Tag Archives: cancer prevention

Exercise Promotes Melanoma and Prostate Cancer

Needs a bit more hormetic stress

“Would you spot me, bro?”

I’ve always assumed that exercise reduces the risk of cancer, contributing to the well-established fact that folks who exercise live longer than others.

But a recent study found a positive association between exercise and two cancers: melanoma and prostate.

The good news is that exercise was linked to lower risk of 13 other cancers.

Here’s a quote for the New York Times Well blog:

The researchers found a reduced risk of breast, lung and colon cancers, which had been reported in earlier research. But they also found a lower risk of tumors in the liver, esophagus, kidney, stomach, endometrium, blood, bone marrow, head and neck, rectum and bladder.

And the reductions in risk for any of these 13 cancers rose steeply as people exercised more. When the researchers compared the top 10 percent of exercisers, meaning those who spent the most time each week engaging in moderate or vigorous workouts, to the 10 percent who were the least active, the exercisers were as much as 20 percent less likely to develop most of the cancers in the study.

I’m surprised the protective effect of exercise against cancer wasn’t stronger.

Action Plan

So how much physical activity does it take to prevent cancer? And what type of exercise? We await further studies for specific answers.

I’m hedging my bets with a combination of aerobic and strength training two or three times a week.

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: If you think cancer’s bad, read one of my books. Wait, that didn’t come out right.

Do Fruits, Vegetables, and Fiber Prevent Cancer?

It’s complicated. Here’s a snippet from a pertinent scientific article:

“The purpose of this article is to summarize the findings published thus far from the EPIC study on the associations between fruit, vegetable, or fiber consumption and the risk of cancer at 14 different sites. The risk of cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract was inversely associated with fruit intake but was not associated with vegetable intake. The risk of colorectal cancer was inversely associated with intakes of total fruit and vegetables and total fiber, and the risk of liver cancer was also inversely associated with the intake of total fiber. The risk of cancer of the lung was inversely associated with fruit intake but was not associated with vegetable intake; this association with fruit intake was restricted to smokers and might be influenced by residual confounding due to smoking. There was a borderline inverse association of fiber intake with breast cancer risk. For the other 9 cancer sites studied (stomach, biliary tract, pancreas, cervix, endometrium, prostate, kidney, bladder, and lymphoma) there were no reported significant associations of risk with intakes of total fruit, vegetables, or fiber.”

Book Review: Zest for Life – The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet

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A couple years ago I read and reviewed Zest For Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet, by Conner Middelmann-Whitney, published in 2011. I guess I forget to pull and re-post my review off my old Advanced Mediterranean Diet blog. Per Amazon.com’s rating system, I give it five stars (I love it). Here it is.

 ♦   ♦   ♦

The lifetime risk of developing invasive cancer in the U.S. is four in ten: a little higher for men, a little lower for women.  Those are scary odds.  Cancer is second only to heart disease as a cause of death in western societies.  The Mediterranean diet has a well established track record of protecting against cancers of the prostate, colon/rectum, uterus, and breast.  Preliminary data suggest protection against melanoma and stomach cancer, too.  I’m not aware of any other way of eating that can make similar claims.

So it makes great sense to spread the word on how to eat Mediterranean-style, to lower your risk of developing cancer.  Such is the goal of Zest For Life’s author.  The Mediterranean diet is mostly, although by no means exclusively, plant-based.  It encourages consumption of natural, minimally processed, locally grown foods.  Generally, it’s rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil, whole grains, red wine, and nuts. It’s low to moderate in meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt).

Note that one of the four longevity hot spots featured in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones was Mediterranean: Sardinia.  All four Blue Zones were characterized by plant-based diets of minimally processed, locally grown foods. (I argue that Okinawa and the Nicoya Peninsula dwellers ate little meat simply due to economic factors.)

Proper diet won’t prevent all cancer, but perhaps 10-20% of common cancer cases, such as prostate, breast, colorectal, and uterine cancer.  A natural, nutrient-rich, mostly plant-based diet seems to bolster our defenses against cancer.

Ms. Middelmann-Whitney is no wacko claiming you can cure your cancer with the right diet modifications.  She writes, “…I do not advocate food as a cancer treatment once the disease has declared itself….”

She never brings it up herself, but I detect a streak of paleo diet advocacy in her.  Several of her references are from Loren Cordain, one of the gurus of the modern paleo diet movement.

She also mentions the ideas of Michael Pollan very favorably.

She’s not as high on whole grains as most of the other current nutrition writers.  She points out that, calorie for calorie, whole grains are not as nutrient-rich as vegetables and fruits.  Speaking of which, she notes that veggies generally have more nutrients than fruits. Furthermore, she says, grain-based flours probably contribute to overweight and obesity. She suggests that many people eat too many grains and would benefit by substituting more nutrient-rich foods, such as veggies and fruits.

Some interesting things I learned were 1) the 10 most dangerous foods to eat while driving, 2) the significance of organized religion in limiting meat consumption in some Mediterranean regions, 3) we probably eat too many omega-6 fatty acids, moving the omega-6/omega-3 ratio away from the ideal of 2:1 or 3:1 (another paleo diet principle), 4) one reason nitrites are added to processed meats is to create a pleasing red color (they impair bacterial growth, too), 5) fresh herbs are better added towards the end of cooking, whereas dried herbs can be added earlier, 6) 57% of calories in western societies are largely “empty calories:” refined sugar, flour, and industrially processed vegetable oils, and 7) refined sugar consumption in the U.S. was 11 lb (5 kg) in the 1830s, rising to 155 lb (70 kg) by 2000.

