It's October, which means it's Breast Cancer Awareness month. Just in case you're living under a rock and hadn't noticed that everything is pink.
This is one of the most frustrating months for me as a holistic practitioner, with seeing posts all over social media saying something along the lines of "only 5-10% of breast cancers are hereditary, and the other 90-95% are a total crapshoot". That one little line was written by an incredibly powerful woman I know who has fought 3 different forms of cancer over 8 years, all starting in her breast. However, I believe that statistic is doing you an incredible disservice.
Why? Because the other 90-95% are NOT a total crapshoot. You absolutely have the power to reduce your chance of developing cancer.
Personal note: I know that because of the strong opinions in this post, I'm going to get attacked. Not everyone is going to like what I'm saying, so feel free to stop reading or unsubscribe from my newsletter. If I'm able to educate even one person and help them feel that they have a small shred of control over their health, then I did my job. This post is also not a condemnation of anyone who has or has had cancer. Cancer sucks.
My grandma died of pancreatic cancer (as did her sister and her mother. By the way, I look exactly like my grandma, and the thought that I have the same possible genetic factor that she and her relatives had scares the shit out of me sometimes), and my aunt has had breast cancer. No one is immune. Cancer has torn families apart and taken people from this earth well before their time. It's a horrible, horrible disease, and I'm not trying to lessen anyone's struggles. I wrote this article with hope that I could give even one person out there some hope of their own.
It was Dr. David Heber, Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, who said "genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger". He was referring to the obesity epidemic, but the same can be said about cancer.
Epigenetics, or the study of changes in an organism caused by modifying a genes' expression (and not the genetic code itself), has exploded in recent years, and we've been seeing strong evidence of exactly how much what we eat, put on our bodies, how often we exercise, and our levels of stress can change our risk of disease.
Personally and professionally, based on what I've read from the holistic side and the scientific side of things, I believe that we can absolutely reduce our risk of cancer by:
1) eating nutritious, whole foods
2) moving our bodies (something I self-admittedly suck at)
3) cleaning up our skin, body, and home care products
4) managing our stress (this one, I believe, is the biggest and hardest to master)
Today, I'm just going to talk about nutrition, because it's what I know the most about and what I've been studying the longest. Perhaps I'll have another ground-breaking post in me for my next article, but I'm not promising anything. So let's examine what you're putting in your mouth everyday, and how much control it has over your chances of developing cancer.
If there's one thing that is a non-negotiable for me and my health, it's the food I eat.
What you eat 3-5 times every single day has the ability to create disease OR the best health you've ever had. It's your choice.
I'm not saying this to guilt you into eating healthy, really, I'm not. It's all about making small, and even seemingly inconsequential, choices multiple times a day.
A fantastic book on the subject of using food as medicine is "Eating Well, Living Well" by Richard Béliveau and Denis Gingras. In this book, there's a summary on prospective studies (long-term studies) showing the link between consumption of specific foods and incidence of cancer. The numbers are utterly staggering. In a study of 11,699 women, there was a 44% reduced risk of post-menopausal breast cancer when dietary folate was consumed from green vegetables. This was independent of folic-acid containing supplements, indicating that while supplements are good, the actual vegetable is better. Another study of 58,049 women showed that the higher quartile of dietary lignan intake (which you can find in vegetables, fruits, and flax seed) was associated with a 8.5% decrease. However, in women with estrogen or progesterone positive breast cancer (i.e. hormone fuelled breast cancer), the decrease in risk with the highest lignan intake skyrocketed to 28%.
Pretty much every other cancer has studies with similar results, as follows:
FYI: this slide is taken from one of my signature presentations "Preventing major diseases with everyday nutrition", where I talk about cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Click here to contact me if you're interested in booking me to present to your group.
This means that just by eating regular (preferably daily) green vegetables, you can potentially reduce your risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 75%. THAT IS HUGE. Anyone who has seen someone diagnosed with that specific cancer knows that it's a horrible struggle, and the survival rates are slim to none. My grandma ultimately died of a stroke, less than a week of admitting to friends that she was OK with dying of her pancreatic cancer. I personally believe that she chose a more dignified, quicker, and less painful death than what she was certainly facing in her last 6 to 12 months.
