By Dr. Mercola
Nearly 30 percent of the global population is overweight or obese, and this has a significant impact on cancer rates, experts say. According to one recent report,1, 2 obesity is responsible for an estimated 500,000 cancer cases worldwide each year.
Nearly two-thirds of obesity-related cancers—which include colon, rectum, ovary, and womb cancers—occur in North America and Europe.3
Women are at greatest risk. Compared to men, women are twice as likely to develop obesity-related cancer,4 the most common forms of which are postmenopausal breast, endometrial, and colon cancer.
Disturbingly, if current trends continue, estimates5 suggest that nearly half of the world's adult population will be overweight or obese by 2030, which will automatically drive up cancer incidence as well.
Latest Data on Obesity-Related Cancer, Worldwide
In all, obesity was associated with 5.4 percent of all new cancers in women (globally) in 2012, and 1.9 percent of cancers in men that same year. When looking at developed versus developing nations, the difference is quite stark.
The vast majority of the food eaten in developed countries is processed, whereas most developing countries still consume a more traditional diet which, combined with other studies on cancer, strongly suggests diet plays a significant role.
The following figures seem to reflect that obesity caused by primarily unprocessed foods appears to be far more benign than obesity caused by processed food:
- Eight percent of all cancers in women in developed nations is associated with obesity, compared to just 1.5 percent in developing countries
- Three percent of all cancers in men in developed nations is associated with obesity, compared to a mere 0.3 percent in developing countries
According to lead author Dr. Melina Arnold, of the International Agency for Research on Cancer:
"Our findings add support for a global effort to address the rising trends in obesity. The global prevalence of obesity in adults has doubled since 1980.
If this trend continues, it will certainly boost the future burden of cancer, particularly in South America and North Africa, where the largest increases in the rate of obesity have been seen over the last 30 years."
The global cost of obesity is now at $2 trillion annually, which is nearly as much as the global cost of smoking ($2.1 trillion) and armed violence (including war and terrorism, which also has a global cost of $2.1 trillion).
The costs stemming from obesity are varied. The condition is associated with lost work days and lower productivity, and higher health care costs due to a myriad of related diseases.
Other Potentially Lethal Health Ramifications of Obesity
Cancer certainly isn't the only disease associated with excess body weight though. Far from it! Diseases attributable to obesity6 also include but are not limited to the following. Worldwide, obesity is also responsible for about five percent of all deaths each year.7
Type 2 diabetes Cancer (especially breast, endometrial, colon, gallbladder, prostate, and kidney8) Heart disease and enlarged heart Sleep disorders (including sleep apnea) Pulmonary embolism Hypertension Polycystic ovarian syndrome Gastro-esophageal reflux disease Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) Hernia Erectile dysfunction Dementia Urinary incontinence Chronic renal failure Lymph edema Cellulitis Stroke Lipid problems Pickwickian syndrome Depression Osteoarthritis Gout Gallbladder disease Asthma
Keep in mind, however, that while obesity is associated the diseases mentioned above, it is not their cause. Obesity is a marker. The underlying problem, linking obesity with all of these health issues, is metabolic dysfunction.
The primary driver of metabolic dysfunction is insulin resistance, primarily caused by excessive sugar/and processed fructose consumption. What this means is that even if you don't yet have clinical signs of metabolic dysfunction, the fact that you're gaining excess weight is a sign that your health is jeopardy.
This is particularly important to consider when it comes to children. Childhood obesity is also on the rise, which implies that cancer rates may be fueled even more—especially among women, whose cancers are often driven by excess estrogen produced by fat cells.
In the US, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1980. One in five kids is now overweight by age six; 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese.9 Recent research10 warns that obese children are at an increased risk for a number of problems previously relegated to older people, including:
- Liver disease
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
What's Really Fueling the Obesity Epidemic?
As discussed in my article, "5 Surprising Factors That Make You Pack on Pounds," obesity is not simply the result of eating too many calories and not exercising enough. While it is part of the equation, environmental and lifestyle factors appear to play a far more significant role in this trend. Part of the problem is that many people don't realize they're affected by these factors, and therefore fail to address them. This includes:
- Overuse of antibiotics in food production and medicine
- Growth-enhancing drugs used in food animals
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including pesticides
- Artificial sweeteners
- Aggressive stealth marketing of harmful junk food
Processed foods are the primary culprit, as they're chockfull of ingredients that both individually and in combination contribute to metabolic dysfunction and hard-to-control weight gain. This includes:
- Genetically engineered (GE) ingredients, primarily corn, soy, and sugar beets. GE potatoes also recently received the green-light,11 so that will be another GE ingredient to watch out for in the near future. Bt corn is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for producing its own internal pesticide. This is clearly not a boon to your health. Other GE varieties are engineered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of pesticides, which makes them particularly prone to having high amounts of pesticide contamination as well.
- High fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Besides being one of the primary sources of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), it's also a primary source of calories in the US diet. HFCS is even worse than regular sugar from a metabolic standpoint, and is a potent driver of metabolic dysfunction.
- Hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats) known to cause heart and cardiovascular disease is made from GE soy that is resistant to pesticide. Besides the hazards of being genetically modified and highly contaminated with pesticides, unfermented soy has also been linked to a number of health problems, including breast cancer. When cooked at high temperatures, vegetable oils also degrade into toxic oxidation products known as cyclic aldehydes, which appear to be even more harmful than trans fats.
- Sugar beets are also genetically engineered, ensuring that even foods sweetened with "regular sugar" fall into a more toxic category, courtesy of elevated pesticide contamination.
