Holy smokes. This cancer prevention series, sparked by my longtime frustration with “crap for the cure,” has turned into a research monstrosity. If there’s one thing most everyone agrees on, it’s that cancer is a complex disease with multiple modalities and causes. This is what makes finding The Cure difficult to the point of impossible (let’s face it: all our medical advances over the past 70 years have increased the average life expectancy of cancer patients by mere weeks). While prevention is rather simpler, the study of decreasing risk still leads me in many directions.
We’ve already discussed many avenues of cancer prevention, including anti-angiogenic dietary choices, adequate sleep, low carbohydrate intake, stress reduction, and more. Now, it’s time to talk hormones.
Hormones are a critical part of the biochemical courier system by which our bodies’ myriad components communicate with each other to maintain homeostasis. As with most health factors, the effects of hormones can be thought of as lying on a U-shaped curve. Too little of a given hormone is detrimental, the right amount is beneficial, and too much becomes detrimental again.
Consider estrogen. Most women are aware that excessive levels of this important hormone are correlated with substantially higher risk of breast cancer. High estrogen levels (along with high cortisol, low iodine, low progesterone, and low vitamin D-3) are part of the classic breast cancer patient profile. Furthermore, over 65 percent of breast cancers are defined as estrogen-dependent (Epstein et al, The Breast Cancer Prevention Program).
Of course, correlation does not prove causation, but there is sufficient evidence of the estrogen-breast cancer link that women would do well to pay attention to their levels of the hormone. Happily, even if the estrogen theory ultimately proves incorrect, the action plan advised for reducing estrogen levels will benefit your health in other ways.
Here’s what most researchers currently believe: Estrogen itself doesn’t cause cancer, but the ability of carcinogens to produce tumors increases in its presence. In other words, “Estrogens can take a cell that is capable of becoming cancerous and increase the probability that it will do so” (Dr. Lindsey Berkson, Hormone Deception).
Unfortunately for women, our modern environment is an estrogenic soup. Dietary phytoestrogens; xenoestrogens in herbicides, industrial waste, cosmetics, and everyday plastics; even prescribed, synthetic estrogens that wind up in the food chain – all these pass through or build up in our systems, sending our lifetime exposure to estrogen skyrocketing well beyond normal levels.
Still, we can take action to reduce estrogen dominance in our bodies:
The most obvious step is to address the quantity of estrogen produced by our own bodies. We can accomplish this by reducing bodyfat. Particularly in postmenopausal women, bodyfat is the primary source of estrogen production; in fact, the Harvard Nurse’s Health Study found that overweight women had estrogen levels as much as 100% higher than those of lean women.
Once you understand that insulin promotes the storage of bodyfat, and that cancer cells thrive on sugar delivered courtesy of insulin, you will be unsurprised to learn that chronically high insulin levels, like excessive bodyfat, are associated with increased breast cancer risk. So, we are well advised to minimize insulin secretion, which will also lead to lower bodyfat levels. But how?
At peril of sounding like a broken record: Stop eating foods that spike your blood sugar, necessitating the release of insulin to normalize blood glucose levels. Specifically, don’t eat grain, legumes, or sugar in any form. Enjoy meats, vegetables, and healthful fats instead. You’ll find it easy to keep your total (not net) carbohydrate intake around 50-100 grams per day – and if you compare the nutrient density of your new diet to that of your old one, you’ll be amazed by the super-RDA results.
What other steps can you take to reduce your body’s estrogen production?
Participate in frequent, moderate exercise, which is demonstrated to reduce blood estrogen levels. “Moving slowly,” as Mark Sisson calls exercise at about 70% of your maximum heart rate (think brisk but comfortable walking), also sets up other hormones to send metabolism-speeding signals and increases insulin sensitivity.
Limit alcohol consumption. Sorry, ladies, but alcohol boosts circulating estrogen levels. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, partaking of 2-3 drinks per day (as opposed to none) increases the breast cancer risk of postmenopausal women by 15%. (The good news is that one drink per day scarcely increases risk at all, and may provide other benefits ranging from cardiac protection to stress reduction.)
The alcohol effect is amplified in overweight women, premenopausal women, and women taking hormone replacement therapy, because their base estrogen levels are higher. In fact, E.S. Ginsburg found in a double-blind, crossover study that estradiol (natural estrogen) levels increased by 327% following alcohol consumption by women on HRT. Not good.
Next, we need to look at any estrogens and estrogen-mimicking substances we are intentionally putting into our bodies. Hormonal contraception, anyone?
Yes, I know. My ObGyn – like yours, no doubt – said the Pill now contains “safe, minimal levels” of estrogen and/or progestin. Oh yeah? My thermogram revealed excessive vascularity indicative of a highly estrogenic state — and increased cancer risk.
Even the package inserts admit that use of oral contraceptives increases risk. This is particularly true when these pharmaceuticals are used by young women and/or for prolonged periods. Early use of oral contraceptives, like postmenopausal use of HRT, increases a women’s lifetime exposure to estrogen. The Pill also induces many women to retain excessive bodyfat.
This is tough, I know. It’s hard to find an option that can compare to the ease, affordability, and effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives. (My reading on the subject leads me to favor the non-hormonal, copper IUD.) It’s easy to shrug off the warnings…again and again…but I beg you to reconsider.
