As an oncology nurse for many years, I have seen the impact of cancer on patients and their families. It has become apparent to me, as both nurse and coach, that it is important to serve people though coaching them on prevention tips and assisting them with their recovery through diet and lifestyle. One important thing to know is that inflammation is a key trigger for cancer.
One in two people will develop cancer in their lifetime. Genetic pre-disposition to cancer is only a part of why you may develop cancer. However, your diet, lifestyle and environment significantly effect whether the cancer genes are turned on (epigenetics). The role of diet through newer research on nutri-epigenetics which studies how nutrition regulates how one specific gene is turned; or nutri-epigenomics, which examines the interaction of multiple genes and nutrition, is helping us understand how we may play a role in the expression of our own genetic destinies. The microbes in our gut, collectively known as our gut microbiome affect the development of cancer, playing a direct and essential role in cancer immune response, as well as independently through inflammation and other immune responses.
These recent discoveries offer opportunity and hope for those who may be at risk for cancer. This is good news, as it means through a healthy diet and lifestyle, even though you may be genetically pre-disposed to cancer, you can do things to help prevent or manage cancer recurrences.
A healthy gut microbiome has good microbial diversity. We know that as microbial diversity is decreasing in the population, the rates of cancer is increasing. An imbalanced microbiome leads to inflammation and leaky gut. Cancer is a disease of inflammation. Chronic inflammation can cause DNA damage, leading to cancer. Cancer goes to areas of stress and follows lines of inflammation.
Cancer risk factors associated with inflammation include:
- Obesity: Cancers associated with obesity include endometrial, esophageal, gastric, liver, kidney, pancreatic, and post-menopausal breast cancer. Slightly higher risks are also seen in colorectal, meningioma, multiple myeloma, and gall bladder cancers. A 2016 study reviewed estimates worldwide of the percentages of different cancers attributable to overweight/obesity. The United States had the highest fractions attributable to overweight/obesity for colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and postmenopausal breast cancer. Cancer research is exploring the link between the gut microbiota in both diabetes and obesity, as imbalances in gut microbiota are associated with inflammation. The gut microbiota of obese people differs and is less diverse than non-obese people. Imbalances of the gut are associated with inflammation, altered metabolism and genotoxicity which may be related to cancer development. Obese people often have chronic low-level inflammation. A good example is people with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, who have increased risk of cancer. Restoring a gut microbiome may help cancer patients or to prevent cancer.
- High Sugar/Carbohydrate diet: Eating a diet high in sugar can predispose you to excess weight gain and a higher pre-disposition to inflammation and risk of cancer and other diseases. So far, science shows an indirect relationship between sugar and cancer, so cancer is not caused by high sugar, but the impact of a high sugar diet on weight can. We also know that some studies show that there may be a link between some sugar substitutes and cancer.
- Stress: Stress is an important factor both in the development and symptom management of cancer. Stress releases stress hormones. It impacts the neuroendocrine system, immune function, gut microbiota, and inflammation and multidrug resistance, all of which are closely associated with cancer occurrence, progression and treatment. Stress during cancer treatment can even impact your response to cancer chemotherapy.
- Exposure to
- Poor Indoor Air Quality and Mold
- Chemical cleaning agents
- Off gassing of carpets, building materials, furniture materials, printers, and gas ranges
- Chlorine vapors from water
Ways you can help prevent or manage cancer: Take charge of your health-Be patient with yourself. On average takes 60 days to experience health changes.
- Drink green tea– Use extract of green tea: Epigallocatechin Gallate is a phenolic antioxidant found plants such as green and black tea. It inhibits cellular oxidation and prevents free radical damage to cells. It is being studied as a potential cancer chemo-preventive agent.
- Promote Healthy Stem Cells– Here is an analogy I recently heard. Stem cells in the body have been compared to fish in an aquarium. You need to change the water (environment) to keep the body healthy.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Use personal care products rated by the Environmental Working Group, EWG https://www.ewg.org/ as safe.
- Diet-Eat a balanced diet
- Diet should be as natural as possible and contain: Sprouted beans, raw veggies, decrease grains, decrease sugar. Limes have the highest amount of vitamin C.