Any problems with the book? Only relatively minor ones. The font size is a bit small for me; if that worries you, get the Kindle edition and choose your size.  She mentions that omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are “essential” fats. I bet she meant to say specifically that linolenic and linoleic fatty acids are essential (our bodies can’t make them); linolenic happens to be an omega-3, linoleic is an omega-6.  Reference #8 in chapter three is missing.  She states that red and processed meats cause cancer (the studies are inconclusive).  I’m not sure that cooking in or with polyunsaturated plant oils causes formation of free radicals that we need to worry about.

As would be expected, the author and I don’t see eye to eye on everything.  For example, she worries about bisphenol-A, pesticide residue, saturated fat, excessive red meat consumption, and strongly prefers pastured beef and free-range chickens and eggs.  I don’t worry much.  She also subscribes to the “precautionary principle.”

The author shares over 150 recipes to get you started on your road to cancer prevention.  I easily found 15 I want to try.  She covers all the bases on shopping for food, cooking, outfitting a basic kitchen, dining out, shopping on a strict budget, etc.  Highly practical for beginning cooks.  Numerous scientific references are listed for you skeptics.

I recommend this book to all adults, particularly for those with a strong family history of cancer.  But following the author’s recommendations would do more than lower your risk of cancer.  You’d likely have a longer lifespan, lose some excess fat weight,  and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, stroke, and vision loss from macular degeneration.  Particularly compared to the standard American diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclosure: The author arranged a free copy of the book for me, otherwise I recieved nothing of value for writing this review.

Need Help With Your Mediterranean Diet Meals?

Conner Middelmann-Whitney has got you covered. She’s just launched a new service that delivers meal plans right to your email box every week. It’s called Everyday Mediterranean Meal Plans.

Here are some major features of the meals:

  • Low-glycemic
  • Gluten-free
  • Heavily plant based (at least 2 vegetarian dishes each week)
  • Prepared without using processed ingredients or unhealthy fats
  • Seasonal
  • Include a “Nutrition notes” section explaining what makes them healthy
  • Simple to prepare, requiring no complicated equipment, nor much cooking experience
  • There is at least one “Express” meal per week that takes a typical home cook 30 minutes or less to make
  • Each Meal Plan includes a detailed shopping list enabling people to shop ahead for these five dishes, thus cutting down on time spend shopping and food waste
  • The cost is quite reasonable

Read more details here.

Click here for a free sample.

If you’re running out of Mediterranean diet meal ideas, I don’t see how you can go wrong with this new service.

I also recommend Conner’s book, Zest for Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclosure: I have received no monetary compensation for this endorsement. I do it as a favor to Conner because I admire in her nutrition and culinary skills and believe in her mission to promote health and prevent cancer via the Mediterranean diet.

Reduce Your Cancer Risk Starting Today

In 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research jointly published a report having the potential to reduce cancer rates by at least a third, if their recommendations were adopted.  A multinational team of 21 respected experts was charged with analyzing over 7,000 studies relating to diet, exercise, body weight, and cancer.  The panel assumes everyone already knows to avoid smoking and chewing tobacco.  Here are their 10 basic recommendations:

1.  Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight (BMI or body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9).  Being overweight or obese promotes certain cancers.

2.  Be physically active every day.  Example: 30 minutes of brisk walking.

3.  Limit consumption of energy-dense (high-calorie) foods.  Avoid sugary drinks.  Water is the best alternative to sugary drinks.  Natural fruit juice is a reasonable fruit serving, but limit to one daily.

4.  Eat mostly foods of plant origin.  Fill at least two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans.

5.  Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meats.  Red meats are beef, pork, and lamb.  Limit to 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week.

6.  For pure cancer avoidance, don’t drink alcohol.  The panel recognizes, however, that alcohol likely helps in prevention of coronary heart disease.  If you drink alcohol for heart benefits, limit to two drinks daily if you are a man, and one daily if you are a woman.

7.  Limit consumption of salt (associated with stomach cancer).  Avoid moldy cereals and legumes (molds produce aflatoxins which cause liver cancer).

8.  Aim to meet nutritional needs through food intake rather than supplements.

9.  Mothers should breast-feed for six months (at least?).  Children should be breast-fed.

10.  Cancer survivors should still follow the recommendations for prevention of cancer.

Much of this is consistent with my book, The Advanced Mediterranean Diet: Lose Weight, Feel Better, Live Longer (2nd Edition).  The AMD is a diet/weight loss book, with little reason to seriously address breast-feeding and cancer survivors.  The association between salt intake and stomach cancer is news to me.  Stomach cancer is not very common in the United States, where I and most of my audience live.  Overweight people following the Advanced Mediterranean Diet will be far ahead of the game if they get their BMI just down to 24.9.  I’m not convinced 18.5 would be any healthier, and many studies suggest the opposite.

Steve Parker, M.D.

References: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective