By Dr. Mercola
"Clocks are now kind of irrelevant to me … time, where it used to have sort of a linear progression, now feels more like a space," said Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon, writer, father, and husband, after learning he had metastatic lung cancer.curc
Kalanithi, who died at age 37 in March 2015, wrote a series of poignant works describing the "strange relativity" of living with a terminal cancer diagnosis, and how it rattles your concept of self and your perception of time. He wrote:1
"Verb conjugation became muddled. Which was correct? 'I am a neurosurgeon,' 'I was a neurosurgeon,' 'I had been a neurosurgeon before and will be again'? Graham Greene felt life was lived in the first 20 years and the remainder was just reflection.
What tense was I living in? Had I proceeded, like a burned-out Greene character, beyond the present tense and into the past perfect? The future tense seemed vacant and, on others' lips, jarring. I recently celebrated my 15th college reunion; it seemed rude to respond to parting promises from old friends, 'We'll see you at the 25th!' with 'Probably not!'"
Amidst many questions, including how much time he had left (a question no one could, with certainty, answer), Kalanithi spoke of his infant daughter. Recognizing he would not likely see her grow up, he wanted her to know the joy she brought him in his last days, "a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied."2
'Days Are Long, Years Are Short'
Kalanithi's story has struck a chord in many people's hearts. It's the type of inspiration that stops you in your tracks, makes you think deeply and can change the way you're living your life right now. As he said, "the days are long, but the years are short."
Some of you reading this may be struggling with chronic illness right now. You may have a loved one who is ill, or you may be healthy but acutely aware that health is one gift not to be taken for granted.
In Kalanithi's case, doctors found a specific genetic mutation tied to his cancer. In many other cases, the cause is unknown. What we do know is that each cell membrane in your body has receptors that pick up various environmental signals, and this mechanism controls the "reading" of the genes inside your cells.
Your cells can choose to read or not read the genetic blueprint depending on the signals being received from the environment. So having a "cancer program" in your DNA does not automatically mean you're destined to get cancer. Far from it. This genetic information does not ever have to be expressed.
In other words, having a genetic mutation is by no means an automatic death sentence. As you will see below, there are many things you can do to dramatically decrease your cancer risk through the lifestyle choices you make, which have a profound impact on your genetic expression... and this should give you hope.
Cancer Is the Second Leading Cause of Death in the US
Sadly, even with the latest technology and "advances" in medicine, cancer continues to kill people far before their time. And the current medical paradigm remains essentially clueless about the underlying causes of cancer, along with how to effectively treat them.
In 2015, it's estimated there will be more than 1.6 million new cancer cases diagnosed and nearly 600,000 cancer deaths in the US.3 Further, the lifetime risk of developing or dying from cancer over the course of a lifetime is incredibly high. For American men, the lifetime risk of developing cancer is slightly less than 1 in 2; for women, it's a little more than 1 in 3.4
There are many causes of cancer, from certain bacteria in your mouth to viruses, environmental chemicals, radiation and more. In 2010, researchers studied hundreds of Egyptian mummies along with literary evidence for ancient Greece and medical studies of human and animal remains dating back to the age of the dinosaurs.5
They found evidence of cancer is extremely rare in history and instead is a modern, man-made disease, noting:6
"In industrialized societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle."
What's important to remember is that many cases of cancer can be prevented, which means you are empowered to take control of your health. Even the American Cancer Society states:7
"A substantial proportion of cancers could be prevented. All cancers caused by tobacco use and heavy alcohol consumption could be prevented completely…
In addition, the World Cancer Research Fund has estimated that up to one-third of the cancer cases that occur in economically developed countries like the US are related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity, and/or poor nutrition, and thus could also be prevented."
Cancer Rates Predicted to Rise by Nearly 60 Percent in the Next 20 Years
The 2014 World Cancer Report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted worldwide cancer rates to rise by 57 percent in the next two decades.8
The report refers to the prediction as "an imminent human disaster," noting countries around the world need to renew their focus on prevention rather than treatment only. Christopher Wild, director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer told CNN:9
"We cannot treat our way out of the cancer problem. More commitment to prevention and early detection is desperately needed in order to complement improved treatments and address the alarming rise in cancer burden globally."
Besides the death toll, there's also the financial cost of treating cancer. According to the report, the worldwide cost for cancer treatment was estimated at $1.16 trillion in 2010. But again the report noted that about half of all cancers were preventable and could have been avoided if "current medical knowledge was acted upon." This includes promoting preventive lifestyle strategies such as:
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol consumption
Does Sugar Fuel Cancer?
There is quite a bit of truth behind the old adage that sugar feeds cancer. According to one study, older women who drink a lot of soda or other sugary beverages may be at significantly increased risk for endometrial cancer—an estrogen-dependent type of cancer that affects the lining of a woman's uterus.10 Previous research has also shown that dietary fructose can promote cancer growth in a number of different ways, including:
- Altered cellular metabolism
- Increased reactive oxygen species (free radicals)
- DNA damage
In 2010, researchers also published findings showing that fructose is readily used by cancer cells to increase their proliferation.11 Cancer cells did not respond to glucose in the same manner. In this case, the cancer cells used were pancreatic cancer, which is typically regarded as the most deadly and universally rapid-killing form of cancer. According to the authors:
" … fructose intake has increased dramatically in recent decades and cellular uptake of glucose and fructose uses distinct transporters. Here, we report that fructose provides an alternative substrate to induce pancreatic cancer cell proliferation. Importantly, fructose and glucose metabolism are quite different; in comparison with glucose, fructose... is preferentially metabolized via the nonoxidative pentose phosphate pathway to synthesize nucleic acids and increase uric acid production.
These findings show that cancer cells can readily metabolize fructose to increase proliferation. They have major significance for cancer patients given dietary refined fructose consumption, and indicate that efforts to reduce refined fructose intake or inhibit fructose-mediated actions may disrupt cancer growth."
In other words, they found that tumor cells do thrive on sugar (glucose). However, the cells used fructose for cell division, speeding up the growth and spread of the cancer. This difference is clearly of major consequence, and should be carefully considered by anyone who is currently undergoing cancer treatment or seeking to prevent cancer, particularly by avoiding the consumption of fructose-containing processed foods and beverages.
Exercise Is Another Key Player
Mounting evidence continues to show that exercise may be a key component in successful cancer prevention and treatment. Studies have also found that it can help keep cancer from recurring, so it's really a triple-win. Yet not surprisingly few oncologists ever tell their patients to engage in exercise beyond their simple daily, normal activities, and many cancer patients are reluctant to exercise, or even discuss it with their oncologist.
Research presented at the 2013 International Liver Congress, for instance, found that mice who exercised on a motorized treadmill for an hour each day, five days a week for 32 weeks, experienced fewer incidents of liver cancer than sedentary mice.12 A report issued by the British organization Macmillan Cancer Support also argued that exercise really should be part of standard cancer care. It recommended that all patients getting cancer treatment should be told to engage in moderate-intensity exercise for two and a half hours every week, stating that the advice to rest and take it easy after treatment is an outdated view.13
Research has even shown that breast and colon cancer patients who exercise regularly have half the recurrence rate than non-exercisers. Macmillan Cancer Support also notes that exercise can help you to mitigate some of the common side effects of conventional cancer treatment, including:14
Reduce fatigue and improve your energy levels Manage stress, anxiety, low mood or depression Improve bone health Improve heart health (some chemotherapy drugs and radiotherapy can cause heart problems later in life) Build muscle strength, relieve pain and improve range of movement Maintain a healthy weight Sleep better Improve your appetite
I would strongly recommend you read up on my Peak Fitness program, which includes high-intensity interval training exercises that can reduce your exercise time while actually increasing your benefits. Now, if you have cancer or any other chronic disease, you will of course need to tailor your exercise routine to your individual circumstances, taking into account your fitness level and current health.
Often, you will be able to take part in a regular exercise program -- one that involves a variety of exercises like strength training, core-building, stretching, aerobic and anaerobic -- with very little changes necessary. However, at times you may find you need to exercise at a lower intensity, or for shorter durations.
My Top 12 Cancer Prevention Strategies
There is so much you can do to lower your risk for cancer, but please don't wait until you get the diagnosis—you have to take preventative steps now. It's much easier to prevent cancer than to treat it once it takes hold. 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 following these relatively simple strategies.
- Food Preparation: Eat 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, blueberries 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."
- Carbohydrates and Sugar: Reduce or eliminate processed foods, sugar/fructose and grain-based foods from your diet. This applies to whole unprocessed organic grains as well, as they tend to rapidly break down and drive up your insulin level. The evidence is quite clear that if you want to avoid cancer, or you currently have cancer, you absolutely MUST avoid all forms of sugar, especially fructose, which feeds cancer cells and promotes their growth. Make sure your total fructose intake is around 25 grams daily, including fruit.
- Protein and Fat: Consider reducing your protein levels to one gram per kilogram of lean body weight. It would be unusual for most adults to need more than 100 grams of protein and most likely close to half of that amount. Replace excess protein with high-quality fats, such as organic eggs from pastured hens, high-quality grass-fed meats, raw pastured butter, avocados, and coconut oil.
- GMOs: Avoid genetically engineered foods as they are typically treated with herbicides such as Roundup (glyphosate), and likely to be carcinogenic. A French research team that has extensively studied Roundup concluded it's toxic to human cells, and likely carcinogenic to humans. Choose fresh, organic, preferably locally grown foods.
- Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats: 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.
- Natural Probiotics: Optimizing your gut flora will 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, including fermented vegetables, 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 insulin levels, which creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. In a 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, 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 half simply 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 should 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, as K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity.
- Sleep: Make sure you are getting enough restorative sleep. Poor sleep can interfere with your melatonin production, which is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and weight gain, both of which contribute to cancer's virility.
- Exposure to Toxins: Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides, herbicides, household chemical cleaners, plastics chemicals, synthetic air fresheners and toxic cosmetics.
- Exposure to Radiation: 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.
- Stress Management: Stress from all causes is a major contributor to disease. 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 the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).
Have You Been Diagnosed With Cancer?
One of the most essential strategies I know of to treat cancer is to starve the cells by depriving them of their food source. Unlike your body cells, which can burn carbs or fat for fuel, cancer cells have lost that metabolic flexibility. Dr. Otto Warburg was actually given a Nobel Prize over 75 years ago for figuring this out but virtually no oncologist actually uses this information. You can review my recent interview with Dr. D'Agostino below for more details but integrating a ketogenic diet with hyperbaric oxygen therapy is deadly to cancer cells. It debilitates them by starving them of their fuel source. This would be the strategy I would recommend to my family if they were diagnosed with cancer.