Here’s what the reports aren’t telling you—and how to protect yourself
I have some good news…and some bad news.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently published their Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer. And the good news is that death rates from the most common cancers in the U.S.—including breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer—have dropped across the board.
The bad news? There was one glaring exception to this trend: liver cancer.
Now, you know I don’t like to burden you with statistics too often. But the contents of this report are worth reviewing in detail. Because they offer yet another example of how our nation’s toxic lifestyle is molding our health—right down to the types of cancer we’re getting.
So here’s what’s been happening for the last decade…
The red herring behind a rising death toll
Overall, cancer death rates among all genders and ethnicities have dropped by 1.5 percent every year since 2003. Men averaged a drop of 1.8 percent per year. Women averaged a drop of 1.4 percent per year. And kids and teens up to age 19 have seen cancer death rates drop by an average of 2 percent per year.
Unfortunately, however, liver cancer death rates did just the opposite. According to this recent report, they’ve jumped by 2.8 percent annually in men. And by 2.2 percent per year in women. All during the same time period.
So what gives? Well, that depends on who you talk to. Here’s what the report’s authors have to say…
According to these researchers, the culprit isn’t alcoholism, but hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. New cases spiked between the 1960s and the 1980s, before the virus was even discovered and people knew how to prevent it. And yes, it’s a major risk factor for liver cancer.
But is that what’s really behind this new deadly trend? To support this assertion, the report cites the fact that baby boomers have both higher liver cancer rates and higher HCV infection rates.
Of course, the report also notes that primary liver cancer is caused by cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver. Alcoholism and chronic hepatitis are two potential causes. But there’s also another threat to your liver…and it’s far more common.
The deadly fallout of “diabesity”
Obesity and type 2 diabetes combine to deliver a knock-out blow to your liver. It’s a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). And it’s quickly shaping up to be a modern public health disaster.
Recent statistics estimate that a third of adults in Western countries—and a staggering 10 percent of children—now suffer from fatty liver. That’s right. These days, even two-year-olds are being diagnosed with liver disease.
But sure. Let’s blame Hepatitis C for this latest wave of liver cancer deaths.
The fact is, destroying your liver has gotten considerably easier over the last few decades. And while alcoholism and hepatitis C used to be this organ’s primary adversaries, that’s no longer the case.
Needless to say, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) buried the lead. Their report focused on hepatitis C infection as a driving cause behind these climbing death rates. While conveniently underplaying the role that obesity and diabetes (not to mention a few other noteworthy threats) play in destroying your liver.
So allow me to fill in a few blanks. And offer up not one, but several different (much more plausible) explanations for this not-so-puzzling trend:
- excessive consumption of prescription and OTC medications
- non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- type 2 diabetes
- overweight and obesity
- daily toxin exposure
There’s no question in my mind that these factors are the true culprits behind the spike in liver cancer death rates. But if you need more convincing, just look at the numbers…
Suspicious links to statins, acetaminophen…and everything in between
During the period from 2008 to 2012, liver cancer rates were nearly three times higher in men than in women (with an incidence rate of 11.5 percent versus 3.9 percent, respectively).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point at that this was the same time frame during which the corrupt powers-that-be launched their ongoing “statins-for-everybody” campaign. Results of the controversial JUPITER trial—purporting the dubious benefits of statin use, even in patients with normal cholesterol levels—appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2008.
And surprise! The statin drug market boomed in response. Particularly among men.
The national rise in liver cancer rates has correlated pretty clearly with statins’ rise in popularity. Coincidence? I certainly don’t think so. And seeing as how liver damage is just one threat among the laundry list of risks that accompany statin use, you probably shouldn’t either.
But statins are hardly the only threat to your liver. Especially if you’re among the many Americans who think popping acetaminophen on a daily basis is perfectly safe. Because despite being a household name, this popular over-the-counter painkiller isn’t safe at all.
In fact, it’s the leading cause of liver failure in the U.S.—responsible for killing thousands of Americans by accidental overdose every year. Once again, we’re not looking at a coincidence here.
If it seems like I blame pharmaceuticals for all of life’s woes, that’s because, for the most part, I can. They’re largely eliminated through the liver. So, think about the high blood pressure medications you take, the medications for gastric reflux or allergies, “safe” painkillers like acetaminophen and its cousins.
