I lost both my parents to cancer. Statistically that means I have a higher risk for getting cancer, but did you know that more than half of cancers are completely preventable? (some sources cite up to 90%). You can override your genetics with diet and lifestyle choices.
In 2014, there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in the US. Smoking, obesity, alcohol, radiation, and diet are the top causes of cancer. (source) Cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths. (SOURCE). But even if you have a strong genetic predisposition for cancer, it’s possible to overwrite your genetic code with your diet and lifestyle choices. This is known as epigenetics. It’s actually possible to change the way your genes express themselves! The body has an amazing ability to heal if given the proper raw materials.
Our body is always fighting abnormal cells. Due to a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death, cells “commit suicide” by activating an intracellular death program if they are not needed or if they are abnormal or mutated in some way. Cancer cells arise from the body’s normal tissues but are abnormal in some way and don’t commit suicide as they should. They contain mutations or damaged DNA that can be a result of environmental factors like carcinogens (or genetics). Then it’s cell division gone wild, which forms into a tumor that invades surrounding tissue and spreads.
Can cancer be prevented? Yes. A new study claims that between 70 and 90 percent of cancer cases are linked to avoidable lifestyle choices vs “bad luck,” the original belief. Reducing your exposure to carcinogens that contribute to cellular damage, reducing inflammation that is a major cause of virtually every disease, and feeding your body the nutrients it needs to fight off abnormal cells can slash your risk.
Further, cancer is a sign that the immune system is already compromised. If your immune system is working well, apoptosis occurs as it should and destroys abnormal cells before they become tumors. So the root of cancer prevention lies in supporting immune and gut health, because the majority (80 percent) of the immune system is in the gut.
What are some risk factors for cancer?
- Chemicals: household cleaning products, cosmetics, flame retardants, air freshener, pollution, pesticides, plastics, fuels, industrial chemicals, dyes, textiles, preservatives, etc.
- Diet: too much sugar, too many refined foods, skeletonized processed foods that lack nutrients, fake foods (think gummy bears and Doritos), additives and preservatives, inflammatory vegetable oils like corn and soy.
- Hormones: estrogen dominance contributes to breast, ovarian, uterine cancer.
- Infections or viruses (h pylori, HPV)
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol: we now know alcohol is a direct cause of cancer.
A Holistic Approach to Cancer Prevention
We now know that cancer, in the majority of cases, can be prevented by making better diet and lifestyle choices. The varying advice you’ll get on how to prevent (or treat) cancer holistically is pretty dizzying: raw foods, juicing, alkaline diet, detox…. it’s enough to confuse anyone. I want to keep it simple for you: By giving your body nutrient dense, clean foods; cleaning up your environment; and making a few lifestyle adjustments, you’ll support a balanced physiology. A body that isn’t stressed from constantly repairing cellular damage due to toxins and poor diet is one that is programmed to focus on repair and abnormal cell destruction.
- Diet: Food is medicine! The easiest way to slash your disease risk is to clean up your diet and eat an anti-inflammatory diet. If you are eating mostly whole foods (in their natural state, unprocessed, unpackaged), good for you! You’re on the right track.
Specific cancer-preventive foods are those high in antioxidants (think brightly colored fruits and veggies) that fight free radicals and inflammation that cause cell damage.
The cruciferous veggies (think broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc) encourage liver detox to prevent build-up of toxins in the system– toxins that can cause cellular damage.
The enzyme and chlorophyll-rich benefits of raw foods and raw green juice help to oxygenate cells. Leafy greens, berries, garlic/alliums, fermented foods, and green tea are all great choices.
Make your diet plant-based, meaning the bulk of each meal should be veggies. If you’re new to whole foods, just focus on adding in one new superfood per week. Start with something simple, like broccoli and berries. Make a blueberry smoothie with flaxseeds one day and an easy broccoli stir-fry one night with dinner. Add in kale with garlic the following week, and try roasted beets and carrots. Gradually crowd out the junky processed boxed foods by adding in more fruits and veggies of all kinds. Citrus is a great choice, too.
There is new and emerging evidence that a ketogenic diet combined with fasting may be beneficial for reversing cancer, because it limits glucose in the body, and tumors prefer glucose as a main fuel source. (source) Here’s one of my articles on keto.
- Eat organic: it’s common sense that ingesting the pesticide and herbicide chemicals coating conventional produce increases the total toxic load. These toxins back up in your system and eventually get stored in fat tissue if your liver is unable to neutralize and detox them. And remember that toxins and chemicals contribute to cellular damage and abnormalities.
- Always buy antibiotic and hormone-free meat: the hormones that are fed to animals to encourage growth contribute to estrogen dominance. The antibiotics kill the protective good bacteria in your gut, and hormones and antibiotics are toxic to both humans and animals. Buy wild fish and shrimp— farmed are filled with chemicals and toxins.
- Avoid excess sugars, especially corn syrup and refined sugars. Avoid refined grains, as in cereals and puffed snacks. This will also help normalize insulin and blood sugar, which prevents oxidation, inflammation, and weight gain. Sugar is the main fuel source for tumors and hurts your immune system. Avoid the white stuff, especially soda.
- Supplements: though I recommend getting as many nutrients as you can from your diet, it’s nearly impossible due to modern farming practices to get everything you need. One of the most important cancer-protective nutrients is vitamin D. I take 5,000 IUs per day. I recommend a multi and a probiotic, too. You can also add an antioxidant formula; this is especially important if you are exposed to chemicals and pollution regularly. Medicinal mushrooms particularly boost immune health and are a must if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer. Turkey tail in particular shows excellent anti-tumor and immune boosting activity,.
- Herbs and spices: you have a cancer-fighting arsenal in your spice rack! My favorite cancer-fighting spice is turmeric. It’s easy to make a tea out of it: just add 1/2 tsp to hot water with the juice of a lemon and a little honey. There are tons of turmeric tea recipes online. Click here for my top 6 healing and disease-preventing spices. If you currently have cancer or are at high risk, you’ll need to take a curcumin supplement.
- Water: municipal water is filled with chemicals and chlorines that act as disinfectants. The chlorines/chloramines kill off good bacteria in the gut, not to mention that the fluoride is damaging to your thyroid. Use a filtration system.
- Clean up your environment: replace all your chemical cleaning products with non-toxic alternatives. I use lemon and orange essential oils, which work great. You can make your own using vinegar base, borax, baking soda, etc too. There are tons of “recipes” online. Getting rid of the toxic chemicals in your environment lightens your total toxic load.
- Detox! Doing a detox program twice yearly will aid your body in neutralizing and excreting potentially harmful toxins so they are not stored in your tissues. Click here for my simple, 21 day detox program.
- Make your own beauty care products. I used to be the queen of flower-smelling lotions, but now they smell so strong and fake to me. Everything you apply to your skin is absorbed into your system, and most lotions and perfumes contain agents that penetrate your skin so the fragrance lasts longer. The average woman is exposed to over 500 chemicals daily in bodycare products and cosmetics! Get rid of it: the chemicals cause endocrine disruption, obesity, and infertility. Here’s my favorite skincream, and I just use whipped coconut oil as body butter.
- Avoid canned foods, or buy BPA-free cans if possible. The can liners contain endocrine-disrupting BPA, a chemical linked to cancer and reproductive and fetal development problems.
- Get rid of teflon non-stick pans! The coating is toxic. I use cast iron, or you can get ceramic or chemical-free non-stick coating green pans.
- Don’t char your food! Grilling or cooking it to death forms carcinogenic matter. Eat meats medium rare.
- Get 8 hours sleep each night. This is the time your immune system is most active, scavenging for abnormal cells. Your detox system is also working to remove excess toxins from your body. Additionally, melatonin is a very important anti-cancer antioxidant, and it is only produced during darkness, so don’t skimp on sleep, or these important cancer-protective processes will suffer.
- Avoid alcohol, especially if you have high risk factors for cancer. Studies are showing that alcohol causes cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast.
- MOVE IT! Regular exercise reduces cancer risk. (source) This is an easy, cheap, and important lifestyle adjustment you can make starting today.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.