sharing knowledge; enhancing wellbeing.
“Everything causes cancer!” is statement is so commonly thrown around (from professionals to the lay person) that you might even believe its true. With nearly half of men and 1/3 of women developing cancer, and cancer contributing to 20% of deaths in the United States (and, these numbers don’t account for those who “survived cancer” but eventually died due to the harmful effects of the standard treatments administered), we might believe we have evidence that a diagnosis of cancer is inevitable for many. We often hear x,y, and z cause cancer on the daily news broadcasts. Even the things that are supposed to be healthy for us can cause cancer, right? Not exactly…
Everything does not cause cancer, and believing so can be detrimental to your health. The statement is one of defeat, and a broad but unnecessary acceptance that there is nothing you can do about the cancer epidemic… which is a very unfortunate distortion of the truth. If we believe there is nothing we can do, then we passively allow for our genes to respond to our environment (for example, mindlessly putting toxins in our bodies, not attending to how we deal with stress, et cetera).
This is no bueno, because in fact, we do know what causes cancer: toxic environmental exposure and poor lifestyle choices contribute to a weakened immune system, which leads to abnormal cell mutation – do this over and over again for years and years and poof, you’ve got cancer. It’s a pretty simple model that is often overlooked. We tend to think that cancer just starts growing out of nowhere, because it’s just something that some bodies do…. Maybe even that we are genetically programmed to fall victim to the c-word. Wrong. It is something that every body does! We all have cancerous cells in our body – I can’t make this clear enough. Every single one of us has abnormal cells. The detection of cancer (or being diagnosed) is about how much of our cells have abnormally mutated. If we have a significant detection of cancer, then our immune system is not handling these abnormally mutated cells effectively.
So what exactly is cancer? Cancer refers to dangerous mutations of cells and proliferations of cancer cells, creating a tumor (a.k.a. neoplasms). A tumor is an abnormal growth of body tissue. Tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). Tumors develop as a result of the activation of oncogenes (mutated genes that have the potential to cause cancer) and the suppression of tumor suppression cells.
Tumors require oxygen and nutrients to survive; they obtain oxygen and nutrients from a cell. Cancer cells feed on glucose and other sugars and continue to grow and eventually break off from the primary cancer site and plant themselves in another site (forming metastases).
Again, many people think that everything causes cancer and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. While it is true that many foods and other environmental factors (such as pesticides from foods, air pollution, and radiation exposure from computers, cell phones, and cars) caused the rates of cancer to skyrocket in the last 40 years, there are things we can do to lower our chances of getting cancer or help our bodies fight it if it detects abnormally mutated cells.
1. First and foremost, since cancer cells feed on sugar, you should minimize your sugar intake. Sugar (in limited amounts) should mainly come from natural sources, such as fruits.
2. Avoid genetically modified foods (GMOs). This is a tricky one. Sadly, GMOs are just about everywhere. One of the biggest culprits is soda, especially diet soda. Those diet drinks that have zero calories are actually just as bad, if not worse for you than the regular soda. The reason why is because the sugar in diet colas is made from toxic chemicals. Many of such sweeteners (such as Splenda and Sweet and Low) contain aspartame, which also activates neurotransmitters in the brain, in particular aspartate. The problem is that aspartame tends to overexcite brain cells (i.e., neurons) to the point of self-destruction. That is why artificial sweeteners are referred to as neurotoxins, because they literally poison brain cells. This causes memory loss, concentration difficulties, and early dementia. In addition, as you might have guessed, it can lead to several different types of cancer. Certain foods, especially gluten containing foods, increase inflammation and weaken immune response. Minimizing foods that can cause inflammation can help you strengthen your body and lower your risks of getting cancer, as well as prevent or reduce the effects of other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis.
3. Many recent studies show that chances of getting cancer are significantly lower in people with higher vitamin D levels as compared to those who are deficient in vitamin D. Get at least 30 minutes of sun per day and don’t bathe immediately afterward, wait at least an hour before taking a shower in order to allow the solar vitamin D to be absorbed by your skin. You can also take vitamin D supplements. Recent studies suggest 4,000 – 8,000 International Units per day. Make sure you get them from good sources, like Carlson’s.
4. Reduce your stress. This is another tricky one. Many of us lead very stressful and very busy lives, never slowing down, always running, always chasing something. Even reading about it might be stressful but the truth is that stress destroys the body’s natural immune response and makes it more likely that we will get sick. This is especially true in the case of leukemia, where the cancer cells attack leukocytes (white blood cells responsible for destroying bacteria and foreign agents). Increased stress can greatly exacerbate cancer growth and make you more likely to get other diseases or infections.
5. Reducing stress also means changing some habits that put a lot of stress on the body, such as smoking, drinking caffeine, drinking alcohol, and not getting enough sleep. Start switching from coffee to green tea, start getting more sleep, look into some exercise. You don’t have to join a gym and commit 2 hours a day and $80 per month to do it. At least some stretching, walking, jumping jacks are a great start! Incorporating physical activity can also have a mood elevating effect. Additionally, physical activity provides an opportunity for the body to detoxify by working the lymphatic system (moving stimulates the lymphatic system, which keeps you healthy) and sweating out the toxins that we all accumulate daily.