If your own health isn’t enough of a motivator, consider the environment, which affects everyone else’s health, too: synthetic estrogens are showing up in measurable levels in wildlife that is part of our food chain. How do these substances get from pharmacy to fish? Through your urine. Be responsible.
Take care with hormone replacement therapy, too. Breast tissue is, by nature, particularly sensitive to hormonal influence — especially the balance of estrogen and progesterone. HRT is too big a topic to tackle here, but suffice it to say that if you’re going to mess with it, you’d better be darn sure your provider knows how to properly balance your hormonal levels.
Okay, so you’ve reined in your own estrogen production as much as possible, and you’ve ceased the blatant addition of unnatural hormones to your system. Unfortunately, there’s a whole other set of estrogen-related factors we need to consider: environmental toxins. We’ll cover those in this series’ next post.
Previous posts in this series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally, Please Don’t Feed the Cancer, Blaming the Victim?, Fighting Mad(ness), Crap for the Cure.
God help me, because I cannot help myself.
I cannot help myself from bringing this up again.
I cannot help walking through this pink-beribboned world with my eyebrows hitched up to my hairline, agog at the depth to which the quest for The Cure has sunk.
Pink buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Limited edition Kit Kat bars for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Survivor photos on boxes of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Totino’s frozen pizza.
Check out Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Million Dollar Council Elite, which includes such health-promoting superstars as:
ACH Food Companies, proud purveyor of : Karo pancake syrup (63g carbohydrate/serving. Good lord! We haven’t even added the pancakes yet!), Fleischmann’s sourdough bread mix (29g), and Henri’s Light French Low Fat Homestyle Dressing (13g).
Frito Lay, promoting “sensible snacking” on: Doritos nacho flavor (17g), Cracker Jack (23g), and Grandma’s Homestyle Oatmeal Raisin Big Cookies (25g. Each.).
General Mills, bringing you: Haagen-Dazs vanilla milk chocolate bars (22g), Progresso Healthy Classics Split Pea Soup (30g), and Cheesy Enchilada Hamburger Helper (36g. No wonder that poor hamburger needs help!)
And the ever-popular Yoplait, featuring: Original Strawberry Yogurt (33g), Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie mix (19g), and Cotton Candy/Strawberry Kiwi Trix Yogurt (20g in a satisfying, 4-oz serving for the kids).
It gets better. Want to know who sponsors the Race for the Cure? Here’s a selection:
- American Italian Pasta Company
- Dove Chocolate
- Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
- Freed’s Bakery
- Pepperidge Farm
- Otis Spunkmeyer
Processed, damaged, unnatural fats. Grains. Added sugars. Chemical sweeteners, preservatives, and additives. Addictive “food” products that make people sick.
Sorry, pink people, but any organization that’s willing to slap its logo on any godawful product whose manufacturer wants to cash in on the marketing power of pink — including the very products that help cause the disease said organization supposedly exists to eliminate — has sold its soul.
Read that italicized phrase again. Ponder motivation. And draw your own conclusions.
P.S. I know Komen does some cool stuff, like assisting families with practical needs while their loved ones are in treatment. But at what cost?
P.P.S. You are welcome to disagree with me. But before you get furious, please take the time to understand my position by reading previous posts on the subject of cancer and its prevention:
Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally, Please Don’t Feed the Cancer, Blaming the Victim?, Crap for the Cure.
P.P.P.S. Great quote from this article: “If breast cancer could be cured by shopping, it would be cured by now.” Cheers, Ms. Brenner.
My Medicine, My Food: Black coffee, 3-egg omelet with butternut, onion, and spinach; steamed carrots, brussels sprouts, and broccoli with pastured butter; raw spinach, tuna, dill pickle, onion, black olives, and fish oil dressing; braised lamb shanks, wilted red chard, roasted onions and garlic. Green and red teas. Ume plum concentrate. Whiskey.
Workout: 1.5 mile walk, plus some light stretching and “baby” calisthenics. (Hey, I’m only 6 days out from a major soft tissue injury.)
Billy is eight years old. His family has just moved into a new house. The realtor warned his parents that a registered sex offender lives next door, but they liked the house and bought it anyway.
“Don’t play in Mr. X’s yard,” Mother says. And Billy obeys.
But Mr. X is a cheerful, attractive gentleman. When Billy wants extra money, Mother suggests he offer to trim Mr. X’s hedges or mow his lawn. Billy follows her advice.
Sometimes, when she needs to run to the store, Mother tells Billy to play outside where Mr. X can keep an eye on him — just for a few minutes, of course. So Billy does.
Within a year, Mr. X is back in the court system. Billy is in counseling for wounds that are unlikely ever to fully heal.
Who is to blame?
Billy is an average guy. He is trying to make good decisions for his health. Years ago, scientists warned the medical industry that excessive dietary carbohydrate causes disease, but Big Ag funded them, so they recommend that Billy consume plenty of “complex carbohydrates” anyway.
“Don’t eat too much refined sugar,” the medical industry says. And Billy obeys.
But sugar wears clever disguises. When Billy is hungry, the medical industry directs him to eat multigrain bagals with low-fat cream cheese or bran flakes with soy milk. Billy follows their advice.
