Five Practical Tips to Reduce Cancer Risk

Like many of you, I've been impacted by cancer. Prior to their deaths, both my father and mother had cancer. Here I'll share five realistic, practical and sustainable tips to reduce your risk for developing the dreaded disease and hopefully preserve your sanity in the process!




1. Follow a plant-based diet.


Let me assure you that I am NOT trying to make you become vegan! I am, however, recommending that you follow an eating plan where the MAJORITY of your food comes from plant sources, and that you strive for whole, minimally processed plant foods with each meal.


There is ample research to support that eating a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens, whole grains, beans and legumes can provide a number of health benefits including helping to maintain a healthy weight, reducing inflammation and improving gut health. Eating an abundance of fiber-rich plant foods has been found to reduce the risk of developing many chronic, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and even cancer.


The Mediterranean Diet is getting a lot of attention due to its inclusion of the above mentioned foods, along with fresh fish, olive oil and red wine. I recently read a paper on the Protective Effects of The Mediterranean Diet which included several encouraging and exciting studies about the diet's effect on disease reduction. This article is from 2010, but there are hundreds of current articles on the subject. I included this paper because it discusses in detail the specific compounds found in fish, olive oil and wine and explains the findings in how these compounds reduce or positively impact cardiovascular disease and cancer. It is a bit heavy on the science, and I had to look up every third word (only slightly exaggerating!) but I thought it was a good read.


Another source of inspiration for following a plant-based diet comes from looking at Blue Zones. Blue Zones are five regions in the world with the highest concentration of centenarians (people living to 100 and beyond). Not only are these Blue Zones folks living to old age, but they are doing so with very few of the diseases that plague the modern world. And you guessed it, they follow plant-based diets, with beans, soy and lentils as the cornerstone of every meal. Meat, if eaten, is only consumed a few times a month or for special occasions. In addition to the "plant slant" (eating plant based foods) there are 8 other principles that are followed for good health and longevity. I encourage you to review the principles and strive to incorporate some of them into your daily habits.


Need some meal inspiration? Check out my recipe page for lots of delicious plant-based recipes.



2. Move naturally.


In my humble opinion, many people hate the word "exercise" but the idea of natural movement may sound more appealing. We know that movement (exercise) is an essential part of good health, but in our busy lives, how can we realistically get in the recommendation of 30-60 minutes of moderate physical activity five times a week?


The good news is, it's easier than you might think.


In April of 2021 I found a little lost doggie on the side of the road and he's now one of our beloved fur family members. And guess what? That cute little doggie needs to be walked daily! I was walking on a fairly regular basis prior to getting Jake (that's our doggie's name) and my husband started to join me. My husband is very physically active and used to work out 5 times a week at the gym (however, he was not a walker) but like many of us, his daily exercise plummeted with the pandemic. When he started walking with Jake (which takes about 30 minutes, with all of his bio-breaks!) he quickly got back into shape. Now, I don't recommend you run out and find a lost dog to walk every day, but walking is one of the best, easy and low-impact forms of exercise (provided you have convenient access to walking space or a treadmill). If 30 minutes at a time is too much, try for a quick 15 minute walk before your work day and 15 minutes at the end of your work day.


Also, take a look at this list of various everyday movement activities and their comparison to walking my dog!


Approximate calories burned during 1 hour of activity by a sample bodyweight of 155 pounds:

Activity

Calories Burned

Walking, 3.0 mph, moderate pace, walking dog

246

Automobile repair

211

Childcare: sitting/kneeling-dressing/feeding

211

Cleaning house, general

246

Cooking or food preparation

176

Dancing, general

317

Gardening, general

352

Music playing, cello, flute, horn, woodwind

141

Music playing, guitar, rock/roll band (standing)

211

Pushing or pulling stroller with child

176

Shoveling snow, by hand

422

Sitting-playing with child(ren)-light

176

Sweeping garage, sidewalk

281

Source: The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Second Edition, Precision Nutrition


So see! Achieving daily natural movement is very realistic.


The CDC lists several benefits of exercise including brain health, weight management, and reduction in the risk for developing cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and even several cancers including breast, endometrial and colon.


Cancer.net, the patient side of American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASOC), asserts that doing ANY kind of activity can help lower cancer risk.


If you have mobility issues or are wheelchair bound, check out these movement resources:

How to Exercise With Limited Mobility

Exercises for People in Wheelchairs



Daily walks with Jake
Daily walks with Jake

3. Detox effectively.


Diet and exercise are important factors to good health, and while you can easily control these factors, minimizing exposure to environmental or external toxins can be a bit trickier. Sure, you can buy chemical-free personal and home products like shampoos, lotions and cleaning products, but there are toxins in our soil, in the air, and in some instances, our water supplies. Fortunately, our bodies are designed to continually expel these common everyday toxins.