The above chart is based on only prospective studies, but there's tons of other scientific studies showing evidence of other foods we can eat more of (and what we drink, too!) if we're paying specific attention to reducing our chances of developing cancer.
Here's some of the biggies:
Cruciferous vegetables: This stinky vegetable family, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts, is just about the most common and important anti-cancer foods for many reasons. Some compounds in cruciferous veggies can prevent cancer cell growth, some can eliminate carcinogenic substances from the body. Either way, the more stinky veggies you eat, the better off you'll be! The most important part turns out to be how you cook them. Boiling them causes a significant loss in the compounds that have the anti-cancer effect, while steaming or stir-frying them until they're slightly tender but still firm causes virtually no loss in the important molecules you want more of.
Green tea: Green tea leaves contain anti-cancer molecules called catechins, which can prevent microtumours from growing a blood vessel network around themselves. This is huge, as our bodies can create microtumours at any time, and chances are that we all have them. If you can cut off the supply of nutrients to those tumours before they can grow, they'll remain latent (i.e. undeveloped). Two separate studies in China and Japan on over 100,000 people showed that avid green tea drinkers (in the one study, people who drink 5 cups a day) had a 57% reduction in the risk of colorectal cancer and a 50% lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Not everyone likes green tea, I certainly didn't until I tried a good quality kind. Do yourself a favour, skip the grocery store varieties, and go to a store that sells loose leaf tea ... they're everywhere these days! Try different flavours until you find one you like, and you're all set. Most will let you sample different kinds for free. Also have the shop teach you how to properly brew it, because sometimes green tea can be bitter when left to steep too long.
Citrus fruits: Many studies have shown how effective eating citrus fruits are for reducing the risk of several types of cancers, some even by half! Many of the cancers most affected and prevented by citrus fruits are the digestive system cancers, including esophagus, mouth, and stomach. There are suspected compounds directly in the fruit, but some citrus fruits, like grapefruit, have an anti-cancer effect by reducing your bodies' ability to break anti-cancer compounds in your body, allowing them to work longer in the bloodstream. Am I the only one who thinks this is all so amazing?!
Sugar: I've already covered how sugar can affect your body in another article (which is one of the most popular ones on my site), so I'm not going to go into too much depth here. Suffice it to say that sugar depresses your immune system in a huge way. When your immune system is balanced, and not too low or too high, you create a body environment that's resistant to cancer cell development.
This article is just the start of the plethora of anti-cancer research, and there are people who devote their entire lives to finding a solution to this fear-inducing epidemic that we have on our hands. I hope that one day, science will be able to develop a "magic pill" of sorts, or even a total cure. However, I personally believe that it's not going to be that easy.
What it's going to come down to are the 4 pillars that I listed above. We have to not just eat, but nourish our bodies. We need to move, and reduce the chemicals we put on our body. We need to reduce our stress, and actually ENJOY living. You can't just eat better, but keep on living your insanely stressful life without any side effects. You're going to need all 4, not only to reduce your chance of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or any other major diseases, but also to be happy.
As someone who has struggled a lot at times with my mental health, and who ate really well through all of it, I know what can happen to my body when I'm not giving it all of those 4 things. Our bodies need rest, relaxation, play, and joy as much as it needs protein and omega-3's. Remember that the next time that someone you know and love is diagnosed with a seemingly incurable disease. At the end of our lives, everyone just wanted to be happy and to have more time to spend doing what they love, so find out what that is going to take for you. And then hold onto it tightly and fight for that right, because our society is going to drag you into it's busyness and unhealthiness every day.
Don't know how you can find the time to eat healthy as a busy woman with a busy family? This is exactly why I do what I do! If you're not already on my mailing list, you can click here to sign up and get a free 3-day meal plan that includes most of the foods listed above.
I wanna know (and this isn't going to be easy, I'm urging you to be vulnerable and share!): how has cancer touched your life? Has it made you hopeful or fearful? What's one thing you'll commit to today that will help you move out of your fear and into hope? Let me know in the comments below.