- Eat fermented foods-Regular consumption of probiotics through fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables may help prevent the development of cancers such as gastric cancer in the presence of a H .Pylori infection. Note that if you have a suppressed immune system due to cancer or cancer treatment, many providers may recommend avoiding these foods.
- Eat 6-8 cups of green, leafy vegetables daily
- Explore a diet to enhance your mitochondria (your energy producing cells). Examples include a ketogenic diet which enhances the energy producing function of the cells by increasing the numbers of mitochondria or a specific mitochondrial diet, which is anti-inflammatory, low-glycemic, gluten-free, low-grain, and includes high-quality fats. Eating high quality foods can enhance energy. A specific mitochondrial diet specifies the right quantity of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates to ensure fat burning, muscle enhancement, and healthy blood sugar balance.
- Consider fasting or intermittent fasting to promote autophagy (supports the natural destruction of unnecessary or dysfunctional cell products) under guidance of your provider. Helps with cancer cell death by cutting off nutrition and circulation to the cancer cell.
- Eating foods high in micronutrients can help control appetite. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, in the recent docuseries, “The Art of Anti-Aging” states that, “Moderate calorie restriction in an environment of micronutrient excellence” is one of the most proven ways to suppress/control appetite, slow aging to increase lifespan, increase brain cancer as well as prevent diseases such as cancer.
- Eat citrus-A 2017 systematic review of research studies on citrus strongly emphasizes how citrus is a potential resource against cancer.
- Be careful about hormone supplementation-for example, while some may recommend supplementing with DHEA, there are risks of supplementation and high levels associated with certain hormone sensitive cancers such as ovarian, cervical, and prostate cancers.
- Understand and address your microbiome–
- A balanced microbiome supports a healthy gut-brain connection and an intact gut. An unbalanced microbiome, called dysbiosis, can lead to leaky gut and inflammation and disease.
- The good news is that we get a new gut lining every 3-5 days so there are things you can do to change your gut microbiome relatively quickly.
- Microbiome testing is available without a doctor’s order to analyze your microbiome DNA and RNA. Provides opportunity to see where you may have vulnerabilities and can work with your provider to enhance diversity and manage microbes that may be contributing to inflammation.
- Exercise-Exercise has been well-studied for its effects on reducing cancer risk and helping with cancer recovery. Strenuous exercise can lead to inflammation, so be careful when exercising to consider your limitations and don’t exercise to exhaustion.
- Assess and manage your vitamin and mineral status-Deficiency
in key vitamins and minerals can predispose you to inflammation and potentially
increase cancer risk, for example:
- Magnesium deficiency-This can increase inflammation and therefore, potential cancer risk. Direct and indirect relationship of magnesium levels to risk of breast cancer has been demonstrated.
- B12 may help restore the gut from cancer chemotherapy that destroys the gut lining.
- Remediate your home environment
- Cook with cast iron cookware or high-quality stainless steel. Avoid lead-glazed ceramic cookware or glassware
- Avoid plastic and aluminum foil
- Don’t char your food when cooking or grilling
- Replace carpet with hard floors and wool area rugs
- Use chlorine filters on your showerheads
- Drink filtered water
- Diffuse anti-fungal essential oils to reduce mold
- Reduce EMF exposure
- Use shielded cased on cell phones, and keep on airplane mode when not in use
- Use cell phone speaker function, or air tube ear buds rather than holding phone to your ear
- Baby monitors-Sound only reduces EMF. Hardwire when possible.
- Hardwire computers and disable Wifi
- Use shielded electric cords and light switches
- Stress Management-Stress management is
key to stress reduction and reducing inflammation.
- Breathing techniques
- Use essential oils-Simple inhalation of essential oils such as patchouli and rose oil may reduce sympathetic nervous activity by up to 40%, with rose oil reducing adrenaline concentrations by 30%.
- Eat dark chocolate: If taken over a 2-week period, daily consumption of 40g of dark chocolate can reduce urinary excretion of stress hormones cortisol, and catecholamines, while reducing other metabolic indicators of stress.
- Practice Qigong: Qigong can reduce blood pressure and catecholamine levels.
- Practice Yoga: Yoga can reduce anxiety, depression, perceived stress, cortisol levels in breast cancer outpatients undergoing adjuvant radiotherapy.
