Nutrition - Seminar notes diet and cancer Professor Robert Thomas

Tuesday 08 May 2018

I thought that this week you might like to hear about a lecture that I went on very recently. It was at the Bagnell centre for Integrated Health Care and given by Professor Robert Thomas. He is a professor of oncology working at Bedford and Cambridge University Hospital specialising in breast, bowel and prostate but his passion is about nutrition and self help strategies. It was 180 mile round trip to attend, but as you can imagine I was very interested and love to hear from others in the profession so to speak and find out the latest research. Professor Robert Thomas was awarded oncologist of the year last year and he has led many high profile trials on food and cancer. It was these trials that he focused his talk on.

He felt that more and more people will be living with cancer, estimated at 3 million this year, and he felt that by addressing diet and exercise that a high percentage of these people would not experience a relapse. He was very clear that it was never too late to change the way that we eat even after diagnosis in fact he felt that it was a given.

Like most complementary health professionals he shared the view that a healthy lifestyle reduced side effects of treatment, slows cancer growth and reduces the chances of a relapse. He emphasise the importance of having a strong immune system and eating to work towards achieving this. He was very keen on exercise even for people with chronic fatigue who he suggested did some form of exercise under professional supervision. This coupled with a good diet was the key.

He did feel that the environment and living in the modern world were all against us but felt that there was a great deal that we can do to help ourselves. He listed all of the negatives that he felt contributed to cancer i.e.

·       Being overweight and by having a normal BMI (body mass index) reduced the risk of relapse by 10-15%

·       Smoking doubled the risk of cancer coming back even if the original cancer was not smoking related.

·       Carcinogenic foods that are difficult to avoid i.e. preservatives in all packaged processed foods, Acrylamides from BBQ’d and browned foods, N-Nitroso found in red meat, polyhydrocarbons from smoked and burnt food, processed sugar (he was adamant that we should give up the sweet tooth because of the effect on growth factor) and finely alcohol.

·       Plastics, the chemicals mimic oestrogen in the body

·       Car fumes

·       Poor dental hygiene, particularly relevant to bowel cancer (ofcourse not the only reason but could contribute)

·       Cosmetics and toiletries particularly the ones that contain aluminium and parabens.

·       Household cleaning products

·       Over sunbathing. He quite liked the idea of modest exposure because of the valuable vitamin D that we got from the sun.


It’s all about balance

Once he had listed all of these negatives emphasied that it was a matter of Balance. That cheered me up because it is a phrase that I personally use such a lot. He explained that ‘some people probably cannot avoid cancer’, but we can increase our anti -cancer environment every day by avoiding the worst offenders and looking at our diet. I am sure that this statement would be a whole new lecture as it is such a sweeping thing to say.

Research into foods and cancer

Polyphenols As I explained at the beginning professor Thomas has been involved in a great deal of research. One study was awarded a prize and picked out as being thoroughly good. It focussed on polyphenols in food and how they have many anti-cancer properties. (Polyphenols are natural compounds found in food. There are 1,000’s recognised). To do this research he looked at many many different foods and came up with

a short list of 4 polyphenols which he thought were the most beneficial.

1.     Phyto oestrogens or plant oestrogens. His research showed categorically that these foods were capable of damping down hormone driven cancers and he likened its effects to drugs like Tamoxifen. This is to block the oestrogen receptor sites on the cells to prevent oestrogen getting into the cell and causing cancer proliferation. This was interesting as I have read so many conflicting reports on this but he was quite adament that his research showed very positive benefits. Phytoestrogenic foods are soya and its products like tofu, tempeh and soya milk, flax seeds and most pulse foods like peas beans and lentil and most plant foods contain some.

2.     Pomegranate because of its high levels of Ellagic acid which inhibits proliferation of cancer and encourages apoptosis or natural cell death. In lab conditions it also helped to prevent metastising of cancers. Eallgic acid is also high in berry fruits.

3.     Green tea which is rich in polyphenols and was shown to encourage apoptosis and to down regulate the genes that promote cancer (GSTM1).

4.     Turmeric which is the biggest selling supplement in the world with 17 good studies showing its benefits all with amazing results.

As a result of this research he developed a food form supplement called Pomi-T which contains 100mgs of each of the 4 above. Trials on prostate cancer in 2012 showed that men who took it had a significant reduction in their PSA levels, which was interesting


He also talked more generally about supplements and felt that apart from omega 3 and vitamin D, no other supplement should be taken unless a deficiency is seen i.e. through a blood test. He acknowledged that most of us are deficient in vitamin D and omega 3. If people want to take supplements they should be in a whole food form not an extracted form. He thought that it was better to rectify deficiencies through food rather than supplements. This I can understand but I do think that some who cannot reach the optimum diet which may be for many reasons may find supplements useful. This is of course all very individual and should be assessed that way.

I always admire people who have a passion about what they do and Professor Thomas was certainly that. It was well worth the long drive and as a supporter of so many visitors with cancer and their families I was pleased to meet him and know that I have yet another source of research and information at my fingertips which I can share.

Blog originally written by Caroline April 2014

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up