Cancer and the Host – A Functional Medicine Perspective

I recently listened to a fascinating series of podcasts called The Longevity Roadmap offered by Dr. Mark Hyman and his Ultrawellness Center. In one particular episode, Dr. Hyman and other specialists spoke about the specific approach that Functional Medicine (FM) takes on cancer. Here are the highlights:

  • Obesity has overtaken smoking as the number one cause of cancer worldwide and in the US, up to two thirds of adults and one third of children are overweight/obese (BMI over 25) which is contributing to the growth of many cancers. In the younger population, there is an increased rate of colon cancer and it’s now known that obesity and toxins from foods and the environment create inflammation and shift our microbiome which can trigger cancer growth.

  • Sugar is a trigger for inflammation and it not only fuels obesity but puts us at risk for 13 types of cancers. It’s becoming commonly known that the main underlying causes of all age-related disease (including cancer) is insulin resistance – which includes heart disease, dementia (often referred to as type 3 diabetes), diabetes and sarcopenia (muscle loss).

  • Not all pre-cancer cells develop into cancer cells. We are always producing pre-cancerous cells in our body but our lifestyle choices ultimately determine whether these cells become invasive cancer.

  • There are two parts to cancer – the cancer itself and the “host” in which the cancer grows. The host is what you can influence to make your body an inhospitable place for cancer cells.

  • The Functional Medicine (FM) approach to cancer acknowledges that conventional medicine like chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are necessary, but these treatments should be combined with optimizing our biology to boost the immune system and make it unfriendly for cancer growth.

  • FM looks at a systemic approach to find the trigger or cause of cancer. The FM clinician will want to understand the triggers that started the cascade of events leading to cancer formation, so a strong personal history is an essential foundation. This approach looks holistically across seven dimensions: gut and digestive processes, immune processes, energy and mitochondrial function, toxin load, cardiovascular and transport system, hormones and neurotransmitters throughout the body, and structures from mitochondrial membranes to the bones. The symptoms the patient has represents an imbalance in one or more of these systems so it’s important to evaluate all of them to determine the person’s risk of getting cancer. Like the soil that surrounds the plant, the terrain in your body which are all these systems influences how the cancer cells grow and proliferate.

  • Three important tests that FM physicians may order include:

  • A complete nutritional analysis that looks at 125 nutritional markers and biomarkers for metabolic dysregulation, inflammation, oxidation and toxins.
    • A digestive and microbiome analysis looks for markers of inflammation and imbalance of important bacteria, presence of infection and toxins in stool.
    • A DNA analysis looks for variations (called SNPs) in the gene blueprint that will predispose you to physiological abnormalities leading to chronic disease and cancers. Once these SNPs are identified, you can change your lifestyle and nutritional plan with targeted supplements to account for this variation so it doesn’t lead to chronic disease or cancer. These tests look at the pathways like oxidation, inflammation, methylation and detoxification and its variations. For example, if you are like me and have what is called the COMT variation (SNP) leading to estrogen by-products not being metabolized well which can lead to an increased risk for breast cancer, your FM doctor can create a nutrition and supplement plan to manage this so you remain cancer free.

  • Given that up to 30% of cancers are caused by a poor diet, one of the most powerful ways to keep your body’s terrain healthy is through what you put in your mouth. A Mediterranean diet is optimal because of the focus on fish, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and olive oil with minimum amount of meat, good dairy and severe limits on sugar and carbs.

  • Risk of cancer is influenced by our genetics and our environment. Our genes are not our death sentence as 90% of cancers being expressed as disease are influenced by our environment. Even with cancer risk genes, we can change how they are expressed. So, it’s important to have a healthy diet, not smoke, keep a healthy weight, promote detoxification and eat whole foods that are nutrient dense.

  • Nutrient enhancements should also be considered to support the body’s terrain. We can influence our epigenetics – the expression of our genes through the foods we choose.

  • Antioxidants – like vitamin C, CoQ10 and Omega 3 fatty acids to fight oxidative stress/damage.
    • Detoxification support – supplements like glutathione, silymarin, N-acetyl cysteine and calcium d-glucarate (for estrogen metabolism).
    • Immune support – mushrooms like turkey tail and minerals like zinc, selenium along with vitamin D.
    • Targeted supplements – wormwood is a compound that can suppress the endothelial growth factor and vascular generation of cancer cells.
    • Berries – Black raspberries make it less likely for pre-cancerous cells to progress into invasive cells.
    • Green tea – contains the active compound EGCG that has anti-angiogenesis properties and prevents growth of blood vessels of cancer cells. Cancer cells need angiogenesis for the blood vessels to grow and feed the cancer cells.
    • Similar to green tea, the key component sulforaphane in cruciferous vegetables can also inhibit tumor production.

  • Fasting is good for cancer: In general, cancer cells are dependent on glucose metabolism –so it feeds on sugar. When you fast and your body goes into ketosis, this starves the cancer cells and shrinks them.

  • Fasting is a good way to support autophagy (cleans out old damaged cells) and we need autophagy to get rid of abnormal cells.
    • Excessive eating triggers inflammation leading to insulin resistance and a higher rate of cancer.
    • Fasting and reducing the amount of food has been shown to improve longevity as it lowers levels of inflammation and oxidative stress in our body.
    • A lot of research has been done on cancer and fasting and even 13 hours of fasting is associated with a decreased risk of cancer. It’s important to give the body the time to rest and let the body heal and work on getting rid of damaged cells.
    • A fasting mimicking diet around cancer treatment has been shown to be effective in the initial results of this ongoing clinical trial. This diet suggests cutting calories for three days before and after treatment so healthy cells can adapt to being in ketosis while cancer cells become vulnerable. It’s important to work with a registered dietician when considering fasting or a fasting mimicking diet as part of the protocol to obtain optimal results.
    • Fasting along with a ketogenic diet has been shown to starve cancers like melanoma and pancreas. When your body is in ketosis, it shuts off cancer cells’ life supply and they cannot grow.

  • Our body has the ability to repair itself but a good diet and protective nutrients (like phytochemicals, vitamins, essential fatty acids and minerals) are important. We need a nutrient dense, plant rich diet with lots of activity, good sleep and stress management to enhance our immune function. Enhancing this with nutrient therapies will facilitate our detoxification systems to promote elimination of carcinogens and other toxins.

  • We also need to get rid of heavy metals, pesticides, phthalates, BPA and other chemicals that erode our health. It’s amazing the amount of toxins we eat – rule of thumb is if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it!

  • We need to eat mostly whole foods without labels and drink clean water. Even choosing where we live has an impact as certain regions are known to have higher rates of cancer.  The National Cancer Institute has the stats on cancer for every state.

  • Also be careful what you put on your skin as lotions, soaps and cosmetics can contain parabens, BPA and other compounds that wreak havoc on our health. Read my blog on what to avoid when choosing skincare products.

  • We have the opportunity to reduce the burden of suffering from cancer with proper testing and guided lifestyle choices. Diagnostics like colonoscopy, mammograms, prostate exams are all good but these are geared for early detection and not prevention. We need to focus on the host where cancer grows – that’s what FM does.

  • FM is an emerging science and its systems-based approach is focused on looking for the cause, not just treating the symptoms. Two people with the same cancer could have different reasons for how it developed and two people with different cancers could have the same reasons. So we need an individualized approach to treating cancer.

  • Powerful therapies like immunotherapy can be enhanced through a FM approach. Immunotherapy is designed to activate your own immune system to fight cancer. However, it doesn’t always work because your gut health regulates your immune function. So if you have a poor microbiome and insufficient good bacteria, the immunotherapy won’t be effective. However, if you feed your gut with good bacteria foods that are rich in polyphenols and other bioactive compounds, your gut bacteria will thrive and immunotherapy will be effective. Again, it’s critical to treat the host (the terrain), not just the disease.   

If you would like to learn more about preventing or managing cancer, Dr Hyman’s Longevity Roadmap 8-part Series is offered here.

Cancer Fighting and Prevention Diet (Part 1)

In the current COVID-19 world we are living in, we have to be more vigilant about our health than ever before – the stresses of the pandemic coupled with what’s going on in the environment make us even more vulnerable to sickness and disease. In this blog, I’d like to cover some of the tips to prevent and fight cancer. Given my personal family history and health challenges I’ve had over the years, I’ve researched and even tried some of the more radical cancer programs out there. What I’ve learned takes me back to the basics – focus on EATING lots of clean greens and fruits and whole foods. So, here are some of my recommendations. 

First, let’s start off with what NOT to eat: You’ve heard this already I’m sure, but it’s especially important for anyone dealing with a chronic condition to stay away from processed and man-made foods which are loaded with artificial additives, preservatives, and flavorings.

  • It’s well known that sugar promotes cancer growth and also raises insulin to unhealthy levels so obviously steer clear of candy, cakes, and desserts with white sugar or corn syrup.
  • Also, stay away from white flour which is refined, bleached and devoid of nutrients. 
  • In general, if it comes in a bottle, bag or box, stay away from it as a majority of these are all processed foods.
  • If possible, try to minimize restaurant and take-out foods since you don’t really know what’s in them. They also tend to be loaded with oils and sugars that you wouldn’t normally cook with at home. When you do go out, try to choose carefully – avoid fried foods, skip the bread basket, order more vegetables and skip dessert. 

Shopping:

  • Try to spend most of your time in the fresh produce section of the supermarket. Stick to fruits and vegetables in their whole form. And purchase only organic produce if you can afford it.

Minimize or avoid meat, dairy and most grains:

  • Dr. Dean Ornish MD, a leading clinician in the field of lifestyle medicine and founder of the Preventive Medicine Institute, has conducted studies on the impact of lifestyle on chronic conditions. He advocates that for cancer, it’s best to avoid meat, dairy and most grains. In his research, cohorts that followed a plant-based diet combined with exercise and stress management for a year have shown that they had 8X the cancer stopping power in their cells. It also slowed down the growth of prostate cancer cells by 70% vs. a standard Western diet (only 9%) and reduced PSA counts and progression of early state prostate cancer. 
  • Americans eat way too much meat – it used to be that a steak or a roast chicken dinner was reserved for Sunday evenings with the family or for special occasions. Now, meat is promoted for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. I enjoy watching all the cooking shows on ways to cook and serve meat but I try to limit my pleasure to only viewing them!
  • So, if you’re like me and want to have all foods in moderation, treat meat like a condiment and enjoy it periodically. I also opt for more healthy fish choices when eating non-plant-based proteins (wild salmon, anchovies, squid and small scaly fish).
  • There are numerous studies showing the benefits of a plant-based diet for cancer. One narrative article showed evidence-based recommendations for a plant-based diet for general health after diagnosis and carbohydrate restriction for patients with postmenopausal breast cancer.