Note: Actual poisoning or exposure to massive hazards like oil spills, gas leaks, or lead in the water supply in Flint, Michigan, is a completely different subject matter than what I'm discussing here. These would have to be treated with extensive, intensive and acute medical care.


Contrary to the title of this section, there is no need to "detox". Your liver and kidneys help you naturally detox. There are all sorts of detox programs, smoothies and products available, promising to "detox" the body but none of them actually do. Furthermore, according to University Hospitals physician and toxicologist Ryan Marino, M.D., detoxes can be harmful as they could cause excessive diarrhea and dehydration.


Instead of buying products that promise to detoxify your body, keep your liver healthy and optimize its function by not overwhelming it by stressing it with sugar, fat and alcohol, advises liver cancer specialist and surgeon at MD Anderson Center, Thomas Aloia, M.D. Also, according to Ayurveda (a natural system of medicine which originated in India thousands of years ago, which I loosely follow), the liver and small intestine are most active between 1 am and 3 am*. If you're awake and/or eating during this time, the body is giving YOU energy instead of utilizing the energy for detoxing. If this happens every now and then (celebrating into the wee hours after a dear friend's wedding, for example) that’s ok. But doing this over and over again can build toxicity levels in the fat cells, according to Ayurvedic principles.


* For additional information on this topic, known as chronobiology, read about research on the subject by Shannon Bailey, a professor of pathology and environmental health sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.


One easy tool I use to maximize my liver function is intermittent fasting. I'm not talking anything extreme, just eating my last meal around 6pm or 7pm then not eating anything again until 7am or 8am for a minimum fasting period of 13 hours. The logic behind this is I want my body to be well into the digestive process by the time I go to bed (10pm or 11pm) so that I'm not going to bed on a full stomach, and my system is then trying to digest food instead of detox! When I do a 13 hour fast I feel so much better. And full disclosure, I don't do this every night. I also try to periodically do a 20 to 24 liquid fast (water, black coffee, unsweetened tea only). For several months I was doing a daily 13 hour fast and doing the 20-24 hour fast on Mondays. I always break my long fasts with a very light and easily digestible meal like this soup.


The key to success with fasting is to not overeat during the eating window. If you decide you want to incorporate fasting, consult your medical professional first. Once you're ready to start, I recommend an app like Zero which helps you track your fasts. The app also has articles and information on the science that supports fasting (I am not compensated by Zero in any way, I just really like the app!).


The liver naturally detoxes the body.
The liver naturally detoxes the body.

4. Minimize stress.


I'll be the first to admit that this one is challenging for me but managing and reducing stress is vital for good health. A little stress, nervous excitement or anticipation is fine every now and then, but that is not the case for many people in the modern world. We are in constant states of stress which takes a severe toll on the body.


When there is stress, the adrenal glands produce more of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol elevates the body's blood-sugar levels which then requires the body to produce extra insulin ("Clean Gut," Alejandro Junger, M.D., page 60). This is great when you're in a truly dangerous situation such as escaping a wild animal while hiking - your fight or flight response kicks in fast! Your body needs the extra dump of glucose (along with adrenaline, also released by the adrenal glands) to give you the energy to get to safety. Once you're safe and sound and you're laughing and sharing the story with your friends, your cortisol and blood-sugar levels return to a normal level. Unfortunately, the stress we experience today is often constant and steady and is not managed or eliminated, resulting in numerous health issues due to elevated blood sugar levels.


Elevated cortisol levels also impact nutrient absorption. When you're in the fight or flight situation, cortisol helps to move blood to the brain and larger limbs (so you can flee efficiently) and away from digestion. In fact, digestion essentially shuts down. We laugh at comedic movies or stories about individuals pooping their pants when scared but this is the scientific and biological reason why this happens. All bodily resources are focused on movement (either running or fighting) and dumping digestive waste is one quick and easy way of achieving efficiency to deal with the stressor at hand. The body can't distinguish the source of stress (wild animal or work pressure from the boss) so digestion is greatly impacted during this sustained state of stress, and the body is unable to effectively absorb nutrients. This is one reason why some people may be consuming "healthy" foods but may be nutritionally deficient and constantly ill. We are what we absorb, not what we eat. Long story short, minimizing stress is critical to overall health.


There are many ways to manage stress. I find walking helps me the best, along with journaling (getting all the anxious thoughts and feelings out of my head and onto paper). I also find that obtaining reliable information when facing an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation is extremely helpful. There is so much mis-information on the topic of cancer (and many other subjects in this “Information Age”) and if you're not careful, you can scare yourself silly with bad information. I recently came across this article about cancer myths that may be helpful.


