First off, while they may not stave off cancer 100% healthy eating and proper amounts of physical activity certainly “stack the deck” in your favor.
According to the American Cancer Society, they state in their book, Informed Decisions, “The very fact that only some of the people exposed to most cancer-causing agents develop the disease prove it is multi-step in nature. If there were a single, or simple, cause, then everyone, or nearly everyone, would fall ill.”
Despite the fact we cannot pinpoint a single reason, we do know that carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and cancer-promoting actions can culminate the eventual development and metastasis (or spreading) of cancer cells. Some factors of cancer are controllable, while others are not.That being said, we can group these factors together into some primary categories:
· Genetics/ family history (5-10%)
· Obesity and poor food habits (30-35%)
· Lifestyle factors (lack of exercise, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, etc.) (30%)
· Environmental factors (exposure to toxins, viruses, and pollution) (25%)
Your genes play a big part in your health, but an even bigger player are the things in our environment that communicate with our genes and cells. For example, what you eat plays a role in turning genes on and off like a switch. This is known as epigenetics, and research is showing that the signals we give our body can be the difference between being healthy and not feeling well.
In fact, genetic cancers make up only about 5% of all cancers, with higher rates found in breast and ovarian cancer (10%). What this means, then, is 90-95% of all cancers have nothing to do with inheriting mutated genes. There have been a multitude of studies that have shown in sets of twins, only one ends up developing cancer, even though they share the same set of DNA.
It is also important to mention here there is a difference here between “genetics” and “family history.” When we talk about genetics, we are referring specifically to cancers that are caused by inherited genetic mutations. Family history is quite different. I’m sure you have heard the phrase “cancer runs in the family.” If someone has family history of cancer, it does not necessarily mean he or she has inherited a genetic mutation, it more likely means they have “inherited” some cancer-promoting habits.
Cancer-promoting genes can be turned on while cancer-suppressor genes are turned off if we continuously eat the wrong foods, have excess emotional or physical stress, expose ourselves to excess environmental toxins, or are not getting proper amounts of sleep. Our lifestyle actually influences the messages that are sent to each and every one of our cells. These messages, once inside the cell, influence the behavior of our genes. Thus, positive changes in our behavior will have positive effects on our epigenetics and gene expression. This understanding has helped both clinicians and researchers understand how and why lifestyle modification is such an important factor in our overall health.
Creating a healthy environment that promotes optimal cellular function is incredibly important. Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, there are some factors we do not have control over no matter how much we try. The water we drink, the air we take in, the foods we eat, the chemicals we come into contact with, and the electronic devices we use (cell phones, tablets, microwaves, X-rays) can all damage cells in varying degrees. Cellular damage can ultimately become severe enough to promote cancer proliferation. There are many common carcinogens found in our environment. Here are some of the most common ones found today:
• Pesticide and herbicide use in the conventional food supply
• Pesticide and herbicide use in home gardening
• Genetically modified foods (GMOs)
• Smoking and second-hand smoke
• Occupational exposure to toxins like benzene
• Hormones, like phytoestrogens, in our food supply
• Toxins released in the air, soil, and water
- Lead, asbestos, radon, mercury, etc.
• Cleaning products with trihalomethanes (THMs), chlorinated hydrocarbons, chloroform (yes, the chloroform used in the movies)
• Exposures to flame retardants like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in cushions, pillows, mattresses, chairs, and couches
• Phthalates, parabens, talc, and others found in cosmetics, deodorants, hair products, nail polish, makeup, skin creams, and others
By eliminating these from our diets and our environments we frequent, we can limit the chances of developing a cancer down the road.
Speaking of toxins, there is a podcast where we dive deep into where you might find them, and give our listeners some alternatives. It might be a useful listen:
Hope this helps!