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How to Reduce the Risk of Cancer in Modern Life – Goodness

One in three of us will develop cancer in our lifetime and, while advancements in cancer screening and treatment mean that more cancers than ever are being diagnosed and cured, it continues to be a worldwide killer despite the enormous amount of research and rapid developments seen in the past decade.

Which begs the question: Is there anything we can do to prevent cancer from arising?

In the past, and sometimes still today, the traditional view was that our genetics predetermined most cancers and that faulty DNA meant that we were destined to develop it. Yes, environment played a part, but you were almost fighting a losing battle if you had lost at the genetic lottery.

However, the modern paradigm tells us that a vast majority of cancers (90 to 95 percent) are preventable, with only five to ten percent being caused by genetics. Therefore, genes are absolutely not our fate. They can provide useful information about whether someone is at higher risk of developing the disease, but in most cases, they will not determine the cause or whether or not that individual will actually develop it. According to the growing field of epigenetics (which studies how certain environmental factors can “turn on” or “turn off” the expression of your genes), the complex interactions of the body with the environment — which is not driven directly by the genetic code — will be the determining factor in whether someone develops cancer.

So what is it about our environment that triggers cancer?

The unifying hypothesis is that all lifestyle factors that cause cancer (smoking, poor diet, alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, infections, radiation, etc.) and all factors that prevent cancer (like anti-oxidants) are linked through a process of chronic inflammation.

To understand chronic inflammation, we first of all need to understand that the body undergoes billions of chemical reactions every second of every day, and that each of those reactions results in a degree of physical stress, otherwise known as oxidative stress. Under normal circumstances, the body strikes a balance between the production of stress and its elimination through protective mechanisms.

Sustained environmental stress can lead to chronic inflammation, which in turn causes most chronic diseases. Inflammation can change the expression of many different genes, resulting in significant damage to cell function, which may, in turn, induce gene mutations and initiate cancer.

This has led many to believe that the key to an anti-cancer lifestyle is an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. In short, this involves the elimination of inflammatory lifestyle factors whilst also optimizing the body’s antioxidant and detoxification abilities.

Here are a few preventative measures you can action in your daily life.

1. Eat whole food in its most natural form and eliminate foods that are overly refined and processed.

The body recognizes food as a chemical messenger. Food that does not occur in nature and which therefore, we have not evolved to eat, is more likely to trigger an inflammatory response. This also means eating chemical-, pesticide- and hormone-free foods.

2. Eat as diverse a range of vegetables as possible and aim for 50g of fiber per day.

We are home to ten times more microbial cells than human cells, and these organisms need feeding. Fiber serves this role, which in turn leads to the production of chemicals that signal to the rest of the body via the immune and neurological systems, often referred to as the “gut-brain” axis. Vegetables have the added benefit of being nutrient rich, providing the necessary antioxidants our body requires.

3. Regularly consume fresh herbs and spices.

Many herbs and spices have been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

4. Incorporate intermittent fasting.

With our modern-day eating habits, we have lost the balance between fasting and feasting. Historically, all major religions incorporated fasting into their teachings, as much for its health benefits as for spiritual reasons. Fasting has since been shown to have regenerative implications, which ensures our cells function optimally, and to cause beneficial changes in genes related with longevity and protection against disease.

Note, however, that intermittent fasting (IF) is not safe for everyone and can pose a risk for women with thyroid problems, diabetes, and other conditions. Please consult a doctor before making any dietary changes, including IF. 

5. Respect your body clock.

Every single living organism evolved on this planet according to a daily cycle, determined by sunset and sunrise. Accordingly, we operate optimally when our body clock is in tune with the natural day/night rhythm. This means:
1. Waking up at (or soon after) sunrise
2. Early-morning sun exposure
3. Eating and exercising during daylight hours
4. Minimizing light exposure before bed
5. Sleeping soon after sunset

6. Obtain regular sun exposure.

Low vitamin D (a proxy for sun exposure) is correlated with numerous cancers, demonstrating the powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the sun. According to the National Cancer Institute, “Experimental evidence has also suggested a possible association between vitamin D and cancer risk. In studies of cancer cells and of tumors in mice, vitamin D has been found to have several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating cell death (apoptosis), and reducing tumor blood vessel formation.

7. Exercise regularly.

Sedentary individuals have a higher incidence of almost all cancers.

8. Control emotional stress.

For many people, the modern-day lifestyle is fundamentally and chronically more emotionally stressful than we were designed to cope with. Negative emotional stress has a direct impact on gene expression, which triggers an inflammatory response and has been linked to cancer. Similarly, mindfulness activities and happiness have a positive effect on our chemical and hormonal balance.

9. Limit toxin exposure.

We have three interfaces with the outside world – our skin, our lungs and our gut. For inhabitants of industrialized societies, all three surfaces are constantly being bombarded by environmental chemicals (heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, phthalates, etc.), wreaking havoc on the immune system. To limit toxin exposure, try:
1. Aiming for a clean food and water source. This often means buying local (and/or organic) and installing home water filtration systems.
2. Implementing a filtered air system at home to achieve cleaner air.
3. Utilizing (whenever and wherever possible) natural home-cleaning and skin products.