Increase vegetable and fruit servings:

  • Fewer than a third of Americans eat more than three servings of fruit and vegetables per day. To prevent and/or fight cancer, aim to make organic veggies and fruits the mainstay of your meals. What’s an easy way to get these servings in daily? Try juicing and smoothies!
  • Juicing releases 90% of nutrients in food which is 3X better than if you chewed them. Juicing is the most efficient way to maximize the nutrition out of vegetables and fruits without having to masticate like a cow all day.
  • Here’s what I do when I do a juicing regimen: I make a large pitcher of juice to last about several days (so if I have 4 cups a day, I’ll juice 64 oz each time). And yes, it’s best to juice right before drinking each time but who needs the hassle? Even with the nutrient loss over time, there will still be plenty of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients to fuel your body. I also add lemon juice as a natural preservative.
  • If possible, juice at home as commercial juices may be pasteurized and have preservatives. When I’m too lazy or don’t have time to juice, I’ll purchase fresh juice at Whole Foods or my local market if available, but this is an exception as it can get expensive.
  • Which juicer to purchase? I have both a GreenStar extruder and an Omega juicer which will run you anywhere between $300-$700. If you are on a budget, I read that Juice Man JM800s is one of the highest rated according to Consumer Reports. Check it out for yourself.
  • Simple juicing recipe to try: you can adjust the quantity and ratio to your taste. Just make sure you make enough for two days.
    • Carrots:  High in Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, K, E, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, flavonoids, carotenoids, lycopene and lutein. Carotenoids and vitamin A promote liver detoxification and protect you from cancer. Carrots also have falcarinol which is a powerful antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory compound.
    • Beets: Rich in carotenoids, lycopene, folate, manganese, potassium, vitamin C, A and antioxidants. Also rich in proanthocyanidin which give beets their beautiful purple color. Beets are good for blood pressure and have also been used to enhance athletic performance.
    • Celery: Contains falcarinol, vitamin A,C,K, calcium, potassium and apigenin and luteolin flavonoids. These flavonoids have been shown to block angiogenesis and prevent tumor cells from growing. Research has shown that apigenins can stop breast cancer cells in their tracks. Apigenins are a class of aromatase inhibitors – they inhibit estrogen which curtails breast cancer cell growth. They also activate a tumor suppressor gene making cancer cells more vulnerable to chemotherapy. So make sure to include organic celery in your juice, salad, and meals!
    • Ginger: A powerful antioxidant, anti inflammatory and shown to block formation of tumor blood vessels and inhibit cancer growth.
  • The permutations for juicing are endless – try adding watercress, lettuce, cabbage, peppers, swiss chard, apples and radishes. Adjust to taste – adding lemon juice or apple cider vinegar will often make it taste better. If you can stomach it, add garlic as well (I personally prefer to have my garlic cooked in a meal).
  • Try a green shake: If you find juicing to be a bit overwhelming, you can try alternating juicing with smoothies and shakes. I start my day with a green smoothie which includes some greens (spinach, kale, lettuce, arugula), carrots, celery, ginger, turmeric (always add a pinch of black pepper when using turmeric as it amplifies the bioavailability of the active ingredient curcumin) and a handful of blueberries. I add half an avocado and some organic collagen protein to make it a complete meal. It’s a quick and easy way to get in around three servings of greens as my first meal of the day.

In part 2, I’ll focus on super salads, herbs and spices to boost your body’s ability to prevent or fight cancer.

Cancer Fighting and Prevention Diet (Part 2)

In my first blog on the superfood diet to fight and prevent cancer, I addressed juicing and smoothies/shakes as an easy and convenient way to make greens and fruits the mainstay of your diet. If you start your day with a juice or smoothie that includes at least 2-3 servings of greens, you are well on your way to an anti-cancer diet. In part 2, I’d like to highlight key ingredients for a super salad you can enjoy for lunch or dinner. 

Anti-Cancer Salad:

This comparative study demonstrated the antiproliferative and antioxidant activities of vegetables. Of the common vegetables studied, garlic (part of the Allium family) showed the most anti-cancer activity. In this lab study, garlic stopped growth in all tumor cell lines investigated – breast, brain, lung, pancreatic, prostate, brain and stomach cancer. Leeks (also part of the Allium family), cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc.), spinach and beets also showed cancer stopping power. So the inclusion of allium, cruciferous, root and green vegetables is an important and tasty element of the anti-cancer diet.

So I would start with some greens like kale, spinach, watercress, arugula – then add some cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage. There are several reasons why cruciferous vegetables are so good for you:

  • They have an active compound called Indole-3-carbinol which is known to be an immune booster and has been studied for its anti-tumor properties.
  • They also contain sulforaphanes – these are sulfur-based compounds that have been studied for their chemopreventive activities.
  • Broccoli sprouts are considered to have 25X more sulforaphanes and 100X more indole-3-carbinol than regular broccoli. If you want to supercharge, you can purchase them in your local health store or grow your own. I keep my diet simple and stick to eating standard cruciferous vegetables but it’s an option if you’d like to try. 

Add to the salad some beans – this versatile plant protein contains a compound called IP-6 and has also been studied for its anti-cancer properties. If you can, try sprouted beans as sprouting them unlocks the enzymes and amps up the nutrition.

Next, add some immune boosting and anti-inflammatory mushrooms. They have been shown to suppress aromatase (which promotes breast cancer) better than any other vegetable. Also, one cup of white button mushrooms has been shown to accelerate the secretion of immune system antibodies in saliva by 50% to improve mucosal immunity. 

To top it off, throw in some healthy nuts (almonds, walnuts), an avocado (best source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids) and you’re ready for the dressing.

For convenience, make enough salad and dressing for several days – keep the toppings separate from the greens and toss with dressing when ready to serve.

For salad dressings, it’s best to use extra virgin olive oil or organic flax oil. Olive oil has an active compound called oleocanthal which has been studied for inflammation, cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.  

Flax oil is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and shown to inhibit in vitro proliferation of human cancer cells.

You can mix the olive oil with organic apple cider vinegar (which is a good source of probiotics, potassium and enzymes), lemon, garlic and spices to your liking. Make sure the spices are organic and purchased in small quantities as potency will decline with cabinet aging.

Super spices:

  • Turmeric is one of the most potent anticancer spices as it contains the active compound curcumin. Studies have shown that curcumin inhibits cell mutation, metastasis, and tumor growth without negatively impacting healthy cells. Just remember to add some black pepper when using turmeric. The active compound in black pepper called piperine, is known to increase the bioavailability of the curcuminoids in turmeric. 

  • Oregano is a potent anti-microbial and antioxidant, contains vitamin K, iron and the flavonoid quercetin.

  • Cayenne Pepper – These hot peppers contain capsaicin which also exhibit anti-cancer activity by altering the expression of genes involved in cancer growth angiogenesis and metastasis.

  • Black Cumin – Known as nigella sativa and used for centuries throughout the world as a natural remedy, this amazing spice has been studied for its anti-cancer, apoptotic effect, antitumor, antioxidant and malignancy properties. Also sold as black seed oil, it has a nice peppery flavor and can be a great addition to your salad dressing. 

Cancer Fighting and Prevention Diet (Part 3)

In Part 2 of the anti-cancer diet, I briefly mentioned using nuts as a way to spruce up your salads. In this blog, I’ll share in more detail the benefits of nuts in maintaining an anti-cancer diet.

Nuts are loaded with bioavailable active compounds that impact the cellular processes involved in cancer cell development and growth. Nuts are full of vitamins, minerals, healthy fatty acids, fiber and phytochemicals that have demonstrated anti-cancer properties.

Almonds – Almonds boast an impressive nutrient profile and contain fiber, protein, monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, manganese, magnesium and other vitamins. They are loaded with bioactive compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which protect against inflammation, aging and diseases like cancer. Please note that most of these compounds are concentrated on the brown layer of the skin, so skip the blanched (skinless) almonds and go for the roasted whole nut. Most of the almonds produced in the US are by law treated or pasteurized – that includes the raw ones. So be careful when choosing – European sources can be found that are untreated. Big Tree Organic has a good supply.

Cashews – Cashews are not a nut but actually a kidney-shaped seed sourced from the cashew tree. They are rich in unsaturated fats, fiber, protein and a good source of copper, magnesium and manganese – minerals important for energy production, brain health, immunity and bone health. Cashews also contain polyphenols and carotenoids which are potent for battling oxidative cell damage.  This study has shown that roasting the cashews increased the phenolic content thus boosting its antioxidant activity.

Macadamias – Macadamia nuts are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber yet low in carbs and sugar. Additionally, these nuts have some of the highest flavonoid and tocotrienols levels of all tree nuts. These phytochemicals are associated with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, antiviral and chemo-preventive actions, all of which are known to affect the initiation and progression of diseases like cancer. 

Peanuts – Peanuts have gotten such a bad rap recently – it’s still my favorite nut (actually it’s a legume like beans, lentils and peas). Peanuts contain resveratrol (as do grapes) which have been shown to have antiplatelet, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits. If you are a peanut fan like me and have no allergies, only buy peanuts that have been tested for aflatoxin (a cancer-causing toxic compound that is prone to occur in peanuts, other legumes, seeds, corn, and wheat). Also Valencia peanuts which come from New Mexico where the climate is dry is known to have the least amount of aflatoxin. If you’re not sure, it’s best to avoid them.

Pecans – In addition to healthy fats, B-complex groups of vitamins, folates and fiber, these nuts protect the body from cancer due to the anti-proliferative properties of ellagic acid. Ellagic acid is a phenolic anti-oxidant and its benefits have been studied for cancer, chronic inflammation and other diseases.

