We are on the verge of beginning a new month, and I really love new beginnings! September is going to be Get Healthy Month on the blog, where I will share with you the basics of beginning a healthy life. I have already added a new subcategory under the Health tab for easy access. I will discuss different diets, how I chose my diet, how you can customize your own diet, how to choose safe personal care products, how to decode the mess of supermarket shelves, and even how to plan and prep meals each week. The goal is not weight loss, but to help you learn how to embrace a healthy and well-balanced life. Weight loss will merely be a by-product.
To finish out August, I am taking this final week to talk about the hard stuff. Yesterday I shared with you some important dietary factors that have a negative impact on health. Factors that we hear about often, but are rarely broken down and fully explained. If you missed yesterday’s post, you can get to it here. Please go back and read it, as it is full of information that will be vitally important to the upcoming month!
For today, I want to expand on cancer. If you have been fortunate enough in life to not have experience with this disease, then you should certainly count your blessings because it is rare that a person can say that in today’s world. As we get older, we are met with more and more friends, family members and co-workers who have been hit with this life-altering news; if not you, yourself. In the last half-century, cancer rates have exploded. Medicine has made many advances in treating cancer, which has delivered hope and good end-results to so many. What it doesn’t do, however, is address why this epidemic has spiraled out of control, or teach us how to prevent it from happening. And that is precisely what this post is going to tell you.
Cancer has been my primary focus on health over the last decade, due to my grandmother being diagnosed with CLL. I guess you could say cancer prevention is my “specialty” when it comes to making food, product and lifestyle choices. In the beginning it was for the sake of helping my grandmother keep her cancer maintained, but it expanded on to my own life from there.
The more I learned, the more I realized that the best cancer treatment is prevention, and that comes from the choices we are making right now, this very minute, long before a cancer diagnosis is made. I also realized that with my grandmother having CLL, as well as a couple of her siblings and at least one niece having other immune system cancers or diseases, my likelihood of getting one myself is higher than the average person. That meant I needed to really understand cancer. Where it comes from. What causes it. How it grows. How our decisions impact it.
That is what I am here to share with you now. I’ll start with:
Where Does Cancer Come From?
Everything in our body is made up of cells, including cancer. Cancerous cells are abnormal, and the reason they occur, grow and multiply is due to a gene mutation. Gene mutation occurs as a result of DNA damage. So what is important to know about cells, first of all, is the cellular makeup. What it looks like is this: DNA –> Gene –> Cell. There are a couple of other components involved in cellular makeup, such as nucleus and chromosomes. But to keep this basic and understandable, I’m going to give you just what you need to know pertaining to cancer.
DNA Damage occurs thousands of times per day inside our bodies. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But rest assured…almost all of that damage is located and repaired by enzymes within our bodies. There are some cool videos on YouTube if you are interested in seeing how DNA repair works, because there are many different ways that repair happens, depending on the type of damage the DNA has suffered.
The most harsh source of damage to DNA is UV rays. So all of that advice you hear about staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen, if you spend your time baking in the sun now you’ll regret it later…it is all spot-on. Not only will it cause irreversible aging to your skin that will make you dislike your physical appearance as you get older…but more importantly it is causing damage to your DNA that is much more of a challenge for enzymes to repair. That’s because the damaged portion of the DNA is longer, and often much more misshapen, which causes the enzymes to need to cut out and replace large sections of the DNA, and the possibility of error is greater.
Another cause of damage is radiation. Have you ever had an x-ray at the hospital and wondered why they put so much protection on the parts of your body not being scanned, and the techs themselves hide behind glass in another room away from the x-ray machine? It’s because exposure to radiation is another cause of pretty major DNA damage that is tougher to repair. A good example of this that most are familiar with is the number of people who came down with leukemia after the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan at the end of WWII.
