Reduce your risk of cancer

14-18 May is Cancer Awareness Week so it’s a good time to evaluate and reduce your risk and improve your recovery chances. Here’s how…

467187411One in four of us are likely to be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime and all of us will know someone going through treatment at some time. Learning what can help prevent cancer in the first place is the holy grail for all health professionals and the amount of research done into prevention, treatments and possible cures is phenomenal. However not all the research manages to make it into the public domain – Chris Woollams who has a degree in biochemistry from Oxford and is the founder for Cancer Active, an information charity and website, is passionate about making existing research available to all.

So whether you are cancer free or going through treatment, these six ideas – all featured in detail at canceractive.com – are worth looking in to. If you are currently having treatment it is recommended you discuss them with your consultant before starting anything new.

Keep your immune system powered up

Cancer can occur when the normal checkpoints in the cell cycle are misregulated somehow and the unhealthy cell starts dividing, but our immune system automatically fights off these rogue pre-cancer cells, in effect curing us naturally. However anti-cancer drugs and chemotherapy – seen as the holy grail of treatment – do have an impact on your immune system as they can kill not just cancer cells but healthy ones too.

“Drugs do play their part in helping your body attempt to kick out the cancer,” says Chris Woollams. “Some drugs can weaken a cancer, some drugs boost your immune system, some drugs attempt to block the spread of cancer, others attempt to stop blood supplies to tumours. But the one thing you can do yourself to allow your immune system to work at optimum levels is to beat stress,” he adds.

The message is clear, if you have cancer, find a way to manage your stress that suits you, whether it’s tai chi. Yoga, counselling, meditation and mindfulness, even getting out and having a good chat with a trusted friend will all help.

Cut your glucose and carb consumption

For a long time, doctors have known daily exercise and a diet rich in fruit and veg can help you improve your odds of not getting cancer. The American Cancer Society has reviewed and analysed more than 100 studies, and concluded that a good diet – and by that they stipulate a diet low in red meat and processed foods but high in fruits, vegetables, coupled with an active lifestyle (see below) can help cancer survivors live longer and keep cancer-free.

We know cancer cells need plenty of glucose to fuel their overactive cell multiplication. What is now being discovered is that without supplies of glucose, cancer cells are deprived of their energy source and wither away. Without glucose, healthy cells switch to burning fats for energy instead – a process called ketosis. While trials on humans are planned, it’s likely that fasting as such won’t be practical for patients undergoing chemotherapy as going without eating for long periods would be too difficult.

An alternative to fasting is the ketogenic diet – a way of eating designed to produce the ketosis so loathed by the cancer cells. In the ketogenic diet, carbohydrates (including sugar) are off the menu and fizzy, soft drinks and dairy are banned. A limited amount of quality, fresh protein (fish, chicken) is allowed. Healthy fats – like virgin olive oil, fish oils, flaxseed, macadamia and other nuts and seeds, coconut oil are encouraged, as are non-starchy vegetables.

If you are considering a ketogenic diet, discuss it with your doctor first if you are currently dealing with cancer, as you should be supervised by a dietician.

Exercise is vital

An active lifestyle is part and parcel of any battle against cancer – even a small amount of exercise can slash cancer risk. However, if a little exercise is good in cancer prevention, more is better – and this appears to be especially true if you have actually had a cancer diagnosis. A study from The Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, found regular exercise (that’s 30 minutes of aerobic exercise mixed in with some weight-bearing work each day) can reduce recurrence of the disease in breast or colon cancer patients by up to 50 per cent. So why is exercise such a cancer beater? When the immune system is strained, it finds it easier to produce more poor quality (or senescent) cells, and not enough of the cancer-fighting cells. Although the researchers aren’t certain on the exact mechanism, research has shown exercise gets rid of the senescent cells, making more space for the cancer-fighting variety.

Get more vitamin D

Make sure you schedule in an hour’s walk in the sunshine every day too. Researchers in the US and the UK have found that patients with the lowest levels of vitamin D were a third (30 per cent) more likely to relapse after treatment than those with the highest levels. And those with the highest levels of vitamin D tended to have thinner tumours when they were diagnosed. You could also supplement 5,000 IUs of vitamin D3 (the most easily ingested form of vitamin D) if getting outside is not possible.

Eat more turmeric

The most researched cancer treatment is, surprisingly, not a drug, not surgery or radiotherapy, but curcumin from the herb turmeric. This bright yellow spice has over 600 studies into its medicinal properties. Research from the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich, Germany in 2012, showed that curcumin can inhibit the formation of metastasis – the development of secondary malignant growths in different parts of the body to the original tumour – in both prostate and breast cancer.

Other research suggests that curcumin may make chemotherapy more effective by protecting healthy cells from damage during radiation therapy. Further work is underway to work out exactly how curcumin can be used to best treat cancer most effectively. Discuss whether it’s appropriate for you with a medical herbalist.

Boost your ‘good’ bacteria

Most of us are aware of probiotics, which replenish the ‘good’ bacteria in your body and help digestion and health. Probiotics, or ‘friendly bacteria’, are also our first line of defence for yeast infections. However science is showing these tiny organisms are also involved in a host of other functions from helping release nutrients from food into the body to boosting the immune system and cutting cancer activity.

So, if you’re fighting cancer, taking probiotics could be vital. According to research on colon cancer from the American Medical College of Georgia, “Beneficial bacteria in the colon activate a receptor in the body called GPR109A that can kill cancer cells,” explains researcher Dr Ganapathy. “The beneficial bacteria produce sodium butyrate from the fibre, which cancer cells do not want to have anything to do with. We think this butyrate activates the receptor to suppress inflammation, thereby suppressing progression of inflamed cells into cancer cells,” he adds.

Unfortunately, drugs, antibiotics and steroids all used to treat cancer will reduce your friendly bacteria. As will eating junk or processed foods that allows yeast to grow unchecked. Food safety requirements mean other sources of friendly bacteria in the diet – such as raw, unpasteurised milk – have now diminished. So it will be worth investigating other ways to introduce more into your body. Avoid sugary, dairy-based probiotics by taking Mercola Complete Probiotics, £24.95 from ournaturalselection.com.

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