Preventing Cancer and Recurrence
As a naturopathic doctor, I practise preventative medicine – believing whole-heartedly that an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Yes, our bodies are resilient, and given the right conditions and guidance they will often bounce back from surprising depths of illness. But sometimes we are not so lucky. Sometimes it is all just too much. So I will continue to promote prevention as the best course of action for ensuring you age with health and with grace. When it comes to preventing cancer, and preventing cancer recurrence, there is a lot that we can do to meaningfully reduce our risk.
Eat Your Greens
We all know they’re good for us. We all know we should eat more. Leafy greens, including spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, mustard greens, watercress, collards, and bok choy contain specific anti-cancer compounds called polyphenols, which have been shown to inhibit cancer cell growth and prevent the DNA damage that leads to cancer development. Greens also contain quercetin, a potent anti-inflammatory which stops cancer cell division and new blood vessel growth in tumors. Researchers estimate that a serving of 1.5 cups daily is enough to significantly reduce the risk of cancer development.1 One study looking at women aged 55-69 found that those eating 6 servings of leafy greens per week were almost 50% less likely to develop lung cancer – whether or not they were smokers!2 Now, I don’t recommend eating some greens just to get that pack of smokes in every day, but it certainly speaks to the power of food as real medicine!
As a direct example of greens as medicine, a study of breast cancer patients eating 80 grams of watercress (a soup bowl) found that the consumption increased a plant compound called PEITC in their blood. This compound had a measurable ability to interfere with hypoxia inducible factor (HIF), which is necessary in tumor angiogenesis – without it, tumors don’t grow in size.3 In this study, eating watercress was directly shown to inhibit markers that promote tumor growth!
So, how many of you are eating greens on a daily basis? Here’s my health challenge to you – eat 1.5 cups of leafy greens every day, and know you are doing something proven to reduce your cancer risk.
Find a Form of Exercise You Love
Moving your body has a multitude of health effects! Getting that blood flowing has been shown to decrease heart disease, improve sleep, and even increase happiness! Turns out the benefits also extend to cancer prevention. A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology looked at cancer recurrence rates for colon cancer patients after their treatments were over. Various aerobic exercises were rated based on intensity – walking, running, cycling, yoga, and sports like tennis and swimming. They found that the most activity, either more hours of lower intensity activity or fewer hours at higher intensity, had a protective effect against the recurrence of colon cancer.4 Exercise also decreases your level of insulin-like growth factor (IGF), a hormone linked to increased risk of developing prostate and premenopausal breast cancer.5 Our bodies were built to move, so find an activity you really enjoy doing – it will help you stay consistent, and it won’t feel like a chore. Bonus points if it’s done outside in nature!
Decrease Toxin Exposure
One of the most important ways to prevent cancer and cancer recurrence is to decrease your exposure to known carcinogens – chemicals linked to cancer development. By now, many of us have heard of bisphenol-A, and are seeking out BPA-free plastics in hopes of avoiding its estrogenic activity. But the safest route would be to ditch the plastics altogether (when it comes to food storage, at least). Use a glass water bottle, and glass containers to store leftovers – especially anything fatty like sauces and stews. Plastic leaches very well into fat, so also avoid buying oils in plastics bottles.
To reduce exposure to pesticide residues, check out the yearly Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list. The fruits and vegetables listed are the most heavily sprayed, so you may want to opt for organic there. But if you’re going to spend your organic dollar anywhere, spend it on organic or naturally raised animal product – meat, dairy, and eggs. Toxins like to accumulate in fat, so choosing quality animal products will reduce your exposure. One of the most economical ways to do this is to find a local farm that raises animals well, and buy a whole or half cow or pig in bulk (don’t worry, they cut it up for you!).
Finally, you need to have a close look at your personal care products… trust me. Head over to ewg.org/skindeep to see how your favourite products rate. The personal care and cosmetics industries are very poorly regulated in terms of what they put in their products. This is mostly due to a lack of research, but that’s not always the case. Recently, a family was awarded $72 million in a case against Johnson & Johnson because a woman’s death from ovarian cancer was linked to her daily use of talcum powder – a known carcinogen. (Yes, this is the stuff people use daily on their babies’ bottoms!) There are other options out there – natural make up lines, better lotions, and aluminum-free deodorants can be found at your local health food store.
If you’d like to learn more about reducing your risk of cancer or cancer recurrence, or if you’re wondering if naturopathic medicine is right for you, book a free 15-minute consultation with me today!
Dr. Aleksandra Gasinski, ND
- Heimler D. et al. Polyphenol content and antioxidant activity in some species of freshly consumed salads. J Agric Food Chem. 2007;55:1724-1729.
- Steinmetz, K. A., Potter, J. D., and Folsom, A. R. Vegetables, fruit, and lung cancer in the Iowa Women's Health Study. Cancer Res. 1993; 53: 536-543.
- Syed Alwi SS et al. In vivo modulation of 4E binding protein 1 (4E-BP1) phosphorylation by watercress: a pilot study. Br J Nutr. 2010; Jun 15:1-9.
- Meyerhardt JA et al. Impact of Physical Activity on Cancer Recurrence and Survival in Patients with Stage III Colon Cancer: Findings from CALGB 89803. J Clin Onc. 2006
- Renehan AG et al. Insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1, IGF-binding protein-3, and cancer risk: systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Lancet. 2004;363(9418):1346-53.