Can Diet Protect Against Kidney Cancer?

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What to Eat & What to Avoid to Protect Against Kidney Cancer

58,000 Americans are diagnosed with kidney cancer every year, and 13,000 die. And the numbers have been rising. Approximately 4 percent of cases are hereditary, but what about the other 96 percent? Historically, the only accepted risk factor has been tobacco use, but cigarette smoking has been declining. So, what’s going on?

Nitrosamines are one of the most potent carcinogens in cigarette smoke. One hot dog has as many nitrosamines and nitrosamides as five cigarettes. And these carcinogens are also found in fresh meat as well: beef, chicken, and pork. So, even though smoking rates have dropped, perhaps the rise in kidney cancer over the last few decades may have something to do with meat consumption. But would kidney cancer just be related to the processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and cold cuts that have nitrate and nitrite additives, or fresh meat as well?

The NIH-AARP study featured in my video Can Diet Protect Against Kidney Cancer? is the largest prospective study on diet and health ever performed—about 500,000 men and women followed for nine years. In addition to examining nitrate and nitrite intake from processed meat, they also looked at intake from other sources such as fresh meat, eggs, and dairy. Nitrite from all animal sources, not just processed meats, was associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer. The researchers found no associations with nitrate or nitrite intake from plant sources.

When meat producers advertise their bacon or lunch meat as “uncured,” this means no nitrites or nitrates added. But if you look at the small print, you’ll see something like “except for celery juice.” That’s just a sneaky way to add nitrites. Processed meat producers ferment the nitrates in celery to create nitrites, then add it to the meat: a practice even the industry admits “may be viewed as incorrect at best or deceptive at worst.”

But that same fermentation of nitrates to nitrites can happen thanks to bacteria on our tongue when we eat vegetables. So, why are nitrates and nitrites from vegetables on our tongue harmless, but nitrates and nitrites from vegetables in meat linked to cancer? The actual carcinogens are not nitrites, but nitrosamines and nitrosamides. In our stomach, to turn nitrites into nitros-amines, and nitros-amides, we need amines and amides, which are concentrated in animal products. And vitamin C and other antioxidants in plant foods block the formation of these carcinogens in our stomach. That’s why we can safely benefit from the nitrates in vegetables without the cancer risk. In fact, some of the highest nitrate vegetables, like arugula, kale, and collards, are associated with decreased risk of kidney cancer. The more plants, it appears, the better.

Plant-based diets and fiber-rich diets are recommended to prevent cancer, as well as chronic conditions associated with kidney cancer, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It’s like sodium intake and kidney cancer. Sodium intake increases kidney disease risk, but that’s not just because sodium intake increases blood pressure. It appears the salt is associated with increased cancer risk even independently of hypertension. What about plant-based diets? Turns out the protective association remains even in people who are not obese and have normal blood pressure. So overall, plant-based and fiber-rich diets appear to do both: decrease cancer risk directly and indirectly.

I briefly address kidney health in Preventing Kidney Failure Through Diet and Treating Kidney Failure Through Diet, but have a whole series of more in-depth videos dealing with various kidney issues.

More on the fascinating nitrate story, involving improving athletic performance and blood flow with nitrate-rich vegetables:

More on carcinogens caused by cooking meat in videos like:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2013: Uprooting the Leading Causes of DeathMore Than an Apple a Day2014: From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food, 2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not To Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

30 responses to “What to Eat & What to Avoid to Protect Against Kidney Cancer

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  1. Am I missing something? “What about plant-based diets? Turns out the protective association remains even in people who are not obese and have normal blood pressure.” (paragraph 6) Shouldn’t this read, “Turns out the protective association remains even in people who are obese and have hypertension.”?

        1. That is wishful thinking. In Uruguay for example where all beef comes from grass fed animals, the more beef eaten, the higher the rates of cancer.

    1. No, its really about the bugs in your body (bacteria) and how they digest what you eat. It’s that secondary digestion process that is the most important, not just what hits your stomach. If you eat whole plant foods that are digested by them then your body gets phyto-nutrients and other benefits of the digestion process of the bacteria. If you eat animal products then you get inflammation and leaky gut and all sorts of other problems including the process of moving fats in the food to your blood stream which clogs up the works. Part of the craving for animal products comes from those same bacteria because they make you desire what keeps them alive rather than what is best for you. This is something the animal agricultural industry and fast food corporations use to their advantage all of the time,
      Not a very technical explanation but there are a number of videos on this site that will confirm what I have said.

  2. Amygdalin found in apricot kernals inhibits renal fibrosis in chronic kidney disease. Amygdalin is very controversial and any conventional doctor who supports it or says anything good about will be blacklisted. So, I don’t know how this abstract found its way onto PubMed.

