Guess who pioneered chemoprevention through diet?

Guess who pioneered chemoprevention through diet?

Naturopaths and "functional medicine" practitioners would have the public believe that they are the true experts on nutrition and health.  Even though their nutritional advice contains a large serving of hooey and a big helping of dietary supplements, which they are happy to sell to patients.  

So it was with great interest that I read the obituary of Dr. Lee Wattenberg Saturday in the New York Times

. . . Dr. Wattenberg published a landmark paper in the journal Cancer Research that reviewed 36 years of animal studies on the effects that certain compounds had on the development of cancer. The paper laid the framework for understanding how these compounds work. . . .

He showed that cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli inhibit the development of carcinogens. He isolated a compound in garlic that decreased “by a factor of three” the chances that animals injected with cancer agents would develop that cancer. He found two chemicals in coffee that neutralize free radicals, which are harmful chemicals commonly implicated in the onset of cancer.

Was he a naturopath? A functional medicine practitioner? No, Dr. Wattenberg was a medical doctor and his pioneering paper was published in 1966, almost 50 years ago. Yes, long before functional medicine appeared on the scene, Dr. Wattenberg was researching the effect of diet on cancer prevention. 

So was Dr. Wattenberg assailed by his colleagues as an apostate, a renegade who might destroy the medical profession's lucrative devotion to treating cancer with the tools of Big Pharma and surgery?  Not at all.  He was, according to the American Association for Cancer Research, "revered by his colleagues in the cancer field as a self-effacing leader." He served on the Board and as president of that organization.  He received a number of awards from organizations devoted to fighting cancer and cancer research. For 60 years, was a faculty member at the University of Minnesota medical school and published many papers in the medical literature.  

According to the obituary,

His interest was in helping to prevent cancer, and in a statement after his death, the American Association for Cancer Research called him the “father of chemoprevention.” . . . 

“About two-thirds of all cancers are preventable,” Margaret Foti, the association’s current chief executive, said in the statement. “Because of Lee Wattenberg’s dedication to and belief in the promise of cancer prevention, the field has taken its rightful place as one of the most important areas of cancer research.” 

Isn't that something? The CEO of a respected medical research organization is talking about prevention, right there in the Times. Prevention through diet, no less. And saying it is an important area of cancer research! Doesn't look like the stereotypical picture of medicine the pseudoscientific diet wizards try to sell.  Doesn't appear that medicine is solely interested in treating the disease, not the "whole person," as integrative medicine proponents would have us believe.  Frankly, it appears to be -- dare I say it? -- positively holistic to me.  

However, as is always true in scientific inquiry, not all of Dr. Wattenberg's hypotheses panned out. 

Dr. Wattenberg and others once hoped that beta carotene, a substance found in carrots, squash and other vegetables, would help prevent cancer. But in clinical trials, beta carotene was found to increase the risk of lung cancer. Similarly, vitamin E, a substance once thought to lower the risk of prostate cancer, may actually raise the risk.

According to his daughter, these setbacks never discouraged Dr. Wattenberg. He was "always eager to try the next thing."

Note the contrast here between Dr. Wattenberg's work and that of naturopaths and functional medicine practitioners.  Dr. Wattenberg reviewed the research before developing his theories.  He published his work in peer-reviewed journals.  And he was willing to move on when the evidence wasn't there. No clinging to a "philosophy" despite the evidence. No selling dietary supplements of dubious utility to patients. No splashy diet books. Just a lot of hard work and devotion to the scientific method.  

Points of Interest 12/20/2014
Water Wet. Fire Hot. TV Doctors Unreliable.

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