All of these seemingly innocuous medications, when taken together over a long period of time, can be very problematic for your liver. Of course, the irony in all of this is that we wouldn’t need to rely on so many drugs if we took better care of our bodies and overhauled our habits. Starting with the Standard American Diet.
Because that’s the real villain in this situation.
The silent killer that’s destroying American livers
As I mentioned earlier, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is skyrocketing in the U.S. population. Even among kids as young as two years old. But the situation is even more dire among older adults, whose livers are increasingly packed with lethal fat.
And why are Americans’ livers storing so much fat? Because we’re a nation of overeaters—with a particular fondness for sugar and carbs. It’s as simple as that.
You’ve heard me talk about the dangers of “stowaway sugar” before. But it really is the major culprit here. Think of NAFLD as diabesity of the liver. It paves the way to inflammation. Then cirrhosis. And eventually, to primary liver cancer.
Given the breakneck speed at which Western populations are succumbing to NAFLD, I’d hardly call those rocketing liver cancer death rates surprising, would you?
And the worst thing about a failing liver is that, all too often, you don’t even know it’s happening. There aren’t really any outward signs to tip you off. But it’s happening, silently, nevertheless.
We simply can’t escape the reality of our bad habits—whether it’s the soda we drink, the sugar we eat, or the toxic burden of chemicals we encounter each and every day.
Ultimately, obesity may be your first indication that something is amiss. It’s an independent risk factor for fatty liver. And if you’re struggling with your weight, there’s a very good chance your liver’s struggling with it, too. The same holds true for type 2 diabetes.
However, there are tests that you can ask your doctor to do for you. These are the same simple blood screens that I do for my patients, and every doctor is familiar with them.
The basic blood panel that could point to a problem
First up, there’s the AST and the ALT. These are the most common liver function tests that a doctor will do, and they’re part of nearly every routine blood chemistry test.
Elevated levels of these enzymes may indicate liver damage—but not always. And they won’t tell you much about the severity of the problem, either. So if results raise an eyebrow, further testing is in order.
Other tests include alkaline phosphatase, total and direct bilirubin, albumin, and total protein. If you are a smoker or a drinker, both of which contribute additional toxic liver burdens, then you should also ask your doctor for a test called a GGT. Again, this is a routine blood chemistry test. But it’s a better indicator as to whether there is actual damage happening to your liver.
Lastly, there is the alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) test, which along with imaging, can tell you if you have liver cancer. This is usually a “last resort” test. But if you have diabetes, are obese, and you’re a drinker, I strongly advise having this screen done.
Also, bear in mind that, just because you go to the doctor and your liver function tests are normal, that does not mean you don’t suffer from fatty liver. And once again, fatty liver can lead to potentially deadly problems down the road.
Normal test results are not carte blanche to keep eating garbage… because if your liver hasn’t given up yet, it can (and it will) eventually.
Safeguard your liver by following three simple rules
Here’s the bottom line that the NCI refuses to acknowledge: We’re eating our way into a liver cancer crisis. And the only silver lining to this looming cloud is that we can eat our way right back out of it.
As you know, I think a Mediterranean-style whole food diet—rich in fresh vegetables, protein, and healthy fats—is the cornerstone of good health. Without it, nothing else you do really matters.
Simply changing your diet will effectively address obesity and diabetes risk. And it will also reduce your reliance on prescription drugs.
So, basically, if you eat the right way, you’ve eliminated several major causes of liver damage right there.
For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to boil the dietary strategy for liver cancer prevention down to three golden rules:
- Give up sugar.
- Give up most carbohydrates. White bread, white rice, white potatoes, and pasta are the obvious culprits here. But so-called “healthy” whole grains aren’t great for you either. Legumes or lentils are safe in small doses. But the majority of your carbs should come in the form of low-sugar fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t drink anything but water. Both sugary and “diet” beverages are equally deadly. And all alcoholic beverages, including beer and wine, are toxins. Moderate drinking might be fine for someone with a healthy liver. But if yours is already at risk, it’s time to give up alcohol altogether.
