One of the greatest storytellers of all time was Paul Harvey. He was known for teasing the audience with a short narrative, pausing, and then telling “the rest of the story” which veered into an unexpected conclusion. He did this constantly, so listeners would wait with great anticipation for the rest of the story.
One of his stories has been immortalized online, where he tells of the lives of many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Before signing, the 56 signers were all men of great wealth and stature from each of the colonies. They met in Philadelphia to help forge and sign the Declaration, in which they all pledged “our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor”, knowing that England promised death to all rebels. We think of their stature — they were lawyers, large landowners, big business owners, and some of the wealthiest men in all the colonies — we think of them as great leaders who went on to become even more wealthy and famous once the nation was independent.
But then comes the rest of the story: these men sacrificed greatly. Some were killed in the war that followed, and some were tortured. Almost all of the signers lost virtually everything they had, if they survived. Most of their estates were plundered and destroyed. One even told the Americans to destroy his estate because the British had turned it into a fortress. Some had to watch their family be killed trying to flee the enemy. They lived up to their pledge to the very end, only they did not sacrifice their honor. When you hear the rest of the story, you realize that these men were so committed that they gave up everything so we could be a free nation.
We hear partial stories all the time. News media are experts at avoiding the rest of the story. Unfortunately, many health publications are equally skilled. Some partial stories might cause you to make bad financial decisions or vote for disastrous political candidates, but incomplete health news can do you personal harm. Let’s look at just one of the common stories out there, which if you don’t know the complete story can lead you to cancer.
Methionine — a vital amino acid
There are twenty amino acids that are used for all life. A couple of additional “rare” amino acids also exist, but we usually consider the number to be twenty. Of these, nine cannot be synthesized by the human body. Methionine is one of these “essential” amino acids that must be consumed in the diet for it to be available. It is particularly available in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. It is an essential building block of proteins. It is considered to be an antioxidant, and is said to protect the body from ionizing radiation, and may help detoxify heavy metals. It is even sold as a dietary supplement in health food stores.
We hear that we will lose muscle mass without plenty of protein intake, especially if we exercise. We are told that we need more protein, especially the nine essential amino acids, and deficiency of methionine can lead to liver inflammation and anemia. Methionine is considered a factor in regulating the aging process. We get the message: methionine is a vital part of our health. So what could be wrong with getting more of it?
Now for the rest of the story
Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. At the very least, the excess is a burden to be disposed of or stored. Yes, proteins are vital, as they are a key to all life functions. We must have enough to support life. The question is: how much is enough? Where do we cross the line from enough to too much? We usually set that threshold way too high.
Much of the supplement industry assumes that more of a good thing is better. Health news constantly touts the benefits of a particular vitamin, mineral, amino acid, or other singled-out compound, as though imbalancing the body with more of that supplement is going to cure our ailments.
Our bodies need many things from our environment. But as much, if not more, trouble comes from too much of something rather than too little. When resources are scarce, our bodies get more efficient in scavenging those resources wherever they are parked away, and in the process cleaning up those areas; but when there are excesses, those resources that are not excreted pile up and can even become toxic. This is particularly true of protein: lower protein intake causes the body to scavenge misfolded or badly managed protein within the body, and in the presence of a good steady alternative fuel source (plant fats), the body doesn’t need to consume protein from muscles for energy, so it conserves the protein.
Too much protein becomes a load on the body, and the kidneys in particular — excess nitrogen from amino acids and protein metabolism waste products require extra elimination work by the kidneys. Meat tends to disrupt calcium homeostasis, meaning it causes calcium to be taken from bones, because it has a high phosphorous-to-calcuim ratio which can make the blood acidic, forcing the body to compensate with calcium, which neutralizes acid. Methionine in particular can increase blood levels of homocysteine, which can lead to inflammation and heart disease, but the most devastating impact is the increase in cancer risk.
One cell’s trash is another cell’s treasure
Cancer is remarkable in its ability to take excesses in the body and use them for its own benefit. In a body made toxic by excess resources that become waste products, cancer, which is an attempt of cells to handle toxicity and harsh conditions, actually thrives. It enhances normal cell metabolism to take advantage of acidic and low oxygen environments, and it can also take advantage of high levels of methionine.
Specifically, methionine metabolism is key to genetic methylation, which causes silencing or non-expression of genetic codes that would otherwise be active. Shifting methylation causes change in epigenetic expression, where gene codes may be turned on or off. This means that genetic codes that lead to the development of cancer stem cells may be expressed while other codes that would normally regulate cancer are suppressed. Excess methionine shifts methylation in favor of cancer stem cell development, as we are learning from research.
Published in the Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, researchers at the Center for Stem Cell Research and Development, Hacettepe University, Ankara, Sihhiye, Turkey experimented with different stem cells to see what impact low and high doses of methionine had on their genetic expression. As the levels of methionine rose, more genetic expressions were noted that increased the pluripotency, or ability to differentiate into various cell types, of each stem cell type, including cancer stem cells. This study established that methionine has a strong impact on the epigenetic behavior of stem cells. This opens the door for normal stem cells to transition to cancer stem cells, and for cancer stem cells to become more aggressive.