Corn syrup, trans fats, and sugar—most of which is genetically engineered and highly contaminated with toxic pesticides—all of these are dietary factors that fuel the epidemic of poor health, starting with excess weight gain. So, if you want to address your weight, and reduce your chances of cancer, you really must take a long hard look at what you're eating on a daily basis.
Guidelines for Preventing Both Obesity and Cancer
Fortunately, there is much you can do to lower your risk for cancer. Prevention is key however, and maintaining a healthy weight is part of a preventative lifestyle. I believe you can virtually eliminate your risk of cancer and chronic disease, and radically improve your chances of recovering from cancer if you currently have it, by adhering to the following strategies, which will also help you normalize your weight and insulin/leptin sensitivity.
- Buy whole organic foods, and cook from scratch. First of all, this will automatically reduce your sugar consumption, which is the root cause of most insulin resistance and weight gain. The evidence is also quite clear that if you want to avoid cancer, or you currently have cancer and insulin resistance, you MUST avoid all forms of sugar, especially fructose, which feeds cancer cells and promotes their growth. Make sure your total fructose intake is less than 25 grams per day, or 15 grams if you're struggling with insulin resistance or have symptoms of insulin resistance (diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or heart disease).
If you buy organic produce, you'll also cut your exposure to pesticides and genetically engineered ingredients, and in ditching processed foods, you'll automatically avoid artificial sweeteners and harmful processed fats. Speaking of fats, most people need upwards of 50-85 percent healthy fats in their diet for optimal health. Sources of healthy fats to add to your diet include avocados, butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk, raw organic dairy, coconuts and coconut oil, unheated organic nut oils, raw nuts and seeds, organic pastured egg yolks, and grass-fed meats. For more detailed dietary advice, please see my free Optimized Nutrition Plan.
- Opt for organic grass-fed meats to avoid genetically engineered ingredients, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other growth promoting drugs. You may also want to consider reducing your protein consumption to one gram per kilogram of lean body weight, as excess protein (especially from hormone- and antibiotic-treated meat) may promote tumor growth.
- Opt for glass packaging and storage containers to avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals.
- Reconsider how you prepare and cook your food: I recommend eating at least one-third of your food raw. Avoid frying or charbroiling; boil, poach, or steam your foods instead. Consider adding cancer-fighting whole foods, herbs, spices and supplements to your diet, such as broccoli, curcumin and resveratrol. To learn more about how these anti-angiogenetic foods fight cancer, please see our previous article: "Dramatically Effective New Natural Way to Starve Cancer and Obesity."
- Intermittent fasting is an excellent strategy if you're insulin/leptin resistant, have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or struggle with your weight. Intermittent fasting is not a permanent eating program; once your insulin resistance improves and you are normal weight, you can start eating more food, more frequently again, as you will have reestablished your body's ability to burn fat for fuel.
- Normalize your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats by taking a high-quality krill oil and reducing your intake of processed vegetable oils, like corn, soy, and canola.
- Optimize your gut flora to reduce inflammation and strengthen your immune response. Researchers have found a microbe-dependent mechanism through which some cancers mount an inflammatory response that fuels their development and growth. They suggest that inhibiting inflammatory cytokines might slow cancer progression and improve the response to chemotherapy. Adding naturally fermented food to your daily diet is an easy way to prevent cancer or speed recovery. You can always add a high-quality probiotic supplement as well, but naturally fermented foods are the best.
- Exercise: Exercise lowers your insulin levels, thereby promoting weight loss, and discouraging the growth and spread of cancer cells. In one three-month study, exercise was found to alter immune cells into a more potent disease-fighting form in cancer survivors who had just completed chemotherapy. Researchers and cancer organizations increasingly recommend making regular exercise a priority in order to reduce your risk of cancer, and help improve cancer outcomes. Research has also found evidence suggesting exercise can help trigger apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells. Ideally, your exercise program should include balance, strength, flexibility, and high intensity interval training (HIIT). For help getting started, refer to my Peak Fitness Program.
- Vitamin D: There is scientific evidence you can decrease your risk of cancer by more than halfsimply by optimizing your vitamin D levels with appropriate sun exposure. Your serum level should hold steady at 50-70 ng/ml, but if you are being treated for cancer, it may be advisable to be closer to 80-90 ng/ml for optimal benefit. If you take oral vitamin D and have cancer, it would be very prudent to monitor your vitamin D blood levels regularly, as well as supplementing your vitamin K2 and magnesium, as these nutrients work in tandem. To learn more, please see my previous article: "What You Need to Know About Vitamin K2, D and Calcium."
- Sleep: Make sure you are getting enough restorative sleep. Most of us need 8 hours so strive for that by getting to bed early enough. Poor sleep can interfere with your melatonin production, which is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and weight gain, both of which raise your risk of cancer. Melatonin in and of itself is also a potent antioxidant with known anti-cancer properties, which is another reason why sleeping well is so important for cancer prevention.
- Avoid toxins: Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, herbicides, household chemical cleaners, synthetic air fresheners, and toxic cosmetics.
- Avoid radiation exposure: Limit your exposure and protect yourself from radiation produced by cell phones, towers, base stations, and Wi-Fi stations, as well as minimizing your exposure from radiation-based medical scans, including dental x-rays, CT scans, and mammograms.
- Manage your stress: Stress from all causes is a major contributor to disease. Even the CDC states that 85 percent of disease is driven by emotional factors. It is likely that stress and unresolved emotional issues may be more important than the physical ones, so make sure this is addressed. My favorite tool for resolving emotional challenges is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
- Take the "Get Healthy" Challenges: I've launched a series of must-try fun and free challenges with Naturally Savvy designed to help you eliminate harmful ingredients from your diet, earn free coupons for participating, and to provide you with the tools you need to make healthier choices in your everyday life.