If you do nothing else, and stick with these three rules, half the battle for your liver is in the bag already. But to finish the job, you’ll have to shift your focus from your kitchen to your medicine cabinet—and beyond.
Perform a top-to-bottom toxin inventory
Simply put, you need to evaluate all the medications that you put into your mouth—including the over-the-counter ones. Keep in mind that OTC meds were once prescription meds too. And ask yourself if you really need to take a acetaminophen for a little pain…or if you’re able to get by without it.
It’s also time to schedule a sit-down with your doctor to have an honest conversation about whether or not all the meds he or she prescribes for you are absolutely necessary. Because I can tell you from experience that most are not. And most of my patients are able to transition off of their prescription meds once we start up a proper program.
But daily exposure to toxins goes beyond the foods you eat and the medications you take. In fact, you come into contact with potentially toxic chemicals everywhere you go, all day long. Obviously, you can’t clean up the entire world overnight. But you can give yourself—and your liver—a leg up by minimizing the toxins you have in your own home.
The Environmental Working Group is a great place to start. Their website, www.ewg.org, offers an extensive database of problematic ingredients in popular household and cosmetic products.
Use it to evaluate all the cleaning products you use around the house. Look at all of your personal grooming products to check for aluminum and propylene glycols. Don’t buy or eat anything from plastic. And most importantly, buy organic food whenever possible—you certainly don’t want pesticides, antibiotics, or growth hormone residue in the food you eat.
No, it isn’t easy to avoid the toxic soup in today’s world. And yes, your liver is designed to deal with most of these everyday toxins. And if it wasn’t taking care of so much stuff already, it could likely handle it just fine.
But obviously, that’s not the world we live in. So you need to avoid toxic exposure as much as you can.
It may take some time to get there, but limiting the burden on your liver is critically important. (And this is a big part of the reason why regular detox is necessary as well. You can read about my detox protocol in the September 2013 issue.)
Six supplements for multi-pronged prevention
Last but certainly not least, there are supplements you can take for comprehensive liver support. My strategy for this has evolved over the years, but here is my current favorite combination:
- Glucevia™ – This is by far one of the newest and most exciting supplements for liver support out there. It is able to help your body eliminate stored fat in the liver (which in turn helps with toxin removal). I’ve written about this supplement a lot, but it really is a crucial part of this fight. A good dose is 1,000 mg per day.
- RegActiv™ – This is another hot-off-the-shelves nutritional supplement. It’s a probiotic called ME-3, and it’s the only supplement proven to promote the production of glutathione. This is critical, as glutathione is the main detoxifying agent in your liver, and one of the body’s most important endogenous antioxidants. Your body loses the ability to make this very necessary antioxidant with age—and this is the only way to jumpstart the process reliably. That’s why I recommend 60 mg per day.
- Milk thistle – This is an “oldie but goodie” in the herbal liver-support category. And to this day, it still remains a favorite. I recommend taking 500 mg of silymarin (that’s the active component of milk thistle) twice per day.
- N-acetyl cysteine – This amino acid is a precursor to glutathione, which I mentioned above. Your body needs N-acetyl cysteine as a building block in order to form that all-important antioxidant. I recommend 1,200 mg per day.
- Benfotiamine – This is a special form of the B vitamin thiamine. It’s essential to buffer your body from the damaging effects and toxic reactions resulting from excess sugar in your body. I recommend 150 mg per day.
- Mulberry – This is a powerful antioxidant that does double duty for blood sugar support. It doesn’t act directly on the liver like some of the nutrients on this list. But keep in mind that liver damage in the U.S. is being largely fueled by sugar. So you need both antioxidants and blood sugar balancers in your arsenal in order to effectively fight this battle. I recommend 200 mg per day.
Pair this supplemental support with the basic lifestyle changes, I outlined above, and you’ll get a jump on the looming liver cancer epidemic—before it spirals out of control.
 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2012. National Cancer Institute. March 9, 2016. http://www.cancer.gov/research/progress/annual-report-nation?cid=eb_govdel_arn2016#specialsection
 Hippisley-Cox J, et al. BMJ. 2010 May 20;340:c2197.
 Larson AM, et al. Hepatology. 2005 Dec;42(6):1364-72.