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Cancer, Candy and Willpower

October 28, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

What do cancer, Halloween candy and willpower have in common? The connection they share may not be readily apparent. Cancer is generally thought of as a life threatening disease. Halloween candy is a once-a-year treat and tradition in which most children are permitted to indulge. Willpower is the fortitude we all hope to possess when we’re in the presence of temptation. To my mind, they’re all linked by one common thread: health. Without willpower you’re likely to consume excess amounts of sugar which is documented as supporting the growth of malignant cells. Do you think that’s too big a leap? See if you still think so after today’s column.

Twitter Contribution #1 – Courtesy of USATODAYhealth (Anne Godlasky)

A fascinating study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Consumer Research reports that tightening your muscles at moments that require willpower may actually help you retain self control. A series of experiments asked study volunteers to engage in unpleasant activities such as consuming a vinegar drink, submerging their hands in ice water or watching disturbing news footage. According to researchers from the National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago, “Participants who were instructed to tighten their muscles, regardless of which muscles they tightened—hand, finger, calf, or biceps – while trying to exert self-control demonstrated greater ability to withstand the pain, consume the unpleasant medicine, pay attention to the immediately disturbing but essential information or overcome tempting foods”. Perhaps the most intriguing finding of the research was that the muscle clenching only improved willpower if the choice being made was in agreement with the participants’ goals. It’s also important to note that the benefits only lasted momentarily. Still, this appears to be a worthwhile tool that can be called upon as needed. (1,2,3,4)

Twitter Contribution #2 – Courtesy of DrEades (Dr. Michael Eades)

Based on the previous news item, I suggest that people of all ages tighten their muscles more often in the presence of candy and other processed foods. It’s quite possible that Dr. Michael Eades, of Protein Power fame, would agree. He recently tweeted about the connection between carbohydrate consumption and cancer incidence. In Dr. Eades’ post, he links to a well referenced column written by Dr. Robert K. Su. Here are several of the more compelling points that Dr. Su makes in relation to cancer and diet:

  • “Cancer heavily utilizes glucose for its rapid growth”.
  • “Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) is inflammatory and pro-inflammatory”.
  • “Inflammation facilitates the growth and proliferation (metastasis) of cancer”.
  • “Hyperglycemia promotes glycation both inside and outside the cells and is implicated in genetic mutation”.

You might wonder by the name of Dr. Su’s website (CarbohydratesCanKill.com) whether he advocates complete restriction of carbohydrates. His concluding remarks express his balanced point of view:  “Until recent years we had never suspected carbohydrates as a possible cause (of cancer). However, we do not have to become ‘carbophobic’. We just have to mindfully use carbohydrates”. (5,6)

A Calorie Restricted Ketogenic (Very Low Carb) Diet May Slow Cancer Growth
Source: Nutrition & Metabolism 2007, 4:5 (link)
Twitter Contribution #3 – Courtesy of jonnybowden (Dr. Jonny Bowden)

Halloween is the time of year when candy consumption and sales reach their pinnacle. The vast majority of Halloween candy ends up in the hands and mouths of adolescents and children. Dr. Jonny Bowden recently took a break from his timely medical commentary to link to a piece about alternative treats that are completely sugar free. The list, compiled by Jane Harrison RD, suggests handing out crayons, glow bracelets, plastic jewelry and stickers instead of typical Halloween fare. And why not? These unconventional treats are more creative and fun to play with. They last longer than sugary snacks and they won’t cause hyperactivity, stomach aches or tooth decay. I think this a great idea for a new Halloween tradition. (7,8)

There can be a certain stigma assigned to doing things differently. If you avoid carbohydrate laden foods, you may find that some of your family and friends view it as odd. Clenching your muscles to enhance willpower can be done quite discretely. But if you mention it to a colleague or health professional, they too may regard the practice as unusual. Then there’s the trick-or-treaters. They may be disappointed to walk away from your residence with stickers instead of suckers. Having said that, over time many people come around to seeing alternative points of view in a more positive light. This is especially true if there is sound reasoning behind the unconventional practices. What’s more, success in what you do helps to sell virtually any idea. After all, it’s much harder to ridicule techniques that produce noticeable results. I’ve seen this in my own life on countless occasions. Being different is well worth the effort and explanations if it improves the quality of your life and sets a good example for others.

Be well!


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Posted in Children's Health, Diet and Weight Loss, Mental Health

6 Comments & Updates to “Cancer, Candy and Willpower”

  1. anne h Says:

    LoCarb just looks better and better all the time!

  2. Mark S Says:

    Does this mean that I can’t add flaxseed to some candy corn and call it healthy 🙂

  3. Lynn Lotto Says:

    Thank you for the info.
    Re: one day indulgence – The sad truth is most children in America consume way too much sugar on a DAILY basis (not to mention the trans fats and artificial colors, etc. that are added). We all know that the more sugar you have, the more sugar you crave. Sugar(which includes simple carbs)creates an acidic environment where diseases thrive. Diseases such as cancer cannot thrive in an alkaline, oxygenated state. We certainly aren’t doing our children any favors, are we?

    Great ideas for alternative “trick or treat” options.

    Agree with your comments on being different worth the effort. Friends who tease me about my health habits, after a time, have come back to seek more info. Also reaffirms my responsibility to walk out what I speak! People are paying attention!

  4. JP Says:


    I tend to agree. The key is to replace the empty carbs with nutritious foods. That’s the winning ticket, IMO.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:


    Healthy? Not so much. Crunchy Candy Corn? Possibly. 🙂

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Thank you, Lynn. I really appreciate your comments.

    Be well!


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