Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death around the globe. In the United States, men have just under a one in two chance of developing cancer in their lifetime, while women have a little more than one in three risk, according to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Cancer Facts & Figures 2009.
At least one-third of annual cancer deaths could be prevented by healthier lifestyle choices.
While about 5 percent of cancers are thought to be hereditary, a far greater amount are influenced by factors within your control. As ACS states:
“Increasingly, researchers agree that poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are among the most important contributors to cancer risk … Except for quitting smoking, one of the most important ways to help reduce your cancer risk is to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, to be physically active on a regular basis, and to make healthy food choices.
The evidence for this is strong: Each year, about 550,000 Americans die of cancer; fully one-third of these deaths are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity, and carrying excess weight.”
Your Weight Influences Your Cancer Risk
While it’s well known that smoking will increase your cancer risk, it is lesser known that obesity can as well. And in fact a 500-page report, “Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective” — put together by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund — analyzed more than 7,000 clinical trials and found obesity already causes as many cases of cancer as smoking, and one day may surpass it.
Likewise, a UK study of more than 1 million women found that increasing body mass index (BMI, a standard for measuring your weight to height ratio) was associated with a significant increase in the risk of cancer for 10 of the 17 cancer types they examined.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in 2003 also found that overweight and obesity may account for 20 percent of all cancer deaths among U.S. women, and 14 percent of those among men.
In all, the study found that 90,000 cancer deaths could be prevented every year if Americans maintained healthy body weights.
What’s Your Diet Got to do With It?
Your diet impacts your cancer risks even independent of your weight, for good or for bad.
One federal study of more than half a million American men and women found that eating the equivalent of a quarter-pound hamburger daily for 10 years gave men a 22 percent greater risk of dying from cancer compared with men who ate just 5 ounces of red meat a week.
Women who ate a lot of red meat had a 20 percent greater risk of dying from cancer than did women who ate less.
Processed foods, including white flour, white sugar, high fructose corn syrup and others, also increase your cancer risk. A Canadian study of over 400 men aged 50 to 80 found those whose eating habits fell into the “processed” pattern (processed meats, red meat, organ meats, refined grains, vegetable oils and soft drinks) had a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer than men in the other groups. Men who ate the most processed foods had a 2.5-fold increased prostate cancer risk.
Yet another study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Mile Markers, and Prevention found that refined carbohydrates like white flour, sugar and high fructose corn syrup is also linked to cancer. The study of more than 1,800 women in Mexico found that those who got 57 percent or more of their total energy intake from refined carbohydrates had a 220 percent higher risk of breast cancer than women who ate more balanced diets.
On the other hand, healthy foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can reduce your risk significantly. For instance, researchers isolated phytochemicals called glucosinolates from broccoli sprouts. When chopped, chewed and digested, these compounds change into isothiocyanates, which are powerful compounds that may inhibit cancer.
In a study by Ohio State University researchers, the isothiocyanates were able to stop cancer cells from spreading in two human bladder cancer cell lines and one mouse cell line. What’s more, the compounds had the greatest effect on the most aggressive of thte cancers.
Another good example are raspberries, which contain ellagic acid. Research at the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) found ellagic acid slows the growth of abnormal colon cells in humans and prevents cells infected with human papilloma virus (HPV), which is linked to cervical cancer, from developing.
Countless studies have linked a fruit- and vegetable-rich diet to fighting off cancer, so for best results try to include as many fresh fruits and veggies in your diet as possible.
Exercise Your Way to a Lower Cancer Risk
A lack of physical activity is also a cancer red flag. For instance, the Nurses’ Health Study found that moderate exercise of one or more hours a day reduced women’s colon cancer risk by 30 percent, compared to women who exercised less.
“Being active helps reduce your cancer risk by helping with weight control, and can also reduce your risk by influencing hormone levels and your immune system,” ACS reports.
Priming Your Genes to Fight Cancer
With every bite you take, you’re propelling your genes toward health … or disease.
It’s interesting, and important, to note that your genes play a major role in whether or not you develop cancer — but not in the way you might think. If you have a family history of a certain cancer, it does not necessarily mean you will get it. Your genes may or may not express this tendency, which is just as true in a person with a family history as without.
What directs your genes to either express a certain disease or not is often related to external factors, such as your diet and even your stress levels. As ACS reports:
“All cancers involve the malfunction of genes that control cell growth and division … most cancers do not result from inherited genes but from damage to genes occurring during one’s lifetime. Genetic damage may result from internal factors, such as hormones or the metabolism of nutrients within cells, or external factors, such as tobacco, chemicals, and sunlight.”
Take, for example, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found that dietary changes, exercise and stress reduction changed the expression of hundreds of genes in men with prostate cancer. In some cases, the healthy lifestyle positively affected genes that help fight cancer, while in others it turned off genes that promote cancer development.
This also helps to explain why cancer can sometimes recur after treatment such a surgery, even if you’ve been told all the cancer was “removed” and you’re in the clear.
As reported by Newsweek, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that patients’ eating habits influenced whether or not colon cancer returned after surgical removal. Those who ate a Western diet were three times as likely to have the cancer return compared to those who ate a healthier diet that was rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red meat.
“The surgery clearly had not removed all their colon-cancer cells: prior to the surgery, some cells had already spread from the primary tumor. The Western diet had somehow stimulated the growth of these small deposits of residual cancer cells,” Newsweek reported.
Cancer Preventive Lifestyle Tips
There are plenty of steps you can take to protect your health and fight cancer as much as possible. Some of the best strategies to try out include:
- Lose Weight
- Quit Smoking
- Limit Alcohol Consumption: Drinking alcohol in excess increases your risk of various cancers.
- Eat More Raw Foods. Not only do certain cooking methods generate cancer-causing substances, but raw foods are rich in health-boosting enzymes that are destroyed by cooking. Enzymes help you to assimilate and digest nutrients, produce and regulate hormones, and renew and repair your cells, among countless other options.
For those of you interested in trying out some delicious, enzyme-rich raw food recipes, the book “Alive in 5:” Raw Gourmet Meals in Five Minutes is highly recommended. Even those who are new to raw foods will enjoy the simple recipes (most can be prepared in five minutes!) for lasagna, spaghetti marinara, stuffed mushrooms, broccoli in cheese sauce, apple pie and more.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables: They’re loaded with cancer-fighting nutrients, such as phytoestrogens.
- Limit Intake of Processed Meats and Trans Fats: Processed meats, like lunchmeats, hot dogs, bacon and sausages, have been linked to prostate and other cancers.
- Exercise Regularly. Exercise will reduce your risk of just about every type of cancer.
- Avoid Exposure to Environmental Chemicals and Air Pollution. As air pollution inside the home is one of the fastest-growing causes of disease, leading health organizations now strongly recommend you use a high-quality air purifier in your home.
Meanwhile, dirt and the dust it turns into in your home is generally composed of about 20 “ingredients,” and many of them are toxic.
To properly rid your home of this dust and dirt, throw away the cotton mops, sponges, cotton rags and common household cleaning solutions like Pine-Sol. Chemical cleaners, meanwhile, are primary sources of phenols that can cause respiratory, cardiac and other bodily damage.
- Get the Proper Amount of Vitamin D. Maintaining healthy vitamin D levels is known to protect against cancer, according to the Vitamin D Council. Experts say 15-20 minutes of sunlight a day is an ideal amount for a light-skinned person to produce the right amount of vitamin D.
Manage Your Stress. Positive emotions and reduction of stress support your immune system, which may contribute to slowing the progress of cancer and warding it off in the first place. As ACS points out, “Ten or more years often pass between exposure to external factors and detectable cancer.”
What this means is that during this time you may be able to make lifestyle changes that can stop cancer from occurring in your body. Now is the time to start taking advantage of the steps that can keep you, and your family, well.