    There are also people who claim that amygdalin has improved their cancer situation. But, then again there are others who say that amygdalin has not helped them at all. I am still researching laetrile, amygdalin, apricot kernals, or B17…..and so far….my conclusion is that it will improve the status of a cancer patient at the beginning stages of cancer, but if a person has full fledged cancer and are on their death bed, then it will not help them at all. Also, a person who is battling cancer from what I have research cannot rely upon amygdalin ALONE, they have to change over to a strict vegan diet, maybe even practice supervised fasting, and they have to devote their mental energy to focus on their recovery by prayer, visualization, positive affirmation, and mental soaking.

    1. Sorry John but we have had this discussion before.

      Researchers are not “blacklisted” for studies that show positive effects for amygdalin. Nor are people are harassed by “FDA thugs” for selling Rife machines. These are just conspiracy fantasies.

      However, people are prosecuted for making false/unproven claims that these things cure cancer. There is no credible evidence that they do. People making money from the sick and the dying by selling goods on the basis of false/unproven claims are rightly prosecuted in my view.

      As for your conclusions above, you cite no evidence to support them. So, I presume that they are merely opinions?

        1. John, I would say that you mostly “challenge” rather than irritate. To avoid falling into the trap of confirmation bias, this group, like any other where a significant number are in agreement, needs to have their thinking and conclusions challenged to force us to think and investigate further to see if our beliefs/understanding hold up. However, challenges that have been rebutted with strong evidence/arguments and are presented again without additional evidence/arguments supporting them can trip over that fine line between challenging and irritating. So I would encourage you to stick around if you are getting something from the videos and discussions and don’t be afraid to challenge a conclusion if you think that you have evidence or arguments to offer that brings that conclusion into question.

  3. 58,000 Americans diagnosed with kidney cancer and you blaim meats, eggs and dairy because of nitrates? 100 million eat that everyday for life and only 58,000 cases? Sometimes you write just for the sake of writing.

    1. Using those figures, over 50 years of eating that way, very crudely speaking, there would be a total risk of around 3% of developing kidney cancer at some point [apologies to any lurking statisticians].

      You may think that risk is negligible. Many people wouldn’t

      1. But kidney cancer is just one cancer and that small fraction of people with kidney cancer does not include all the deaths from all cancers as a result of diet and/or smoking and that is where the large number of deaths occur even forgetting the greater number of deaths related to ASCVD.

    2. If kidney cancer was the only thing that the nitrites/nitrates in animal products caused, then you would have a point. But the nitrosamines and nitrosamides (created when the nitrates/nitrates combine with the amines and amides found mostly in animal foods) are general carcinogens and are a factor in a number of different types cancers.

      And this is for the impact of animal product in actually causing the DNA damage that initiates cancer. The protein in animal products has very high percentages of the essential amino acids methionine and leucine as compared to plant proteins. Americans eat twice as much protein as their bodies need and about 50% of that is animal protein. Excessive amounts of these amino acids stimulate the body to produce large amounts of IGF-1 and TOR. IGF-1 is at the center of most of the processes that cause cancer to progress once initiated by something like nitrosamine, Perhaps the most important process is that IGF-1 causes an increase in vascular epithelial growth factor (with the ironic acronym VEGF), which in turn is responsible for growth of new blood vessels critical if a tumor is to progress beyond the size of a pinhead. TOR plays a major role in the progression of cancer as well. Both IGF-1 and TOR have their own section in the Health Topics section if you are interested in learning more. And as a cherry on top, many types of cancer are dependent on high circulating levels of methionine. Eat a low methionine diet and growth of these cancers stops.

      And this is just cancer. The saturated fat and animal protein in meat also plays a central role in a lot of diseases that appear to be unrelated, but in fact are all just manifestations of atherosclerosis. If the plaques close off the arteries in the heart we call it heart disease, if it is in the penis we call it impotence, in the kidneys it is kidney disease, in the arteries of the arms and legs it is peripheral artery disease, and if in the arteries feeding the spine it is called degenerative disk disease or spinal stenosis. Insulin resistance is the root cause of type II diabetes. Insulin resistance is caused by saturated fats that build up in the muscle and liver cells that interfere with insulin signalling. Animal foods are the largest source of saturated fat in the diet.

      So you can see that animal foods attack the body in many different ways initiating kidney cancer being just one way.

      1. My sister in law came to dinner and said that since celery has more nitrates than bacon, what good is it to be vegan and not eat bacon? It’s what compounds the nitrates turn into after eating bacon that differentiates the effects of bacon consumption versus celery consumption, isn’t it?

    1. Can anyone recommend any websites or articles on the effect of nutrition on bladder cancer? There seems to be very little research specifically on bladder cancer, so any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  4. For 25 years I have not had any animal products except for fish. Diet is mainly raw and cooked veggies, avoided processed food and followed the guideline in Dr David Servan Schreiber’s book Anticancer. It has been seven years since my radical nephrectomy, but no follow up drugs or chemo. As yet no recurrence.
    Guessing there is no magic bullet, but trying my best to stay healthy.

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