Milt Campbell, one of the greatest and most versatile athletes who ever lived, died at age 78 of diabetes and prostate cancer. Research shows that prostate cancer will affect almost every North American male if he lives long enough, and risk is markedly increased in men who have diabetes (Diabetes Care, Mar 2011;34(3):616–621). Prostate cancer is usually a harmless disease that does not kill those affected, but it is more likely to kill a person who is diabetic (Springerplus, 2016;5(1):1548).
Perhaps the Most Versatile Athlete of All Time
Campbell was most famous for his 1956 gold medal that made him the first African-American winner of the Olympic decathlon. At Plainfield High School in New Jersey, Campbell was world-class in track and field, and at the same time a champion swimmer and an outstanding football player. He beat the state champion in his weight division in his only high school wrestling match. He went to college at Indiana University, left to join the Navy and returned to Indiana to star in track and field and football. He was also outstanding in bowling, tennis, wrestling, judo, and karate. He was elected to the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989, the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992, the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 2012, and was named New Jersey Athlete of the Century in 2000.
Campbell told this story about his high school wrestling career: “One day, the wrestling team had an important match against top-rated Jefferson High. I wanted to see it so bad that I told my swimming coach, Mr. Liske, that I was sick and couldn’t swim that day. He said, ‘OK, go home and get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Instead of going home, I went up through a back stairwell and entered a back door to the gymnasium so I could watch the match. I was near the locker room and when the door opened I could see our heavyweight throwing up . . . I told the wrestling coach that I would take his place. Coach told me, ‘Thanks Milt, but you’d get hurt. This Jefferson guy’s a killer. One of the best in the state.'” As this was the last match and the teams were tied, the team with the winner of the heavyweight division would win the match. Campbell said, “I pinned the guy in one minute and 28 seconds and Plainfield won the match. That guy went on to win the state title, by the way.”
Olympic Champion and World-Record Holder
As an 18-year-old high school senior, Campbell tried out for the 1952 U.S. Olympic Team and made the team in his first competition in the decathlon. He competed in his second decathlon a few weeks later in the Helsinki Olympics to finish second to Bob Mathias. Four years later, Campbell won the gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. In 1957, he set world records in the indoor 60-yard high hurdles and the outdoor 120 high hurdles. He was also an outstanding football player who played for the Cleveland Browns and the Montreal Alouettes.
Campbell felt slighted because he did not receive the endorsements and adulation accorded to other Olympic decathlon champions. Bob Mathias went on to be a five-term U.S. congressman and Rafer Johnson became a political confidant of the Kennedy family. Bill Toomey received ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year in 1968 and the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States in 1969. You still hear about Bruce Jenner, who became a Hollywood movie star and is now Kaitlyn Jenner.
Campbell’s lack of recognition could have been because the Olympics were not televised extensively in 1956, and because he played football in Canada rather than in the United States. Campbell explained that just before the start of the 1958 football season, Cleveland Browns Coach Paul Brown asked why Campbell had married a white woman. He told Brown that it was none of his business. He was cut from the team the next day and had to play football in Canada. At that time half of U.S. states had anti-miscegenation laws.
How Weight Gain Can Lead to Diabetes and Prostate Cancer
Milt Campbell was 6′ 3″ tall. His huge bones made up most of his weight while he was active as an athlete, and at about 220 pounds he had very little body fat. However, as he approached middle age, he gained weight and became diabetic. More than a decade before he died, he developed prostate cancer and it spread to the bones of his spine. He was treated with chemotherapy that made him very sick. The nerves in his right leg were damaged by the combination of his diabetes, the spread of prostate cancer and the chemotherapy, and he was bedridden. He couldn’t get out of bed, let alone exercise. Eventually he was able to get into a wheelchair and progressed to using a walker and was able to walk with a cane. However, the combination of prostate cancer and diabetes damaged his entire body and he died on November 2, 2012.
Nobody can afford to gain a lot of weight. Most North Americans gain at least five pounds and 3-4″ around the waist for every decade past 40. Here is how gaining weight can lead to diabetes:
• Your liver regulates blood sugar levels.
• If blood sugar levels rise, your pancreas releases insulin that lowers blood sugar by driving sugar into your liver cells.
• However, if your liver is full of fat, it will not accept the sugar and blood sugar levels rise even higher.
• A high rise in blood sugar converts sugar into a fat called triglycerides.
• Excess triglycerides are stored in your liver, so each high rise in blood sugar causes a rise in liver fat to cause and worsen diabetes.
Diabetes and Cancer Risk
Many of the risk factors for prostate cancer are the same as those for diabetes, including obesity (American J Clin Nutr, Sept 1, 2007;86(3):843S–857S; Urology, Nov 2008;72(5):1102–1105), a Western diet that includes high intake of red meat (Epidemiol Rev, 2001;23:72–81), dairy foods (Cancer Res, 2010 Jun 15; 70(12): 4941–4948), calcium pills (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, Dec, 2007;16(12):2623-30), lack of vegetables and beans (JNCI, Jan 5, 2000;92(1):61–68), excess belly fat, high levels of insulin like growth factor (Rev Urol, 2002; 4(Suppl 5): S3–S10), lack of exercise (Cancer, Nov 1, 2009;115(21):5060–5070), and excess alcohol intake (Scientific Reports, Aug 21, 2017:7(8994)).
Diabetics are at increased risk for several different cancers. Having high rises in blood sugar levels after meals increases cancer risk even if you are not diabetic. Breast and prostate cancers, in particular, are associated with high rises in blood sugar. See Cancer Cells and Sugar
When Prostate Cancer Kills
More than 95 percent of prostate cancers will never spread to other parts of the body and will not kill those affected. However, a small percentage of prostate cancers will spread to other parts of the body and are fatal. Cancers kill by moving to other parts of the body to destroy them. For example, prostate cancer does not kill when cancer cells are only in the prostate. If they travel to your brain, spine, liver or lungs they destroy these other vital tissues. Diabetes greatly increases the chance of any cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Milt Campbell’s prostate cancer spread through his body and went to his spine to damage the nerves to his legs.
All Former Athletes Should Continue to Exercise and Avoid Gaining Extra Weight
• Former athletes are 28 percent less likely to develop diabetes than non-athletes (Diabetologia, November 15, 2013), primarily because they are more likely to exercise throughout their lives.
• Exercise specifically helps to prevent and treat prostate cancer. Exercise helps to prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and many types of cancer. Both former athletes and non-athletes should maintain an exercise program; for your health, exercising as you age is far more important than your sports achievements in high school or college. Everyone should follow all the guidelines for preventing diabetes.
• Foods that cause a high rise in blood sugar increase risk for prostate cancer.
• Longer telomeres predict survival in cancer. Recent data show that men who have prostate cancer can reduce their risk for dying from that disease by improving their lifestyles. Lifestyle changes lengthen telomeres in men who have prostate cancer (Lancet Oncol, 2013;14(11):1112–1120), and genes that cause prostate cancer can normalize with lifestyle changes (PNAS, June 17, 2008;105(24):8369-8374). However, another study showed that even though healthful lifestyle changes lengthened telomeres, it did not decrease risk for advanced prostate cancer (Aging Cell, July 21, 2009).
Whether or not you have prostate cancer or diabetes, I recommend that everyone should:
• Exercise as long and hard as you can
• Avoid sugared drinks and sugar-added foods except during or immediately after vigorous exercise
• Avoid or limit fried foods, red meat and processed meats
• Eat large amounts of fruits and vegetables
• Keep blood levels of hydroxy Vitamin D above 20 ng/ml;
• Work to grow muscle and lose fat
• Avoid alcohol and all forms of smoke
• Avoid exposure to known carcinogens such as agent orange, phthalates and so forth
Born December 12, 1933 – November 2, 2012