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The cancer fighting power of citrus peels

Reading time: 13 minutes

Andy Aubin was 70 years old and had diagnosed prostate cancer, a disease that had killed his father. On top of that, he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease when he first sought help outside of mainstream medicine.

Just as he began treatment, however, his colon ruptured and he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver. He underwent emergency surgery to remove part of his colon and tumors in his liver, plus a colostomy.

Then Andy reluctantly underwent a dose of chemotherapy, but he had a severe reaction to it; his Parkinson’s deteriorated dramatically, and he became physically rigid. He wouldn’t repeat the treatment.

Three cancers plus a neurodegenerative disease made Andy a challenging patient for Dr Isaac Eliaz, a pioneer in integrative medicine whose clinic in Santa Rosa, California, often treats lost causes—people with advanced and end-stage cancers, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions that mainstream medicine has failed to cure.

Dr Eliaz began by giving Andy a high dose of a novel anti-inflammatory supplement that he had developed from the pectin in citrus peels. He also gave Andy other supplements and herbs, an IV regimen and acupuncture, and lifestyle recommendations that Andy adopted rigorously.

Over time, Andy’s colon cancer disappeared. His Parkinson’s improved remarkably as well, to the extent that his wife said most people didn’t even notice it. Within five years, he was completely cancer free. A video shows him painting his barn and feeding his hens where he had struggled to walk when he had colon cancer. Remarkably, he lived 12 years after his diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer, then died of other causes.

Dr Eliaz attributes Andy’s recovery and long life to his remarkable faith and determination to conquer his diseases, but he also believes that one of the tools in his regimen, a modified citrus pectin (MCP) derived from the peels, played an integral role in Andy’s healing.

Galectin-3 in health and disease

Cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease and even new infections like Covid-19 have been shown to be diseases of inflammation at their core—the immune system is on fire and the body’s own cascading defense response damages it.

A rapidly expanding body of research points to one key player at the heart of chronic inflammation, a molecule that profoundly stokes the immune system fire accompanying a wide range of diseases. It is called galectin-3.

“If you’ve never heard of galectin-3, you aren’t alone,” says Dr Eliaz, who has been researching the molecule for the better part of the last quarter century. “Despite the fact that there are thousands of papers published about its role in driving everything from cancer to heart and kidney failure and much more, the vast majority of people—including most healthcare practitioners—have never heard of it either.”

But galectin-3 is a major player in health and disease. At healthy levels, it’s not only not dangerous but, as a carbohydrate-binding protein, it’s critical to regulating cellular growth and cell-to-cell communication.

When injury or illness strikes or the body is stressed in other ways, galectin-3 jumps into action, triggering cascades of immune system inflammatory responses to deal with the crisis.

“However, if the alarm fails to turn off after the threat subsides, galectin-3 gets out of control and can seriously harm us,” says Dr Eliaz, whose recent book The Survival Paradox: Reversing the Hidden Cause of Aging and Chronic Disease (Lioncrest, 2021) describes the extensive role of galectin-3 in illness.

Eliaz compares galectin-3 to a light being switched on in the body when there is a crisis—a cut, an infection, a cancer or an emotional stressor, for example. Galectin-3 is turned on and triggers inflammatory processes that deal with the crisis. When the crisis has passed, the light is turned off again.

However, when our bodies are bombarded with environmental stressors and stimuli, as they are in modern life with continual exposure to toxins, stimuli and electronics, galectin-3 can be overexpressed. The light gets switched on and doesn’t turn off. This in turn may trigger more lights to turn on, creating an even bigger problem.

“The result?” says Dr Eliaz. “Unhealthy galectin-3 expression, and with it, progressive damage to vital organs and systems over the long term.

“This, in turn, fuels more galectin-3 production, forming a perpetually closed loop system that is proving to be perhaps the greatest threat to our health and longevity.

“When galectin-3 activity continues uncontrollably, it effectively goes rogue, driving inflammation and fibrosis [tissue thickening or scarring] rather than healing. This in turn can lead to numerous disease processes. What’s more, pathogens such as different infectious agents and tumors can hijack galectin-3 and use it for their own survival.”

Each galectin-3 molecule can attach to four other molecules, forming pentamers (five-part molecules) that can then form lattices, which bind to cell surfaces and can regulate cellular responses. These lattice structures, known as biofilms, also wall off toxins that are harmful to the body, and they may wall off cancers and infections, making them resistant to treatments like chemotherapy.