Sometimes, when the processed food industry lobbies hard enough, the medical industry tells Billy it’s okay to enjoy snack cakes and soda — in moderation, of course. So Billy does.
Within thirty years, disease has taken hold. Billy is in treatment for obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, or a cancer that refuses to respond to therapy.
Who is to blame?
I’ve taken flak throughout my ongoing cancer prevention series for “blaming the victim” by suggesting that many (not all!) cancers could be prevented by making the right lifestyle choices — if only they weren’t misinformed about what constitutes the “right” choices. Please, read the posts again:
Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally, Please Don’t Feed the Cancer, Crap for the Cure.
Is it really the victim I’m blaming?
[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, and Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally. See also Crap for the Cure.]
I’ve arrived at a point in this series where I can no longer refer tangentially to the elephant in the room: SUGAR.
Medical experts have known for decades that glucose — aka sugar — is cancer’s favorite food. Cancer cells require as much as five times more glucose for fuel than do normal cells.
In fact, the very PET scans used by oncologists to observe the shape and size of tumors depend on cancer’s appetite for sugar. Patients to be PET scanned are dosed with a glucose-heavy substance combined with a radioactive tracer. Their glucose-hungry tumors attract a disproportionate quantity of the substance, which results in a concentrated mass of radiotracer, which is viewable on a computer monitor.
Nevertheless, the baffling fact is that few oncologists inform their patients that regular old dietary sugar will behave just like that radiotraced glucose. They even go so far as to recommend pudding and ice cream to patients wracked with nausea from chemotherapy, “because they need to keep their weight up!” Right. They do. But at the cost of shoveling spoonfuls of cancer fuel down the hatch?
Furthermore, researchers at Ohio State University are touting an experimental drug that fights cancer by choking off its sugar supply. Pardon me, but do we really need drugs for this? We already know that a low-carbohydrate diet is effective in starving cancer cells.
Remember, too, that carbohydrate consumption causes your pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin makes cancer cells happy because it enables them to mop up more glucose. In fact, cancer cells like insulin so much that they actually produce some of their own insulin. They also have about ten times as many insulin receptors as normal cells. This is how cancer fuels its own, rapid growth — unless, of course, you restrict the availability of said glucose by changing your diet.
Furthermore, insulin is a storage hormone. That is, it directs your body to store excess dietary carbohydrate as bodyfat…and excess bodyfat is a well-known risk factor for many cancers.
Let’s work the logic in reverse: We want to reduce cancer risk by reducing bodyfat. Bodyfat is the result of storage induced by insulin. Insulin secretion is the result of carbohydrate consumption. Therefore, by reducing carbohydrate consumption, we can reduce bodyfat. In the process, we deprive cancer cells — known or undetected — of their primary fuel source. We kill it. Capice?
I learned about the cancer-sugar connection years ago, from Dr. Patrick Quillin’s book Beating Cancer with Nutrition. I was mostly vegan at the time, and had already cut the obvious sugars out of my diet. I thought I was ahead of the game. I was wrong.
It wasn’t until three years later that I realized that, as far as my body is concerned, all carbohydrate is sugar. Yes, even those fruits, vegetables, beans, and “healthy whole grains.” Let me repeat: All dietary carbohydrate is sugar. Sugar is cancer’s favorite food. If A=B and B=C… You get the point.
That said, I am not advocating a diet that excludes vegetables. Most vegetables are quite low in carbohydrate. You can eat loads of them and easily stay under 50 grams of carbohydrate per day. Furthermore, veggies offer a fantastic micronutrient tradeoff for their macronutrient impact. Fruits, not so much. Grains and legumes, not at all. Stick with vegetables.
One more thing: I am constantly amazed by the number of people who restrict their own carbohydrate consumption because they understand the myriad health benefits of doing so, yet continue to feed their children oatmeal, cookies, and Laffy Taffy because “they’re young and healthy, and they don’t struggle with their weight.”
Umm…yeah. They’re young and healthy now — but how long is that going to last if we train their bodies and minds to depend on sugar for energy and satisfaction?
This isn’t hard, folks. Don’t feed cancer. Don’t feed your children to it, either.
The next post in this series will explore additional hormone-cancer connections, and what you can do to manipulate them in you favor.
My Medicine, My Food: black coffee, Asian salad with pulled pork (raw spinach, carrot, and mushroom; garlic pulled pork; and the dressing from this recipe), salmon croquettes (fried in pastured butter) with steamed carrots, broccoli, and brussels sprouts with southwest-style dressing, lamb chops, sweet potato roasted with coconut oil and red pepper, and sautéed kale.
Workout: 5x rotation of one-legged barbell squats, military presses, pullups, and bent-over barbell rows.
[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, and Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation. See also Crap for the Cure.]
How many times have you heard the expression that “So-and-so is battling cancer?”
I find it interesting that we don’t typically use martial language to describe “fighting” cardic disease or “declaring war” on Type II diabetes. There’s something about cancer — perhaps its complexity, unpredictability, gravity, and its resultant sway over our emotions — that elicits combative images.
