Many think that getting cancer is just because of “Bad Genes” and they cannot Reduce the Risk of Cancer. But, analysis by the World Cancer Research Fund shows that more than 1/3 of all cancers can be avoided by making some simple changes in our diet and life style. Some individuals and their family members do have inborn higher vulnerability to some cancers. Every person has inborn or acquired susceptibility to a myriad of different diseases.
But, in the vast majority of cases, this susceptibility only leads to the disease, such as cancer, when pushed by an external factor. So what are the external factors that we can avoid or life style changes we need to make to reduce our risk of cancer? I summarize the results of the World Cancer Research Fund analysis as well as some of my analysis for you here:
- Body Fatness: Increased body fat is associated with elevated cancer risk of 8 different types. The increased risk includes cancers of ovary, endometrium (uterus or womb), colon/rectum (bowel), pancreas, breast cancer after menopause, kidney, gall bladder and esophagus. The increased risk is anywhere from 5% to 50 % depending on the cancer. The greatest risk is for endometrial cancer in overweight women. So what is your proper weight? The lowest weight you can be without being underweight. Calorie reduction combined with increased exercise in form of brisk walking will not only burn more calories while you walk but increases your metabolic rate to allow you to burn more calories at rest.
- Physical Exercise: Exercising at least 3 times: Cancer of the bowel, endometrium and breast cancer after menopause are all associated with lack of physical activity. Insufficient physical activity is defined by the World Cancer Research Fund “as less than 30 minutes of moderate activity five times per week, or less than 20 minutes of vigorous activity three times per week, or equivalent.” The goal should be to enjoy at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day with a goal to achieve at least 60 minutes per day 5 days per week.
- Avoid Foods that promote weight gain: Sugary drinks, fast foods and energy dense processed foods promote weight gain and associated cancers. Energy dense foods such as nuts and seeds have not been associated with weight gain of processed energy rich snacks. Remember that 3500 calories equals 1 pound on your waist line, so just avoiding 2 Pepsi’s or Coke’s per day for 12 days will result in 1 pound weight loss in 12 days, in one year that a 30 pound weight reduction. Now that’s the real thing!
- Plant Foods: Eating a plant based diet is associated with cancer reduction. Eating at 14 ounces of non-starchy fruits and vegetable per day is optimal in preventing all types of cancer. A variety of a range of various amounts of vegetables and fruits of different colors including purple, red, green, yellow, white, orange and including tomato-based products and allium vegetables such as garlic. Including non-processed cereals such as oats and legumes.
- Animal Foods: Processed meats are associated with bowel, esophageal and stomach cancer and should be limited if not avoided completely. Red meat should be limited to 11 ounces or fewer per week. Chicken and fish have not been associated with increased cancer risks. Beans, Lentils and brown rice are good sources of vegetable proteins. Chicken in North America is still the least expensive meat. Avoid the Deli and establishments that provide processed meat. Assume that all deli meats are processed and contain sodium nitrite.(See Post: Eating fresh from the deli? Think again! )
- Alcohol: Alcohol is associated with increased risk of mouth, throat, bowel, liver and breast cancer. No alcohol is best for cancer prevention. If you do drink please limit to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 per day for adult women. Pregnant women should never drink alcohol as it causes brain damage in the unborn child. Alcohol may have some heart benefits for men age 40 and over and post-menopausal women.
- Breast is best: Breast fed babies are less likely to be overweight as adults and as babies, reducing their risk of cancer as they age. In addition breast feeding reduces breast cancer in both premenopausal women as well as postmenopausal women. Exclusively breast feed your baby till 6 months then add foods and other fluids as recommended by your family doctor or pediatrician.
- Processed foods: Eat fresh and avoid processed foods. Foods that are fresh and do not have chemicals added to them are always the best choice for long term health and cancer prevention. Pin the link to the “Nasty List” to your smart phone so it’s handy when you shop.
- Smoking: I shouldn’t have to even bring up this as a way to reduce cancer. But it is important to know that second hand smoke is a risk as well as being in smoky environments around camp fires and charcoal BBQ’s. Smoking not only causes lung cancer but is associated with bowel, stomach, throat, breast and pancreatic cancer. Smoking a pack a day reduces life expectancy by 11 years. If you have children and you smoke they are more likely to smoke. (See Post: Smoking Can Harm…)
- Supplements: Generally you will not reduce your risk of cancers by taking additional supplements. The best approach is whole unprocessed foods. Vitamin C may be an exception and may help to block the conversion of nitrites in the stomach to NDMA (nitrosodimethylamine) a potent carcinogen (cancer causing agent). So a couple of grams of extra vitamin C per day may be helpful.
Fine tune your diet and habits to live a long and cancer free life.
World Cancer Research fund recommendations: http://www.wcrf.org/int/research-we-fund/our-cancer-prevention-recommendations
Brian Goertz MD