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Scientists urge greater focus on lifestyle factors to prevent cancer

Physical activity is a key to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Physical activity is a key to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.
Photo by Tim P. Whitby

Billions of dollars and countless hours are expended every year by drug manufacturers, scientists and researchers who franticly look for a cure or improved treatment options for cancer. Yet, the most important factors—diet, environmental and lifestyle behaviors—receive diminutive lip service. Now a team if international researchers is urging the public to consider specific lifestyle factors that may be strongly influential in reducing the risk of cancer or cancer-related symptoms.

Releasing their recommendations to the public, May 29, 2014 through a press release and in the June issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, special editors David Ma, Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, College of Biological Science, University of Guelph and Marina Mourtzakis, Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo suggest several lifestyle factors are key to preventing, treating and surviving cancer.

According to the materials, Drs. Mourtzakis and Ma state “There is growing recognition that a greater focus on lifestyle is … needed, given that upwards of more than a third of all cancers can be prevented or symptoms of the disease can be managed through lifestyle modification.”

Some of their findings include:

  • Multiple studies support flaxseed consumption as a safe method to reduce the risk of breast cancer, and reduce tumor growth, prevent recurrence and improve outcomes. Natural healers have long advocated for increasing flaxseed intake to reduce the risk of certain cancers due to its lignan content. Lignans are a type of plant hormone that possess similar properties to estrogen and may alter the activity of estrogen in the body. Some evidence suggests lignans may protect against hormone-sensitive cancers.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people take a fish oil supplement daily to aid cardiovascular health. The report adds breast cancer prevention to the list. The study findings suggest that a greater intake of omega-3 fatty acids may modify breast development during puberty, thus helping to prevent breast cancer. A study published in the June 2013 edition of the British Medical Journal reported that for each 0.1 g per day increment intake of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA there was a five percent reduction in breast cancer risk. However, no significant protective association was found for ALA — the plant based omega-3 fatty acid, suggesting fish oil is far superior.
  • Another interesting observation of the report is that strength training combined with eating plums provided synergistic benefits for breast cancer survivors. This combination helped maintain or increase muscle mass and bone density following breast cancer survival.
  • One review recommended that a greater focus be placed on reducing visceral adipose tissue in addition to encouraging a healthy weight to reduce cancer risk. It is well-known that a greater degree of abdominal fat leads to an increased risk of many cancers and insulin resistance. A previous study published in the December 2013 issue of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism observed that men with more visceral fat had a significantly higher risk of cancer when compared to men with low levels of visceral fat—especially those of the esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, kidney, thyroid and gallbladder.

The review sheds light on a growing problem among the world population, that of reduced activity and poor eating choices, in hopes of a quick fix in the form of a pill. It also provides a gentle reminder that our own actions and choices can influence our risk for cancer.

While eating better, increasing your physical activity and incorporating nutrients known to reduce cancer risk will not guarantee a life free from cancer, it does beat the alternative of waiting for a cure from Big Pharma.

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