Steve Jobs was given up for adoption at birth and went on to become a self-made billionaire even though he was never graduated from college. He used marijuana and LSD and dropped out of Reed College in his freshman year to travel through India to study Zen Buddhism.
Jobs was a major force for the development of the microcomputer revolution of the 1970s and 1980s. He was chairman, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple, Inc., and its successor companies that developed personal computers, iPods, iPhones, iPads and many other innovative products. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, and died eight years later, on October 5, 2011, at age 56. His estimated worth was $10.2 billion.
Nobody knows what causes pancreatic cancer, which is a very serious and frequently fatal disease. We do know that Jobs followed a series of potentially harmful dietary practices that could have increased his risk for many diseases. My intent with this article is to discuss the recent research that shows how his extreme diets and behaviors might have led to pancreatic cancer.
Extreme Diets and Habits
Jobs had a rare type of pancreatic cancer called islet cell carcinoma of the insulin-secreting beta cells, which are constantly stimulated by high rises in blood sugar. He spent most of his life as a near vegan, primarily as a fruitarian, and thus ate tremendous amounts of the sugar, fructose, that is abundant in fruits. As a teenager, he was already a vegetarian who ate only fruits and vegetables, and he started a lifetime of purges, fasts and eating only one or two foods, such as carrots or apples, for weeks and months at a time. He drank so much carrot juice that his skin turned orange.
He reached a point where he gave up all grains and dairy products and fasted for days and even weeks. In 1979, at age 24, he gave up recreational drugs and going to Zen retreats. As CEO of Apple, he replaced sugared sodas with orange and carrot juices at all of the company refrigerators. Eventually he stopped being a strict vegan by eating vegetarian omelets, goat cheese and salmon, but he spent most of his life eating large amounts of mostly fruits and smoothies.
Excessive Fructose and Pancreatic Cancer
High blood sugar levels can cause an enzyme mutation that increases risk for pancreatic cancer (Cell Metabolism, June 4, 2019;29(6):1334-1349). Sugared drinks, including fruits juices, cause the highest rises in blood sugar levels that increase risk for several cancers (BMJ, July 10, 2019). Eating and drinking massive amounts of fruits and fruit juices has been reported to be more likely than drinking sugared sodas to cause certain cancers (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, November 2007). Foods with added sugar also cause high rises in blood sugar, so people who consume large amounts of foods with added sugar are at increased risk for cancers, especially breast (Cancer Research. Jan. 1, 2016) and pancreatic cancers (Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, July 24, 2019)
Table sugar contains two sugars called glucose and fructose. Fructose is far more likely than glucose to increase protein synthesis and promote more aggressive cancers including those of the pancreas and small intestine (Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes, 2012 Oct;19(5):367-74). Pancreatic cancer patients have elevated blood fructose levels, and cancer cells use fructose to make the DNA necessary for cancer cells to divide and spread through a person’s body (Cancer Res, Aug 1, 2010;70(15):6368-76). Feeding mice large amounts of fructose specifically caused cancers to spread (Cancer Research, Jan 1, 2016).
A Lesson from Steve Jobs: Avoid Extreme Diets
• Diets in which you eat just fruit and nothing else can cause severe and serious deficiencies that can shorten your life and damage every tissue in your body including your brain. Eating fruit is healthful, but excessive amounts of any food can be harmful and restricting everything but fruit can be suicidal.
• Fruitarian diets are deficient in many nutrients. For example, vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, and vitamin B12 deficiency increases risk for nerve damage, dementia and cancer (Nutrition Reviews, Oxford, Aug 1999;57(8):250-3).
• Eating massive amounts of fruit causes a person to take in very large amounts of the single sugar, fructose, that has been shown to be associated with increased risk for diabetes, heart attacks and certain cancers (Horm Mol Biol Clin Investig, May 2015;22(2):79-89).
• Diets that severely restrict fat can harm because you need healthful polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats for your cells to grow and thrive and maintain your immune system (BMJ, 1998;316:571). Very low fat diets significantly lower the healthful HDL cholesterol (J Clin Invest, 1990 Jan; 85(1): 144–151).
• Fruits do contain soluble fiber, but a diet that excludes all whole grains, legumes, nuts and other plant parts will not provide enough fiber. Soluble fiber is converted by bacteria in your colon to short chain fatty acids, which lower high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and inflammation, to help prevent cancer, heart attacks, and many other diseases. Diets that are low in unrefined carbohydrates increase risk for heart attacks, cancers and death (Eur Soc of Cardiol Congress, Aug 28, 2018, Munich Germany; Nutrition Journal, July 10, 2018;17:67), and people who got at least 50 percent of their calories from unrefined carbohydrates lived the longest (Lancet Public Health, Aug 21, 2018;3(9):PE419-E428).
The scientific literature overwhelmingly shows that eating large amounts of sugar-added foods, and particularly sugared drinks including fruit juices, increases risk for certain cancers and heart attacks. Eating sugar and other refined carbohydrates causes higher rises in:
• fasting LDL and total non–HDL cholesterol,
• fractional cholesterol efflux (plaque buildup), and
• adipose tissue gene expression (fat deposition cytokine secretions – inflammation) (J of Clin Endo & Metabolism, Sept, 2018;103(9):3430–3438).
February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011