Pine nuts – Here’s another misnomer. Pine nuts are not actually a nut but they are seeds harvested from certain types of pine cones. Pine nuts are packed with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat and are high in magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin E and K. This study showed that the consumption of pine nuts (along with other nuts) was associated with reduced colon cancer rates. Remember that raw pine nuts need to be consumed within a few months of purchase because the unsaturated fats will go rancid quickly. If you buy in bulk to save money, make sure to put them in the freezer and take out small amounts as you consume them. Also, roasted pine nuts have a longer shelf life than raw so keep that in mind as you consider what type to buy.

Pistachios – Pistachios are rich in bioactive compounds such as B vitamins, tocopherols, polyphenols and dietary fiber, which has been shown in this study to reduce the risk of colon cancer. It also has high levels of unsaturated fatty acids and potassium. Most roasted pistachios have a lot of added salt so choose carefully so as to not overdo it on the sodium intake.

Walnuts – Walnuts are unique in several ways and have been studied more extensively than other nuts regarding cancer prevention. Emerging research shows potential for walnuts to contribute to a cancer-preventive diet through several compounds possibly working together. Ellagitannins, melatonin and gamma-tocopherol may each work through different paths to reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and gene expression that can lead to cancer. Eating walnuts may also change gut bacteria in a way that suppresses colon cancer: A team of researchers found that mice that ate 7-10.5 percent of their total calories as walnuts developed fewer colon cancers.

Again, only choose high quality, organic nuts when possible and make sure they are fresh. Here are some brands you can purchase at your local Whole Foods or order online.

https://www.jemorganics.com/pages/story

http://homegrownalmonds.com/organically-grown-raw-almonds/

https://www.tierrafarm.com

 
 

Things You Can Do To Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Part 1

In my previous blogs I described all the wonderful foods you can consume to support your anti-cancer diet. Here I will highlight some additional anti-cancer tips that should guide you whether you are a cancer survivor or looking for cancer-prevention and wellness strategies. 

A Shopper’s Guide to the Dirty Dozen

I mentioned the importance of eating clean food in one of my previous blogs – according to the Environmental Working Group guidelines, below is the ‘dirty dozen’ – a list of produce that tends to ‘soak up’ more potentially carcinogenic pesticides. So it’s important to note that when purchasing the items below, only buy organic. Studies have shown that organic produce provides significantly greater levels of vitamins and minerals and antioxidant phytochemicals (anthocyanins, flavonoids, and carotenoids). 

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

Here’s a list of produce that are cleaner to eat even if grown conventionally. Of course, buying organic and locally sourced is best in a perfect world. If you are on a budget, you can get away with buying non-organic produce on the “clean” 15 items listed below and save your dollars for the essential items listed above.

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onions
  5. Papaya
  6. Sweet peas (frozen)
  7. Eggplant
  8. Asparagus
  9. Cauliflower
  10. Cantaloupe
  11. Broccoli
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Cabbage
  14. Honeydew melon
  15. Kiwi
Eating Less and Intermittent Fasting

Evidence shows that cutting calories can reduce cancer risk. Since over-eating leads to obesity thereby increasing the risk factor for the incidence of cancer and other diseases, lowering calorie intake is the cheapest and simplest way to prevent and manage cancer. In vitro studies have clearly established that both insulin and IGF-I (that are raised upon eating and with animal proteins), act as growth factors that promote cell proliferation and inhibit cancer cell death. If you are eating a calorie-restricted diet, make sure you’re getting all the daily nutrients you need – a diet packed with vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds will keep you nutritionally loaded. 

I’ve written in my previous blog about the benefits of intermittent fasting. Ideally, intermittent fasting is a period of at least 15 hours without eating. So, if you finish dinner by 7pm, your first meal of the next day would be after 10am at the earliest.  If this sounds too daunting or will have you staring at the clock with hunger pangs, you can try a 12-hour fast (7pm to 7am) and gradually work up from there. I normally do a 15 hour fast most days and it’s an easy protocol to maintain since I don’t have to do anything. Studies conducted on nutritional restriction have shown that it is a promising protocol to facilitate DNA repair and enhance the efficacy of anticancer therapies while protecting normal cells.  

Stay Away from Sugar

Sugar has been linked to cancer in multiple studies. Cancer cells thrive on sugar more than normal cells so eating high carb, sugary foods and beverages will amp up those cancer cells. It’s best to stick to natural forms of sugar found in vegetables and fruits – if your diet is packed with these nutrient-dense foods, your body will gradually stop craving the artificial sugar ‘fix’. 

Avoid Xenoestrogens and Limit Plastics

Xenoestrogens are a sub-category of the endocrine disruptor group that specifically have estrogen-like effects. Studies have shown the association of xenoestrogen exposure with a variety of cancers. Xenoestrogens include chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pesticides, mycotoxins, bisphenol A (BPA found in many plastics) among others. These hormone disruptors have also been found in drinking water, cosmetic products and cigarettes. 

