If you are battling cancer, no matter what stage you are at you really want to make sure it spreads no further. Central to ensuring that this doesn’t happen is reducing your polyamine intake.

Polyamines are a range of chemicals found naturally in the body and they perform useful functions in cell growth. However they can also promote the spread of cancer in a number of ways, as follows:

  • A chemical called Ornithine Decarboxylase(ODC) encourages cancer cells to become invasive but ODC is inhibited by another chemical called DL-α-difluoromethylornithine (DFMO). However polyamines stop DFMO from suppressing ODC and therefore cancer cells become more invasive.
  • Polyamines affect the ability of cells to adhere to each other. Because our immune cells need to adhere to cancer cells to recognise them and attack them, failure to do so allows cancer cells to go unrecognised and to develop into tumours.
  • Polyamines not only affect the ability of immune cells to adhere; they also affect the ability of cancer cells to adhere to each other allowing them to break off from tumours and travel around the body to spots where cell adherence isn’t affected, allowing cancer cells to attach to other body tissue.
  • There are cells in the body called Lymphokne Activated Killer cells (LAK). Polyamines suppress the cytotoxicity of the cells (their ability to kill cancer cells).
  • Additionally because polyamines are essential to cell growth they can possibly feed the growth of cancer cells as well as healthy cells.

So what does this mean for you?

In an experiment by French scientists 42 volunteers were recruited who were at the stage that their prostate cancer no longer responded to castration and antiandrogenic drugs. This stage is called Hormone Refractory Prostate Cancer (HRPC).

The researchers inhibited the level of polyamines in three ways. They divided common foods into 3 groups based on the levels of polyamine present in each. The first group of foods could be eaten freely while the second was restricted and the third was restricted even further.

Additionally drugs were administered to control gut bacteria which synthesises polyamines.  And finally a drug was taken by volunteers which suppressed polyamine synthesis at a cellular level.

The results were positive in terms of quality of life, tumour growth and life expectancy. Plus it was found that results were more positive if intervention was made within 9 months of HRPC diagnosis. You can get details of the experiment here.

What isn’t stated is how this would benefit men who are not at the HRPC stage or who at other earlier stages. It would be foolish based on the results of these tests to ignore the possible benefits and wait till you get to this stage to try this especially as it appears the earlier this intervention was adopted the better the results.

What can you do about polyamines?

As regards synthesis of polyamines at the cellular level you’d need to speak to your doctor but there is evidence that taking probiotics can help decrease the amount of polyamine synthesised by gut bacteria.

Additionally you can observe the dietary recommendations of this experiment and restrict your intake of polyamines. One thing to note about this diet is that it goes against conventional wisdom about cancer and diet. In the list of foods you can freely eat there are what appears to be some pretty unhealthy choices.

Meanwhile, in the most restricted list are things like broccoli (which we are often told is an anti cancer superfood) as well as bananas and several types of nuts.

For our purposes here we’re going to ignore the unhealthy stuff including desserts and alcohol as well as the animal products. The focus of this website is strictly vegan and as wholefood and organic as possible (boo!!) so here’s our edited list. If you want the full list you can find it here.

Foods that can be consumed freely:

  • Apples
  • Apple, grape and apricot juices
  • Apricot
  • Avocado
  • Beetroot
  • Celery
  • Canned vegetable soup
  • Carrots
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Dates
  • Fruit salad
  • Grapes
  • Green cabbage
  • Kiwi
  • Lemon
  • Oils
  • Onions
  • Pasta
  • Peach
  • Pears
  • Pepper
  • Peppers
  • Pineapple
  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Rice
  • Semolina
  • Salt
  • Skinned potatoes
  • Sorrel
  • Strawberries
  • Strawberry, prune and raspberry jams
  • String beans
  • Small tomatoes
  • Tea
  • Tomato juice
  • Tropical fruit cocktail
  • Vinegar

Medium levels of polyamines (consume only 3 or 4 times per week).

  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chicory
  • Cucumber
  • Endives
  • Grapefruit / orange juices
  • Ketchup
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Melon
  • Potatoes with skin
  • Radish
  • Red beans
  • Spring potatoes
  • Oat, rye and whole breads

High levels of polyamines (consume only 2 times per 7 days).

  • Almonds
  • Bananas
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Chervil
  • Chickpeas
  • Eggplant
  • Garlic
  • Green peas
  • Hazelnuts
  • Instant mashed potatoes
  • Parsley
  • Minced spinach
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard
  • Oranges
  • Peanuts
  • Pistachios
  • Wheat
  • Tarragon
  • Tinned gherkins
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato paste
  • Ratatouille

A few surprises there then?

At least two of the foods that we’re encouraged to eat in the fight against cancer are in the restricted list. Tomatoes, an excellent source of lycopene, is high on polyamines as is broccoli which also has excellent anti-cancer properties.

How are we to reconcile this?

It’s difficult, but on the plus side three foods on the ‘good list’ are high in apigenins – chemicals which have excellent cancer fighting properties and also support chemotherapy. These are apples, celery and grapes so these should be a central part of your cancer fighting diet.

Complicating the issue further is the fact that some foods that are high in polyamines are also high in apigenins so they are good for you on one hand and bad for you in the other.

How you approach this depends on how concerned you feel about cancer spread compared to fighting existing tumours. If you are at a stage of non-responsiveness to medical treatment where cancer is metastasising rapidly, or threatening to, reduction of polyamines is a major priority.

However if your cancer is early stage, localised or responding well to treatment you may prefer to stick with the cancer fighting properties of nuts, tomatoes and broccoli over the polyamine reducing effects of this diet. After all it may not matter if cellular adhesion or LAK cytotoxicty is affected if you are consuming enough cancer fighting compounds.

Please note, that none of the above is intended as medical advice. I am not medically trained but the above information is given in order for you to form your own opinion or to seek further clarification from a medical professional. If you have anything you want to add please feel free to leave a comment below.

Further reading: