One recent study concluded that 90-95% of all cancers are attributed to lifestyle. Yes, 90-95%! Pretty shocking number, huh? That means that only 5-10% of cancers are due to what we’ll call “faulty genes,” or something that is beyond your control. This means that each of us has an incredible opportunity to prevent our cancer risk. Below are 8 simple steps you can take to reduce your risk for cancer….
- Eat 3-5 servings of vegetables a day. Vegetables, more than any other type of food, contain high levels of the nutrients that inhibit cell damage and mutations that can lead to precancerous cells. A simple rule of thumb to cover all of the beneficial nutrients is to eat a cornucopia of colors every day. Think of one serving as roughly the size of your palm.
- Get adequate Vitamin D. We have know for decades that Vitamin D benefits bone health, but a plethora of research has come out in the last 10-15 years showing that it also reduces risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders, and improves hormone health. Since this vitamin is fat soluble, similar to vitamin A, K, and E, you should have your level tested every year if you are supplementing more than 1,000-2,000 IU a day. The target range for cancer prevention is between 30-50 ng/mL. Natural sunshine is even better than supplements for boosting your vitamin D levels, but remember to put on sunscreen if you are at risk for burning. A target for adults is 30 minutes a day in direct sun.
- Eat more fiber. Did you know our ancestors are estimated to have consumed over 100 grams of fiber a day? This is truly staggering when comparing today’s average American, who eats only 12-18 grams of fiber a day. Breast and colon cancer studies show lower risk of cancer when people consumed over 26 grams of fiber per day. My favorite forms of fiber are whole grain foods, lightly steamed vegetables, nuts, and seeds. If your looking for a quick fiber supplement, try adding 1 Tbsp of ground flaxmeal into your morning routine and this alone will bump your intake 4-5 grams per day (and give you the added benefit of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats).
- Exercise 3-5 hours a week. Just adding more movement into your daily routine may reduce your risk of cancer by 50%! Exercise has not only been shown to reduce risk of getting cancer, but has also improved survivorship in patients with breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer. 10% of breast cancers are attributed to inactivity, and in one study following 3,000 breast cancer survivors there was a 50% reduction in recurrence with 3-5 hours of exercise a week. Remember that this doesn’t have to be gym time, choosing to (briskly) walk or bike to a destination, instead of driving, can help you add up those hours pretty quickly.
- Limit alcohol consumption. For breast cancer prevention alcohol should be limited to 3 drinks a week. For general health, women should limit their consumption to a maximum of 7 drinks a week, 1 drink every night, or 3 drinks per social occasion. For men, the maximum limit is 14 drinks a week, 2 drinks a night, or 4 drinks per social occasion. If you are going to drink choosing red wine over beer, white wine, or hard alcohol is a wise chose for cancer prevention and heart health.
- Reduce stress. Chronic, or long term, stress depletes our antioxidant levels which increases the oxidative damage to our cells. Stress is bad news for our cancer risk, cardiovascular health, and it also increases our lipid (fat) storage. When weight-gain is due to stress we typically see it around our mid-section, but what we don’t see is even worse. Lipid storage due to stress also stores around our vital organs, rather than in subcutaneous fatty tissue, which puts an extra demand on our organs to work around these fat cells. During times of high stress make sure to focus on other lifestyle factors, such as eating foods high in antioxidants (colorful fruits and veggies), getting enough exercise, and allotting for adequate sleep so your body has time to repair and relax.
- Avoid known environmental pollutants. There is such a range of research quality regarding the link between environmental toxins and cancer that it can be overwhelming to try to decide where to put your time, efforts and consumer dollars. Start by taking preventative measures – everyone can reduce their pesticide exposure by purchasing your fruits and vegetables off Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen/Clean Fifteen list: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/. If you use any lotion, makeup, hair product, deodorant, or cologne switch to organic, plant-based products check with EWG to see how your products compare.
- Drink green tea. Polyphenols, flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallates, antioxidants, oh my! Green tea does it all, destroys precancerous cells, slows cancerous growth, inhibits spread of cancer cells, and helps with detoxification. To get the maximum benefit brew your tea bag for 1-3 minutes, throw out the water and re-brew the same bag for another 1-3 minutes. Each successive brew with the same tea leaves extracts more antioxidants and decreases the caffeine content. Aim for 1-3 cups a day, more for those with higher risk for cancer. If you purchase decaf green tea, make sure the decaf process used water and not chemicals (same goes for decaf coffee).
It is easy to get swept up in the newest fads for cancer prevention, but the above recommendations are tried and true. Try implementing each of these into your life, perhaps one a week and in two months you’re cancer risk could be at least 50% less than when you started. For an individual assessment come on in to the clinic for your annual physical, and let’s talk about the best place for you to start.