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Sunday, April 26, 2015

10 Ways to Prevent Cancer

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, just behind heart disease, so it's no surprise that more and more of my patients are asking me about cancer prevention.

In honor of Cancer Control Month this April, Heather Von St. James asked me to share some cancer prevention tips. She's spreading awareness that exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can cause a deadly cancer called mesothelioma. Asbestos was widely used up until the 1970's in many building materials in homes, schools and commercial buildings, and is still NOT banned in the United States.

Experts now agree that only 5 to 10 percent of all cancer cases are related to genetic defects and that 90 to 95 percent are linked to lifestyle and environmental factors like
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Diets high in fried foods and red meat
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress
  • Too much sun exposure
  • Environmental toxins including asbestos
It may sound like bad news but this is actually good news because it means that most cases of cancer are preventable. Taking a proactive approach to getting healthy and staying healthy not only reduces the risk for cancer, it also helps prevent other deadly diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. In recognition of Cancer Control Month, here are my top ten tips for preventing cancer.

#1 | Stop smoking and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
Smoking triggers inflammation throughout the body and it's one of the most common causes of lung cancer and heart disease. Studies show that inhaling second hand smoke is also deadly and that quitting smoking has bigger benefits than we once thought.

#2 | Eat healthy.
There isn't one diet that's right for everyone but there are some things that the healthiest diets have in common, like plenty of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and an avoidance of sweets, processed foods, and inflammatory fats like those found in deep fried foods and meat from grain-fed animals. Grilling meat and cooking it at high temperatures can create cancer-causing compounds like heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) but marinating meat before you cook it can make a difference. Studies show that garlic, onion, virgin olive oil, thyme, rosemary, and wine are all effective at decreasing the formation of PAHs and HCAs in meats.

#3 | Limit alcohol consumption.
If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to 1 (for women) or 2 (for men) drinks per day. Avoid sweet cocktails and opt for red wine, which contains resveratrol, an antioxidant with proven anti-cancer actions in the body. 

#4 | Maintain a healthy weight. 
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that overweight and obesity were associated with increased mortality for all kinds of cancer. Death rates among the heaviest people (those with a body mass index of 40 and above) were 52% higher for men and 62% higher for women compared to people of normal weight (those with a BMI between 18.5 and 25). The researchers concluded that current patterns of weight gain alone may account for up to 20% of cancer deaths in the United States.

#5 | Reverse prediabetes with changes in diet and lifestyle. 
Prediabetes, a condition characterized by high levels of blood sugar and/or insulin, is a worldwide epidemic and in the United States alone it affects an estimated 86 million people. Prediabetes not only increases the risk of developing type two diabetes, it also increases the risk for four other leading causes of death in the US: heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Even small elevations in blood sugar (levels above 125 mg/dl) greatly increase the risk of developing cancer and dying from cancer, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Another study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes were more effective at reversing diabetes than the blood sugar-lowering drug Glucophage (metformin).

#6 | Stay physically active.
Studies show that regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of many types of cancer including breast, colon, endometrial, lung, and prostate cancers. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity or 30 minutes vigorous activity each day. I recommend a combination of aerobic and strengthening exercises because studies show that together they are much more effective at lowering high hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar) than either type of activity alone. If you don't exercise already, or if you want to step up your routine, get permission from your doctor first. 

#7 | Manage Stress.
High levels of stress hormones like cortisol promote inflammation and raise levels of blood sugar and insulin, which increases cancer risk. We'll never be able to avoid stress completely but we can take steps to manage it effectively using techniques like relaxation exercises, meditation, self-hypnosis, breathing exercises, or yoga. Find the one that works best for you and practice it daily or whenever the need arises.

#8 | Spend time outside when the sun's rays are least intense.
The UV index is a scale from 1 to 11 that estimates the risk of harm that the sun's rays can have on unprotected skin. A factor of 1 or 2 is associated with low risk of developing skin cancer. Factors of 3, 4, or 5 indicate moderate risk; 6 and 7 high risk; 8, 9, 10 very high risk; and 11 indicates extremely high  risk. The UV index is highest in the summer and in the middle of the day. It's lowest in the winter and during early morning and late afternoon hours. When the UV index is low, it's safe to be outside without using sunscreen. When the UV index is moderate, wear sunscreen and sunglasses outdoors. When the UV index is 6 or higher, stay out of the sun or, if that isn't possible, wear sunglasses and cover your skin with long pants and long sleeves. Collared shirts and hats are also important because melanoma (a form of skin cancer) on the scalp or neck is twice as deadly as melonoma found on other parts of the body.

#9 | Minimize your exposure to environmental toxins.
There are almost 80,000 different chemicals used in the US but only a few hundred of them have ever been tested for safety. Many can increase the risk for cancer, either directly through carcinogenic activity or indirectly by raising insulin levels. These include pesticides, heavy metals, bisphenol A (BPA) in found in food and beverage containers, phthalates in plastics, parabens in food additives and personal products, dioxins in contaminated fish and seafood, perfluorinated chemicals in nonstick cookware and food packaging, flame retardants, abestos, electromagnetic radiation, and volatile organic compounds found in dry-cleaned clothes, paint, carpet, adhesives, permanent markers, office equipment such as copiers and printers, commercial cleaners, auto exhaust, and fragranced products like perfumes, air fresheners, and scented candles. Minimize your exposure to these harmful toxins whenever you can. If you need some tips, check out my Home Detox Checklist.

#10 | Detox once or twice a year.
Cancer-causing toxins permeate our environment and they permeate our bodies. Studies have found up to 358 different chemicals in the cord blood of new born infants and 493 chemicals in people of all ages. Detoxification helps remove these environmental toxins. If you're not sure where to start, read my book, The Prediabetes Detox, whether you have prediabetes or not.

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