When I was in the middle of my academic career during the mid to late 1990’s (I retired from Colorado State University in December 2013,) I had the great pleasure of corresponding with Birger Jansson, Ph.D. at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. Dr. Jansson was a Professor in the Department of Biomathematics at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and worked as a biomathematician for the National Large Bowel Cancer Project (NLBCP) between 1973 and 1983 when President Nixon launched his war against cancer in the early 1970s. Birger was known internationally for his brilliant mathematical modeling of all types of cancer, but today he is perhaps best known for his epidemiological and review publications demonstrating how a high salt (sodium) diet promotes all types of cancer, whereas a high potassium diet impedes cancer (1-8).
My correspondence with Dr. Jansson came about from my interest in the reported low incidence of all types of cancers in hunter-gatherers (9-17) who were essentially salt free populations. From animal and tissue experiments, I had long suspected that salt added to diet acted as a promoter of various cancers whereas a high potassium intake retarded cancer development. My correspondence with Birger further confirmed the evidence I had compiled.
Almost exactly 20 years ago in May of 1997 (see attached PDF file), Birger sent me his unpublished and unedited book entitled, Sodium: “NO!” Potassium: “Yes!” Sodium increases and potassium decreases cancer risks. This book represented Birger’s scientific work, from 1981 to 1997, documenting the relationship between dietary sodium and potassium (1-8). The data from his book includes hundreds of scientific references from 1) epidemiological studies, 2) animal studies, 3) tissue studies, and a limited number of 4) randomized controlled human trials with various disease endpoints and markers.
Unfortunately, my correspondence with Birger ceased shortly after he sent me his unpublished and unedited book manuscript on May 10, 1997. I only recently discovered that Birger died (May 23, 1998) about a year to the date after our last correspondence at age 77 as a Professor Emeritus at the University of Texas, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
I am in a unique position, in that I probably have one of the few copies of Dr. Jansson’s unpublished book in existence. The book runs about 350 pages in length and is comprised of 10 chapters. My copy clearly was produced as a Xeroxed copy of Birger’s hand typed manuscript (one sided, double spaced pages) and spiral bound with plastic. From my correspondence with Birger (May 10, 1997), you can see that he was contemplating publication of his book in the popular literature, but unfortunately it never happened with his untimely death in 1998.
I have always felt a debt to this great scientist, and after consultation with my colleague Anthony Sebastian (M.D.) at the University of California, San Francisco, we concluded that Birger would have been happy to see that his unpublished book was finally made known to the scientific and world communities.
In this blog I have included a single chapter (Chapter II of Birger’s book), entitled “Human Diet Before Modern Times” that I thought would be of interest to the “Paleo Community” and to worldwide scientists as well. Enjoy!
1. Jansson B. Potassium, sodium, and cancer: a review. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol. 1996;15(2-4):65-73
2. Jansson B. Dietary, total body, and intracellular potassium-to-sodium ratios and their influence on cancer. Cancer Detect Prev. 1990;14(5):563-5
3. Jansson B. Intracellular electrolytes and their role in cancer etiology. In Thompson JR, Brown BW, eds. Cancer modeling. New York: Marcel Dekker 1987:1-59.
4. Jansson B. Geographic cancer risk and intracellular potassium/sodium ratios. Cancer Detect Prev. 1986;9(3-4):171-94
5. Jansson B, Jankovic J. Low cancer rates among patients with Parkinson’s disease. Ann Neurol. 1985 May;17(5):505-9
6. Newmark HL, Wargovich MJ, Bruce VR, Boynton AL, Kleine LP, Whitfield JF. Jansson B, Cameron IL. Ions and neoplastic development. In: Mastromarino AJ, Brattain MG, eds. Large bowel cancer. Clinical and basic science research. Cancer Research Monographs, Vol 3, New York: Praeger Publisher 1985:102-129.
7. Jansson B. Geographic mappings of colorectal cancer rates: a retrospect of studies, 1974-1984. Cancer Detect Prev. 1985;8(3):341-8
8. Jansson B. Seneca County, New York: an area with low cancer mortality rates. Cancer. 1981 Dec 1;48(11):2542-6
9. Bulkley JL. Cancer among primitive tribes. Cancer 1927; 4:289-295.
10. Henson, WW. Cancer in Kafirs: suggested cause. Guy’s Hospital Gazette, March 26, 1904, 131-133
11. Hearsey H. The rarity of cancer among the aborigines of British Central Africa. Brit Med J, Dec 1, 1906, 1562-63.
12. Hildes JA, Schaefer O. The changing picture of neoplastic disease in the western and central Canadian Arctic (1950-1980). Can Med Assoc J 1984; 130:25-32.
13. Rabinowitch IM. Clinical and other observations on Canadian Eskimos in the Eastern Arctic. Can Med Assoc J 1936; 34:487-501.
14. Renner W. The spread of cancer among the descendants of the liberated Africans or Creoles of Sierre Leone. Brit Med J, Sept 3, 1910, 587-589.
15. Riveros M. First observation of cancer among the Pampidos (Chulupi) Indians of the Paraguayan Chaco. Int Surg 1970; 53:51-55.
16. Stefansson V. Cancer: Disease of Civilization? Hill and Wang, NY, 1960.
17. Urquhart JA. The most northerly practice in Canada. Can Med Assoc J. 1935;33:193-196.