DISCLAIMER: Before I begin any comments about health, I am required by law to make a disclaimer. The disclaimer is, "The following comments are not meant to diagnose or treat any disease, nor have they been approved by the FDA."
In the news recently was a study that said there is some randomness to getting cancer. This study got quite a bit of publicity when it said the majority of cancer is just "bad luck" (Tomasetti & Vogelstein, 2015).
But a careful reading of the study showed they used a very select few tissue samples (31) and it excludes the most common cancers like breast and prostate cancers. The study is too small to generalize their data. Many highly renowned researchers have already denounced the study. Do not buy into this; it was not generalizable science.
This year, millions of people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer, a disease commonly believed to be preventable. Cancers arise daily in the body. Fortunately, through a quite normal process of cell mutation, cells are mostly kept in check through the activity of our immune systems. Most of us fear cancer, but the contribution of genetic factors and environmental factors towards cancer risk is surprising.
Truthfully, there is some bad luck, but not much. The majority of all cancers are preventable. In fact, the heritability of most cancers is under 10%. That’s why you want to focus on environmental factors.
If you think the heritability percentages here are way too low, consider this. Girls often (but not always) grow up in the same house as their mother. They eat the same foods, breathe the same air, and get exposed to the same molds, toxins and noise stress. They often use the same cleaning products (bleaches, sprays, toxins, pastes, creams, etc.), use the same personal care products (cream, hair color, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.) and they take on similar beliefs and attitudes as their mother. In short, females are immersed in their mom’s environment. This shared and sometimes toxic environment is the real reason why breast cancer has been very tough to prevent and treat, not the heritability factor.
Prevention is the way to go for many reasons. Typical cancer treatments are expensive and often painful. The established treatments, “cut, poison, and burn,” (or, in more polite lingo, “surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation”) are common. The best-selling cancer drugs are Rituxan®, Avastin®, Herceptin®, Gleevec®, Celgene® and AbbVie®. All have side effects. Let us see if we can do some prevention.
Antioxidants come from many sources. They can be an enzyme or other organic substance, sunlight, vitamin or food source that is capable of counteracting the damaging effects of oxidation in your tissues.
Focus on the super foods, which reduce damage or repair damage from harmful free radicals. Choose any foods from these groups. If you dislike five of them, eat the ones you do like. To get any value at all, eat something from this group 4-5 days a week. Eating these once a month is a joke; you're kidding yourself if you think your body will make changes from consuming one broccoli serving a month.
Here's a list of high antioxidant producing foods: sweet potatoes, watermelon, colored berries like blueberries (frozen is OK), cold water (NOT farm raised) fatty fish (like salmon), colorful vegetables (such as peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, etc.), green tea, olive oil, coffee, dark chocolate (60-65% is best), plain Greek yogurt, mangos, and papayas. If you like fish, eat fresh (not hormone-filled, large farm raised). If you like pork or red meat, eat more from the healthier range-fed, grass-fed animals.
Folic acid is known to reduce cancer risks. Folic acid can be found in the the following dark greens (in order): spinach, collard, turnip and mustard greens, broccoli and asparagus, papaya, beans, peas, lentils, and avocado (Willett, 2000).
When you slowly reduce, and then eliminate, the products made by humans (chips, cookies, breads, candies, etc.) and focus on nature-made foods, health often improves.
Cook your foods with oxidation in mind. You've heard of free radicals. They are mostly bad (with some good). For example, free radicals contribute to the heart being able to pump more blood in stress-filled situations. However, too much stress and free radicals are very bad for you.
That said, free radicals play a fundamental role in the development of cancer. When you cook above 320 degrees, this high heat (grilling, frying or smoking) produces carcinogens, damages the protein content, and oxidizes fats. Each of these conditions increases body inflammation and bumps up free radicals. You just bumped up your chances for cancer. Use high heat sparingly; a couple times a month may be okay.
Please, please start reading the labels of what you put into your body. The products that absolutely MUST be safe for your body are the ones that you either ingest or put on your skin regularly. This means PAY attention to the ingredients that interact with your body, especially shampoo, conditioner, hair coloring products, deodorant, face cleansing, soaps and makeup products.
One time usage does not put you at risk. But, using a dangerous underarm deodorant 3 inches from your breasts, or a risky shampoo for forty years is a higher-risk behavior. It's time to learn about risky ingredients.
For starters, avoid the Parabens. They're a family of chemicals used in various personal-care products and have long been linked to cancer. They disrupt estrogen function. As an alternative, buy from the companies Arm & Hammer (Essentials Natural Deodorant) and Tom's (Natural Deodorant and toothpaste) who both sell healthy products. You've just started to lower your risks!