Whatever works best for you to minimize and reduce stress be it, yoga, meditation, breathwork, exercise, massage, therapy, gardening, do it. It's extremely important and vital to your overall health.



Relaxing massage
Relaxing massage

5. Embrace death.


Yes, you read that correctly. Embrace death. Get comfortable with it. Snuggle right up to the concept and get really cozy with it. Read topics on the subject and study it like a religion. But not like a future serial killer and don’t let it turn into an obsession!


I think it's safe to say that when most people hear the word cancer, one of the first things they think of is death. "Cancer is a death sentence". Let's start now to re-frame our ideas about death in general. That's what I had to do.


The ultimate destiny of every living thing is death. As soon as a baby takes its first breath, it starts the dying process, therefore life itself starts the “death sentence” if you will (sorry, not trying to be morbid). We are all dying. Daily. All the time. We are all going to die (especially the fly swirling around my head as I type this!). We need to talk about death more and normalize it so it's not so taboo, scary and overwhelming! When I was dealing with my mother's cancer, I at some point had to accept the fact that she was going to die. Even if she didn't have cancer, she was still going to die because she was getting older. Having cancer did not guarantee her death, and not having cancer wasn't gong to keep her from dying. My father had already died. Loved ones, dear friends, family members and co-workers had died in my lifetime. It was my turn to deal with her death and I was definitely struggling with it. I was not ready to let go. She was my mom - the last of my creators.


Long before my mother died, I told my therapist about my fear of her dying. I was waiting for a profound statement from him that would help calm my fears. Instead of a statement of reassurance he simply asked, "Why?". And you know what? I couldn't answer the question. I remember stammering and mumbling something but I honestly couldn't come up with the "why". And I think that was the whole point of him asking me that simple question. Until I could come up with a "why" I couldn't even begin to deal with the fear.


I left the session feeling perplexed - but not hopeless! I needed to figure out why I was fearful of my mother dying. So like I do with many things, I had to get some information on the subject.


That's when I started to learn to embrace death. I got real cozy with it pretty quickly. And believe it or not, spending some time learning about death ultimately helped me.


I don't think we talk about death enough in Western society whereas it seems to be more normalized in Eastern cultures. So I turned to Buddhism. I am a Christian but for some reason, at that time and in that space, I was not finding the peace that I needed from the Bible. (I realize that for some, engaging in another religion or system of beliefs may seem like pure sacrilege but I did what I had to do to cope at that time). I had already been listening to a couple of podcasts on Buddhism so I searched for the topic "death" and found one that resonated with me by Noah Rasheta, on his show, Secular Buddhism Podcast. I gently encourage you to listen to "Death, Karma, and Mindful Living" (also, Noah's voice is very calming and soothing!). Another episode titled "What Happens When We Die" is excellent. And finally, "The Fear of Uncertainty" is a good one for learning how fear of the unknown affects our quality of life.


One of the most powerful things I heard on the "Death, Karma and Mindful Living" episode was the following:


"...it became more and more clear that the end was getting closer, and I remember asking Jordan one time, “So Jordan, what does it feel like to know that you’re dying?” I was genuinely curious about what that would be like to know.
His response was so powerful and it caused a change in my perspective. He said, “I don’t know, you tell me.” He pointed out that I’m dying too. I just don’t know when..."

You'll need to listen to the episode to understand the circumstances in which this conversation took place - I don't want to spoil it for you by revealing it here!


So now you may be asking: How in the world does embracing death help to reduce my cancer risk? I believe that a cancer diagnosis almost immediately elicits the belief that the person diagnosed is going to die. And this causes so much fear, stress and anxiety that it takes a toll on the individual as well as their loved ones and those in their extended social network. Embracing death early in life, regularly talking about it, talking about it with our children (age appropriate conversations of course), accepting it, learning about it, knowing that it IS going to happen to all of us, will help to reduce the fear and stress of it happening. And you already know that stress is harmful to the body and increases your risk for chronic illness, including cancer.


These are my tips! I hope you will find them useful and helpful. In conclusion, I leave you with this quote which I found, oddly enough, on a hot sauce and chili oil website!


“Our fears don’t stop death, they stop life.”



Tombstone with flowers
Tombstone with flowers

Final notes: Always get regular medical check-ups, even if you lead a healthy lifestyle. Early detection is very important with cancer, or any other ailment. If you are diagnosed with a medical condition, you and/or you and your medical professional can then decide how to proceed with treatment, whether it be with conventional medicine, holistic treatments or a combination of the two. You may not know you have a problem if you're not getting regular check-ups (especially if you're not experiencing any symptoms). For those that may have a fear of going to the doctor, it's no different than getting regular checkups for you car! You rely on it to run well and to provide you with reliable transportation. You should want the same for your body. Prevention and maintenance is key.

























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