Here are several ways to limit xenoestrogen exposure:

  • Make sure your drinking water is clean. Invest in an inexpensive water filter pitcher.  The Brita Soho with Longlast Filter was a top pick according to an independent testing lab. It did a great job of filtering out chlorine, lead, mercury, cadmium and microplastics. It’s also an inexpensive way to get clean water without having to install a water filtrating system for the house.
  • Avoid cosmetics and beauty products that contain phthalates and other chemical substances. The Environmental Working Group has a useful database on skin and cosmetic products. I will write more about this in a future blog. 
  • Bisphenol A (BPA), one type of xenoestrogen, is found in water bottles, linings of cans, reusable food containers and even on clothing. BPA is everywhere and is now detected in most of us in a urine test. It’s best to avoid plastics in general regardless of type as it’s difficult to know where BPA may be hiding. Stick to glass, stainless steel and natural materials (like cotton and silk). Stay away from plastic containers, canned foods/drinks and invest in some Pyrex containers and stainless steel drink bottles. Also, don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t want to eat, as skin is the largest organ in your body and you will absorb it. Stick to organic cotton and natural materials to minimize your skin’s exposure to plastics and chemicals.
Keep Your Indoors Clean
  • If you are still using artificial air fresheners, deodorizers, bleach, and moth repellents, toss these out and switch to natural agents. There are so many products out there now that are kind to your health and to the environment (Dr. Bronner’s and Fit Organic are two to consider), and with the market exploding, you may be able to find some generic brands. Make sure to read the label before you buy. For air freshness, I like to use an essential oil diffuser in the bathroom and where my dogs hang out – I switch it up with oils like lavender, lemon, spearmint, frankincense and chamomile depending on my mood. It dissipates through the house and smells fabulous! 
  • Get some air-purifying plants – in a study conducted by NASA in the late 80s, it was shown that certain plants can absorb harmful toxins from the air. Although not as powerful as the air purifiers you can buy, these plants are certainly aesthetically pleasing to the eye and create a calming ambiance to your room. Here are three to consider:
  • Spider plants are very easy to grow so even for a brown thumb like me, it’s a winner. It has been shown that spider plants are one of the best for removing toxins like formaldehyde and xylene.
    • Peace lilies require a little bit more love and care than the spider plant but in the NASA study, they found that peace lilies were one of the top three plants for removing toxins like ammonia, formaldehyde, benzene and more. Keep in mind that this plant is toxic to animals and children so keep it away from reach.
    • Bamboo palms can be invasive when planted outside as it will take over your yard (and your neighbor’s) – unless you are looking for major erosion control or starting a bamboo farm, I wouldn’t want to recommend this. However, indoors in a pot, it is great at filtering our chemicals like formaldehyde, benzene and trichloroethylene.  Since these plants can grow to 4-12 feet tall, it can filter a lot of junk from the air. 
Don’t Get Sunburn!

Getting some sunlight during the day is good and helps keep your circadian rhythm in balance and your Vitamin D levels up, but excessive exposure leading to a sunburn will promote cancer, especially for fair-skinned types. And just because it’s cloudy or you’re in the shade, doesn’t mean you can’t get sunburned. In fact, you are at greater risk to get sunburned on a cloudy day than on a sunny day because you are not as aware of being exposed to the sun. So if you’re heading to the beach for the week, don’t forget your hat, sunscreen and clothing cover-ups. Here are some friendly sunscreens to try:

 

Things You Can Do To Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Part 2

In my previous blog, I described some of the foods and strategies you could try to support an anti-cancer approach to daily living. Here, I will highlight some other foundational pillars to reduce your overall cancer risk.

Sleep

  • Sleep is critical to our health and well-being; with 40% of American adults reporting lack of sleep, insomnia and/or sleep apnea, it has become an epidemic.  
  • Research has shown that insufficient sleep (less than 7-8 hours per night) reduces natural killer cell activity and cellular immune response in the body.
  • It’s not just about quantity of sleep, though, as your quality of sleep is equally important. A recent study indicated sleep apnea combined with snoring could contribute to an increased risk of cancer for both men and women.  
  • Circadian rhythms impact our sleep and health. Circadian rhythms influence our body’s sleep-wake cycle, as well as hormone release, digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. They influence our immune system as well as processes of DNA repair that are involved in preventing cancer.  
  • Check out my blog for tips on sleep: https://community.wholistics.health/sleep-better-and-create-your-sleep-sanctuary/
  • Sign up for our chatbot program and these sleeps tips will be delivered directly to your mobile phone: https://community.wholistics.health/breast-cancer-survivor-chatbot-program/

Breathe

Proper breathing is crucial for optimal health yet most of us aren’t getting it right.

  • Proper breathing does more than simply provide our body with oxygen. The benefits of proper breathing include stress reduction, relaxation, emotional well-being, improved sleep and attention. Many of us, including me, aren’t doing this correctly!
  • We need controlled, slow and deep breathing to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to produce the rest and relaxation in our bodies. In contrast, when we are stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes fast and shallow as our sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our “fight or flight” response and it’s needed to respond to dangerous situations (like reacting to a dangerous road condition while driving or being chased by a vicious dog). However, prolonged activation of SNS through chronic stress and anxiety can lead to a host of conditions (high blood pressure, depressed immune function, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, etc.). It has also been shown that SNS may have a negative impact on tumor progression
  • It’s important to train our body to promote the proper parasympathetic response. This can be achieved through breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and qigong to restore our body and promote healing and repair. A good one to try is the 4-7-8 breathing technique pioneered by Harvard-trained Dr Andrew Weil. It is described as a ‘natural tranquiliser for the nervous system’ helping to quickly reduce tension and allowing the body to relax.