Three of the worst offenders are "the whites." You won't die from these this week, but over the long haul, these are terrible. They are white sugar, white rice, and white bread (all are high glycemic index foods). They raise your blood sugar levels and you produce extra insulin in the pancreas. An example of a known dietary cancer risk is diabetes (Anand, Nath & Saraswathy, 2014). Change your diet and you can change your life.
Most products you buy with more than five ingredients are suspect. Any product that has ingredients you can't pronounce is suspect. I often get asked, "Eric, don’t you ever eat junk food, like chips?" Sure, some are pretty decent. I like Fritos corn chips (ingredients: corn, salt and oil) and a few other brands of chips are also healthy. Do you think healthier foods are expensive? They often are. A better question to ask is, "How much does it cost you to miss just one day (or week or month) of your life?" Stick with the healthier foods.
This caution includes mammograms (consider if you are a candidate for taking every 3-5 years, not annually, to reduce your risk), prostrate screening (once every 5-7 years), dental X-ray screening (take once every 2-3 years) and airport X-rays (less is better).
Those who profit from them typically defend all of these tests, but the science is not entirely clear on the safety when the process is used often. That's why I reduce the amount of radiation in my body as much as possible. When traveling though airports, if I've got an extra few moments, they can pat me down. Better to be safe than sorry.
Researchers have long linked exercise with lower breast cancer risk for women past menopause, believing it works partly by lowering the estrogen levels. Higher estrogen levels can raise breast cancer risk.
If it's 1-3 floors in the building, and if you are capable, take the stairs. If you have to park an extra thirty seconds from the store entrance, embrace the walk. At home, I swim or surf 6 days a week. I get out in the yard to do gardening and so does my wife, Diane.
If you are a member of a gym, work out 3-6 days a week. If you are not a member, find something you love to do physically and do it daily. These activity requests are meant to nag you. Your body was designed to move!
Learn to manage your self-talk. If the voice in your head is replaying stressful conversations, redirect it to another more productive conversation. There are many reasons why certain people become stressed or even depressed. Just one of them is their inner conversations that get them worked up into a stressed state.
Most people think of depression as a medical condition or disease. Another point of view is that it's a symptom that something's "off" or "wrong" in your life. When I hear people tell me about the voice in their head that replays stressful conversations, or creates new ones, I ask the question, "And who is directing that voice in your head?" You are!
Change the conversation to something more inspiring, optimistic and empowering. You are the driver of your bus. You are not a victim of the "inner voice." If the voice is counter-productive, don't feed it; redirect it elsewhere.
This is a miracle factor for health. Vitamin D supports your immune system to enhance protection. It supports normal muscle production and strength, and a lack of the vitamin leads to muscle weakness, a reduced range of motion, and increased physical frailty.
When I'm not traveling, I still try to get 10-15 minutes a day of sunshine. There's no risk of skin cancer at that short exposure and a huge upside. The Vitamin D factor helps facilitate healing from illness and helps metabolize the potassium and calcium needed for strong bones.
When out in the sun for longer, remember that most of the 500 most popular sunscreen products may actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer. Consumer Reports Magazine said that only 39 of the 500 products they examined were considered safe and effective to use. Some sunscreen ingredients (anything with oxybenzone, benzophenone, octocrylene, or octyl methoxycinnamate) may be potentially carcinogenic or have other health risks. Read the label: avoid personal care products with retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone.
Get 10-15 minutes of sun a day, if possible. Vitamin D is good for you. But, if you want to stay out longer, do intervals of sun, then shade. The product I buy (from Amazon) and use is Beyond Coastal® Active Sunscreen SPF 34. Please do not buy and use cheap products that may increase cancer risk. If you want to save money, save it on something besides your life!
The best news about cancer breakthroughs… CANCER IMMUNOTHERAPY: harnessing the immune system to battle tumors.
Scientists have thought for decades that such an approach to cancer therapy should be possible, but it has been incredibly difficult to make it work. Now, many oncologists say we have turned a corner because two different techniques are helping a subset of patients.
One involves antibodies that "release a brake" on T-cells, giving the T-cells better capacity to tackle tumors. Another involves genetically modifying an individual's T-cells outside the body. Once enhanced, they are re-infused back into the body, better able to target cancer.
No. 1: Pancreatic cancer. What you can do: Know the warning signs and see a doctor if you experience abdominal or back pain, unexplained weight loss, digestive problems, light-colored stools or jaundice.
Chronic alcohol consumption — more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men over an extended period of time — can increase the risk for pancreatitis and cancer. Diets heavy in processed red meats have also been linked to the disease, while eating five servings of vegetables daily can help prevent it.
