To better prevent cancer occurrence or recurrence, the underlying causes of cancer such as DNA mutations and cellular metabolic dysfunction must be addressed. Thankfully, our body contains DNA repair enzymes and metabolic pathways to correct defects before they get out of control, or utilizes programmed cell death (apoptosis) for when cells become too abnormal for repair. Current estimates state up to 90% of cancers worldwide are due to environmental factors and could be preventable given the right dietary and lifestyle interventions. The predominant environmental factors that increase incidence of cancer are smoking, poor diet (fried foods, red meat), alcohol ingestion, sun exposure, environmental pollutants, infections, stress, obesity and physical inactivity. In order for our inherent repair mechanisms to work optimally, they require healthy dietary, lifestyle, and nutritional interventions.
Eating a Whole Foods Diet
Eating whole, clean, organic foods limit carcinogen and toxin intake and help cellular metabolism function properly by providing key nutrients for cell structure and repair. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and green tea consistently protect against DNA damage and limit cancer occurrence. The main goals are to ingest these nutrient dense, clean, whole foods to improve detoxification of cancer-causing constituents before cancer can be created in the body, as well as starve out any cancer cells currently in the body.
Mathematical models found diets containing > 600 g/d (1.32 lb) of non-starchy vegetables and fruits, ≧ 25 g/d of fiber and ≦ 2 g/d sodium were optimal for cancer prevention. With Otto Warburg’s discovery that cancer cells predominantly use fermentation for energy, many dietary interventions that reduce sugars and carbohydrates can successfully starve out cancer cells. Hence, periodic ketogenic diets (>75% fat, <20% protein, <5% carbohydrate) not only show promise in reducing cancer growth in hard to treat cancers, but can be used preventatively as well. Performing periodic fasting, or periodic calorie restriction, is also beneficial in cancer prevention. It’s also important to limit salt intake, especially in combination with nitrates (deli meats, hot dogs), as they both can increase the risk of stomach cancer. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, on the other hand, contain chemoprotective polyphenols which protect against reactive oxygen species and improve detoxification, thereby limiting toxin exposure and DNA damage.
Regular Exercise & Healthy Weight Maintenance
Since most cancers are diagnosed from age 45-84, it’s relevant and effective for adults of all ages to work on cancer prevention regularly. It’s very easy to fall prey to poor lifestyle habits as an adult and neglect exercise, but it’s imperative to realize that obesity and being sedentary are common environmental risk factors found in cancer. Studies show exercise and a healthy weight are especially beneficial in preventing breast and colon cancer. Exercise enhances blood flow to tissues for healing, stimulates anti-inflammatory pathways, and promotes growth of new mitochondria, which are responsible for creating energy in the cell and can trigger apoptosis in severely damaged cells. It’s important to note that both being sedentary and overtraining to the point of exhaustion can reduce immune function, so moderation is key to immune improvement.
Vitamin & Mineral Supplementation
Cellular detoxification and repair mechanisms require vitamins and minerals for functionality and improving levels of these nutrients help prevent cancer growth. Vitamin C, vitamin E, riboflavin (vitamin B2), beta-carotene, selenium, and zinc can reduce cancer risk by reducing oxidative and DNA damage. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts while vitamin E is found in sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, wheat germ oil, spinach, broccoli, and kiwi. Beta-carotene is found in sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, red peppers, apricots, broccoli, and peas while high selenium food sources are Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, turkey, beef, eggs, baked beans, oatmeal and spinach.
Additionally, zinc may decrease cancer risk and progression because zinc and zinc-finger proteins inhibit inflammatory pathways, reduce risk of infections, and can even reduce angiogenesis and increase apoptosis in cancer cells. Food sources of zinc include oysters, beef, crab, lobster, baked beans, chicken, yogurt, cashews, and chickpeas. Riboflavin is required as a cofactor for several DNA repair enzymes and is found in beef liver, oats, yogurt, clams, Portobello mushrooms, almonds, and eggs. Try to incorporate several of these aforementioned measures daily to help support cancer prevention.
Michelle Hessberger is a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, and cellular and molecular biologist who is passionate about natural health and healing. She is the owner of Your Natural Dr LLC in Fairfield, CT and can be reached at: www.yournaturaldr.com or 203-549-1511.