In this sense, galectin-3 can either help us or harm us—the “survival paradox” Dr Eliaz refers to. It is the “survival protein” that the body uses when we are in danger, but out of control, it becomes another danger itself.

In the past two decades, research on galectin-3 has exploded across different medical arenas because of its underlying role in a wide variety of diseases.

“Considering the crucial role exerted by Gal-3 in many different clinical conditions, Gal-3 is emerging as a new diagnostic, prognostic biomarker and as a new promising therapeutic target,” Italian researchers from the University of Rome wrote in their 2018 review of the molecule titled “Galectin-3: One Molecule for an Alphabet of Diseases, from A to Z.”1

Its role in cancer was the first key discovery. Researchers observed that it may spur cancer growth and metastasis. Higher levels of the protein usually translate to more aggressive cancer in which cancer cells are more likely to aggregate and spread, tumors are more likely to grow and normal cellular death (apoptosis)—a hallmark of the disease—is interrupted.2

Since its role in cancer was elucidated, elevated galectin-3 has also been shown to be an active player in a span of different diseases, including the following:

  • Asthma 3
  • Artherosclerosis 4
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema) and psoriasis 5
  • Cardiovascular disease 6
  • Covid-19
  • Diabetes 7
  • Encephalitis 8
  • Endometriosis 9
  • Fibrosis of skin 10
  • Kidney disease 11
  •  Liver conditions such as chronic hepatitis 12
  •  NSAID-induced intestinal ulcers 13
  • Obesity 14
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis 15
  • Retinal degeneration 16
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 17
  • Sepsis 18
  • Venous thrombosis 19

Mortality prediction

It turns out that galectin-3 levels, measured in the blood, are a useful predictor of all-cause mortality among those with heart disease.

For example, one Spanish study measured blood levels of galectin-3 in 419 patients with ejection-preserved heart failure, or diastolic heart failure, in which a stiff left ventricle prevents the heart from pumping enough blood to the body during systole, causing fluid backup. 

This form accounts for about half of heart failure cases. The study found blood levels of galectin-3 were linked to worse outcomes—the higher a patient’s galectin-3, the more likely they were to die.20

Elevated galectin-3 is also an accurate predictor of all-cause mortality in the general population, including in those without any known conditions. When researchers from the Department of Cardiology, University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands measured galectin-3 levels in 7,968 adults with an average age of 50 and followed them for 10 years, they found that those with the highest levels of the protein were also most likely to die of any cause.21

Galectin-3 and Covid-19

The same has turned out to be true for Covid-19. The most life-threatening symptom of severe Covid is a hyperinflammatory response called a “cytokine storm” that can result in deadly lung fibrosis. Galectin-3 has been widely reported to be a critical player, whipping up the immune system storm in both processes.22

As well, galectin-3 has recently been implicated in the blood-clotting complication of Covid-19.23 No surprise, then, that researchers at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria observed in 2020 that patients with Covid-19 who had the worst outcomes also had high levels of galectin-3 in their blood.24

It seems that wherever galectin-3 is overplaying its game, there is trouble. As researchers note in study after study, this is why galectin-3 looks like a good target molecule for therapy. Lowering galectin-3 could turn down the heat in a multitude of diseases where it is playing a critical role in stoking an inflammatory fire. Tamping down the galectin-3 gives us a good chance of tamping down the disease itself.

Mechanisms

So how can one type of molecule from discarded peels have so many different benefits? In short, MCP binds to galectin-3 and thus prevents it from binding to other galectin-3 molecules and forming the lattice or biofilm structure that promotes inflammation, fibrosis and cancer growth.

“By deactivating galectin-3 and breaking down its lattice formation, MCP uncovers the isolating microenvironments that can harbor damaging disease processes within us,” explains Dr Eliaz.

Humble fruit peels

This is where healing solutions come into the story from humble and unexpected places. Enter the lowly citrus peel. It turns out the bitter cast-offs of lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits contain pectin, the gelatinous long-chain sugar used to set jams, which can have an affinity for rogue galectin-3.

For Dr Isaac Eliaz, the story of citrus pectin, which has become intertwined with his life’s work, began in his childhood. He grew up in Israel and recalls that in 1971, when he was 12 years old, his parents invited over some neighbors, Max and Ruth Cohen. The couple both held PhDs in organic chemistry and were pioneers in Israel’s citrus industry.

During the lively conversation that followed, Eliaz recalls Ruth Cohen turning to him and remarking, “Isaac, one day they will find a treatment for cancer in the peels of citrus fruits.”

