And now for something completely different

Note: before anyone pooh-poohs this article for being in a blog mostly about weather and climate, note the description on the masthead. Note also that I have recently experienced cancer in my family as I’m sure many readers have at some time, therefore it is relevant to me, and may be helpful to others, and that’s all that matters. – Anthony

Guest post by David Archibald

Before starting out in climate science in 2006, my main hobby was cancer research. To that end, I had co-invented a cancer drug with two professors from Purdue University, Professor Jim Morre and his wife Professor Dorothy Morre. I went on to lodge a patent on a benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) drug myself. I still operate in that space. Early in that journey, I was given the draft manuscript of a book on how isoflavones from soy and other legumes modulate the human female hormone system.

That was in 1998. The manuscript had been written by Dr Graham Kelly who had founded a company to commercialise isoflavone supplementation in men and women. Dr Kelly’s journey in cancer research started in the 1980s when a friend with bowel cancer asked him to look into the science of it. Dr Kelly was intrigued by the epidemiological differences in cancer rates between populations. For example, Japanese who migrate to the US go to the US breast cancer rate in a generation. The US breast cancer rate is five times the Japanese breast cancer rate. The difference in cancer rate is not genetic, it is obviously dietary. So what is the difference in diet that is causing the difference in cancer incidence? A big difference is isoflavone consumption. Amongst the Japanese, it is an average of 40 mg per day. The US average is 3 mg per day.

In Western countries, breast cancer and prostate cancer have the same incidence. In women, 11% get diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime and 5% die of it. In men, 11% get diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime and 5% die of it. There are very big epidemiological differences in prostate cancer rates. As the following graph shows, the Vietnamese prostate cancer rate is one fortieth of the Western prostate cancer rate:


Defeating the scourge of a lot of common cancers is as simple as changing your diet. It is a bit like Vitamin C. If you don’t get any Vitamin C in your diet, you die of scurvy within three years. Pigs and dogs make their own Vitamin C, and presumably some precursor ape to humans had the ability to make it. Humans must have lost the ability for an evolutionary advantage. There are probably a large number of other plant molecules which we evolved to rely upon in our diet. We might not die in the near term if we don’t get them in our diet, but we suffer an increased incidence of degenerative diseases if we don’t. With respect to the dietary components that might cause the low Vietnamese prostate cancer rate, the national dish of Vietnam is called pho. It is a bowl of noodles and meat with three side dishes – bean sprouts, chillis and mint. The anticancer effect would be the result of synergistic blocking of the tNOX molecule on the external membrane of cancer cells by sulforaphane from the bean sprouts with capsaicin from the chilli peppers, stopping the overproduction of anti-apoptotic proteins and allowing the death receptors to trigger the apoptotic cascade of the caspases.

Back to Dr Kelly’s book, “Hormones with Harmony”. It is 70,000 words and goes into highly readable detail on how the daughter metabolites of isoflavones become human hormones in the body. They then become very useful in evening out the peaks and troughs of the body’s estrogenic hormones: estradiol, estrone and estriol. The book goes into detail on how the plant-derived hormones are beneficial in pms, mastalgia, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, cataracts, senile dementia and breast cancer. Without being overly technical, it does not talk down to its readers. Earlier this year, I undertook to get it published and it is now available on Kindle for $5 per copy. I do recommend it.

Further to the subject of prostate cancer, there are a number of plant molecules that have an effect on it and BPH. All cancers have tNOX molecules on their external membranes. tNOX is the tumour variant of cNOX, or normal constituent NOX. No plant molecules bind to cNOX but a number bind to tNOX. tNOX has two binding sites. If both are bound to simultaneously, the effect is synergistic. For example, the combination of sulforaphane with capsaicin has twenty times the effect of sulforaphane alone. Another example of synergism is curcumin from turmeric with piperine from black pepper.

David Archibald

December 2012


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interesting. a friend of mine got prostate cancer in his 30s. since recovering he has a Japanese diet and swears by it. been fine since. n=1 😉


Very interesting article. There are so many confounding factors. Sugar consumption as a percentage of calories, obesity rates and diabetes are also much higher in the US than the other countries mentioned. Interestingly, there are those who also believe soy consumption in the form of industrial oils contributes to some of these issues. So, fermintation could also play a role in health outcomes, as this is often how soy is consumed in Asian countries.

