Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
A few simple lifestyle changes can help significantly decrease your chances of developing many of the most common forms of cancer.
To put it simply, the world is increasingly polluted. The top five deadliest 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. The lungs also need lots of moisture, so drink plenty of water and a little kombucha every day.
The lungs 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. We can collectively force the food industry to stop foisting this toxin upon us if we simply remove the demand.
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 red meat. And cut back on sugar. Sugar depresses the immune system—1 tablespoon 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, blood sugar spikes are the enemy of health and well-being. Blood sugar spikes cause us to store the extra fuel as fat. Excess body fat allows for toxin storage.
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 your periods have stopped. But remember that mammograms do 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 (tea and sugar) combine with bacteria and yeast to make kombucha, one of the healthiest fermented drinks in the world. Kombucha is especially high in cancer-fighting glucaric acid, also found in several plant foods including cruciferous vegetables. But don’t go overboard with the bad stuff. Your health is much more precious than a fancy cocktail or cinnamon roll.
Prostate and ovarian cancers
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 who develop breasts, or girls with extreme PMS). Reduce your exposure by avoiding plastics and fake perfumes whenever possible. And stop buying drinks—including water—that come in plastic bottles.
Potent Cancer Fighters
These supplements are well supported by research for their abilities to help guard against—and possibly even prevent the spread of—cancer.
Research continues to demonstrate that vitamin D deficiency not only directly increases risk of some cancers, but it can also lead to other risk factors such as chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and reduced immunity. Vitamin D3 (the kind synthesized by the body after sunlight exposure) is the most bioavailable form.
Found in fatty fish and some nuts and seeds, these essential fatty acids have been shown to help reduce cancer risk and improve recovery from cancer treatment. It is believed that omega-3s may work by reducing inflammation, as several cancers have been linked to chronic inflammation.
Research continues to demonstrate the broad range of health benefits that come from taking a combination of probiotics and prebiotics, known as a synbiotic, including cancer protection. Probiotics and prebiotics help to balance the microbiome of the gut; a compromised gut can lead to a variety of health problems, including cancer growth.
Extracts derived from this small fruit with bumpy green skin show great promise against pancreatic and breast cancers in particular. Used for centuries in Asian medicine, bitter melonhas been shown to reduce tumor growth, in part by starving cancer cells of the sugar these cells feed on and inducing cell death.
Including (but not limited to) turkey tail (Trametes versicolor), maitake (Grifola frondosa), and reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) provide strong defense against cancer. Among much promising research, reishi’s bioactive
molecules and polysaccharides have been shown to help activate natural killer cells, thereby reducing cancer metastasis. Antiviral properties present in turkey tail have been shown to target viruses such as the human papilloma virus, which can lead to cervical cancer. Research shows maitake has the ability to destroy malignant cells through its immune-enhancing mechanisms, and may be especially potent against breast and lung cancers.
This is the biologically active polyphenolic compound found in the spice turmeric. Research shows it stops the action of the enzyme COX-2, known to increase chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a known precursor to cancer, as well as other chronic illnesses. Curcumin has also been shown to inhibit what are known as “vascular epithelial growth factors”—in simple terms, this means it can stop blood supply to tumors. Perhaps most impressive, this Indian spice has demonstrated the ability to actually kill cancer cells.
Cancer Prevention Supplements
Mushroom Wisdom Maitake D-Fraction
Arthur Andrew Medical Syntol AMD
Himalaya Herbal Healthcare Bitter Melon