Colorectal Cancer: Study Shows Dietary Changes Can Shrink Tumors

Quentin Oliver Lee, age 34, died of colon cancer on December 1, 2022. A Broadway actor and singer, Lee announced that he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer just six months ago. Lee’s devastating and untimely death comes on the heels of bad news: Rates of colorectal cancers, especially among young people, have been rising in the United States and other countries in the industrialized world, according to a recent American Cancer Society report.

Colon cancer in the United States accounted for 7.9 percent of new cancer cases in 2022, and 8.6 percent of deaths, according to the National Cancer Institute. An estimated 52,580 people will die from colon cancer this year.

The good news is that we have a growing body of evidence—both high-quality scientific studies and patients’ personal experiences—that shows that diet and lifestyle changes can effectively stop cancerous cells in their tracks. 

One of the most recent, and promising of these studies was performed on mice by a team of ten researchers at the University of Michigan.

The study, “Dysregulated Amino Acid Sensing Drives Colorectal Cancer Growth and Metabolic Reprogramming Leading to Chemoresistance,” was published in November 2022 in the journal Gastroenterology. For this study, scientists investigated how low-protein diets affected colon cancer cell growth.

More specifically, they studied something called mTORC1 activation in animal and human tissue.

What is mTORC1?

mTORC1 are molecules that are sensitive to nutrients and that are thought to be hyperactivated when people have cancer. These molecules are implicated in 70 percent of human cancers, including colorectal cancers.

Other animal studies have shown that inhibiting mTORC1 appears to also inhibit tumor growth. Some medications that interfere with mTORC1 signaling pathways have also been found to inhibit tumor growth. However, these cancer-blocking pharmaceuticals are “limited in use,” according to Medical News Today, both because of their negative immune-suppressing side effects and because of the return of tumors once the drugs are stopped.

At the same time, a 2015 study showed that restricting protein intake decreased mTORC1 tumors in mice.

That study, which was done by an international team of researchers from the United States and Italy, mentioned that “reduced dietary protein intake and intermittent fasting (IF) are both linked to healthy longevity in rodents, and are effective in inhibiting cancer growth.” The scientists hypothesized that the reason may be the “down-regulation” of the mTORC1 pathways. Although the study focused on breast cancer, the authors concluded that their work suggested that protein restriction “may represent a highly translatable option for treatment not only of cancer, but also other age-related diseases.”

Restricting Protein to Inhibit Colon Cancer

For this new research, the scientists found that in the presence of amino acids mTORC1 activation was higher. They then examined how colon cancer tumors in mice would respond to two weeks on a protein-restricted diet followed by four weeks of chemotherapy.

Mice are usually fed a diet that is 21 percent protein. For this experiment, the researchers fed the mice diets that were just four percent protein.

They discovered what they had expected: Mice fed low-protein diets had less mTORC1 activation and less tumor growth than controls.

More specifically, reducing the intake of two amino acids—leucine and cystine—seemed to signal nutritionally to deactivate mTORC1.

This effect is not just in mice. When the scientists tested human colon cancer, they found that the samples with the most genetic markers of mTORC1 tended to have the worst outcomes.

Starving Cancer

Cancer cells grow exponentially. In order to proliferate so quickly, they need nutrients. Some of the nutrients they need are synthesized inside the cells themselves, but other nutrients—including amino acids—come from a person’s diet.

The reason why a low-protein diet appears to be effective in limiting tumor growth in the colon is that depriving the colon cancer cells of protein essentially starves them.

“Feeding or starving cancer cells is … complicated,” Jeffrey Nelson, surgical director of The Center for Inflammatory Bowel and Colorectal Diseases at the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, told Medical News Today. “But this research shows that depriving certain amino acids influences the mTORC1 pathways leading to cell death.”

The China Study

Dr. T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., a Cornell-trained biochemist, and director of the Center for Nutrition Studies, has published over 350 research papers, most of which are peer-reviewed. In his landmark book, “The China Study,” which was first published in 2005, Campbell and his son Thomas, a medical doctor, explored why the protein fad diets, so popular in the 1970s (and beyond), are not optimal for human health.

Instead, the research presented in the book, which was based partly on several longitudinal nutrition studies of large numbers of adults and their families that were conducted in China and Taiwan from 1983 to 1990, showed that a mostly plant-based diet, one that was lower in protein and higher in dietary fiber and whole foods, appeared to lead to the best health outcomes. A 55-minute film, “The China Study Documentary,” is also available on the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies’ YouTube channel.

People in China who lived in places where the regular diet was one that included smaller amounts of animal protein were less likely to get diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Chris Beats Cancer

Chris Wark was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer when he was just 26 years old. After undergoing colon surgery to remove the cancer, he made the controversial decision not to follow his conventional doctors’ recommendations to do chemotherapy. Instead, Wark turned to nutritional and alternative healing, a journey that he documents in his bestselling 2018 book, Chris Beats Cancer.