Mind

  • Research has shown the impact of psychosocial factors on our health and also on cancer development and progression. Epidemiological studies also indicate that stress, anxiety, depression and lack of social support could serve as risk factors for cancer. 
  • The benefits of mindfulness, positive thinking, optimism and support networks on health include:
    • Improved immune function, health and longevity
    • Lower rates of anxiety, depression and better psychological well-being
  • Practice mindfulness:  Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is a great way to gain control of our busy and stressed-out mind. This technique can help reduce the feeling of being out of control and ruminating on negative and busy thoughts. Here’s an introduction to getting started:  https://community.wholistics.health/introduction-to-mindfulness-part-1-3-steps-to-getting-started/
  • Think glass half full: Optimism is a predictor of more favorable health outcomes. Studies have shown the association between dispositional optimism and physical health.
  • Spend time with positive people and avoid/deflect the toxic ones. The people we surround ourselves with has an impact on our overall well-being. Remember the common denominator – if you’re around happy, positive people, chances are you will be more positive and vice versa. Benefits linked to positivity include increased longevity, lower levels of stress, and a higher happiness scale. 
  • Get social: Social environment is an important determinant in health and well-being. Research has shown that lack of social support might serve as risk factors for cancer development and progression. Specifically, the social environment contributes to the vast differences in prognosis among breast cancer survivors and can influence physiological processes responsible for malignant cell growth. 

Move

  • Studies have shown that physical activity is linked to reduced risk and improved survival rates for certain types of cancer, most notably breast and colon cancers.
  • Exercise has many anti-cancer benefits: It can lower levels of hormones such as estrogen and other growth factors associated with cancer, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and support a healthy body weight.
  • You don’t need to go to the gym to sweat it out. The important thing is to pick an activity that you’ll stick to. If you’re like me and  have tried over the years to do activities that didn’t fit my lifestyle but felt that it was the ‘right’ thing to do (i.e. going to the pool at 6AM because my friend told me to just get up and do it), it won’t be sustainable!
  • Do you know about forest bathing? It’s very popular in Asian countries, particularly Japan, and it’s basically spending time in the woods, forest, or park and getting close to nature. There’s research that indicates that forest bathing is a promising therapeutic method to promote physical and mental relaxation. So take a hike in the woods this weekend!

You can now get tips like this delivered directly to your mobile phone by signing up for our FREE chatbot program. You will receive tips on SLEEP, MIND, BODY and DIET to help you in your journey to health and well-being as a cancer survivor.

Cancer Fighting and Prevention Diet (Part 4)

7 Super Seeds for a Healthy Diet

In part 3 of my anti-cancer diet series, I highlighted the benefits of nuts for fighting and preventing cancer. In this blog, I’ll share the powerful benefits of seeds and why they are the superfoods we should all be consuming as part of our daily diet.   

Seeds are packed with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties – they contain a host of vitamins (A,B,C,E) and minerals (magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium, manganese), plus high levels of essential fatty acids and amino acids. Here are my top recommendations:

Apricot Seeds (Kernel)

Studies have known that the active compound in apricot kernels, known as B17, amygdalin or laetrile, demonstrated anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Apricot kernels also have high levels of vitamin E, pangamic acid (vitamin B15) and a half cup gives you 14 grams of protein and only 4 grams of net carbohydrates (10 grams of fiber). They taste and look like almonds – here’s one to try:

Black Cumin

Black cumin (nigella sativa) is a medicinal plant that has been used for centuries throughout the world as a natural remedy. Of the wide range of chemical compounds present in black cumin, thymoquinone is the major pharmacologically active component with immune system stimulating, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, hepatoprotective and hypotensive properties. Studies have shown its ability to promote apoptosis (cell death) of cancer cells. You can buy black cumin seeds and throw them into a smoothie. Or you can use the seed oil which has a peppery flavor and can be used to top off salad dressings – I actually like the flavor of this oil and have a tablespoon each day as part of my daily regimen. Check out my earlier blog on the use of black cumin in salad dressings.

Chia Seeds

Chia is an annual herbaceous plant and the seeds have been consumed by humans for over 5,000 years. Chia seeds were one of the most important components of the Mayan and Aztec diets. Chia is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber and phytonutrients. Studies have shown these tiny seeds have demonstrated anti-microbial, hypotensive and immunostimulatory effects. The nutritional value of chia is the reason why it is so widely used as part of a dietary protocol for prevention of obesity, hypertension, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. They’re a great addition to salads, smoothies and even baked dishes. If you want to grow your own chia plant, there are many cute garden kits available. For brown thumbs like me, here is bag of organic chia seeds to try:  https://www.vitacost.com/mamma-chia-organic-chia-seed-12-oz.

Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha linolenic acid, lignans (polyphenols) and fiber. These bioactive compounds have been studied for their anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and lipid modulating properties. Research has shown the benefits of dietary flaxseed in a variety of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, gastro-intestinal health, brain development and function. Flaxseeds have a mild, nutty flavor that will taste great in salads, yogurts and smoothies. If you want to make some flaxseed crackers, here’s a recipe to try. You can throw in spices and even chia seeds to your liking. I make sure to bake this at a low temperature to keep all the nutrient goodness from being destroyed by heat. I make these in large batches and store them in the fridge to enjoy as a snack throughout the week. 