Very convincing, and thought-provoking. I frequently consume the foods and spices David mentions, with the exception of soya. A favourite (and cheap) dish is dhal – lentils cooked with turmeric, chillies and ginger. Fingers crossed then.

John R T

Anthony, many thanks for this.
What a Christmas gift, for men and women, of all ages!


hmm? and what research done on GMO soy?
which is whats eaten if the japanese etc come to usa and still eat soy..
personally I would rather avoid all soy until GMO is removed entirely from the food system, ditto the corn.
seems I have it half right re the alternative:-) I love pepper and can add turmeric to diet.
and how many of the present older age group cancers get tested for SV40? In the cancer itself.
millions of us copped the polio vax carrying that too.
then add a fair whack of our lives eating food off of or cooked and stored in hormone and chem emitting plastics.
having tried the soy based hormone replacer patches and getting near immediate breast lumps,, again I think I prefer to leave it well alone.

Morley Sutter

It should be pointed out that both prostate and breast tissue are influenced, indeed controlled by hormones. Cancers occurring in these tissues therefore are special. Possible benefits of isoflavones cannot be extrapolated to all cancers.

As a member of a family who parents died of cancer, I find this post interesting and appropos. Anything that can help reduce the incidence of the cancers listed in the article is a GOOD thing. Especially if all it takes is a minor adjustment in one’s diet


Very interesting article. I thought that much of the difference in breast cancer rates had been correlated to later menarche in Asian countries reducing lifetime exposure to estrogen. The later menarche was due to lower caloric intake. That being said, I do believe that soy can alleviate many female hormonal swings and associated symptoms.

Kerry Eubanks

A very interesting analysis, and one I am in no position to dispute. I will just state that in my opinion, the statistics being cited are being done in an overly simplistic manner. For example, you can’t discuss cancer mortality and morbidity without controlling for life expectancy differences between cultures. So yes, the differences appear dramatic (and thus likely are real), but I believe the analysis needs to be a bit more careful.
Having said that, thank you. Cancer touches almost all of us in one way or another during our lifetimes.

Jim Rose

This is a naive question from a lay person. Do bean sprouts (or soy bean sprouts) actually contain sulforaphane? I was under the impression that sulforaphane was a constituent of the criciferous vegatables — and found in high concentration in broccoli sprouts. Does the Vietnameese meal you referenced contain broccoli sprouts? Could you please give me a reference for sulforaphane in bean sprouts — I want to make this part of my diet.
Thank you, Jim Rose

Comparing rates between Vietnam and US.
Life expectancy is not a factor for higher rates in the US?

I took notes. Tnx, Anthony.


Thank you Anthony – most useful post


I knew this high school student that had stage 4 cancer in the digestive region. Her doctor had her taking 10,000 IU of vitamin D3 a day to compliment chemotherapy. She beat it last spring.
Here’s the background on how vitamin D3 prevent/fight cancer –
I only take 5,000 IU a day just to prevent cold, flu and especially sinus infection. It works perfectly for 4 years now. It’s like your universal vaccine against cold and flu. Apparently, cancers too.


It would be interesting to see data for China to compare with Japan and Vietnam.

Or is that what the “age standardized” accounts for?


Just to be anal about it, I see two mastheads, the first and more prominent states:
The world’s most viewed site on global warming and climate change
Not that I have any problem with Anthony putting up articles on any subject that interests him. On those few occassions when it’s not a topic that interests me, I just skip to the next article.


Pigs and dogs make their own Vitamin C, and presumably some precursor ape to humans had the ability to make it. Humans must have lost the ability for an evolutionary advantage.

Not necessarily. Millions of years living with a diet that had no vitamin C deficiency may have allowed the ability to create vitamin C to be lost with no downside, so it could have been lost by chance mutation with no evolutionary consequences (at the time).

Thanks Anthony.

