Omega-6 Intake

I want to stress that omega-6s are essential for the body, the rub is that we don’t struggle to find them in our diet, and thus, this critical omega-3:omega-6 ratio gets thrown way off. 

An easy fix to this is focus more heavily on increasing your omega-3 consumption, and decreasing your omega-6 consumption, as well as getting your omega-6 fatty acids from more ideal sources like organic nuts and sprouted seeds rather than refined oils. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are much more difficult to come by in nature, which is another reason this critical ratio is typically way off in the American diet, and has this pro-inflammatory effect. 

When the ratio is ideal, it has the opposite effect, thus reducing inflammation in the body, and decreasing risk of diseases like heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s/dementia. 

Fish is by far the best source, especially cold-water fatty fish like salmon and trout. Make sure your fish is wild-caught. 

All meat will contain omega-3 fatty acids, however, any grass-fed meat will contain a higher concentration. 

Even then, it’s probably imperative that everyone be on a high quality Omega-3 supplement. 

Unfortunately, there really aren’t many sources of omega-3s in plants, so your only reliable sources there are going to be flax oil and algae. 

To reduce your intake of omega-6 fatty acids, especially refined oils, cook with real butter (margarine, and other butter substitutes are just a ton of refined omega-6 fatty acids), and animal fats like tallow. 

I even do all my fish fries at home in beef tallow, and everyone who’s had a fish fry at my house agrees, once you fry in beef tallow, you’ll never go back to anything else. 

Also be cognizant that basically all restaurants are using vegetable oil for cooking and frying, so the more you can avoid fried foods when eating out the better. 

You’ll never be able to fully avoid refined vegetable oils unless you are wildly strict and cook 100% of your food at home, however, these tips should help you achieve that ideal, anti-inflammatory, disease preventing ratio of 1:1 omega-3:omega-6.