It’s an apt metaphor. Much like a cleverly wielded army, cancer invades our healthy cells, confusing our immune systems and turning them against us. The result is inflammation, the earliest sign of a pre-cancerous state, which can be detected by thermography. Sadly, thermography is not widely used in this country, and most cancers go undetected at this phase. They progress to the next stage: angiogenesis.
Angiogenesis, like inflammation, is a normal process. It is simply the formation of new blood vessels. When injury occurs or a woman’s uterus makes its monthly preparations to nourish an embryo, blood vessels are built within specific parameters controlled by bodily chemicals called angiogenesis inhibitors. When the necessary structures are built, angiogenesis inhibitors give the signal to stop construction.
Unless cancer hijacks the contractors.
Cancer cells, like soldiers, require supply lines in order to survive and wreak destruction. In the absence of extra blood vessels to provide nutrients, a potential tumor will usually remain a tiny, harmless cluster of abnormal cells. But cancer is a sinister thing. Tiny tumors trick the body into supporting them by producing angiogenin, a chemical signal that demands the construction of new blood vessels.
During my second thermoscan appointment, I had the opportunity to view scans of women experiencing various stages of breast cancer development. Sure enough, the infrared images showed clearly (even to my inexpert eye) the abnormal concentration of blood vessels leading to cancerous or pre-cancerous sites.
The medical machine knows this, of course. Pharmaceutical companies have pumped out drugs like bevacizumab in an effort to slow cancer growth by inhibiting angiogenesis. Unfortunately, these drugs are only prescribed post-diagnosis, which almost always means there is a well-established tumor at play. Anti-angiogenic drugs may stabilize the tumor, slowing or preventing growth, but rarely are they able to starve it completely.
What if we could support our bodies by inhibiting inappropriate angiogenesis naturally over the course of our lifetimes? Would we then be able to cut cancer’s supply lines before its army of cells could occupy our tissues? How many tumors could be reduced to merely The Cancer that Never Was?
The next post in this series will discuss the multiple angiogenesis inhibitors available to us through lifestyle choices: http://inthenightlife.wordpress.com/2010/11/21/short-circuiting-supply-inhibiting-angiogenesis-naturally/
Angiogenesis Slideshow, National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/understandingcancer/angiogenesis/Slide1
Thermography Images and Explanations, The Thermography Center http://www.thermogramcenter.com/Images.htm
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee; green tea; salad: spinach, red leaf lettuce, red cabbage, parsley, celery, carrot, red onion, apple, pecans, and poached cod with a dressing of fish oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, black pepper, potassium salt, and Italian herbs; Barnyard Soup: onion, leeks, garlic, chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, smoked ham hocks, sweet potato, turnip, carrot, rutabega, cabbage, parsnip, cayenne, thyme, sage, and bay; curry: ground beef, garlic, onion, carrot, cauliflower, zucchini, tomato, coconut milk, curry paste, hot curry powder, turmeric, and ginger topped with raisins, walnuts, and coconut flakes.
Workout: Rest day.
[Earlier posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, Before Early Detection, and In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection. See also Crap for the Cure.]
Cancer is a wound that doesn’t heal. It turns our bodies’ own immune systems against us, thriving on the inflammatory process that is intended to be acute and healing, rather than chronic and destructive. If inflammation is pro-cancer, then it stands to reason (and research) that we can combat cancer by reducing the inflammation that runs rampant in our bodies.
Perhaps surprisingly, the lifestyle changes that will reduce chronic, systemic inflammation — thereby making our bodies less hospitable to cancer cells — are relatively simple and inexpensive. Sure, some of them will take you outside the norm. Some will involve plunking down extra change at the supermarket. But compared to rounds of chemo, months of pain, and years of life lost, I reckon it’s a small price to pay.
What follows are daily choices you can make to reduce your risk of cancer development or recurrence by reducing your body’s susceptiblity to inflammation. Because this is a blog post, not a book, I’ll focus more on the what than the why. Upcoming posts will expand substantially on the scientific support for these choices. In the meantime, understand that they will work…but only if you do them.
1. Reduce carbohydrate consumption. During the digestive process, carbohydrate is broken down into glucose (sugar) and, ideally, stored in the liver to be burned as fuel in the near future. The liver’s storage capacity is limited, so any excess glucose is packaged up as triglycerides and sent into the bloodstream. If not used to provide immediate energy, it is stored as bodyfat. The storage process must occur quickly because blood sugar must be maintained within a narrow range; excessive blood sugar is toxic to the point of being fatal.
In order to facilitate the movement of glucose into our cells, the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. One of insulin’s primary jobs is to turn on the “storage” function, so it’s easy to see how chronically elevated insulin (resulting from chronic carbohydrate consumption) leads to obesity — a well-known risk factor for cancer. Not only that, but constant insulin release leads to insulin resistance, which means that we need more and more of it to keep our blood sugar within a safe range.
Unfortuately, all that insulin does more than make us dread bikini shopping. It also activates enzymes that result in increased blood levels of arachodonic acid, which contributes to inflammation in individuals with compromised metabolisms. Furthermore, insulin provokes the release of pro-inflammatory eicosonoids (short-lived hormones that act locally rather than systemically).
In brief, excessive dietary carbohydrate results in systemic inflammation. How much is “excessive?” For most people, about 100 total (not net) grams of carbohydrate per day is plenty. In case you’re wondering, most Americans consume 300-400 grams per day. Ouch.