Rob Potter

Thanks David,
An informative review and it is good to consider how much the existing compounds in foods are often biologically active (not just the added compounds used in production/processing). I also think it is noticeable that disease rates change in ethnic populations when people move from one area to another – I have reviewed a number of projects which used this as a starting point for some very useful research. However I am always concerned with any comparison of cancer rates across countries as there are massive differences in medical care in these countries which account for a good deal of the differences in incidence rates.
One of the issues now being widely recognized with both breast and prostate cancer screening is that we are detecting higher levels, but not affecting death rates from these diseases to the same level we have with many other cancers. This has been interpreted as suggesting that we are finding many tumours which would not go on to cause disease (or death) and thus increased incidence rates are a symptom of the screening and not an underlying cause. Screening is a difficult subject right now, with good arguments on both sides and made more complex because the treatments are not benign and cancer impacts individuals directly (not a hypothetical population).
I do not doubt the biological effects you have pointed out, but I am wary of ascribing the differences in incidence to one (or even a few) dietary components. This is a case – very similar to ascribing a cause to climate change – where there are a lot of factors involved and one should be as sceptical about deterministic mechanisms of cellular responses as about climate models.
Thanks again for the review – I hope I can make the time to read the book and that it will allay some of my scepticism. I am always hopeful that we can find some valid approaches to reducing cancer incidence: cancer treatments have improved immensely in recent years, but are still very unpleasant by their very nature. I suspect Anthony is not alone on this site in having direct knowledge of what cancer treatment involves – I sincerely hope you are done with that part now and wish you (and other readers) all the best.

r murphy

Got hooked on pho a few years ago and am pleased to discover its medical benefits. It is a very tasty lunch that leaves me energized. The broth is the secret and is anything but simple to make. Every restaurant has it’s own version, enjoy finding your favorite.


Pho Bo and Pho Ga are iconic dishes of Vietnam, but most meals are probably rice, chicken or fish, fresh vegetables and vegetable soup, accompaniment of herbs, with chilis and lots and lots of fish sauce. The Vietnamese eat lots of fish. Typically, the dishes are simple, fresh and untouched by preservatives. However, pesticide contamination is a concern.
There are other factors that may affect the average Vietnamese person’s overall well being besides a great diet. Their positive happy go lucky culture with an uncomplicated and comparatively low stress way of life (to a degree).
Also sadly the fact that probably many die of causes that were never properly diagnosed (or even any attempt at a diagnosis), records are simply unavailable and individuals are unable or unwilling to seek healthcare that they cannot afford. The health system is can be indescribably bad, being involved in a significant amount of charitable work in Vietnam, we have seen what the average Vietnamese family faces first hand.
I would not believe any statistics from the region. Health issues are simply unquantifiable.

I can see where this field can take a lifetime to learn and understand! But your short synopsis was very clear and educational. You also forced me to Google sulforaphane and find out where it comes from. While I am a BIG capsaicin consumer (I like my foods spicy), I was unsure of where to get the sulforaphane. Seeing Broccoli at the head of the list made me smile.

so what foods are recommended for this?I hate taking supplements if I can avoid it.

Steve Keohane

Anthony, thanks for posting this. If it’s science it’s all good! David, do you have a PDF version for those of us w/o Kindle?


an interesting post – I must start eating more chillis and stuff!
I wonder has anyone actually produced a reasonably scientific list of proven or ‘highly likely’ anticancer type foods?


The pepper angle is interesting…

Rob Crawford

I’ve remarked (OK, ranted) to people before how odd it is that people who rant about phthalates then consume soy milk.

Charles Tossy

I think that thousands of years ago people lived to be hundreds of years old. Then the agricultural revolution happened and life span declined up to 90% because the human body is not optimized for the new diet.

Jeff in Calgary

So, are you saying I should eat more bean sprouts and chilli peppers?

I understand this is a blog post and not a scientific paper or book, but would it be possible to add a bit more detail – in particular, what is the evidence for isoflavones being the key difference between Asian and Western diets? There must be a large number of other candidate carcinogens or cancer inibitors that might be responsible.
Thank you for consideration.

Matt Skaggs

It would be great if this relationship continues to build empirical evidence and we can defeat the twin scourges of prostate and breast cancer. However, this article tends to gloss over some significant hierarchical uncertainty, specifically the tortuous path between a metabolic effect and a statistically signficant effect on the stochastics of cancer nucleation. Is there better empirical evidence that soy prevents cancer than, say, the evidence that continued CO2 emissions will lead to catastrophic global warming?


Jeff in Calgary says:
December 12, 2012 at 8:16 am
So, are you saying I should eat more bean sprouts and chilli peppers?