It was an odd remark, and Eliaz didn’t forget it. Twenty-four years later, when he had graduated from medical school and obtained his master of science in traditional Chinese medicine, he came across a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that kindled his memory of the Cohens.

It described research in rats with prostate cancer that were fed a modified citrus pectin (MCP). They were significantly less likely to have cancer spread to their lungs than rats that weren’t fed the pectin.25

Dosing for modified citrus pectin

Modified citrus pectin (MCP) is widely available on the internet. Dr Eliaz cautions that not all forms offer a molecule with a light molecular weight capable of entering circulation, like his PectaSol formula.

His general recommendations for dosing follow here, although he advises those with advanced chronic kidney disease to have their potassium levels monitored to ensure that potassium from the MCP does not accumulate in the body.

The benefits of citrus peels

By that time, considerable research had begun on the health benefits of various compounds within different citrus peels. Research on limonoids, the chemicals in lemon peel that give it that bitter taste, demonstrated that, at high levels, limonoids can slow cancer-cell growth and induce apoptosis, or natural cell suicide.26

Since that discovery, numerous studies have pointed to evidence for the beneficial effects of citrus peels and extracts on brain health, cognition, mental health and various related conditions, including obesity and vascular function.27

A 2021 study looked at the association between long-term dietary intake of flavonoids, such as citrus juice, and cognitive decline. Harvard researchers gathered data regarding 49,493 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) conducted from 1984 to 2006 and regarding 27,842 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS) conducted from 1986 to 2002 and evaluated their intake of flavonoids from citrus and other fruits. Then they evaluated their cognitive decline years later, between 2008 and 2014.

What they found was that higher total flavonoid intake was correlated with lower odds of cognitive decline after they adjusted for age, total energy intake, and other dietary and lifestyle factors. Pooled results indicated even clearer associations between reduced cognitive decline and flavonoid consumption.28

After reading the citrus pectin and prostate cancer study, Eliaz called Ruth Cohen to tell her about it, and she was thrilled to connect him with some of the leading pectin scientists in the world. He went on to help develop a modified citrus pectin supplement available on the net as PectaSol.

The pectin in it is chemically altered by pH and temperatures that break its long, branching sugar chains into shorter lengths of soluble fiber with a low molecular weight. These structures can enter the circulation from the digestive tract and bind to the carbohydrate receptors on galectin-3 molecules to disarm them without dangerous side effects.

The benefits of MCP

The powerful pectins have been used in dozens of studies since. A 2003 study investigated the tolerability and effect of MCP in men with prostate cancer. The study endpoint was changes in their prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels over time, and it showed a significant increase in the time it took PSA levels to double in men taking MCP, suggesting MCP had a slowing effect on the cancer’s growth.29

Since then, a number of animal and human trials have shown how MCP modulates several steps in the growth and spread of cancer and can also affect the cancer’s resistance to treatment by targeting and breaking down galectin-3 lattices that shield it.30

Numerous published studies show how MCP’s anticancer activity can work in tandem with other cancer therapies. One study published in Cell Biology International, for example, showed that MCP enhanced the effects of the cancer drug doxorubicin, allowing lower doses of the toxic chemotherapy to be used with greater efficacy.31

Recently, Dr Eliaz and a team of Israeli researchers treated a group of men with relapsed prostate cancer using MCP in a study where the primary endpoint was the rate without prostate-specific antigen (PSA) progression and improved PSA doubling time—an indication, as in the study above, of inhibited cancer progression. Secondary endpoints were the rate without radiologic progression and toxicity.

After six months, 78 percent (46 men) had responded to therapy, with a decreased/stable PSA (58 percent, 34 men) or improved PSA doubling time (75 percent, 44 men) and negative scans.

Disease progression during the first six months was noted in only 22 percent of the men, with PSA progression in 17 percent (10 men) and PSA and radiologic progression in 5 percent (3 men).32

This study, Dr Eliaz told WDDTY in email correspondence, will likely lead to MCP being used more often in the arena of cancer nutritional support in the future.

Other diseases

“I expect MCP to show a difference in vascular function, especially in more targeted populations such as perfusion injury/reperfusion (stroke and heart attack injury), ejection-preserved heart failure, acute kidney injury and sepsis, and hypertensive CKD [chronic kidney disease],” he added.

