No one ever wants to hear the words, “you have cancer.” With so many people affected, as well as their families, more and more people want to take proactive action. Instead of viewing cancer as a fluke, the public is now realizing that there are steps you can take to protect your future health.
Of course, during our lifetime, there are some things that are simply out of our control. We can’t plan for everything, but we can most certainly do our very best to avoid chronic disease. If you have the attitude that there’s nothing you can personally do to protect yourself against cancer, then you’re cheating yourself.
Yes, cancer can be caused by mutations. But more often than not, the choices you make throughout your life will greatly impact your health. If you provide an environment where cancer can thrive, it may do so. On the other hand, if you create an internal environment that actively fights cancer cells, you may experience a very different outcome.
What causes cancer?
Although it would be nice to answer this question in a direct, concise manner, it isn’t that black and white. Cancer is complex. There are many possible causes, including genetic factors, environmental exposures and types of infections. Of course, there are also lifestyle factors, including diet, smoking and physical activity.
Over the years, research has clearly linked specific foods to an increased risk of cancer, just as it’s uncovered a list of foods that may help prevent cancer. The foods you eat, as well as your daily routine, will have a massive impact on how your body and mind function. I guess the more important question here is, how do I protect myself?
Easy things you can do to ward off cancer
What if you knew that there were a few simple steps you could take in order to significantly reduce your risk of cancer —would you take action? The following suggestions are not only effective, they’re easy to implement. As long as you truly focus on improving your health, new habits will simply become new routines.
1. Eat fewer inflammation-causing foods
Just as olive oil, blueberries and walnuts offer an anti-inflammatory effect, there are also foods that yield a pro-inflammatory effect. It’s easy to pick out these foods. They are generally known to be bad for our health, including soda, processed meats, hydrogenated oils, excessive red meat consumption and refined carbohydrates.
Related: 6 Cancer-Causing Foods You Need to Stop Eating
When your body is faced with prolonged inflammation, healthy cells and tissues become damaged. As your immune system weakens, you increase your risk of cancer. As stated by MIT, people who suffer from chronic inflammation have a great risk of mutations that cause cancer.
When inflammation increases, your DNA can become damaged and cell division is enhanced. Once dividing cells become more vulnerable to DNA damage, this creates an environment where cancer cells are able to thrive. Although studied in mice, researchers believe that the effects may be even more dramatic in people, based on chronic inflammation that often goes on for years.
Takeaway: Swap low-nutrient, processed foods for whole foods that promote optimal health. These include plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, herbs and spices.
2. Reduce intake of alcohol and sugar
Once again, in order to cut your risk of cancer, you need to eliminate some key factors. We all know that smoking increases your risk of cancer, but so does alcohol and sugar. In terms of alcohol, your risk is based on consumption. Excessive, regular intake can lead to a number of potential cancer-causing factors.
When your body breaks down alcohol, for instance, ethanol is broken down into acetaldehyde — a chemical compound that may be more toxic than alcohol itself. This is also what leads to unpleasant symptoms associated with a hangover. It may also be a human carcinogen.
When consumed on a regular basis, alcohol also impairs your body’s ability to break down and absorb key nutrients, including vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate and carotenoids. In terms of sugar, the research has continued to pile up, as sugar appears to “feed” cancer cells.
A recent study published in Cancer Research showed that metastasis and tumor growth occurred in mice when fed sucrose levels comparable to Western diets. Researchers discovered that it was specifically fructose in table sugar, as well as high-fructose corn syrup, that was facilitating lung metastasis and increased fatty acid production in breast tumors.
It’s not just desserts and soda you need to be worried about either. Processed and low-fat foods are packed with sugar. It’s simply not enough to cut out sweets. You need to truly change your diet.
Takeaway: Cut out high-sugar foods, including processed savory foods. Consume alcohol in moderation — one drink a day for females and two for males.
3. Get outside
When we think of the sun, we often associate UV rays with skin cancer. The truth is, if you don’t spend enough time outdoors, you could be placing your health at risk. Within one 2010 study, published in Nutrition Research, it was found that 42 percent of American adults are deficient in vitamin D.
Tested and confirmed in more than 200 studies, there’s a clear link between vitamin D deficiency and cancer. While studying 1179 postmenopausal women over the age of 55, researchers found that when given supplemental calcium and vitamin D, these women experienced a 77 percent reduction in the incidence of all cancers after just four years.
Of course, exposing your skin to the sun is the most natural and effective way to get enough vitamin D. There are clearly a number of factors involved, including where you live in the world, the time of day, and the color of your skin. You only need to expose your skin for approximately half the time it takes to turn pink.
If this is worrisome, as you do not want to get burnt, there are also supplements available. This is especially important during the winter months, when you may not get outside as often. You can also obtain small amounts from wild salmon, eggs, mushrooms and pastured beef liver.
Takeaway: Spend more time outdoors and supplement during the winter months if required.
4. Eat more plant-based foods
Eating an apple a day may not cure cancer, but eating a variety of plant-based foods will most certainly reduce your risk of illness. From spinach to squash, there are literally thousands of plant-derived foods that have been associated with a reduced risk of cancer.
Nutrient-dense, plant-based foods offer anti-mutagenic effects, reducing DNA damage. These include aloe vera, cabbage, citrus, olives, garlic and turmeric. Since they also offer detoxification properties and the ability to fight free radicals, a colorful plant-based diet will help prevent a wide range of cancers.
The benefits of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have been well-documented. One review published in Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism analyzed data from 124,706 participants. Researchers found that vegetarians had an 18 percent lower cancer incidence.
Positive effects have also been documented among cancer patients. Plant-based diets have been shown to help cancer patients both during and after treatment. Consume a varied diet Make sure it’s high in vitamins C and E, which offer antioxidant effects as well as health-boosting minerals like potassium and magnesium.
Takeaway: Adopt a lifestyle that includes a diet rich in plant-based foods. Reduce or eliminating your intake of meat — especially red meat. Avoid all processed meats.
Thinking about cancer can be scary. Anyone who has lost a loved one to this disease knows that it is not an easy battle. In order to protect yourself five, ten, even twenty years down the road, you need to take action now. Do not wait until cancer develops in order to start the fight. You can actively prevent the development of this disease today, long before any symptoms have a chance to develop.
— Krista Hillis