A New Year. Time when most of us reflect on what has happened as well as look forward to what the future might bring. With this in mind, I think that this is a good time to look at a report summary called, ‘The Cancer Prevention and Survival Guide’.
It is a summary of global evidence on diet, weight, physical activity and what increases or decreases your risk of cancer. It was published by The World Research Cancer Fund who have a project group calling themselves CUP or Continuous Update Project.
CUP is an ongoing programme to analyse global research on cancer and lifestyle. From this, guidelines are drawn and public health policies will be made in 2017. From their findings, they have drawn up a list of ten cancer prevention recommendations which I want to share with you. What I have done is to write their recommendations in bold italics and then made a brief comment about each one underneath.
1. Be a healthy weight. Keep it as low as you can but within the healthy range.
Research tells us here that eating a low glycaemic type of diet will help with weight loss and will help to stabilize weight once you have reached your target. This would mean avoiding sugar and sugary foods, and processed foods (the more processed the less nutrition). Many people think that our body fat just sits there but fat does contain or store many hormones which are released into the body by different enzyme activity. Oestrogen is a good example. So, the less fat we have or the nearer the correct body mass index we are, the less excess hormones we will have.
2. Move more, be physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and sit less.
There is a great deal of research into the benefits of some exercise both during treatment and post treatment. A good positive walk in the fresh air seems to be more beneficial than a gym workout, as long as the walk is a regular part of your routine. From my point of view, exercise has been shown to boost our endorphin levels. Endorphins give us the ‘feel good’ factor and help to lift mood. This in turn will have a positive effect on the immune system.
3. Avoid high calorie foods and sugary drinks. Limit high calorie foods, particularly processed foods high in fat or added sugar or low in fibre, and avoid sugary drinks.
This would fit in with number one. Sugar as we know can deplete the immune system and the insulin that we produce, as a result of eating particularly sugar and sugary foods has an inflammatory effect on the body by stimulating the enzyme COX-2. Inflammation can encourage disease whether it be cancer, diabetes, arthritis or heart disease. The Rainbow Diet is naturally high in natural fibre like Lignans, Pectins and Inulin. All vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruit are rich in them. Fibre is made up of both soluble and insoluble types. They cannot be broken down by normal digestion but your good gut bacteria love them and feed off them. Good bacteria makes use of the fibre to bind to chemicals, heavy metals and hormones to remove them effectively from the body. The fat found in processed food is generally known as hydrogenated fat. This is fat that has been processed and the natural chemical structure changed as a consequence of the processing. Research tells us that hydrogenated fats with the wrong, unnatural chemical structure can damage the DNA of the cells. The DNA is of course the director of the cell telling it how to behave and function.
4. Enjoy more grains, vegetables, fruit and beans. Eat a wide variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruit and pulses such as beans.
I would suggest that these are the recommendations based around the Rainbow diet. Lots of vegetables are included as they contain not only many essential vitamins and minerals but also phytochemicals many of which have been shown to have anti-cancer potential. Pulses like peas, beans and lentils are encouraged because they are high in fibre, a good source of protein, low in fat, and have a low glycaemic level.
5. Limit red meat and avoid processed meat. Eat not more than 500grms (cooked weight) of red meat such as pork, beef and lamb. Eat little if any processed meat such as ham and bacon.
Red meat can be linked to an increase in hormones, antibiotics and growth factors, found in intensively reared animals in particular. The processed meats like ham, bacon, salami, sausages are preserved with sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite, which are both carcinogenic. The smoking process is also carcinogenic so smoked foods should also be kept to a minimum.
6. Don’t drink alcohol. If you do, limit alcoholic drinks and follow national guidelines.
The drink of choice seems to be red wine but even this is questionable. The French paradox is that red wine is good for you. The red grapes do contain a compound called Resveratrol. According to the oncologist Professor Gerry Potter it is a pro-drug, once inside the cancer cells it converts into the gene CYP1B1 which promptly kills the cancer cell (in lab conditions). But, in order to benefit from any resveratrol in red wine it has to be drunk over a long period of time i.e. years, as each single glass contains very little. It would be better to eat red grapes and red coloured fruits and vegetables. According to the chief medical officer for drink awareness, when you drink alcohol it converts in the body to alcetaldehyde which is toxic and can damage the DNA of the cell and cause genetic mutations. A permanent change in DNA can trigger a response in the body which can develop into cancerous cells. Alcohol has been linked to an increase in breast cancer risk. According to statistics, for every 10 grams of alcohol consumed the risk increases by 7-12%. The research does emphasise however that it is important to put the risk in context as there are so many other factors that can cause breast cancer. Finally it is known that alcohol reduces the level of folate in the body (one of the B vitamins) and folate is important for helping the cells produce DNA correctly.
7. Eat less salt and avoid mouldy grains and cereals. Limit your salt intake to 6grms a day by adding less salt and eating less food processed with salt. Avoid mouldy grains and cereals as they may be contaminated by aflatoxins.
Aflatoxins (toxins produced by a certain fungi) are produced by inappropriate storage of food and are generally an issue related to foods from the warmer regions of the world. Foods that may be affected include cereals, spices, peanuts, pistachio nuts, chillies, black pepper, dried fruits and figs.
8. Do not rely on supplements. Eat a healthy diet rather than relying on supplements to prevent cancer.
This is the general consensus but if someone has a poor diet for whatever reason they may benefit from supplements for a short time until the diet is back to full. It is important to remember however that you should not take supplements unless you seek the advice of a professional like your medical team particularly if you are having treatment.
9. If you can, breastfeed your baby for 6 months before adding other liquids or food.
This is a topic that I have not studied in detail but the reasons are outlined in the CUP report. The reasons are: it helps the mother to get rid of baby weight once the baby is born; it reduces the level of cancer related hormones in the body; it gets rid of any cells that may have a damaged DNA.
10. Cancer survivors should follow our recommendations where possible. After cancer treatment, the best advice is to follow the Cancer Prevention Recommendations. Check with your health professional.
I have not read the full report in detail so my comments are really assumptions based on the research that I have done myself. The guidelines make sensible reading and perhaps more will emerge as research into cancer goes on.
Blog originally written by Caroline January 2017 - checked March 2021