But shortly after you do, I’m going to leave the room. And turn on the vent fan. 8<)


Very interesting, and it tends to fit our knee jerk reaction to ‘commercial food’…but…..before we rush off to a life eating vegetables and living in a eco-dwelling…can we be sure of the statistics? If I put on my ‘McIntyre’ hat for a mo, I’m always suspicious of comparing disease records from one country to another? I’m worried that we may do what we criticise climate alarmists for, and just assume that because this ‘solution’ fits our general consensus about western diet it is indeed the answer. And in our naivity we use iffy data to convince ourselves we are right?
I’d love to believe its true, that diet can reduce this, but having seen how data can be ignored/fiddled etc to make a case for climate alarm, I’m skeptical of all statistics on anything these days. Is anyone out there super confident of the data being shown here (no offence intended Mr Archibold).


Medical practice and research makes such a fascinating contrat with climate research. The promoters of the “settled science”, who often have tremendous faith in the incorruptibility of “Big Government” researchers in the climate field have, simultaneously, widespread sketicism about research sponsored by “Big Pharma”.
My own experience of medical practice in different countries showed widely different “orthodoxies” in treatments and drugs often unknown between one country and another.

Alan the Brit

Two possibilities: a) There are age differences in the populations that have not been taken into account, cancer, to all intents & purposes with a few rare & sad occasions, is a primarily a disease of old age, prostate cancer being a typical example,& b) They don’t have vast armies of medical bureaucrats telling them they have to constrain what they eat to so many mg of this & or that per day, as we have in the western world, inflicting ever increasing scare stories upon us!
Still, it is very interesting reading & there may be something in it for sure!


For those of without Kindles (or any other type) of readers, is there another way to read this book? Or, what is the summation? As someone already asked, eat more bean sprouts and chilis? Eat pho every day? (Easy for me, many Vietnamese cafes near me.)

mikef2 the time it took to compose my comment many people had already said the same thing, but more eloquently. So apologies for repetition. I’ll get my coat…

Anthony this was a terrific article to include and I would love to see more like it.
You’ve the best SCIENCE blog around!

Thank you for the insight and this interesting finding. I have have friends who are using literally 5 different treatments for the same disorder. I have learned to be open and respect each decision. People who continue to take responsibility for their own healing, and who research the options themselves, are said to have the best recovery. And it is also known that treatments and therapies are always most successful when the patient has strong family bonds and close loved ones supporting them and hoping for his full recovery.
For those who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, one of the options which is less known is Proton Beam Therapy.


A few things:
1) scurvy is caused by a vitamin C deficiency, which is caused by excess carbohydrate consumption; sailors got scurvy not because they didn’t have fruit, but because they were subsisting on a diet of hard tack. Populations like the Inuit and Masai, who didn’t eat fruit, never got scurvy because you can get more than enough vitamin C from animal products if you’re not leaching it out with carbohydrates.
2) diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases are at their heart, insulin based diseases. Chronic insulin levels are driven by chronic blood sugar levels, which are driven, from a dietary perspective, by carbohydrate.
While I’m sure there are some interesting correlations we can make on diet from immigrants to the US, the primary biological pathway of the “diseases of civilization” is insulin, and the primary determinant of that is dietary carbohydrate. A healthful human diet is actually one based on lots of healthy animal fats, adequate protein, and a very very tiny amount of carbohydrate.
Gary Tabues wrote the seminal “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, as well as the more layperson friendly “Why We Get Fat” – I highly suggest anyone interested in the science behind diet (the *falsifiable* science, not just the AGW-like “low-fat/low-calorie” trope pushed by Ancel Keys), to read either or both of those books.


I encourage skepticism. My feverent hope would be that something as simple as this could prevent cancer. But there are a number of “holes” in the theory. For exaample Japan has a cultural difference in the way they treat the seriously ill. That is you could go to a doctor who might diagnose you with breast cancer but his culture would proscribe that he not tell you. The reason is that you are going to die and he feels it is more human to allow you peace in your last days. Second point is that until recently Japan did not have the massive modern medical practice that the U.S. has. They often did not diagnose serious illnesses and the Japanese people dutifully died conveniently at home and as a result the cause of death was “old age”. Third in many countries and Japan is not exempt from this, even when the real cause of death is know it is not used officially out of cultural norms and/or to protect the patient. The bottom line is many/most countries have poor statistical data on disease, cause of death and even birth problems. This makes it problematic to compare their data to a country like the U.S. which is “anal” in their collection of data.
Japan has stomach cancer as a cause of death roughly 10 times greater then the U.S.
Japan has stroke as cause of death twice the U.S. rate.
Japan has influenza as a cause of death 3 times that of the U.S.
Japan has almost twice the rate of colon-rectal cancer over the U.S.
Japan has almost six times the rate of liver cancer over the U.S.
Japan has higer rates of kidney disease and pancreas cancer over the U.S.
Were these higher rates caused by higher isoflavones??? Are the causes of these higher rates of disease obviously dietary??? Can all these things be cured by a simple thing like tumeric and black pepper???