MCP been shown useful in treating fibrotic diseases including aortic stenosis, the inability of the valve from the heart to the body’s main artery to open fully, which reduces blood flow to the body.33

Recently, Chinese researchers demonstrated for the first time that MCP exerts neuroprotective effects in ischemic stroke by blocking galectin-3, which may tamp down inflammatory processes.34

In another recent study, researchers unexpectedly found that MCP downregulates a number of inflammatory factors in a rabbit model of a joint defect and promotes the proliferation of multiple growth factors for chondrocytes, the cells responsible for forming new cartilage in joints.

They concluded, “These findings demonstrate that locally delivered MCP can simultaneously modulate both regenerative and inflammatory responses, and can enhance the repair of [articular cartilage] defects.”35

Detoxification

Published case reports have shown that MCP can also detoxify heavy metals that cause disease. One of these reports describes a 59-year-old US Vietnam War veteran with prostate cancer. Forty-three months after his initial diagnosis, he had a PSA score of 102.

His cancer had metastasized to bone in his lower pelvis and involved nearby lymph nodes. He had been told the cancer was inoperable and radiation was not recommended. He was taking multiple hormone-suppressing drugs when he went to see Dr Eliaz.

The veteran had worked as a firefighter and police officer, and as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. His helicopter was shot down eight times in one year. In addition, one of his hobbies was repairing cars and motorcycles, so Dr Eliaz suspected heavy metal exposure.

Confirmatory testing revealed a severely elevated lead level of 92 µg/g creatinine (reference range < 5) creatinine 68 mg/dl (reference range 25–225).

Dr Eliaz began treating the veteran with MCP at 5 g per day, an MCP complex with alginate (PectaSol Chelation Complex, PCC) at three capsules twice per day. He added a vitamin and herb complex after two months to support detoxification.

Repeat testing after three months of treatment with PCC and three weeks of treatment with the vitamin/herbal support showed a 49 percent decrease in lead level to 47 µg/g creatinine, creatinine 37 mg/dl. His PSA dropped to less than 0.1 and the case report described him as stable for over 18 months.

“He has discontinued hormonal therapy for two months with the PSA stable at < 0.1. The patient reported no adverse effects when evaluated in clinic visits. Bone metastasis in the pelvic area have resolved as demonstrated by recent PET/CT[scans].”36

After seeing a therapy with such dramatic results, it’s easy to wonder when galectin-3 will enter the lexicon of most healthcare practitioners, and when MCP will begin to be a therapy that most doctors have at least heard of.

“The focus has been on research and clinical applications and not on marketing and PR,” says Dr Eliaz, but the time for MCP is coming. “I think that with the growing evidence and the merits of MCP, it will become more acceptable and more widely known.”

The healing effect of meditation

Integrative physician Isaac Eliaz describes a patient, Rebecca, whom he first saw in 2011. She was 70 years old, all alone, and with stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her bones. 

“I don’t want to die,” she told him, in tears and clearly frightened.

While sympathetic to her stress, he wondered how it was affecting her cancer, causing her sympathetic nervous system hormones to dial up so that cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenaline and insulin were all spiking. These in turn would suppress her immune system and churn out metabolites that would feed her cancer growth.

Stress, illness and injury all trigger biochemical reactions in the body, and researchers have identified one master protein called galectin-3 at the headwaters of these responses. While galectin-3 and the inflammatory cascades it triggers are driven by self-preservation, they in turn drive inflammation. This leads to cellular and organ degeneration and loss of longevity. This is Isaac Eliaz’s “survival paradox” (The Survival Paradox, Lioncrest Publishing, 2021) in action.

But how do you get someone who is dying to stop stressing and thus to stop fueling the inflammation driver and its feedback loop?

“It’s like asking someone whose house is on fire to stay calm, think positively and deeply inhale the smoke from their burning home,” says Eliaz.

With Rebecca, he suggested multiple strategies including meditation, which he learned growing up in Asia from some of the most renowned Buddhist monks and practiced for decades. As well, he used modified citrus pectin to lower galectin-3 along with deep breathing exercises, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, visualization techniques and other tools he offers at his healing retreats.

Blood testing of galectin-3 had just been made available in 2011, and Eliaz recounts how it was so clear that Rebecca’s levels, which were sky-high to begin with, lowered when she was calmer and heightened with her anxiety about her disease. When her galectin-3 levels worsened, so did other proinflammatory markers. And so did her cancer.

Her galectin-3 levels lowered with calming therapies, and her cancer scans showed she was in remission. Rebecca’s life was also transformed by connections she made at his clinic with other patients. Her mood lifted and her anxiety dissipated. Her cancer eventually returned, but she told Dr Eliaz that she felt more alive than she had in decades, and she lived seven years longer, far beyond her initial prognosis.

References

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