Then there is chemical exposure, which is much more common than one might think. In fact, I primarily blame this for the explosion of cancer over the last several decades. Of course there are the herbicides and pesticides we use in our homes and on our yards. But there are other sources that many people don’t know or think about. The first thing that comes to mind is something that has been in the news lately — Round-Up. New studies have been released linking Round-Up to cancer. To me, this was a big fat “duh” moment. But to many unsuspecting people out there, it was a surprise.
The trouble with chemical herbicides and pesticides is, even if you don’t use it to kill weeds in your yard, the farmers are using it on their corn and soybeans, which are then being turned into food. Either food for animals that we then turn around and eat, or processed foods like cereals and breads and snacks at the supermarket, not to mention is sprayed on all of the produce that isn’t organic. It’s in our food, it’s in our water sources thanks to field run-off; it even gets into the air and is caught by the wind.
Also in those processed foods at the supermarkets are preservatives and chemical additives, so many of which are carcinogenic. They get a free pass because they are considered safe in small quantities. The trouble is, we aren’t getting them in small quantities, because in the new standard American diet almost everything we eat is processed with those chemicals. Which means although it might be low when looking at one product, when you total up all of those products people are eating every single day, that number becomes pretty high.
Another source of chemicals is our cleaning products. Most of the things that we use to clean our homes are either bleach or ammonia based, and both are harsh chemicals that cause DNA damage. A lot of our cleaning supplies also contain fragrance to make our homes smell good, whether it’s an actual air freshener or scented cleaners, and fragrance is also toxic to our DNA. Something you may be surprised to know is that the air inside our homes is much more toxic than the air outside.
We bring so many toxins inside with us, which then settle onto floors and furniture, and get circulated through the whole house by our HVAC systems. And if you have carpet, rugs, or soft furniture with foam padding and covered with basically any fabric besides organic wool, the chemicals used to make it get released into the air. This is especially true of carpets and furniture made from the 1970’s up until just a few years ago, which had a flame-retardant spray that released formaldehyde, a pretty big toxin, into the air. Not to mention those soft surfaces are masters at trapping dust particles, which are another big source of toxin distribution inside the home.
Then there are our personal care products. Shampoos, conditioners, soaps, lotions, toothpastes, shaving creams…all of these things are loaded with chemicals. The chemicals that are especially harmful are sulfates, parabens and PEG’s, as well as fragrances in these products too. And most of these are completely unnecessary.
Sulfates, for example, are added as a foaming agent to give you that lather that you mistakenly think is what is getting you clean. It isn’t. When you use real shampoo, it doesn’t suds up like the mass-produced chemical stuff does. Because real soap might get a little bubbly, but it isn’t foamy. You’ll also notice that real soap strips dirt and oils from your hair better, and you aren’t left with a slimy residue in your hair that you think is conditioning, but is really just a chemical blend that soaks into your hair and is carried around with you everywhere you go.
Another common source of DNA damage is alcohol and tobacco use. That probably isn’t a big surprise since it’s fairly common knowledge that smoking causes lung cancer and drinking causes liver cancer or disease. Red wine is touted as great for your heart, and good for your immune system. While that may be true in moderation, alcohol in general is an immune system suppressant, which makes it harder for your body to fight cancer (especially if you have an immune system cancer like my grandmother does). Also, when we digest alcohol, it produces a chemical in the body that causes DNA damage, making it a carcinogen.
Probably hard to hear for you daily drinkers out there, but the truth usually is. The consensus is that one alcoholic beverage per day is safe, and I drink a small glass of red wine most days myself. But the key is definitely moderation. If you have cancer or are at high risk for cancer — avoid it like the plague.
Last but not least — animal proteins. Again, if you haven’t read my post from yesterday, I encourage you to go back and read it because it explains this more in depth. For the condensed version — as the body processes animal proteins, it releases free radicals that cause DNA damage, as well as produces a hormone called 1GF-1 that accelerates cell division and stimulates cancer cell growth.
These are all some of the most common sources of DNA damage, all of which are largely avoidable if we are conscious of them.