2. Eliminate sugar. Sugar (and all its nasty little friends like high fructose corn syrup, honey, and agave) is a simple, high glycemic index carbohydrate. When consumed, it causes a rapid rise in blood sugar, which requires insulin release as discussed above. It also hampers white blood cell function, compromising the immune system, and subjects the body to oxidative stress, thereby rounding the turn in the vicious cycle of inflammation.
(As an astute reader pointed out in yesterday’s comments, sugar is also the finest cancer food on the planet. Tumors love the stuff — and many can be starved by eliminating it. More on that in a later post.)
3. Eliminate grains. Above and beyond their obviously problematic status as high carbohydrate foods that are little more than slow-digesting sugar, grains bring with them a host of additional problems.
Several of the most common grains in our food supply (wheat, oats, barley, and rye) contain a protein called gluten. Gluten irritates the gut lining to the point of breaching its defenses (yes, even in non-celiac individuals), allowing whole, foreign proteins direct access to the bloodstream.
The result is a chronically leaky gut, which necessitates constant immune response, which we know by now is undesirable. Worse, the immune system learns quickly to attack these foreign proteins on sight — and some of them look very much like our bodies’ own tissues. So, we attack ourselves. Voila! More inflammation.
Legumes, by the way, have very similar effects as grains and should also be avoided.
4. Eliminate dairy. Many people have observed that the consumption of dairy worsens conditions such as arthritis, asthma, and acne. Why does this happen? Because dairy, too, is inflammatory. Similar to grains, dairy proteins cause microperforations in the gut, provoking immune response and eventual auto-immune disorders. Dairy is also responsible for an insulin release above and beyond what can be accounted for by its carbohydrate content alone. And we all know about insulin by now, don’t we?
5. Balance essential fatty acids. Most people are aware that our diets tend to be too high in Omega-6 fatty acids and too low in Omega-3’s. This is the result of a diet packed with vegetable fats and grain-fed meats, both of which tip our fatty acid ratio drastically in favor of Omega-6. Unfortunately for our cancer risk, Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3 is anti-inflammatory.
The obvious solution is to simultaneously decrease Omega-6 intake and increase Omega-3 intake. How? Switch to grass-fed, grass-finished meats and wild-caught fish. Eliminate vegetable oils (including corn, soy, canola, safflower, and sunflower) in favor of animal fats, palm, and coconut oils. Supplement with high-quality fish oil such as Carlson’s or Nordic Naturals. If you insist on eating dairy, make sure it’s from pastured cows. Finally, look for eggs from chickens that are pastured and/or fed flax in favor of grain.
6. Sleep more. In 2006, researchers at UCLA demonstrated that “even a modest loss of sleep for a single night increases inflammation.” Inadequate sleep causes our white blood cells to increase their release of immune-enhancing substances…which sounds good until you remember that an excessive immune response causes damage not only to invaders, but also to healthy cells. What constitutes “adequate” sleep? Nine or more hours per night, especially during the winter months.
7. Reduce toxin exposure. In our modern world of plastics and pesticides, we are all exposed to chemicals whose ill effects are myriad, cumulative, and alarming. For example, certain toxins (such as phthalates in cosmetics, bisphenol A [BPA] in hard plastics, and tributyltin in disinfectants and fungicides) all mimic hormones, resulting in bodyfat gain. Research shows that these toxins can even increase the number of fat cells in a developing fetus. Excessive bodyfat leads to excessive levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. Remember those? They’re inflammatory factors!
Inflammation is only one of the reasons to seek out organic produce and meats, BPA-free canned goods, and safe body care products whose ingredients you’d be willing to eat. Be mindful of obvious poisons, too, such as cigarette smoke, lawn fertilizer, and household cleaners.
8. Reduce stress. We all know that stress results in excessive production of the hormone cortisol. (For the record, so does lack of sleep.) Ironically, cortisol is supposed to be a natural anti-inflammatory that helps your body deal with acute stressors. Unfortunately, most of us experience more chronic stressors than acute ones. Chronic stressors result in incessant cortisol release from the adrenal glands, which leads to adrenal burnout.
In the meantime, all that excess cortisol messes up our other hormones and treats us to complimentary helpings of brain fog, low sex drive, bodyfat accumulation, and mood swings — not to mention mineral imbalances that disrupt heart function. Hormonal imbalance also results in insulin resistance, which is directly linked to cancer development.
Advice to reduce stress is so common as to be cliché, but it can take some serious effort to actually accomplish. Consider weeding your activities down to only the most necessary for income, relationships, and personal satisfaction. Work fewer hours, if you can, and be sure to take a good look at the huge body of evidence supporting the health benefits of yoga, meditation, and similar forms of focused relaxation.
9. Exercise. Anyone who has experienced soreness after a workout knows that, where inflammation is concerned, exercise is a mixed bag. Unaccustomed physical effort results in minor (hopefully!) muscle damage that leads, upon repair, to increased strength. On the other hand, physical effort is well-documented to relieve stress and improve insulin sensitivity, both of which result in decreased inflammation.
