September 4, 2013
It seems that the age-old advice of eating healthy and exercising for a strong body also applies to fighting cancer.
There’s a growing view in medicine that concerns your diet, physical activity, and your ability to overcome cancer and and remain cancer-free.
The medical community didn’t always make the connection between your general health and cancer. But as research has advanced in recent years, a clear correlation between the two has emerged.
The challenge, however, is finding a consensus about which dietary changes you should make, or which types of diets can trigger certain cancers. For example, it’s suspected that breast cancer might be caused by a high-fat diet, which leads to the release of certain hormones in the body. However, no clear evidence exists to make that a proven fact right now.
In men, prostate cancer is thought to be the result of a western diet. Fats found in red meat and high-fat dairy products have been linked to prostate cancer in some studies, while diets rich in fruits, vegetable and legumes seem to protect against it.
In regard to both breast and prostate cancers, studies indicate possible risk factors but have uncovered no clear links at this time.
As is the case with your general health, it seems the best advice right now is to eat a healthy diet and focus on foods that fight cancer. Choose whole grains and try to get 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day. At a minimum, eat five servings of fruit and vegetables. Limit processed red meat and consume just one alcoholic drink per day. Women at risk for breast cancer might want to consider abstaining from alcohol completely.
One of the goals of a healthier diet is to reduce your weight. It plays a role in your general health, which impacts your ability to fight cancer.
When you’re overweight, it taxes nearly every system in your body, especially your cardiovascular system. The heart must pump harder to move blood through your body, providing nutrients and oxygen to not just your vital organs, but also through the additional layers of fat. Over taxing this system can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, depression, arthritis…and even certain cancers.
If your cardiovascular system, along with others, is over burdened, then your body cannot effectively fight off cancer.
For this reason, exercise with a healthy diet plays a vital role in controlling weight and keeping the body fit and ready to fight off cancer cells.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) states, “There is strong evidence that physical activity is associated with reduced risk of cancers of the colon and breast,” and there are studies that have linked exercise with the “…reduced risk of endometrial (lining of the uterus), lung, and prostate cancers.”
In the case of colon cancer, physical activity can reduce the risk by 30 to 40 percent! The range is much wider with breast cancer, between 20 and 80 percent.
Additionally, there is evidence that suggests that exercise can positively impact survivorship. In a study that looked at breast cancer survivors, those who exercised three to five hours each week had improved survival rates, compared to women who did not.
There are also studies being conducted that examine the relationship between exercise and the risk of developing cancer. NCI has established the Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) initiative. TREC will investigate how physical activity influences carcinogenesis, the process that transforms normal cells into cancer cells.
While it is premature to say that we can keep cancer from forming or returning through diet and exercise, it at least seems clear that we can better our odds against it. In addition, exercise has many positive benefits that make it worthwhile, such as improving your mood, boosting your energy, helping you sleep better, and helping improve your sex life.
In the end, it seems like common sense. A healthy diet and exercise make the body strong. And a strong body should help fight off a disease like cancer.
National Institutes of Health
National Cancer Institute