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  • Kellie Blake RDN, IFNCP, LD

Using Nutrition to Prevent and Treat Cancer

According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, the lifetime risk of developing cancer for all men and women is approximately 39.3 percent and in 2016, there were an estimated 15,338,988 people living with cancer in the United States. Survival is improving and many cancers are being diagnosed at an earlier stage making treatment more effective. The majority of cancers develop slowly over time and are diagnosed after the age of sixty. It can take ten to thirty years for cancer to develop, and that means there are lots of opportunities to interrupt the process! In general, you start out with one rogue cancer cell and when the environment is right, that cell can multiply and eventually support the growth of a tumor.

It is estimated that 90 to 95 percent of all cancers are related to lifestyle and environment and only 5 to 10 percent of cancers are related to genetic mutations ( .

Here’s a breakdown of the statistics:

Percent of cancer cases

Diet = 30 – 35%

Smoking = 25 – 30%

Infections = 15 – 20%

Radiation, stress, physical activity, alcohol use = Remainder

Looking at these statistics is incredible! The majority of cancer cases can absolutely be prevented with lifestyle modification. That is POWERFUL!

So, how do you prevent cancer? It really takes an individualized, targeted approach, but some general guidelines apply for most people:

  1. FOLLOW A PLANT-BASED DIET. Research indicates that people who eat the least amount of fruits and vegetables have twice the cancer risk as those who consume adequate amounts. Plant-based diets actually stimulate apoptosis allowing the body to rid itself of cancerous cells. But, watch it with the refined carbohydrates and sugar that can be a part of a plant-based diet. They are problematic on a number of levels, but research indicates refined carbohydrate intake doubles the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

  2. OVERNIGHT FASTING. Allowing your body twelve to thirteen hours of no food intake promotes energy metabolism and allows your body to rid itself of damaged cells. So, stop eating about three hours before bed and don’t eat again for twelve to thirteen hours.

  3. EXERCISE. Exercise lowers both insulin and inflammation and improves your immune system function. More on why insulin is problematic later. But, vigorous exercise for shorter duration has been shown to be very effective. Challenge your body with different types of exercise every day, but also remember not to sit for longer than 90 minutes at one time. Get up and move if you have a desk job!

  4. AVOID PESSIMISTIC THINKING. Psychological stress and pessimism increase your risk of developing more advanced cancers and increase your risk of dying from cancer.

  5. AVOID SMOKING AND SECOND HAND SMOKE EXPOSURE. Cigarette smoke is a known carcinogen and there is NO safe level. Even being exposed to cigarette smoke without actually smoking increases your cancer risk.

So, what if you have already been diagnosed with cancer or are a cancer survivor looking to prevent a recurrence? Every situation is unique and there is no one size fits all approach. But, in general, the growth of cancer cells can be prevented, halted, and reversed. It takes a multidisciplinary approach and your specific type of cancer needs to be targeted from all angles. Nutrition needs to be a central focus. It is powerful and cannot be ignored or overlooked. I have worked with numerous cancer patients throughout my career, and unfortunately, nutrition often gets put on the back burner.

“We’ve learned that sugar doesn’t feed cancer, so he can go ahead and have the apple pie.” This was an actual statement uttered by a staff member at one of the premier cancer hospitals in the world when I was visiting a friend going through chemotherapy. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I realized this advice is being given out in every hospital. Just visit any hospital and ask for the menu provided to the oncology floor. Even at the top hospitals in the country, the menus are loaded with refined/processed carbohydrates and sugar. And the most popular nutritional supplements often used for cancer patients are loaded with sugar and unhealthy oils. I suppose the thinking is to provide as many calories as possible to help maintain weight and strength. However, the research is clear that excess sugar intake actually causes cancer cells to grow. Here’s how:

Cancer cells are loaded with insulin receptors and have a very high metabolic rate. Cancer cells utilize glucose to make energy in any way they can (see the Warburg effect). When you consume sugar and refined carbohydrate, your glucose level increases. In response to the increase in glucose is an increase in insulin to try to shuttle that glucose into your cells to be used for energy. That spike in insulin provides fuel to those cancer cells allowing them to grow and proliferate. Keeping that insulin level low is critical to preventing, halting and reversing cancer. If you can keep glucose and insulin levels in an optimal range, your other cancer therapies can potentially be more effective.

The foods you eat affect your glucose and insulin levels. So, your eating style and

overall nutritional intake become very important in your fight against cancer. If you are battling cancer and are instructed to just “eat what you can” during cancer therapy, seek out a registered dietitian who can help you create a meal plan that is going to both nourish your body and limit the fuel provided to cancer cells. This is where functional nutrition can be life saving. A functional provider can help you make the environment in your body less hospitable to those cancer cells and if they can't survive, your chance of survival improves.

To learn more about how you can use nutrition/lifestyle to prevent or treat cancer, contact us for a free 15 minute phone consult.

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