Sorry about the pronoun error.

Bugs Man

Really glad you posted this Anthony – thanks. As a practicing biomedical scientist for half of my professional life I have always had a healthy respect for nature’s medicine cabinet. I also did a lot of business in Japan at one time, and always came back from each trip feeling fitter and healthier following 2-3 weeks of oriental cuisine. I will purchase this book and read it with interest.


I recall seeing that while rates of some cancers in Asian countries are far fewer than in the west, that others are far more commen in Asia, such as stomach cancer. Could we be trading one form of cancer for another by following their diet?


Adding to the interesting links, in those animals in which vitamin C is synthesized, it is synthesized from glucose. The presence of the test for sweetness is in the DNA of virtually all animals, and the section of our tongues with those receptors is well researched. The craving for sugar has a deep biological root. It is not so far fetched to suggest that our sugar craving is driven by a relative lack of vitamin C.
Research in the area of vitamins at the University of Texas in the 1960’s led to a suggested minimum daily intake for vitamins based on body weight for the primates to keep them in optimum health. For vitamin C in particular, the level was between 1500 and 3000 mg per day for adult humans. This is from the research of Dr. R. Williams at UT. It is obviously many times higher than our current RDA. Given that our kidneys have a reclamation process for vitamin C to reclaim it from urine, it’s that important, a little more thought on our recommended intake would seem advisable.


Pho is a staple in my diet. Many dishes I prepare produce byproducts that can become broth for making pho. And I even buy leg bones and oxtails specifically for making it. Many “Pho Palaces” today use bulk-made broth concentrate that I suspect is not as healthful as fresh made broth. I boil pork ribs before cooking them on the grill, for example, to get the fat out. That water is chilled, the fat skimmed off (that becomes a candle), and the broth is then frozen until needed. Seasonings can be found in any Asian market. Pho is one of the cheapest things in the world to make, and can be made in huge volume.
I always knew pho was good but I’m even happier to know it is good for me.

john robertson

Thank you very interesting, another glimpse into our ignorance and the possibilities that abound when we take the time to look.
Maybe once the climate hysteria is subdued we will see blogs like this , crowd source this kind of research and see if we can sort the wheat from the chaff.
There is something here numbers don’t lie, but what and how many synergies is yet to be seen.
Saw an article, you are what you eat, maybe at the Chiefio’s site, and it opens up the cancer-food interconnections a little farther.


Nice post! This explains why vegetarians experience lower cancer rates. Isoflavones primarily come from legumes (beans), which are the most common substitute for red meat.
I’m a little confused regarding the following:
“Further to the subject of prostate cancer, there are a number of plant molecules that have an effect on it and BPH.”
BPH is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, which is enlarged prostate, which is a natural condition that affects about 90% of men late in life, because the prostate continues growing (like the nose and ears) throughout a man’s life.
BPH is not a cancerous condition. But if the prostate is very enlarged then the bladder won’t empty fully, etc, and this can cause other complications, which could possibly lead to cancer.
I have BPH, which simply means that since I’m in my mid-50s my ever-growing prostate causes pressure on the bladder, which sends a signal that I have to urinate, when there is practically nothing there. (By the way, I highly recommend Saw Palmetto, an herb that naturally shrinks the prostate instead of the FDA-approved drugs. It works amazingly well – no more getting up several times at night.)
After this statement is:
“All cancers have tNOX molecules on their external membranes. tNOX is the tumour variant of cNOX, or normal constituent NOX. No plant molecules bind to cNOX but a number bind to tNOX.”
So if “there are a number of plant molecules that have an effect on … BPH” then it must be other plant molecules, since BPH is not a cancerous condition?
Or am I missing something?