EAT TO TREAT...
Most of us have cancer cells in us RIGHT NOW. For example, by age 70, microscopic cancers are detected in the thyroids of virtually everyone. Most of these cancer cells never become clinically significant (meaning your immune system is able to fight off and eradicate these cells on it's own and those microscopic cells never cause a problem), however cancer is now the leading cause of mortality worldwide (causing 8.2 million deaths per year). Many people who have a cancer diagnosis likely had cancer cells growing for years prior to the diagnosis and lifestyle choices potentially fueled the growth over time.
President Richard Nixon waged a 'war on cancer' by signing the National Cancer Act of 1971, which promised to increase funding for research aimed at understanding the biology of cancer and to develop more effective treatment methods. Forty-six years later, the incidence of cancer continues to rise rapidly. According to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), the incidence of cancer has risen by 11% since 2008 and by 2030 the global number of cancer cases per year is expected to rise to 21 million from present day 14 million. Sounds like cancer is winning the war.
I know the beginning of this blog post sounds all doom and gloom, but I actually write to ignite a sense of empowerment. While those chemo producing pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe that there is nothing you can do about cancer (cha-ching!), the truth is as many as 33% of the most common cancers are preventable. That's 374,000 cases PER YEAR in the U.S. alone. Even in people that have a higher genetic risk of cancer, lifestyle choices can 'turn on' or 'turn off' cancer cells.
So what can you do? Here are my top tips for 'turning off' cancer cells and reducing the risk of a serious problem.
1) Maintain a healthy weight. Apart from not smoking, avoiding obesity is one of the best ways to lower your risk of cancer. Your joints and heart will be happy too.
2) You are what you eat. The food you eat affects you on a cellular level, meaning you literally are what you eat. Plants food are the shining stars here, building you up with cancer fighting antioxidants, other immune boosting nutrients, and fiber as well as helping to 'starve' and reduce blood supply to cancer cells to prevent growth. The balance of evidence suggests that a whole-foods plant-based diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains may help prevent, treat, slow and even reverse cancer progression. Evidence-based research also suggests reducing alcohol intake and eliminating meat, fish, dairy, eggs, refined sugar, and heavily processed food will help 'turn off' cancer cells. And don't touch processed meat like deli meat and bacon- that shit it chock full of carcinogens! The good news is cancer risk may drop after starting a plant-based diet at any age in as little as two weeks. Remember how I said most of us have at least microscopic cancer cells in us right now? Well our present day food choices could prevent AND treat those cells, so pick up a black bean burger and drop a grenade on cancer.
3) Sweat it out. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, which can include anything from a brisk walk to a vigorous run or yoga flow. Being active helps the body regulate hormones that might otherwise activate the cancer process. If you have trouble squeezing in 30 minutes at once, break it into three 10-minute increments over the course of the day. Added exercise bonuses= mood boost & more quality zzzz's.
4) Soak it in. Your skin is an organ and everything you apply to it is absorbed directly into your blood stream. Unfortunately hygiene and beauty products are very poorly regulated and many of them are loaded with ingredients that are toxic for our health (even most commercial brands of sunscreen and alcohol containing mouthwash). Eek! Visit the Environmental Working Group's website and try out their Skin Deep search engine to find out whether or not the products you're using could be contributing to your cancer risk. There are much better alternatives out there, you just have to do your research. Or maybe I'll do it for you in the form of a future blog post :)
There is indeed a war on cancer, but our current focus puts us on the losing side. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, understanding the biology of cancer is important and not all cancer is preventable so research is still necessary. There's an abundance of evidence-based, but uncommonly distributed research that identifies things that can turn cancer cells on and help them grow, such as food from animals, tobacco and obesity. There are also things that can turn cancer cells off, prevent and even reverse growth such as exercise and a whole-foods plant-based diet. If some of the millions of research dollars that go towards ineffective cancer treatments were redistributed to focus on prevention, education and subsidizing organic fruits and vegetables to make them more affordable, we could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year. Though it's impossible to eliminate every toxin we are exposed to, we can tremendously reduce our risk by prioritizing daily exercise and making more conscious food choices (read: eat plants!).
Pro tip: focus on progress, not perfection. Most of the time my cells are made up of fruits, vegetables and quinoa, but sometimes they are made up of vegan mocha almond fudge cake (still a much better choice than the dairy alternative) from RGB Coffee at the Bean Hive in Malaysia. It's the choices you make consistently that matter. Eat plants, fight cancer.
For more information on reducing your cancer risk, please watch this video by my medical hero Dr. Michael Greger and visit The American Institute for Cancer Research, an organization committed to dispelling myths and preventing cancer with evidence-based science.
This week I helped reduce my cancer risk by picking strawberries and drinking tea in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, hiking (and Komodo Dragon sighting) in Penang National Park, Malaysia, taking an Indian Hip Hop dance class in Kuala Lumpur and running a 10K in Singapore. Prevention is possible from anywhere!