But how much of a danger does increased methionine represent? A number of research studies have shown that dietary methionine restriction (MR) has an inhibiting effect on cancer incidence and a reduction in incidence of a number of other diseases. In a review of studies published in Nutrients, researchers at the Department of Nutrition, Byrdine F. Lewis College of Nursing and Health Professions, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA found a wide range of studies demonstrating the health benefits of methionine restriction. These studies showed that methionine restriction had these effects:
- Decreasied adiposity (excess fat buildup)
- Increased insulin sensitivity (reversal of diabetes)
- Lowered oxidative stress
- Decreased inflammation (which automatically reduces cancer risk)
- Extended overall lifespan
In one cited study, animals were fed a diet with 80% less methionine than those fed a normal diet, and those lived 30% longer than the control group. That animal study was published in The Journal of Nutrition by researchers at the Orentreich Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Inc., Biomedical Research Station, Cold Spring-on-Hudson, NY. That study also determined that young animals restricted up to 85% of methionine intake did not materially reduce their growth. Somehow restriction of this vital amino acid did no harm, while extending their lives.
The Whole Story
We live in society where food is readily available, and what would have been luxurious excesses in past generations are mainstream now. Our bodies are designed to handle the scarcity which was once commonplace, and they can compensate and even improve efficiency to make the most of what is available to it. We need vitamins and phytonutrients in abundance, but protein is overrated.
Of course, we need some supply of methionine, as we do for all amino acids. Plants have lower amounts of them, but they have enough. There are many reasons why eating a plant-based diet extends our lives, and studies back that up. Methionine is just one of the reasons. There is enough of this amino acid in vegetables and seeds to meet our needs without excess. Meat and dairy however, because the animal’s body has already concentrated the proteins for us, give us excess.
Now that you know the whole story, what do you believe? Is it better to listen to the half-story and go for more protein in your diet? Or would you be better off following the methionine restriction approach, which studies are showing extends lifespans? If you follow a good plant-based diet, you won’t be deficient — you’ll be healthier.
Dr. Nemec’s Review
Methionine excess equals methylation excess, and when methylation is excessive, since it is the epigenetic factor that turns on genes, including genes that stimulate cancer growth, methionine excess equals increased cancer risk. If you consume too much methionine, you will turn on a signaling cascade, which will turn on genes that promote growth mechanisms which include cancer stem cell growth. So more is never better. It will change the environment negatively and turn on cancer stem cell formation.
Amino acids, in excess, stimulate excessive growth. You never want excessive growth in your body, because what grows excessively are predominantly abnormal cancer stem cells. The standard American diet consists of approximately 30% to 40% protein, and majority of that from animal products. But how much protein do you need?
Brace yourself for a new paradigm shift: 10% — that’s it! Anything more is excess, and anything more will start to stimulate growth and produce toxicity and acidity in the body. Why is 10% so important and no more? Because to live a long, healthy, productive and functional life in body and mind, the body has to shift from growth and reproduction mode into repair and maintenance mode. When you eat less protein, less amino acids, less methionine, this triggers the body to recycle misfolded proteins, worn out proteins, and potentially damaging proteins released when cells naturally die. With excess protein, your body will never recycle. It will never clean up the excess of toxicity when you’re eating excessive amounts of protein and methionine — it does the opposite: it stimulates growth excessively. There is only one type of cell in the body that grows excessively after the age of 18 and that is a cancer stem cell which produces the rest of the cancer cells in the body — so less is always better, and more is always detrimental and harmful after the age of 18.
Excessive protein, especially methionine, which is high in all animal products, stimulates a cell signaling molecule called mTOR which stimulates aggressive growth, and this is one of the major signaling molecules that is turned on at a high level with cancer growth and metastasis. Methionine greatly turns on mTOR, and mTOR is the switch for excessive growth in the cells. All cancer studies agree with this finding: excessive protein, excessive methionine stimulates abnormal growth, meaning it stimulates excessive growth.
It’s very easy to remember the 10% rule: excessive proteins, more than 10%, equals excessive growth and that means only one thing: cancer stem cell multiplication and migration to set up new colonies of cancer throughout the body. This is why protein restriction is so extremely important for health and longevity. It kicks on the recycling, which helps your cells live much longer, much healthier without dying prematurely, or turning malignant.
I want to drive this point home very strongly with you: anyone over the age of 35 should be eating for longevity, which means maintenance and repair, not growth and reproduction. The simplest way to do this is to restrict protein to 10% or less in your diet, and make sure that 10% comes from plants, not animals, because animal source protein is very high in methionine — and even if you eat a small portion of the animal protein, it’s still has excessive methionine. This is why studies have shown that when you restrict methionine in the diet, cancer stem cells do not form nor multiply — so your protein source should be from plants because they have the lowest methionine content: sufficient, not excessive.
The absolute key in anti-aging and longevity is to eat as little as possible so that you stimulate this constant recycling at the cellular level, and the most important macro nutrient to restrict is protein, and especially methionine, because this is what’s needed for cancer stem cell formation and growth.
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