So what happens to the DNA damage that doesn’t get repaired? Well, that is where gene mutation comes in. Abnormal DNA causes mutation in the gene. That mutated gene leaves the cell unprotected, which is what allows it to become cancerous. As cells grow old and die off, new cells are generated to take their place. This happens through a process called proliferation, which is basically the division and multiplication of a cell. This is great when the cell being replicated is healthy. But when that cell is cancerous and it goes through proliferation, it is multiplying the cancer. And cell proliferation actually occurs more rapidly when the cells are cancerous. Cancer cells feed and multiply at a greater rate than normal, healthy cells, making them harder for the immune system to get in check.
It goes like this:
Body is exposed to a carcinogen. Carcinogen damages DNA. DNA that doesn’t get repaired causes abnormal mutation in the gene. Mutated gene leaves cell unprotected and it becomes cancerous. Cancerous cells divide and multiply, eventually creating a problem too big for the immune system to handle, thus becoming detectable cancer as we know it.
If we break it down back to the very beginning, we know that exposure to carcinogens is the very first step. And that is something that we can take action against. We can choose safer products and foods. We can protect ourselves from the sun. We can use protective clothing and gear when handling chemicals.
DNA damage is also something we can take action against. There is nothing we can do or eat that will repair DNA damage in and of itself. But, a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants will help your body to produce the enzymes it needs to repair DNA. So the link between diet and cancer really starts there, with assisting your body in its essential DNA repair function.
Something that may surprise you given the alarming rate of cancer in modern times, is that it is rather difficult to get cancer. I began by saying that DNA damage occurs thousands of times per day, because in addition to environmental factors, it can also be damaged by things like infections or viruses, and even our normal daily metabolic functions. Our bodies are masters at healing and repairing themselves. So in order for cancer to happen, we have to really be exposing ourselves to carcinogens at a high volume. And in today’s world, it is sadly easy to do that without even realizing it.
We are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals that are added to our foods and personal care products to keep them cheap. We are exposed to a high level of animal proteins in our diets because of heavy support of the meat and dairy industry by our government. We are exposed to herbicides and pesticides because of food production, and even through use in our own homes. Our modern-day way of life and our need for convenience and low cost has exposed us to far more carcinogenic agents than our ancestors ever were prior to the high-speed changes that began in the mid-1900’s.
Now here we are in 2019, a nation of ever-increasing sickness and extremely high medical costs. We have millions of people being treated every day for chronic illnesses, diseases, and cancer. And yet the knowledge of how these things are occurring is limited. Our healthcare industry is deeply focused on medicine and treating disease, rather than on prevention. Prevention comes from one thing — living a healthy life. And so few people know what a healthy life looks like, because the information out there is conflicting and often misleading, because it comes from sources with an agenda.
Please…take our government’s recommended dietary guidelines and throw them out the window. The government agencies responsible for promoting those guidelines are in bed with the farming industry. They will tell you to have dairy three times per day, when it really is not safe more than about three times per week. They will push foods made with corn and soy. They tell us that protein is of major importance, which has caused Americans to consume it in quantities that are two-to-three times more than our bodies actually need.
A secret about protein that I wish wasn’t so secretive: it’s easy to eat enough! Proteins are vital, but our bodies do not need high quantities of it. 15-20% of the diet is usually enough, depending on gender and stage of life. The other big secret is this: meat is not the only source of protein. Again, this is the product of government agencies promoting an industry that is lobbying them. Protein is found in all forms of life, including…plants!! Every fruit, vegetable, bean, nut, and legume you eat has protein in it, which means it is not only easy to get enough protein, but you do not need to rely solely on meat to get it!
In reality, meat should be consumed in moderation (unless you are actively fighting cancer or disease, in which case you really should eliminate it altogether), and in appropriate portion sizes. What is an appropriate portion of meat? In general — 3oz, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Riddle me this — when was the last time you went to a restaurant and saw a 3oz sirloin on the menu? The smallest I’ve ever seen is 6oz, which is a double serving. Most are more like 12oz, or four times the amount you need! When it comes to chicken you usually get a whole breast, which is also a double serving…and sometimes you even get two whole breasts.
