Since the 1960s, the U.S. has waged a “war” on cancer but has not come close to defeating it. However, as a society, we are getting closer to being bankrupted by it. Each year, we spend more and more money on treatments, including new, exotic drugs, all of which cost us thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. We are urged to do more early screening for cancers and get more aggressive treatments once detected. We are even told to get genetic testing and consider mastectomies (and other drastic preventative surgeries) if the wrong genes are found. But none of those actions prevent us from getting cancer. The medical dialog is sadly silent on the issue of cause and what we can do to lower our risk of developing cancer. In previous articles we talked about how some supplementation can turn cancer genes off (see "Maitake Mushroom Turns Breast Cancer Genes Off")
as well as how there is interesting synergistic chemistry that occurs amongst using herbs (see "Herbal Synergy").
In this article, we attempt to go back to basics, the way nature intended to be (See "Our Story"). We want to share how cancer develops, what drives nature at a basic genetic level, and how we can control it.
Why does cancer develop?
That’s the $1 billion dollar question, actually, the $802 million dollar question, but we rounded up, because when you are looking at these numbers, it's better to round up. We don’t know precisely how cancer develops, each cancer is like it's own organism. We can identify hundreds of genes that individually increase the risk slightly for developing cancer but some increase when other factors work in concert. For instance, the BRCA gene can act individually. Having the BRCA gene can increase risk of developing breast cancer by up to 85%. But that’s for individuals who eat a standard American diet. Those who eat 6 cups of non-starchy vegetables daily and engage in regular physical activity lower their risk to 25%. This is still a risk, but not as high a risk. Even the BRCA gene is influenced by diet and lifestyle changes. For most of us, the complicated interaction between all of our genes and the environment determines our risk for developing cancer. The scientific term for how our environment interacts with our genes is called “epigenetics” and is a hot area of research. As epigenetics tell us, the environment speaks to our DNA and shifts which genes are “on” and which ones are “off.”
These epigenetic changes shift how your cells run the chemistry of life. Their purpose and patterns are now known to be strong drivers in evolutionary changes pressured by natural selection. Those changes can convert a body that could have been healthy and robust into one that is inflamed, sickly, and disease-prone. In addition, those changes can markedly increase or decrease your risk of developing cancer. They can activate cancer-promoting genes, if you have any, making it much more likely a cancer will develop. Conversely, they can also turn these genes off, again, dependent on environmental stressors.
Controlling the cancer switch
So what are the environmental factors that increase the risk for disease?
The top three are:
1. A diet high in sugar, white flour, white potatoes, and other high glycemic foods. In 2000, the average American adult ate 152 lbs (more than 70 kg) of sugar. Children ate even more. The rapid entry of sugar into the bloodstream leads to more insulin in the body and more growth signals to your cells. It also leads to more inflammation. Our stomachs evolved to manage only the sugar we need and the more you have than your body needs, it tears up the chemistry and ultimately influences the genes.
2. Increased body burden of heavy metals, plastics, solvents, and other synthetic chemicals. These compounds interfere with the normal signaling between your cells and affect which genes are on and which are off, increasing inflammation and the risk of developing cancer cells. The key term here is synthetic. If the chemical/compound didn't arise by a natural random stochastic natural selection event, it is unnecessary in a natural system. We are all part of the same "star dust" as Carl Sagan would say. We are all linked from the beginning compounds in the cosmos. Synthetic chemicals did not arise from natural breakdown or buildup pathways in your environments or our physiology - we made them by playing with chemistry. This results in your body not knowing how to break down or build up these chemicals, or worse, breakdown inefficiently or ineffectively, causing problems in our physiology which ultimately stresses the entire system to fail. The most common synthetic chemical in our food supply is a preservative. These are made to make the products last longer - essentially slowing down their natural decay process. Sadly, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has clarified them as a 10% carcinogen and should not be eaten on a regular basis (legal disclaimer on most foods - not on packaging, but listed in the droves of FDA websites on each and every food item). Who reads this tiny print when they are enjoying a Twinkie®, eating their Frosted Flakes®, or drinking their latte?
3. Inadequate intake of phytonutrients. These are the antioxidants and vitamins in plants that help the liver and kidney process toxins, and they can markedly improve the elimination of toxins. They also speak to your DNA and can shift your chemistry away from the sickly, disease-prone chemistry that results from a diet high in sugar. The picture above shows cancer cells dying as their genes for protein expression have been turned off by increasing key phytonutrients. As stated before, take a look at our articles on Herbal Synergy and Maitake Mushroom Turns Breast Cancer Genes Off for more information on this topic. The real prevention of cancer begins with our daily choices.
Not in the top three, but in the top ten are eating high-quality protein and regular exercise and lifestyle changes. For meat eaters, that means organic, grass-fed, or wild meat. For vegetarians, that means organic legumes and gluten-free grains. Now, understand, natural high quality foods do cost more - there is more to the production and supply chain process for these. The preservatives industry grew out of trying to make foods cheaper for the consumer. Move to organic foods as your budget allows and grow food in container gardens and as part of an edible landscape. These are great role modeling tools for kids. The number one reason childhood obesity occurs is from habits children form by watching what their parents eat.
In regards to regular exercise, not everyone gets to be an Olympian, but regular exercise is anything that can raise your heart rate for at least 30 mins, 3 times a week. Enormous amount of research has shown the power of regular exercise using this 30/3 metric. The reality is, at least in the U.S., we see ripped abs and beautiful bodies and we get distracted or lose confidence. Don't look at the media, look in the mirror and know that your heart and your body thank you for what you have done. Exercise can extend your life dramatically!
Imagine what would happen if the billions we spent on the early detection programs, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy for cancer, was instead spent on improving the quality of the food we eat. What if our society began eating six to nine cups of vegetables daily and we saw a sharp downturn in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, mental health problems, and autoimmunity. We’d see the beginning of an epidemic of health. The war would be won.
1. Christopher P. Adams and Van V. Brantner. Estimating The Cost Of New Drug Development: Is It Really $802 Million? Health Affairs 25, no.2 (2006):420-428
2. "Emperor of All Maladies: Biography of Cancer." S. Mukherjee
3. "The Gene: An intimate history." S. Mukherjee
4. "Bad Pharma." B. Goldacre
5. "Adult Healthy Lifestyle Fitness Recommendations." American College of Sports Medicine.