As detailed in the book, Wark’s cousin Jeff was also diagnosed with colon cancer: Stage IV. Jeff was told that the cancer was not curable. With chemotherapy, he could live up to two years. Without it, he would die in six months, according to the doctors. Although Jeff’s mother urged him to talk to his cousin, Jeff told his mother that he and Chris were very different people and that he “didn’t buy into fads or self-help books.” 

Although the surgery to remove the cancer appeared to be successful, chemotherapy made him sick and depressed. Tumors began growing in his liver and abdomen. Jeff died three months after his diagnosis. He was 49 years old.

But the idea of poisoning himself back to health using chemotherapy made no sense to Wark. Instead, he adopted an all-whole foods organic raw diet, found a holistic oncologist who was willing to treat him using a natural and non-toxic approach, and also sought out alternative treatments, including counseling, acupuncture, and chiropractic care. Nearly two decades later, Wark is cancer-free, the father of two, the author of three bestselling books, and the host of a popular podcast.

“I eliminated everything in my life that may have contributed to my [cancer],” Wark told The Epoch Times.

Colorectal Cancer and Aspirin

Interestingly, research has shown colonoscopies may be unnecessary if you're taking daily aspirin. While this may sound too good to be true, researchers found that aspirin can, in fact, eliminate certain cancerous tumors, such as liver tumors. (R)

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2017 (R, R) also concluded that aspirin was as effective for preventing colorectal cancer incidence and death thereof as screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy or FOBT, and aspirin was actually more effective for preventing death from cancer in the proximal colon. As reported by the authors of that analysis (R):

"The effect of aspirin on colorectal cancer mortality was similar to FOBT and flexible sigmoidoscopy. Aspirin was more effective than FOBT and flexible sigmoidoscopy in preventing death from or cancer in the proximal colon. Aspirin was equally effective as screening in reducing colorectal cancer incidence, while flexible sigmoidoscopy was superior to FOBT.

Conclusions: Low-dose aspirin seems to be equally effective as flexible sigmoidoscopy or guaiac FOBT screening to reduce colorectal cancer incidence and mortality, and more effective for cancers in the proximal colon. A randomized comparative effectiveness trial of aspirin vs. screening is warranted."

There is even a study (R) of over 600,000 men and women in which aspirin use at least 16 times per month was associated with a 40% reduced risk of colon cancer mortality over the six-year study period.

A 2016 study in JAMA Oncology also found aspirin use staved off colorectal cancer. This study included nearly 136,000 people who were followed for 32 years. Taking either a 325 mg tablet or an 81 mg tablet at least twice a week reduced overall cancer incidence by 3%, the risk for gastrointestinal cancer by 15% and colorectal cancer by 19%.

What might explain these findings? Well, there are several potential mechanisms by which aspirin can be helpful against cancer, including the following:
  • Aspirin is a prostaglandin inhibitor, so it can help address hormone imbalances that contribute to colorectal cancer development
  • It lowers your iron, which is another potential cancer contributor
  • It has anti-inflammatory effects
  • It has anti-lipolytic effects, so it inhibits insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, both of which are risk factors for cancer
If you decide to implement this recommendation it is likely that taking one regular aspirin a day, preferably with your largest meal to avoid any gastrointestinal damage, would be the best strategy. If you are taking blood thinners, are very sick, or are on multiple medications, using willow bark would likely be a safer option.

Colon Cancer and Vitamin D

Numerous epidemiologic studies have shown that higher intake or blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a reduced risk of colorectal cancer (Gandini 2011). Nine studies were identified for analysis on vitamin D blood level and colorectal cancer.

Coffee for Colorectal Cancer

In a large group of patients with metastatic colorectal cancer, consumption of a few cups of coffee a day was associated with longer survival and a lower risk of the cancer worsening, researchers at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and other organizations report in a study published by JAMA Oncology (2020).

The findings, based on data from a large observational study nested in a clinical trial, are in line with earlier studies showing a connection between regular coffee consumption and improved outcomes in patients with non-metastatic colorectal cancer. 

Key Take-Aways

“Cancer cells are not alien invaders,” Wark reminds his readers. “Cancer cells are your cells with your DNA. Cancer is not just in you, it is you. The presence of cancerous tumors is the result of a breakdown in the normal functioning of your body … Cancer is a condition created by the body that the body can resolve, if given the proper nutrition and care.”

The University of Michigan research suggests that dietary and lifestyle changes—limiting protein intake as well as restricting calories—may help thwart cancer growth and also make chemotherapy more effective. 

Whether you choose a conventional treatment plan or an alternative one, it appears that in order to stop colon cancer from proliferating in your body, limiting your exposure to known carcinogens (which include glyphosate, some volatile organic compounds, and certain pharmaceutical medications and injections), along with eating a lower protein diet, will help you take back your health.

This article has been edited to include additional information. The original version of the article was published on The Epoch Times.


  1. The study author suggests using this low protein diet at specific points in chemo or other treatments and says low protein alone is not enough. Do some more reading before taking this writer's words on the topic.


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