Currently one in three of us will deal with cancer at some point in our lives. Science has discovered some of the genetic links that trigger cancer and in doing so, we’ve also learned that the vast majority of cancer is caused by the way we live our lives. In fact, over 90% of cancers are caused by modifiable risks factors in diet and lifestyle. Many of us know the big culprits of smoking, excess alcohol and obesity, but we must look deeper and think more holistically to better address cancer in our society. This article will present four fundamental ways we can take control of our health to implement the most powerful anti-cancer strategy available—prevention.
Reduce Inflammation – Reducing inflammation is the most important and fundamental concept in cancer prevention. It is a broad topic, but can be distilled simply. Inflammation is caused by insults from the outside world and how sensitive our system is to these stimuli. Over time and repeated exposures we can set up chronic inflammatory states, which are breeding ground for cancer development. Long-term inflammation leads to cell damage, errors in DNA repair and immune dysfunction. The classic example of this is smoking causing lung cancer, but there are much more subversive causes of inflammation rampant in American society. Processed food and refined sugars rampant in the mainstream American diet are a common cause of inflammation. Even if you are eating a whole foods diet, it is important to identify which foods cause inflammatory reactions for you and avoid these on a regular basis.
Inactivity, chemical exposures, chronic stress and gut imbalances are also inflammatory triggers. Uncovering these and other causes of chronic inflammation is true cancer prevention. Natural medicine specializes in addressing chronic inflammation and your naturopath or other holistic provider will be your best resource. Taking a high-quality fish oil supplement dosed appropriately is a good place to start reducing inflammation.
Immune health – The immune system is your search and destroy ally, seeking out cancer cells on the microscopic level and killing them before they can take hold. All healthy individuals have cells which mutate and could lead to cancer if not checked by our immune system while still microscopic. When cancer grows enough to be detected, it was long before that our immune system failed. An established tumor uses biochemical mechanisms to further trick our immune system to ignore it, allowing for it’s growth.
A cancer prevention strategy is to optimize immune function. In particular, boosting levels and activity of Natural Killer (NK) Cells, which are the immune cell designed to identify and destroy cancer. This is done through good nutrition, healthy sleep, minimizing stress and controlling inflammation. In particular, medicinal mushrooms have been studied to increase NK cell activity. Eat a variety of mushrooms (yes, even white button mushrooms) in your diet or take Reishi, Maitake, Shitake or Turkey Tail mushroom supplements, which studies show to be the most potent. A mushroom blend is an excellent product to broadly enhance NK cell activity.
Sleep – Each night our body is programmed to do housekeeping and repair. Routine, quality sleep allows the body to maintain optimal biologic rhythms and healthy cellular function. Studies show that people who have disrupted sleep have significantly higher rates of cancer. Much of the research is linked to production of the pineal hormone, melatonin, which is produced while we sleep. This hormone is critical to immune function and cellular repair. Melatonin is also an anti-oxidant, which will be discussed in the next section. Through multiple mechanisms, melatonin and good sleep keep our cells, at the DNA level, from becoming cancerous.
Natural melatonin production declines as we age and generally, our sleep becomes worse. To promote good sleep and melatonin production, go to bed at a regular time consistently. Getting to bed before 10pm is ideal. Sleep in a dark room with no light pollution, meaning black-out curtains and no lights from alarm-clocks or cell phones. Of note, green and blue lights are most destructive to melatonin production, whereas red light has much less of an effect. Turn off your cell phone and limit the chances that your sleep will be disrupted. Of course, we are not always in a position to get optimal sleep, whether due to job or children. In this case, I see no issue with taking some melatonin as a supplement. There is excellent science showing anti-cancer benefits of Melatonin supplements and you will likely sleep better as well. This should be taken within 30 minutes of when you expected to be lying in bed with your eyes closed and on your way to dreamland. If you work a night shift, it might be wise to consult your naturopath as to how to best support your reversed circadian rhythms.
Nutrition and Antioxidants – The best researched compounds that fight cancer naturally come from whole fruits, vegetables and grains. Lycopene, Beta-Carotene, Curcumin, I-3-C and many others, are compounds from specific fruits and veggies that have been studied and purified. These substances are in a broad category called flavenoids and are all antioxidants. This means they have the ability to protect your DNA from mutation, which is the instigating event leading to cancer. Flavenoids also happen to be the substances that give fruits and veggies their color. Lycopene is red, proanthocyanidins are purple/blue and carotenoids are orange. To strengthen this pillar, eat a rainbow of fresh fruits and veggies. This way your diet will be filled with the substances nature has devised to protect your body against cancer and the detrimental effects of aging.
Fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids are two other components we tend not to get enough of and are important in a diet that prevents cancer. The lack of these, along with fewer vegetables, is one of the main reasons the typical American diet leads to cancer. Whole grains are a good source of both fiber and Omega-3 fats. Eat whole grains and seeds like buckwheat, oats, brown rice, barley, millet, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and others to receive multiple anti-cancer nutrients. Grinding fresh flax seeds daily and adding into cereal, smoothies or on salads packs several compounds studied to fight cancer into one seed. Your whole body will sing your praises for this practice.
The Big Picture
These four pillars of preventive health will take you far in reducing your chances of ever getting cancer. They are foundational, but not the final word in cancer prevention. Exercise/weight management and stress reduction are also critical parts in a holistic approach to cancer prevention. If you are a smoker, diabetic or work in a toxic environment, addressing these major detrimental factors will do more to prevent cancer than any other lifestyle intervention. It can never be stressed enough that the appropriate screening tests, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, save lives.
Every person is different and a personalized approach to medicine is always best. Consider asking your naturopathic doctor how you can reduce your cancer risk. If you have a history of cancer personally or in your family, talking to a naturopathic cancer specialist may be an excellent resource. Too many Americans (and their families) suffer with this terrible disease, much of which is preventable with a proactive approach to health.
For an Appoinment with the Naturopathic Cancer Specialist at Kwan Yin, Dr. Dave Allderdice, ND, FABNO, Please call the clinic at 503-701-8766.