With 17 million new cases of cancer worldwide being recorded in 2018, there can be few of us who haven’t been touched in some way by cancer. More than 360,000 new cases were recorded in the UK with breast, prostate, lung, and bowel being the most common cancers and accounting for 53% of cases.
A Cancer Research Survey showed that Cancer is the nation’s number one fear, but more than a third of those surveyed thought that getting the disease is down to fate and there is nothing they can do to avoid it. However many experts believe that 75% of all cancers could be avoided by changes in diet/lifestyle.
We all have cancer cells in our body – but only some of us go on to develop the disease. Carcinogenesis can take many years and we can very much influence its progression in the early stages. Our body’s own defense system ought to be able to kill cancer cells, but in order to do that, we need the right nutrients, environment, and lifestyle.
So what causes cancer?
There are many possible causes/contributors to cancer including:
Genetics (10-15%), Injury from Radiation, Infectious Agents – e.g. HPV, Hepatitis B, H. Pylori, Aflatoxins (peanuts), parasites , Injury from Chemicals – pesticides, heavy metals, diesel exhaust, tobacco smoke, asbestos, cleaning agents, industrial waste, xenoestrogens , Food-related chemicals e.g. red and processed meat, alcohol, chargrilled meat – polyaromatic hydrocarbons, acrylamide – burnt food, Electro-magnetic radiation from mobile phones, wi-fi, computers/laptops/tablets, smart meters, pylons etc.
But the 3 key factors that most promote and influence cancer are:
And these can be influenced by diet and lifestyle.
- A high glycaemic index/load (high carbohydrate/sugar) diet induces high insulin levels
- Insulin induces IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor) production and suppresses IGF-1 binding protein and SHBG (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin) thus liberating oestrogen
- IGF-1 suppresses P53 protein – the core housekeeping protein responsible for DNA repair which should induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) of aberrant cells
- IGF-1 directly activates oestrogen receptors
- Excess weight and a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of cancer
- Cut down on sugar and refined carbohydrates
- All carbohydrate converts to glucose (sugar) in the body. The rate at which it does this is measured by the Glycaemic Index (GI). Most of our food should be in the low to med GI categories (less than 70).
- High GI diets are particularly linked with increased risk of some cancers and cancer recurrence especially Breast, Colorectal, Pancreatic, Liver, Stomach, Uterine.
- Eating protein and healthy fats with each meal will slow down the release of sugars
- Download a GI app on your phone to check the GI rating of your food
- Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process but uncontrolled inflammation causes collateral damage
- It is thought that all degenerative illnesses, e.g. cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimers/Dementia are caused by inflammation and the illnesses themselves create further inflammation
- Much of our diet and lifestyle promotes inflammation
Cut down Inflammatory foods/factors such as:
- Insulin – Sugar/High GI foods (see above)
- Obesity – especially central obesity creates a cascade of inflammatory cytokines
- Saturated fats – red/processed/cured meats
- Trans/hydrogenated/damaged fats
- Burnt food (acrylamides), BBQ’d food, pickles
- Smoked food (polyaromatic hydrocarbons)
- Any foods to which you are allergic/intolerant
- Stop smoking
- Limit your exposure, as much as you can, to environmental pollution, heavy metals, stress
- Improve the quality of your sleep
- Avoid a sedentary lifestyle
A properly regulated immune system will not promote an inappropriate immune/inflammatory response and will identify and kill cancer cells. 90% of our immune system is located in the mucous membranes and bacteria of the gut so look after your gut bacteria by:
- Avoiding inflammatory foods (see above)
- Avoiding pesticides, herbicides etc
- Avoiding anti-bacterial handwashes/cleaning products
- Switching to natural cleaning products/cosmetics
- Avoid chemicals in foods e.g. preservatives, colourings, flavour enhancers, emulsifiers
- Avoid antibiotics unless really necessary
So to Protect, Prevent, Support, Recover and Prevent Recurrence of cancer the recommendations of are as follows:
- Eat real, fresh food – mostly vegetables, some whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins
- Avoid processed, convenience foods and empty calories
- Cut down on sugar/high carbohydrate/high GI foods
- Cut down on alcohol
- Avoid exposure to environmental chemicals, switch to natural cleaning products and cosmetics
- Get regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Manage stress
- Follow a Mediterranean style diet
Foods that are particularly helpful include:
- VEGETABLES, VEGETABLES, VEGETABLES! – aim for minimum 5 per day – all colours
- Green veg e.g. kale, broccoli, spinach are especially helpful
- And no more than 2 low sugar fruits – berries, apples/pears, citrus
- All of the above contain antioxidants, phytonutrients, polyphenols – all important for protection against cancer
- Whole grains e.g. brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa
- Healthy fats e.g, oily fish – salmon, sardines, mackerel, pilchards, herring, trout
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil, hemp oil, flax oil
- Turmeric (+ fat to improve absorption)
- Green Tea
- Lycopene (cooked tomatoes)