Regular, moderate exercise is associated with lower CRP levels, while excessive exercise increases cortisol. So, use your body — but use your brain, too. Favor strength training and high-intensity interval training over long, cortisol-inducing cardio sessions. Engage in plenty of low-level physical activity. Play. And for goodness sake, throw in some rest days!
10. Understand specific foods. Some foods are pro-inflammatory, while others are anti-inflammatory. Knowing which is which enables you to make the best choices for you, as an individual.
As discussed above, sugar, dairy, legumes and grains are inflammatory for just about everyone. MSG and other food additives also negatively affect most people. Some individuals are sensitive to additional foods; common offenders include nightshades (potatoes, eggplant, sweet and hot peppers, tomatoes, etc.), eggs, soy, and nuts. Note that you may be unaware of your sensitivity to a particular food until you try going without i for a month, then reintroducing it to see what happens.
Make a conscious effort to include plenty of anti-inflammatory foods such as coconut, olive oil, sea vegetables, salmon, turmeric, Japanese green tea, shiitake and other mushrooms, berries, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), and alluims (garlic, onions, leeks, shallots etc.).
There’s more to each of these factors than simply controlling inflammation. They also impact angiogenesis and hormonal balance, both of which contribute to cancer development or prevention. We’ll explore those topics in upcoming posts.
Bonus round (Is anybody still reading?): Inflammation is also the major, causative factor in other diseases of modern civilization, most notably coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, and stroke. Worse, it’s a two-way street. Inflammation fuels the above conditions, which incite additional inflammation, which fuels the conditions…
Making lifestyle changes to cool inflammation will dramatically lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes — plus, you’ll likely vanquish other ailments ranging from acne to arthritis to Chrohn’s disease to irritable bowel syndrome to Alzheimer’s to allergies. Why? They’re all about inflammation.
Low-Carb Diet Reduces Inflammation, Science Daily, 2007
The Definitive Guide to Sugar, Mark’s Daily Apple
The Definitive Guide to Grains, Mark’s Daily Apple
The Dairy Manifesto, Whole 9 Blog
Health Benefits of Grass-Fed Products, Eat Wild
Lack of Sleep Causes Inflammation, Immune Response, FuturePundit, 2006
Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley
Environmental Toxins Cause Inflammation and Weight Gain, Life Extension Blog
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee, duck eggs fried in coconut oil with potassium salt; steamed veggies: Brussels sprouts, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower with olive oil, dried garlic, and thyme; sausage sautéed with leeks, yellow onion, and mushrooms; jasmine green tea; salad: spinach, red leaf lettuce, red cabbage, carrot, red onion, celery, apple, poached cod, pecans, and dressing of fish and olive oils, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, curry powder, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt; lamb meatballs in marinara: lamb, egg, tomatoes, herbs, onions, garlic; baked spaghetti squash, olive oil, salt, ginger tea
Workout: Primal Blueprint Fitness bodyweight progression (pushups, pullups, chinups, squats, handstands, planks)
If we’re going to attempt to prevent cancer, it is only logical to begin by considering how cancer gets started. If we can short-circuit the process by which cancer gains a foothold in the body, we can avoid entirely the need for the elusive Cure.
Sidebar before you get your skivvies in a wad: For the last time, people, I am NOT saying that EVERY case of cancer is preventable. What I AM saying is that a great many of them ARE. This series explains why and how. K? K.
A great many factors play into cancer’s beginnings. These range from exposure to environmental toxins to excessive blood insulin to inadequate micronutrient support to stress and lack of exercise. These topics overlap and interweave so much that it’s hard to shake them apart for discussion. Fortunately, they all intersect at one, key point with which we can deal decisively through lifestyle choices: inflammation.
Inflammation is a natural by-product of the immune system’s response to physical damage. You slice a finger with a knife, you get your foot stomped by a Clydesdale, you crash and burn on your mountain bike. What happens? The injured areas become swollen, red, and painful while your white blood cells produce special substances (cytokines, leukotrines, prostaglandins, and more) to facilitate the mopping up of invading bacteria and reconstruction of damaged cellular structures.
This inflammatory response involves intentional release of oxidants and free radicals by the white blood cells. Most people know that oxidants and free radicals are harmful to cells, and that’s the point — our immune systems use them to battle infection. In acute inflammatory situations, this is a life-saving mechanism. In the case of chronic inflammation, however, it’s not hard to see how the immune system’s efforts turn against us as all those free radicals damage not only invaders, but healthy cells.
So. Chronic inflammation is bad. Got it. But what has all this to do with cancer?
Cancer is an inflammatory disease. It is chronic inflammation. As Anticancer: A New Way of Life author Dr. Servan-Schreiber describes it, cancer is “a wound that doesn’t heal.” In fact, he cites a statistic that 1 in 6 cancers are directly linked to another, identifiable inflammatory condition such as papillomavirus (which can lead to cervical cancer) or bronchial irritation due to the toxins in cigarette smoke (which can lead to lung cancer). How many more cases do you suppose are linked to unidentified chronic inflammatory conditions?
Cancer’s sinister power is in its ability to turn our bodies’ own defense mechanisms against us. Inflammation is a classic example. Cancer cells actually promote the production of our immune system’s inflammatory substances and use them as fertilizer for their own reproduction. Our healing processes turn harmful as the tumor expands and metastasizes.
