Cancer: Simple lifestyle adjustments can reduce your risk

Cancer is mostly preventable – even for those with a genetic predisposition. In fact, genetics accounts for only around 30 per cent of cancers. The rest is down to lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and environment.

* Go vegetarian or, at the very least, alter your produce-to-meat ratio. Diets that include five or more servings of fruit and veg daily, while reducing red and processed meat to less than 90 g, can substantially cut your risk of cancer, including breast cancer (BMJ, 1997; 315: 831; Br J Cancer, 1994; 70: 129-32).

* Omega-3 fatty acids, found in nuts and seeds as well as fish, meat (if grainfed), milk and eggs, and as supplements, may protect against cancer (Int J Cancer, 2002; 98: 78-83), possibly by enhancing immunity and NK (natural-killer)-cell activity (Am J Clin Nutr, 1989; 50: 861-7).

* Dietary fibre can prevent colon and breast cancers (Eur J Cancer Prev, 1999; 8: 17-25) probably by binding and removing toxins from the gut. Lignans from plant fibres (such as those found in flaxseeds) also help normalise oestrogen metabolism (Nutr Cancer, 2001; 39: 58-65).

* Detox, but instead of fasting and purging, consider eating more cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower), which support production of liver enzymes that detoxify foreign substances (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 1998; 7: 645-6). Drinking more water daily will also help keep kidneys functioning well to remove toxins.

* Personality counts. Those who are sad, depressed or have unmet emotional needs are more predisposed to cancer than others (Psychosomatics, 1980; 21: 975-80). In contrast, a fighting spirit appears to improve the prognosis for cancer patients (Lancet, 1999; 354: 1331-6).

* Supplements and dietary antioxidants, including vitamins A (as beta-carotene), C, E and B-complex, and also selenium, have anticancer properties. Long-term use (more than 15 years) of a simple multivitamin supplement can reduce colon cancer risk (Ann Intern Med, 1998; 129: 517-24). Glutathione helps protect against environmental and bodily toxins such as free radicals. Dietary intake from fruit and raw vegetables has shown protection against some forms of cancer (Nutr Biochem, 1997; 8: 660-72).

* Healthful sources of protein, including fatty fish, organic poultry, and legumes (peas and beans) and pulses (such as lentils), provide useful fibre and may be a better choice than red meat. To avoid carcinogens in conventionally raised meat, trim fat and remove skin.

* Phytoestrogens, such as the isoflavones in soy and other vegetables (rather than supplements) may be protective (J Nutr, 1995; 125 [3 Suppl]: 757S-70S), especially in men (Prostate, 1993; 22: 335-45; Lancet, 1993; 342: 1209-10).

* Reduce stress. Acute stress can enhance tumours and weaken the immune system, making it more vulnerable to cancer promoters. Consider unwinding with weekend breaks, holidays, hobbies and relaxation techniques such as Transcendental Meditation and yoga.

* Be sensible in the sun as too much can increase skin cancer risk. Avoiding the sun, or covering up, between 11am and 2pm is safer than chemical sunscreens, which may increase the risk of melanoma (Int J Cancer, 2000; 67: 145-50).

* Regular exercise can reduce the risk of several types of cancer (Med Sci Sports Exerc, 1996; 28: 97-104), including colorectal, breast and prostate.

* Green, black and oolong teas and other phenol-rich foods like pine bark and grapeseeds (sold as Pycnogenol), and bilberry leaves, as well as most vegetables, citrus fruits and red grapes have antitumour and hormone-balancing effects (Cancer Lett, 1999; 135: 151-7; Nutr Cancer, 1997; 27: 14-21). Include more in your daily diet.

* Hair dyes, especially dark brown, black and red, can increase lymphatic cancer risk (J Natl Cancer Inst, 1994; 86: 215-310). Avoid those that contain phenylenediamines, and colours such as Acid Orange 87, Solvent Brown 44, Acid Blue 168 and Acid Violet 73.

* Breastfeeding your child for as long as possible may be protective against childhood cancer (Br J Cancer, 2001; 85: 1685-94).

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Written by What Doctors Don't Tell You

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