Of all the diseases plaguing this world, cancer is one of the most potent. Generally, about 5 to 10 percent of cancer cases in the world are thought to be hereditary. So what is the leading cause of cancer? And what can we do to prevent it? One answer is lifestyle.
It is important to understand that there are three kinds of people. Some are blessed and simply don't develop cancer, regardless of how much they drink or what they eat. Others, no matter how health-conscious they are, will fall prey to some form of cancer in their lifetime, despite their best efforts not to. However, for most of us, the risk of developing cancer is determined by the lifestyle we choose to adopt.
That being said, here are the seven highly influential lifestyle factors that can help in fighting and preventing cancer:
- Eat the right food.
Research shows that eating foods based on fruits, vegetables, whole grain pasta and bread, legumes, and nuts will protect against many types of cancers, including lung, mouth, bowel, colon, pancreatic, and more. These foods are rich in minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals (like beta-carotene, found in carrots), and fiber, which boosts the immune system and regulates the digestive system. For example, fiber is known to prevent constipation. Why is that important? Chronic constipation, if left unchecked, can lead to colon cancer. Among other benefits, these foods also have anti-inflammatory and detoxifying properties and incredible antioxidation power that actively fights cancer cells. Incorporating these healthy foods into our lifestyle can help proactively reduce the risk of many types of cancer. Eating moderate helpings of fruits and vegetables in our diet is a good starting point.
Conversely, some foods contain elements that can increase the risk of cancer. Limiting or eliminating these foods is a step toward a healthier diet:
- Junk foods, including chips and sugar-rich ice-cream, sweets, and soft drinks. Soft drinks are rich in sugar, which can iinfluence cancer cell growth.
- Diet soft drinks. These contain aspartame, which is linked to cancer (they may have Sucralose/Splenda or Acesulfame potassium Ace-K, which is also unhealthy).
- Processed meat.
- Red meat, such as beef, lamb, or pork.
- Exercise regularly.
Along with eating properly, you need to include regular exercise in your routine. Exercise increases the removal of waste product from your body. This is a critical step in achieving the optimum health benefits of exercise, including the prevention of cancer.
Although the recommendation is to stay active, putting in all of your effort at the gym is not necessary. Even a 30-minute brisk walk every day can increase the body's activity and strength. To spice up your exercise, try something out of the ordinary and fun like jumping on a trampoline. Jumping prompts "self-propelled immune cells" to become up to five times more active.
- Go to sleep.
We spend almost a third of our life in bed. It's about time we make it count. An erratic sleep schedule can negatively affect your metabolism, which can lead to obesity and a propensity for diseases like diabetes and, yes, cancer. Lack of sleep may also adversely affect decision-making. When we become exhausted and overwhelmed, we think less clearly and often choose the easiest way out when it comes to eating. Try to fall sleep and wake up at the same time, getting six to eight hours of sleep each night. Avoid caffeinated products (like coffee and soda) at night, as they keep you awake.
Sleep is when your body rests, relaxes, and regenerates. Old cells die off, and new ones take their place. Just as a phone's battery can wear out if charged insufficiently, our body can be left vulnerable and weak if we don't get enough sleep. No matter how much effort you put into eating right and exercising, it can all be a waste if you don't get enough sleep.
- Quit smoking.
Smoking e-cigs or cigarettes exposes the body to carcinogens and narcotics (from tobacco) that never belonged in the body in the first place. This means that chemicals and narcotics (such as nicotine) can cause adverse reactions in the body, as well as cause an addiction. Smoking can lead to mutations and cause heart disease, which may develop into mouth, throat, lung, pancreatic, bladder, and/or kidney cancer. It is best to ask your doctor for preventive strategies or seek an expert's help through addiction hotlines to help you quit smoking.
- Drink, in moderation.
While drinking alcoholic beverages in limited quantities can be beneficial, overconsumption can be bad for the liver and the rest of the body. Liver cells can mutate and reduce effective functionality, which can cause liver and heart diseases. Since the liver cannot purify the body of toxic materials, it can lead to cancerous growths throughout the body.
Research indicates that drinking more than one drink per day (for women) and two drinks per day (for men) regularly over time can increase the risk of developing cancer. If you are drinking more than in moderation, seek the advice of professionals and rehabilitation centers, and consult with your own doctor for tips on cutting down on alcohol consumption.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight or obese, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) over 25, puts you at a higher risk of developing numerous cancers, including esophageal, pancreatic, colon and rectal, endometrial, kidney, breast, gallbladder, ovarian, liver, prostate, and/or stomach cancer. The fat stored in your body can produce estrogen (which can also lead to breast cancer) or proteins that cause inflammation and insulin resistance, resulting in tumor cell growth.
One way to manage your weight and prevent these risks linked to obesity is to eat healthier foods, as suggested above. Establish a routine for eating, take smaller portions of food, and take breaks between meals so the body has time to digest the food properly and get on with breaking down fats. A combination of each of these steps will help you maintain a lean figure while decreasing your chances of developing cancer.
- See your doctor regularly.
Regular cancer screenings can help identify precancerous growths and stop them before they develop and/or spread to the rest of the body. A routine colonoscopy screening can detect polyps (benign clump of intestinal cells) and remove them before they fully develop into cancer. Consult your doctor during your next regular checkup for which cancers screening tests you should go for.
Contrary to popular belief, cancer is not just a matter of circumstances or chance. More often than not, it is very much within your control. A healthy lifestyle can definitely help prevent cancer. For the new year, it's time that we make a stand to protect ourselves against cancer.
Written by: Thehang (Hannah) Luu, MD
MBG -Mind Body Green article. Photo by stocksy.