The good news is that we can fight back. We have control over myriad lifestyle decisions that are either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. Pro-inflammatory choices fuel cancer. Anti-inflammatory ones douse its flame.
Tomorrow’s post will discuss many of those lifestyle choices: http://inthenightlife.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/only-you-can-prevent-inflammation/
Bonus discussion: How can I tell whether I suffer from chronic inflammation?
Good question. Many types of chronic inflammation are invisible to the casual observer, and their effects may be so much a part of our daily lives that we don’t realize anything is wrong.
For example, old root canals are often chambers of infection that persist for years. You don’t feel it, because the nerves are gone, but leftover tissue rots in that perfectly sealed, anaerobic microbial “greenhouse.” These microbes make their way into other parts of the body and can result in cancer development or recurrence.
Additional examples of chronic inflammation include gut irritation (very common, frequently due to gluten and/or lactose sensitivity) and the atherosclerotic lesions representative of coronary heart disease. More overt symptoms such as arthritis, seasonal allergies, and acne also evidence underlying inflammatory conditions.
Here’s one more: If you suffer from metabolic syndrome (and if your waist measurement is larger than your hip measurement, you do!), you are inflamed. Probably badly.
If you’re really curious, your inflammation level can be tested in a lab. High insulin or fasting blood glucose levels are usually indicative of inflammation. You can also have your blood tested for C-reactive protein (CRP). Interleukin-6 is another marker that can be tested. The medical community has not established “ideal” levels of CRP or interleukin-6, but in general, lower levels are better.
Or, you can simply make the rather safe assumption that if you live in a modern, Western culture and aren’t considered “a bit weird” for your lifestyle choices, you are inflamed. Sorry. It’s just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.
The New Plague of our Times by James South, MA
Chronic Inflammation and Cancer by Krystyna Frenkel, PhD
The Relationship Between Root Canals and Cancer, Independent Cancer Research Foundation
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee, scrambled duck eggs, spinach, leeks, sausage, mushrooms, yellow onion, thyme, garlic, red pepper, black pepper, coconut oil, red grapes, jasmine green tea, coconut cream concentrate, kippered herring, lamb meatballs in marinara: lamb, egg, tomatoes, herbs, onions, garlic; baked spaghetti squash, olive oil, salt, mint green tea, cranberries
Workout: 10x running sprints on the level
Perhaps the greatest advances made in cancer research over since Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971 have been in the realm of “early detection.” This is a good thing. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better the patient’s chances of survival.
But what if we could detect a pre-cancerous state? What if we could see the body setting itself up for cancer before — even years before — a tumor grew large enough for detection by mammography or physical exam?
As it happens, we can.
Medical infrared imaging, or thermography, measures body temperature to detect locations of excessive heat, which is the earliest sign of an impending disease state.
[Note: I've researched this mostly in the context of breast cancer, thanks to my recent experience, so I'll speak in that context here, but it's my understanding that thermography can also be useful in detecting and tracking other types of cancers.]
Most people are familiar with the leading theory that cancer develops when a faulty cell division results in a cell with altered DNA, which then spreads unchecked. Sometimes. Such replication errors occur thousands of times in all humans, but most of us (the lifetime statistic is 2 of 3) don’t get cancer because our immune systems kill or contain the rogue cells.
The immune system’s attack results in inflammation, just as you’d see on your skin when your body is fighting infection in a wound, and the byproduct is heat. Thermography can detect this heat, identifying inflammation that is invisible from the outside but serves as an early warning: Change something! Reduce toxin load! Support immune function! This is the time for action!
When abnormal cells begin to overcome the immune system’s efforts, they essentially confuse the white blood cells, including natural killer (NK) cells, so they don’t even try to do their jobs. This sets up the body for stage 2 of cancer’s attack: angiogenesis.
Angiogenesis is a normal process of building and repairing blood vessels. Normally, the body builds the needed vessels, then angiogenesis stops. Cancer, however, hijacks this process and turns it to its own advantage. Very early in the disease process, well before a lump can be detected, thermography is able to “see” the abnormal formation of excessive, new blood vessels leading to the potential cancer site, bringing it food.
Once again, this is a phase at which many cancers can be halted through lifestyle changes alone. No chemo, no surgery, no radiation. (Use your heads, people — work with your doctors. But remember, most doctors won’t “see” the gathering clouds of disease at this point, so your preventative treatment may be up to you.)
Nearly every piece I read on the topic of thermography noted two things: 1) Thermography complements mammography but does not replace it; and 2) Thermography is safer and more accurate than mammography.
Draw your own conclusions.
I’ll say this, though — I, personally, am suspicious of mammography. Not only does it miss a lot of cancers (about 20% of them), but it subjects the tissue to radiation, a known carcinogen whose effects are cumulative over a lifetime. Some people also worry that compression of abnormal cells may contribute to their ability to spread.
Here are a few, fun facts for those of you who want to give thermography a try:
- Your medical insurance probably won’t cover the scan. Fortunately, at $150-250, it’s not terribly expensive.
- Medical infrared cameras and certified thermographers are few and far between. You might have to take a long drive, like I did. It was worth it. See the links below for websites that include lists of certified thermographers.