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seed is known for its high content and the right balance of both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, amino acids, phenolic compounds, and fiber which contribute to its nutritional value. Studies have shown the antioxidative properties of several of the phenolic compounds called lignanamides in hemp seed. Keep in mind that hemp seed is different from marijuana in that it contains little to no active THC by dry weight (less than 0.3%). You can eat hemp in the form of seeds but it’s also available in milk, protein powder and oil. 

Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds and oils are packed with vitamin K, B2, folate, minerals (manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper), polyunsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and other nutrients that have shown to provide health benefits. Research has also shown the antioxidative properties of pumpkin seeds and oils and diets rich in them have been associated with a reduced risk of stomach, breast, lung, prostate and colon cancers. Pumpkin seeds are delicious and can be topped on salads, smoothies, fruit and added to baked goods. I prefer to munch on them raw as a tasty, satisfying snack. Here’s one to try:

Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds have been used for thousands of years and are a great source of fiber, plant protein, B vitamins and amino acids. Studies have shown sesame seeds to have immune-boosting, antioxidant and antiproliferative activities. The phenolic content and the associated bioactivity has been shown to be higher in black sesame seeds over the white varieties. It’s recommended to roast the sesame seeds to maximize protein and nutrient availability. The roasting process reduces oxalates and phytates which are compounds that can inhibit digestion and absorption of protein. So sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds onto your salads and dishes and use sesame oil (do not heat) to enhance the flavor of your dressings.

In a nutshell (no pun intended), seeds are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats, and tons of flavor, so start incorporating them into your daily diet and reap the benefits.

The Importance of Sleep in the Prevention and Management of Cancer

Sleep is something we all look forward to after a long day but in this fast-paced, hyper-wired world we live in, it’s what many of us aren’t getting enough of. We all know how sleep impacts our energy levels, mental state, hunger and immune system – and this becomes even more critical when you’re dealing with a chronic condition. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence on why shut-eye is so important for the prevention and management of cancer.

During deep sleep, our bodies produce melatonin. Melatonin is a natural substance that is secreted not only by our pineal glands (in the brain) but in other parts of the body including the gastrointestinal tract, eyes, and skin. The highest concentrations of melatonin are produced at night and in total darkness. It’s well established that melatonin can help with insomnia and sleep quality but research has shown that melatonin also impacts the body in other ways. 

  • Melatonin possesses antioxidant, immunomodulation and anticancer properties. According to this epidemiological research it was postulated that melatonin promotes cell death and anti-proliferative effects on oncological cells.

  • According to work conducted by David E. Blask, MD, PhD, a widely acclaimed expert in cancer biology, his research demonstrated that melatonin suppressed human breast cancer cell growth by as much as 70% and also demonstrated cytotoxic activity targeting cancer cells with no deleterious effect on healthy cells.

  • As part of Dr. Blask’s work on melatonin-mediated circadian regulation, when laboratory mice with human breast cancer cells were exposed to constant light, the breast tumor growth increased dramatically. These data also support the mechanisms of elevated breast cancer risk in night-shift workers and others that are increasingly exposed to light at night.

  • In addition, this study describes the risk associated and the potential mechanistic pathways by which sleep and circadian disruption may contribute to the cause of breast cancer.

  • We live in a digitally connected world and even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. This convenience comes with a price – the exposure of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) from mobile phones and electronic devices has also been shown to suppress the production of melatonin.

  • As you know, our environment is loaded with chemicals, many of which are “xenoestrogens” – chemicals that actually mimic estrogen in the body. The list of products that contain them is extensive – pesticides, plastics like BPA, food preservatives, hormones in meat, and parabens in skin products to name just a few. It is known that persistently high levels of estrogen promote the risk of breast cancer. What’s interesting is that proper levels of melatonin can protect us from estrogen dominance. Based on research conducted on postmenopausal women, appropriate levels of melatonin were statistically associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Also, several like this one have been conducted on the use of melatonin for reducing the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including weight loss, nerve pain, weakness and a condition called thrombocytopenia. Given the virtual absence of contraindications, melatonin has been shown to be a good adjuvant to conventional therapy. In addition, the antioxidant actions make melatonin a suitable treatment to reduce oxidative stress associated with chemotherapy.

  • Last but not least, as this paper demonstrates, melatonin can help protect against immune-aging. Age-associated deterioration in the immune system, which is referred to as immunosenescence, contributes to an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, autoimmunity, and cancer in the elderly.

Based on the evidence shared above, you can follow these simple tips to ensure proper melatonin levels:

  • If possible, avoid night time work as this has been shown to disrupt circadian rhythms and melatonin production.

  • Sleep in the dark (use black out curtains or an eye mask). Even a small light from clocks and other electronics can disrupt melatonin production so turn them off.

  • It’s best to leave all your mobile devices in another room to minimize any impact of EMFs.

  • Try melatonin supplements to support your sleep – you may want to start on a low dose (3mg) and gradually work up if needed. I personally take melatonin at night but at a low dose and only when I think it’s necessary. Click here for recommended melatonin products.