Alkaline diet and cancer

Is alkaline diet cancer – protective?

Pawel Malczewski
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Short explanation

The hypotheses that cancer is caused by diet-induced acidosis is flawed. Diet does not change the body alkaline balance and cancer produces the acidic environment on its own independent of the blood pH. For a quick answer click here.

Explanation

One misconception about cancer is that its cells are acidic and/or cancer thrives in acidic environments resulting from an acid-forming diet. The alkaline diet supporters claim that by increasing the consumption of alkaline foods, the environment becomes more alkaline, resulting in a reduction of the risk of cancer, the suspension of the cancer cell growth or even the elimination of cancer cells.

The following are the three main reasons why this theory is incorrect:

  1. What we eat does not change the blood pH or extracellular fluid (read more..) and has nothing to do with the acidic environment around cancer cells. (1)Bonjour JP. Nutritional disturbance in acid–base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 110 / Issue 07 / 14 October 2013, pp 1168-1177. Available here. (2)De Santo NG, Capasso G, Malnic G, Anastasio P, Spitali L, D’Angelo A. Effect of an acute oral protein load on renal acidification in healthy humans and in patients with chronic renal failure. JASN May 1, 1997 vol. 8 no. 5 784-792. Available here. (3)Hietavala EM, Puurtinen R, Kainulainen H, Mero AA. Low-protein vegetarian diet does not have a short-term effect on blood acid–base status but raises oxygen consumption during submaximal cycling. Hietavala et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012, 9:50. Available here.
  2. Cancer cells have a neutral or slightly alkaline pH, but never acidic. However, outside the cancer cells, the environment may be slightly acidic. The acidity in the cancer cell environment is caused by a homeostatic mechanism in which the cancer cells expel hydrogen ions and lactic acid to maintain a constant neutral or alkaline pH within the cells.
    Therefore, cancer cells are actually causing the acidic environment around them. (4)Griffiths JR. Are cancer cells acidic? Br. J. Cancer (1991), 64, 425-427. Available here. (5)Martinez-Zaguilan R, Seftor EA, Seftor RE, Chu YW, Gillies RJ, Hendrix MJ. Acidic pH enhances the invasive behavior of human melanoma cells. Clinical & Experimental Metastasis. March 1996, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 176-186. Available here.
  3. Cancer creates its own acidic environment in which it thrives. It’s rapidly multiplying cells increase glucose consumption, leading to an increased acid production.
    This excess of acid is then exported outside the cancer cells in order to maintain a near neutral pH. Meanwhile, in this process, the cells become more resistant to acid-induced cell toxicity.
    The increased acidic environment outside the cancer cells helps them to expand by invading other tissues not resistant to this acidic environment.
    The microenvironment created by cancer cells has a reduced circulation making it difficult for the blood to influence its pH. (6)Moellering RE, Black KC, Krishnamurty C, Baggett BK, Stafford P, Rain M, Gatenby RA, Gillies RJ. Acid treatment of melanoma cells selects for invasive phenotypes. Clin Exp Metastasis. 2008;25(4):411-25. Available here. (7)Gatenby RA, Gillies RJ. Why do cancers have high aerobic glycolysis? Nat Rev Cancer. 2004 Nov;4(11):891-9. Available here.
    This biological fact is often omitted in the studies that try to prove that cancer is a result of the acidosis caused by diet.

Conclusion

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One of the benefits of the alkaline diet is that it includes plenty of healthy, whole foods and excludes processed foods. There is no doubt that eating plenty of vegetables and fruits and avoiding processed foods is cancer preventive.
However, the diet’s core claim, that acid forming foods cause cancer due to the acid environment they create, is simply unscientific.

References   [ + ]

1. Bonjour JP. Nutritional disturbance in acid–base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney. British Journal of Nutrition / Volume 110 / Issue 07 / 14 October 2013, pp 1168-1177. Available here.
2. De Santo NG, Capasso G, Malnic G, Anastasio P, Spitali L, D’Angelo A. Effect of an acute oral protein load on renal acidification in healthy humans and in patients with chronic renal failure. JASN May 1, 1997 vol. 8 no. 5 784-792. Available here.
3. Hietavala EM, Puurtinen R, Kainulainen H, Mero AA. Low-protein vegetarian diet does not have a short-term effect on blood acid–base status but raises oxygen consumption during submaximal cycling. Hietavala et al. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012, 9:50. Available here.
4. Griffiths JR. Are cancer cells acidic? Br. J. Cancer (1991), 64, 425-427. Available here.
5. Martinez-Zaguilan R, Seftor EA, Seftor RE, Chu YW, Gillies RJ, Hendrix MJ. Acidic pH enhances the invasive behavior of human melanoma cells. Clinical & Experimental Metastasis. March 1996, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 176-186. Available here.
6. Moellering RE, Black KC, Krishnamurty C, Baggett BK, Stafford P, Rain M, Gatenby RA, Gillies RJ. Acid treatment of melanoma cells selects for invasive phenotypes. Clin Exp Metastasis. 2008;25(4):411-25. Available here.
7. Gatenby RA, Gillies RJ. Why do cancers have high aerobic glycolysis? Nat Rev Cancer. 2004 Nov;4(11):891-9. Available here.

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