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  • Writer's pictureAnita Hollerer-Squire

Ways to prevent cancer

Did you know that 1 out of 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime?

Diseases like cancer are developed as a result of the foods we eat, the air we breathe, environmental pollution, stress levels, lack of exercise and other factors......all of which have a direct impact on how our genes are expressed. Did you know that our genes can be "switched on" or "switched off"?

Dr. Michelle de la Vega, Ph.D. - a research scientist at the Health Sciences Academy in the UK - has been investigating epigenetics for over 15 years to see how alterations in cells and DNA lead to disease.

Epigenetics is the science of how environmental signals select, modify and regulate our gene activity.

Dr. de la Vega says that although we inherit our genes from our mums and dads, environmental influences can regulate whether these genes are turned "on" or "off".

Most of us were born genetically healthy - only 5 % of the population inherited a predisposition for serious diseases like cancers, diabetes etc. Even if you are in the 5 % that inherited genes that predispose you to disease you can still prevent those genes from becoming active.

During Dr. de la Vega's lab work at Harvard, she looked at how nutritional compounds changed gene expression on normal cells and on cancer cells. Some changes may cause the cancer to metastasise (travel) to other sides and set up shop there, while other changes decrease the cancer to travel further.

90 - 95 % of all cancers are due to diet and lifestyle factors, like poor nutrition, smoking, alcohol and lack of exercise.

Poor diet significantly increases the risk factor of cancer. The graph below shows the risk in % related to diet:

Most cancers can be prevented with diet and lifestyle changes.

By making certain changes you can reduce your risk of developing cancer. Or if you have been diagnosed with cancer, you can help your body fight the cancer cells.

3 steps to prevent cancer:

Step 1: Food

Cancer cells tend to have certain epigenetic changes that aren't present in normal cells.

These changes may

  • turn a normal cell into a cancer cell

  • increase the progression of the disease

  • help cancer cells to spread to a new location

Certain foods, like highly processed fatty meats, contain chemicals that alter our DNA and cause mutations, speeding up the process that leads to cancer.

Other foods, like green leafy vegetables, can help amplify favourable epigenetic changes that decrease our risk of getting cancer.

Plant foods are high in phytochemicals that help repair damaged DNA and promote desirable changes inside our cells.

A healthy diet should contain at least 5 portions of vegetables and fruit every day.

Include the following foods into your diet every day:

  • Leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, lettuce...)

  • Bok Choy

  • Broccoli

  • Avocado

  • Carrots

  • Garlic

  • Ginger

  • Turmeric

  • Berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries...)

  • Citrus fruit (Lemon, oranges, grapefruit)

  • Apples, pears

  • Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, ghia seeds...)

  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts...)

Step 2: Exercise

Any exercise and motion increases the blood flow to our muscles. Muscles are made up of cells. These cells are changing and working differently when we exercise compared to when we are relaxing. But it is not just the muscle cells that are changing - most cells in our bodies are affected in some way when we exercise.

Just like with food, exercise regulates epigenetic changes in the body. Physical activity can reduce and even reverse some of the epigenetic changes that occur in cancer cells.

Adults should get at least 150 minutes of cardio exercise plus 2 muscle strengthening exercises per week.

Try some of the following exercises:

  • Power walking/jogging

  • Dancing

  • Zumba

  • Swimming

  • Biking

  • Stand-up paddle boarding

  • Yoga

  • Pilates

  • Martial Arts

  • Skiing

Step 3: Mind

Stress, especially chronic stress, can speed up the rate in which our cells divide. This means there may be more mutations in the DNA leading to cancer.

By relaxing your mind, you can help reduce stress, promote positive epigenetic changes, and decrease your cancer risk.

In a Harvard experiment (Dusek et al. 2008) participants took part in daily relaxation activities like yoga, meditation, prayer or mindful breathing for 20 minutes. After assessing the blood transcriptional profile of the participants who performed the relaxation activities it was noted that 2209 genes were expressed differently to those who did not do the relaxation techniques. Gene ontology and gene set enrichment analyses revealed significant alterations in cellular metabolism, oxidative phosphorylation, generation of reactive oxygen species and response to oxidative stress in long-term and short-term practitioners of daily relaxation practice that may counteract cellular damage related to chronic psychological stress.

Ways to decrease stress:

Breathe Become aware of your breathing. Breath in for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4. Repeat this 10 times or more if needed.

Meditate Sit still and do nothing. Listen to music and let yourself be absorbed by your favorite tunes. Give your brain a break and let yourself relax for 20 minutes a day.

Be mindful Be in the present, take in your surroundings, smell the roses, spend quality time with your loved ones.

Think positive Choose to see the positive side of things. You always attract what you put out. People who think positive, attract positive people and your life will be much more fullfilling.

If you want to learn more about those 3 steps for preventing or healing cancer, take part in our online "Kick-start" program or email me at

Source: The Health Sciences Academy


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