- All thermography is not the same! My first scan (the alarming one) was done with a device made by Eidam Diagnostics Corporation. The Contact Regulation Thermography (CRT) device measures skin temperature at 119 points. You then get a computer-generated report that looks like this (scroll down to page 4). Even the naturopath who took my readings could scarcely interpret the thing! My second scan (the reassuring one) was done using an infrared camera (which costs roughly 35 times as much as the CRT device) and gave me actual pictures like these, from which even an amateur can get the jist of the results. The point is, find a thermographer with extensive experience and good equipment!
- Finally, note that, like mammography or ultrasound, thermography does not diagnose cancer, but rather detects suspicious changes. If an existing cancer is suspected, biopsy (or possibly a BT blood test) is necessary.
In my view, one of the greatest values of thermography is that it can detect a pre-cancerous state at a point where lifestyle changes can often halt the disease in its tracks. Please see the links below for information from the experts, and stay tuned for upcoming posts regarding those all-important “lifestyle changes” that any of us can choose to make.
[More posts in this cancer prevention series: Cancer for a Fortnight, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, and Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally. See also Crap for the Cure.]
What is Thermography? by Ingrid Edstrom, CFNP
Breast Thermography with sample infrared images by Dr. William Amalu
More thermography basics by Dr. Jeremy Kaslow
My Food, My Medicine: black coffee; matcha green tea; salad: spinach, red leaf lettuce, carrot, red cabbage, red onion, salmon; dressing: fish oil, olive oil, red wine vinegar, turmeric, black pepper, garlic, oregano; roasted vegetables: turnip, beetroot, cauliflower, broccoli, yellow onion, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme; red grapes; coconut cream concentrate; lamb meatballs in marinara: ground lamb, egg, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper, garlic, yellow onion, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, salt; baked spaghetti squash; lavender mint tea.
Workout: 5x rotation of back squats, renegade rows, bench presses, and dips.
Here’s what happened:
Three weeks ago, I had a thermoscan done. The appointment was a gift. All I knew about thermography was that it checks for inflammation throughout the body and can detect future disease sites by reading higher temperatures in body parts that are at risk.
A week later, I received my results. The computerized analysis noted that “a localized elevated reaction has been detected in right breast. This measurement indicates a high risk of a possible breast cancer development in the right breast…The high chaos index in the chest area identifies an area of concern, as this is an indicator of possible disease development. This could be related to a disease process in the breast, lungs, or heart.”
I knew it was not a diagnosis. I also knew it was highly unlikely that I was actually sick, right then, that day. But that was how it felt.
Was it possible? I listed risk factors.
Sure, I eat paleo now. I buy grassfed and organic now. I supplement with Viamin D now. I choose natural bodycare products and household cleaners now. I avoid grains, sugars, and dairy now.
But what about the vegan years, when I believed I was doing everything right? When I trusted whole grains, legumes, soy, “low hormone” birth control pills, backyard pesticides — indeed, conventional wisdom itself — with my life?
Yes. It was possible that I’d come too late to the truth.
I was afraid…and I was furious. This situation was exactly the one I lambasted in my Crap for the Cure post in October. What the hell are we doing pouring billions of dollars into a “Cure” machine when we could be educating women about the myriad simple, relatively inexpensive steps they could take to minimize their risk of getting cancer in the first place?
I wished someone had told me sooner. Because it looked like I might have learned too late.
Not that the possibility of “too late” was going to stop me. I dove headlong into 100% application of the paleo lifestyle. No more was it a casual bid for long-term health. Now, I was betting my life on it.
In the meantime, I did more homework. On breast health. On cancer. On cancer prevention and reversal. And, of course, on thermography.
It turns out that thermography, or medical infrared imaging, has been around since the 1960s or so. It is much more common in other countries, thanks mostly to a bungled research study that discredited the idea shortly after its arrival in the U.S. It has since been proven both safe and extremely accurate.
For me, this was not good news. I had wanted to discover evidence that thermography, and therefore my frightening results, was bunk.
Instead, I learned how thermography identifies inflammation in the body by measuring temperatures to detect areas harboring unnatural heat. Inflammation, of course, is the first sign of disease — including cancer.
Breast thermography, in particular, offers a highly accurate means of detecting developing breast cancers by offering graphical evidence of angiogenesis (increased blood vessel growth that occurs to feed a tumor). Thermography can identify pre-cancerous changes 5-10 years before a mammogram detects a lump.
Despite this discouraging news, I had reason to doubt the reliability of the naturopath who had performed my scan. I wanted a second opinion.
And so, just this week, I drove 8 hours into my neighboring state to get it. I visited a practitioner with extensive experience (unlike the naturopath), top-notch equipment (unlike the naturopath), and a glowing professional reputation (unlike the naturopath).
And I learned that the naturopath was wrong.
The broad, silver lining is that I learned a lot of other things, too — particularly about breast health and cancer prevention. There’s too much to share in one post, but stay tuned, ladies, because what I have to say should change your life.
[More posts in this cancer prevention series: Before Early Detection, In the Beginning: The Cancer-Inflammation Connection, Only YOU Can Prevent Inflammation, Supply Lines: The Importance of Angiogenesis, and Short-Circuit: Inhibiting Angiogenesis Naturally. See also Crap for the Cure.]