The trouble is, people in general do not realize that this is way more than a serving, and way more than is healthy or safe to consume. This is a huge factor in the amount of obesity running rampant in this country, as well as chronic diseases and cancers. It isn’t that people don’t care…it is simply that they don’t know, because it isn’t talked about enough or made common knowledge. And the FDA and USDA prefer it that way, since it keeps the farming industry going strong and the dollars flowing into their pockets.
When eating out, this is my advice: whatever you order, eat half and take the other half home for the next day. Because unless you are dining at one of those five-star restaurants that are ridiculed for tiny portions that are actually correct portions, you are getting at least twice the amount of food that you should be eating on one plate.
Now then, after that little segue into diet, let’s get back to cancer:
The best way to stop cancer in its tracks is to catch it before it starts. Prevention! And the best way to stop cancer if you already have it, is to starve it to death. What I shared yesterday about cancer cell growth is this: the two primary sources of fuel for cancer cells are fat and glucose. The highest source of glucose in the diet is sugar, or sweets and desserts. But the other high source of glucose in the diet is simple carbohydrates, or bleached and enriched flours, breads, pastas, crackers, etc. They are all processed into glucose during digestion, meaning that real, true whole grains are the key to carbohydrate consumption.
The highest source of fat in the diet is animal products…meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, etc. So if you are actively fighting cancer, especially an acute or aggressive cancer, the first step to eating a diet that will help you in your battle is to immediately cease eating any and all animal-based foods and go completely plant-based.
Not your favorite thing to hear? Believe me, I know. It is likely a huge change from what you’ve been used to, and change is hard for most people. But remember this — what you’ve always done is what has brought you to this point. If you want the best chance to beat this and go on to live a healthy life, then it is direly important to make those changes.
You can do this, and I promise you it will get easier and easier as you learn more and begin to adjust to the changes. There will come a day when you look back and wonder why you didn’t do this years sooner. There will come a day when you don’t miss the meat and dairy. In fact, there will even come a day when you eat one of those things again and you will feel absolutely physically rotten afterwards and never want to eat it again.
Not fighting cancer, but are looking to find a healthy diet that will help prevent it? In that case it isn’t necessary to fully eliminate animal products from your diet. I know the vegan and plant-based communities will not agree, and I fully sympathize because I myself know the benefits of a plant-based diet and consider myself to be plant-centered, meaning that plants are the primary focus of my diet, but I do consume dairy, poultry, and fish/seafood in moderation as well.
From a perspective of cancer, it is not necessary to go extreme and eliminate animal-based foods completely. There is the question of amino acids, which is something else we need for cell and tissue repair, and there are certain ones that can only be derived from animal proteins. They key is to keep animal-based protein sources below 5% of your total diet. This level has shown to have no effect on cancer cell growth. However, if the full 20% protein we generally need in our diets comes entirely from animal sources, then cancer cell growth explodes.
So…total elimination is not necessary (again, unless you are actively battling cancer and trying to starve those cells), but limiting it to an occasional part of your diet and looking to plant-based sources for the bulk of your protein is the most important thing you will do for your overall health.
Up next on the blog:
Get Healthy Month: Learning the Basics begins on September 1st! The entire month will be a beginners guide to adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. I will spend the month helping you learn the basics so that you can customize a path to health that works best for you, rather than following a fad diet. The goal is an overall lifestyle change that you can stick to for a lifetime.
What will be covered:
- What my diet looks like, and how I chose it
- Choosing safe personal care and cleaning products
- The difference between vegan, plant-based, Mediterranean, and low-carb/high-fat diets
- how to customize a diet that works best for you
- meal planning, creating shopping lists, and prepping whole foods
- decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy foods
- breaking your old patterns to re-learn how to cook and eat healthy
- resources to help you get and stay on a healthy path
- daily informative posts to the blog’s Facebook page (there is a social links button on the above right if you’d like to follow along), and frequent posts on my Instagram account for those who do not use Facebook
I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and I look forward to getting started with you on Sunday!