No. 2: Liver cancer. What you can do: Because obesity is a prime risk factor for liver cancer, your best defense is to maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and keeping belly fat to a minimum. You should also limit alcohol consumption and your intake of sugary foods, which increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, fatty liver, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
Chronic hepatitis is also a known risk factor for this form of cancer, so make sure you have a hep-B vaccine. You should also tell a doctor if you experience fatigue, anemia, abdominal pain, jaundice, unexplained weight loss or digestive problems.
No. 3: Brain cancer. What you can do: Be aware that about half of people who have brain tumors reported having unusual headaches — those that woke them up at night or were present in the morning — among the first signs.
Other potential warning signs: nausea, vomiting, vision or balance problems, tingling in the arms or legs, personality changes, seizures, or extreme fatigue. Reduce risk for brain cancer by limiting exposure to CT scans and keep mobile devices just a bit away from your brain when held near your ear.
No. 4: Esophageal cancer. What you can do: Treat reflux (consult a doctor for an appropriate remedy), quit smoking, and limit consumption of foods that have high acid content.
The opposite foods, those more alkaline, are leafy green vegetables. Learn to enjoy them more. If you don't like those, consider taking sodium potassium bicarbonate supplements. Be aware that chronic acid reflux can lead to cancer. Those over 50 suffering from long-term heartburn, throat-burn, coughing, or hoarseness should get a nasal esophagoscopy, which allows a doctor to view the esophagus. Among the warning signs of esophageal cancer are chest pain, difficulty swallowing, hiccups, sudden unexplained weight loss, and chronic pneumonia.
No. 5: Skin cancer. What you can do: Check your skin for irregular moles, growths, and patches. Make sure to limit your sun exposure to 15 minutes at a time. Apply safe sunscreen (see suggestions above) liberally and regularly when you are outdoors for longer periods of time — particularly if you are light-skinned, have blonde or red hair, each of which increases your skin cancer risk. See a dermatologist regularly for a skin examination, particularly if you had serious sunburns as a child.
Pharmaceutical giant, Merck, has gone to market with the USDA approval of Keytruda® for patients with advanced melanoma who have not responded to other drugs.
No. 6: Leukemia (Myelogenous leukemia) is exceedingly difficult to treat. But a new breakthrough happened in 2014. Myelogenous leukemia (CML), a cancer resulting from gene translocation (genes which do not stay put), is a disease commonly fatal within five years. With the development of Gleevec® (from Novartis), the mean survival in CML patients has increased to more than 20 years.
No. 7: Lung Cancer. Lung cancer is one of the world's deadliest diseases, but it is about to get better treatments. There's a new wave of "immune checkpoint inhibitor" (ICI) drugs, which focus cancer treatment by awakening the body's own immune system to fight it.
Typically, cancer evades defeat by your body's immune system by hiding—they use a variety of cloaking mechanisms. But, two new immunotherapy drugs (expected to get approval this year) will block these mechanisms, allowing your own immune system to identify cancer cells and destroy them. The two drugs should be commercially available in 2016.
No. 8: Breast and Ovarian Cancer. Evidence now suggests that Vitamin D plays a role in stopping cancer development and growth (Raimondi, Johansson, Maisonneuve, Gandini, 2009). One study showed women could slash the risk of breast cancer in half by getting enough Vitamin D.
New developments suggest some drugs may help. For starters, a new drug, Salumetinib®, is showing promise against low-grade ovarian tumors that have been very difficult to treat. Anastrozole® can reduce the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women who are at a high risk of the disease.
Today, doctors can use an analysis of the genetic characteristics of the specific cancer present in the patient, along with the patient's genome, and customize an individualized treatment.
This intervention changes the patient's own immune response so that it specifically targets the cancer that has attacked the patient. Today, that procedure is slow, expensive and not guaranteed. But, it is promising.
Cancer prevention requires serious lifestyle commitments to healthy living. Those changes include smoking cessation, increased ingestion of fruits and vegetables, low-moderate use of alcohol, caloric restriction, sufficient exercise, getting enough Vitamin D (while avoiding over-exposure) from sunlight, minimal meat consumption, avoiding toxic personal care products and getting regular check-ups with fewer radiation doses.
Do you think these suggestions are too expensive? How much would having cancer cost you? Do you think exercise, eating better and Vitamin D take up too much time? If you get cancer, how much of your time is spent trying to heal?
While some of the suggestions above may not be new, every one is backed by solid science. I enjoy good health and never, ever take it for granted. I have the immune system of one much younger than myself. Why? What you see on the list above are things that I also pay attention to and actually do for prevention most every day.
I take 60-80 plane flights a year, but travel does not make anyone sick; a weak immune system does. I work extra hard to manage my health and I constantly work to maintain my immune system. The plan is working so far; I've been sick maybe one or two days in ten years.
I do follow the suggestions that I make; it's my life hanging in the balance. Even if you only make one change a month or even one per year, you'll move yourself to greater health.
Which change were you thinking of making? When?
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