- Natural Therapies:
- To prevent cancer-Natural therapies can help keep you healthy when used in appropriate ways and under the guidance of a provider. For example, antioxidants help by protecting us from unstable substances called free radicals that can cause damage leading to cancer. Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains and some meats, poultry and fish.
- Examples of antioxidants include beta-carotene,
lycopene, vitamins C, E, and A
- Antioxidant supplementation is associated with
reductions in all-cause mortality and cancers. Antioxidants reduce oxidative
stress, which can help to prevent cancer. Examples include:
- Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplement. Its potent properties are cancer preventative and well as anti-tumor through decreasing the inflammation linked to tumor promotion. Supplementation with curcumin as a treatment for cancer is challenging due to its bioavailability.
- Resveratrol- Plant-based compound which acts like an antioxidant and is also anti-inflammatory. It may inhibit cancer cell growth, prevent cancer cells from dividing and spreading, or change gene expression to inhibit cancer cell growth.
- Antioxidant supplementation is associated with reductions in all-cause mortality and cancers. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress, which can help to prevent cancer. Examples include:
It also may interfere with the way certain hormones are expressed, which may keep hormone-dependent cancers from spreading. Top food sources include red wine, grapes, some berries and peanuts.
- Quercetin-Has both antioxidant and
anti-inflammatory effects. It is a plant pigment (flavonoid) found in many
plants and foods, such as red wine, onions, green tea, apples, berries, Ginkgo
biloba, St. John’s wort, American elder, and others.
- Carotenoids (beta-carotene). Found in many
orange colored foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, apricots,
mangos. Also found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard
greens. Supplementation with carotenoids can affect cell growth and modulate
gene expression and immune responses.
- Vitamin C- found in many fruits and vegetables and in cereals, beef, poultry and fish.
- Vitamin A- Found in liver, sweet potatoes, carrots, milk, egg yolks and mozzarella cheese. Intake has been inversely associated with gastric cancer.
- Lycopene-Found in tomatoes, watermelon, guava, papaya, apricots, pink grapefruit, blood oranges, and other foods.
- Beta-carotene is found in many foods that are orange in color, including sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, squash, apricots, pumpkin, and mangos. Some green leafy vegetables including collard greens, spinach, and kale are also rich in beta-carotene.
- Lutein-Found in green, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach, and kale.
- Vitamin E-Found in almonds, many oils (wheat germ, safflower, corn and soybean oils), as well as mangos, nuts, broccoli and other foods.
- Coenzyme Q10; Antioxidant compound made by the body to help cells produce energy and has been reported to protect the heart from damage caused by certain chemotherapy drugs
- Minerals-Selenium, a mineral, is not an antioxidant nutrient. However, it is a component of antioxidant enzymes. Rice and wheat are the major dietary sources of selenium, as well as brazil nuts. Can also be found in meat if animals are eating foods grown in selenium-rich soils.
- For patients with cancer-
- For patients on chemotherapy, there are natural therapies that may improve the effectiveness of specific chemotherapeutic agents and those that may reduce toxicities. A recent review indicated while many cancer patients take antioxidants, not all are likely to be beneficial and that their interaction with anticancer drugs remained largely unexplored. This means that it is important that you discuss with your doctor/pharmacist any natural supplements that you are on and that you are well-informed as to supplements that effect how chemotherapy works. For example, if you are taking the chemotherapy, Taxol, Maitake, CoQ10, Vitamin B6, L-glutamine, Fish oil have been reported in the literature to reduce toxicity. However, caution should be taken if you are taking Resveratrol, Quercetin, Curcumin, or Berberine, as these may reduce effectiveness of Taxol.
- Blackberries have been studied in colon and oral cancer and may be beneficial to these patients.
- Carotenoids (beta-carotene). Found in many orange colored foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, apricots, mangos. Also found in green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, and collard greens. Supplementation with carotenoids can affect cell growth and modulate gene expression and immune responses.
Summary: This blog is intended to provide a potential list of strategies to prevent or to help people diagnosed with cancer. The important take away is that through diet and lifestyle, you can influence your risk of developing cancer. Also, for those diagnosed with cancer, diet and lifestyle can help with how you respond to cancer treatment.
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