6. Increase your omega-3 intake (fish oils). Omega-3s have a multitude of health benefits. First of all, they dilate the blood vessels, reducing blood pressure and lowering the risk of heart disease or stroke, and reducing migraines. In addition, omega-3s can help to reduce depression and assist in weight loss. Finally, omega-3s help strengthen the immune system and ward off inflammation.
7. Certain foods have been empirically supported in cancer prevention. These include kale, spinach, blue green algae/Spirulina, shitake and oyster mushrooms, cod liver oil, iodine (talk to your health care provider before taking iodine), and green and white tea. Green tea has been shown to be especially helpful with breast and prostate cancer prevention, whereas white tea has been shown to be helpful with skin cancer prevention. Also, be sure to filter your water to remove heavy metals and chemicals that are known carcinogens/toxins.
8. Certain spices have been shown to be helpful in cancer prevention. These include ginger, turmeric, and black cumin. Simply add these to your rice, salads, or any other foods you can think of and enjoy! Check out recipes for ideas on how to incorporate these spices into your diet.
9. Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins, pollution, chemicals, or radiation. This is not always very easy to do, depending on where you live/work. Start by getting more information about your stove. A lot of stoves, especially old stoves, produce a lot of carbon monoxide, which can kill those exposed to it, and can possibly cause lung cancer. When replacing the stove is not an option, look into cleaning it more often (dirty stoves are more likely to produce carbon monoxide than clean stoves), as well as airing out the apartment by opening the windows, and getting more fresh air. Do not heat the apartment with your stove! Carbon monoxide levels can rise and cause permanent brain damage, coma, or death. Additionally, Look for recipes that do not require a microwave. Microwaves produce radiation, which could increase the risk of cancer. Whenever possible, try to use the stove instead of a microwave. You can also look into natural cleaning supplies and air fresheners. Several types of cancer can be caused by exposure to chemicals found in cleaning supplies and air fresheners. If you cannot afford to buy natural supplies, look into making your own from such ingredients as baking soda and lemon juice.
10. Be mindful of what you put on your body. Check out the Cosmetics Database to see how your favorite products fare. There are so many chemicals in personal care items (including sunscreen!) that are very dangerous to our health, yet most people don’t even give a thought to what they slather onto the largest, and most porous organ. Chemicals like parabens, phthalates, nano-particles in sunscreens, DMDM hydantion, PEGs, man-made fragrances, et cetera, are all found to be carcinogenic. Do shop and slather wisely!
11. Take care of yourself! Get a massage, acupuncture, go out with friends, live a little! Start scheduling a little fun time into your very busy schedule. Studies show that those with more social interactions tend to live longer and have lower chances of getting sick. This is because social bonding can cause the release of endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. These can elevate mood, reduce stress, increase life satisfaction, reduce depression (which in turn can restore some immune function, and increase longevity), and slow the progression of some illnesses.
12. Avoid unnecessary radiation exposure. When you aren’t using electronics, keep them at a distance from your body. When you use your cell phone, use the headphones that come with the phone or a bluetooth, which is much better than having the phone held directly to your head (did you know that the iPhone guide book actually recommends keeping the phone 5/8″ away from your body? Seriously). Don’t go through the x-rays at the airport – they aren’t safe, and the radiation that you are exposed to compounds over time… You already are exposed to enough while flying, why subject yourself to more? And, don’t get x-rays unless they are absolutely necessary. Ask the doctor how the results of the x-ray might change the course of treatment (e.g. if you think you have a broken bone, would they recommend something different whether this is confirmed or not? What is the treatment if the test comes back negative versus positive – is there a big difference between the two?). Also, there are safer ways for breast cancer testing other than mammograms (which can cause cancer)? When it comes to breast cancer screening, ask for thermography or another radiation-free test.
13. Do address any pent up negative emotions. The phrases, “laughter is medicine,” or “holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die” really aren’t too far from the truth. Carrying around emotional baggage is literally toxic to the body, and this creates an immune response that is favorable to the development of cancer. That being said, learn to let go of anger, fear, resentment, guilt, shame, and other emotions that do not serve you. While it is natural for any human to experience these emotions in various (and sometimes frequent!) moments in our lives, knowing how to respond to them is key. Stuffing emotions, or failing to let go is where you can fall into a dangerous health trap. If you have trouble letting go of negative emotions, find a therapist in your area (for most people struggling with these issues, a therapist competent in third wave cognitive behavioral therapies (like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), emotional freedom techniques, EMDR or IEMT can be very helpful) and learn how to stay balanced for your health and wellbeing.
14. If you are ever diagnosed with cancer, do consider your options… Remember, you DO have options. It might be prudent to rethink radiation and chemotherapy (click on the links for more information as to why this is a wise choice). It is estimated that 75% of doctors wouldn’t ever go through traditional cancer treatments (or recommend that their family members do either) – but they are legally not able to give you other options. Do check in with a naturopathic doctor or an integrative health specialist who will provide you with a plethora of treatment options (some of which are highly effective depending on the type of cancer is diagnosed), and will advocate for your rights as a patient if you decide to go the Western route. There are always several solutions to any problem – don’t let fear or lack of knowledge dictate your decisions when it comes to your health, and ultimately your life.
Here’s to your health!
Janina & Lauren