Preventing cancer: A few simple lifestyle changes can help significantly decrease your chances of developing many of the most common forms of this terrible disease
Q: It seems like we’re not winning the war on cancer. Why not?
>—Retha T., Little Rock, Ark.
A: To put it simply, because the world is increasingly polluted. The top five most deadly cancers are all caused by this pollution to some degree: lung/bronchial (because the air is polluted, even if we don’t smoke), colon/rectal (because our soil, and thus our food, is polluted), breast (because so many drugs and plastics that get into our water supply provoke estrogen excess), pancreatic (because we have way too much sugar in our lives) and prostate/ovary (because the plastics and drugs in our water are hormone stimulators).
To decrease our chances of developing these cancers, we have to be smart and make good choices every day. As the Optimum Health Institute (optimumhealth.org) reminds clients, “The way you live your day is the way you live your life.” So make good food choices today. Drink enough water today. Get enough sleep today. And adopt some of these prevention strategies for common types of cancer.
Do everything you can to protect your lungs from pollution. If you smoke, stop. If you commute more than a few miles daily, consider installing some kind of filtration device (HEPA) in your car. If you’re vulnerable to bronchial infection after flying, wear a mask. I like the lightweight silk ones from ICanBreathe.com. The lungs also need lots of moisture, so drink plenty of water and a little kombucha every day.
Eat organic and farm-to-table whenever possible, and eliminate foods from your diet that are destructive to the gastrointestinal tract. Don’t eat anything fried at high heat, especially with poor-quality oils, and most especially with poor-quality oils that are continuously reheated (think fries and donuts). Also avoid high-fructose corn syrup. If you see this ingredient on a food label, put that product back on the shelf and look for something else. We can collectively force the food industry to stop foisting this toxin upon us if we simply remove the demand. You’ll find that the longer you avoid junk food, the nastier it tastes.
Breast cancer can be especially aggressive in younger women who are still menstruating because it is usually estrogen-driven. Be cautious about using hormones. Eat less (or no) red meat. And cut back on sugar as much as you can. Sugar depresses the immune system—1 tablespoon of sugar depresses the immune system (white blood cell function) by 50 percent for 2–4 hours after ingestion, according to research. While much of our energy is made from glucose, spikes of blood sugar are the enemy of health and well-being. Spikes of blood sugar make us store the extra fuel as fat. Excess body fat allows for toxin storage.
To help prevent breast cancer, brush your breasts every day with a soft, dry brush to stimulate lymphatic drainage. In terms of screening, the latest guidelines vary. I think a baseline mammogram around age 40 is reasonable. A woman’s breast tissue changes with nursing and with menopause, so you may need a second baseline after you’re no longer nursing or menstruating. And remember that, contrary to popular belief, mammography does nothing to prevent breast cancer.
Pancreatic cancer has risen dramatically in the past 50 years, and this is, in part, likely tied to the enormous increase in sugar consumption. The pancreas secretes not only digestive enzymes, but also insulin, the agent responsible for getting sugar from the bloodstream into our cells, where it can be converted to energy (ATP). Insulin is a growth hormone that can stimulate the growth of cancer, so the single most important way to avoid pancreatic cancer is to avoid high-carb binging—and this includes binging on alcohol—and the body’s resulting overproduction of insulin. A little alcohol, like a little caffeine and even a little sugar, is fine. In fact, these ingredients combine to make kombucha, one of the healthiest fermented drinks in the world. But don’t go overboard. Your health is much more precious than a cinnamon roll or a fancy cocktail.
These killer diseases are prevalent, in part, because of the hormone-disrupting toxins in our environment. Have you ever been taken aback by the chemical smell in the cleaning supplies aisle of a big-box store? That’s the smell of fake perfumes and plasticizers with names such as bisphenol-A and phthalates. These volatile agents can provoke hormonal changes in the body. Think boys growing breasts, girls having irregular menses or extreme PMS, infertility in both men and women, and ultimately cancer of the reproductive organs.
Unfortunately, neither the PSA test nor the CA125 test (for prostate and ovarian cancers) are reliable. Having an immediate family relative who has had a hormonal cancer makes you higher-risk. However, you can absolutely lower your risk by avoiding plastic and fake perfumes whenever possible. And stop buying drinks—including water—that come in plastic bottles.
Finally, remember that cancer starts when just one cell—and it can be almost any cell in the body—goes bad, mutates, and proliferates out of control. But cells go bad all the time. In a healthy person, the immune system tags the bad cell, digests it, and expels it. When cancer takes hold, it is really more a failure of our immune system than anything else. So the best strategy for preventing all types of cancer is to keep your immune system healthy. And that recipe really is very basic: eat a healthy diet, exercise daily, get enough sleep, drink enough water, maintain a positive attitude, and be consistent with these lifestyle choices. Choose wisely, and live those healthy choices every day.