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Cancer in Midlife: Critical Lifestyle and Food Choices That Can Effect Your Risk Level and Longevity

Cancer in Midlife: Critical Lifestyle and Food Choices That Can Effect Your Risk Level and Longevity

"Colon cancer runs in my family. I'm worried that I may be diagnosed and want to know what to do to prevent it." –Emily, age 52

"Both of my parents died from cancer. What are some things that I can do to prevent cancer in my own life?" –Jennifer, age 48

"I know that I need to eat healthier and exercise, but I never have the time to plan. Work, kids, activities always get in the way, and we end up eating fast food." –John, age 43

Does this sound familiar? I hear from clients regularly whose lives are very similar to those above. They have become increasingly concerned for their health and, more specifically, cancer prevention in midlife. It seems to become more of a concern at this stage of life, especially if one hasn't paid much attention to health over the years.

A few factors that increase the prevalence of cancer are:

*Age, getting older increases the chances of cancer

*Sedentary lifestyle

*Weight gain, particularly belly fat

*lack of planning a healthy diet, less consumption of fruits and vegetables

Cancer takes time to develop, and our genes, lifestyle, stress levels, and environment all play a role in whether or not we get the disease. Indeed, we can't change our genetics; however, we can control the lifestyle we choose and the type of environment we live in.

Because several researchers working with various organizations have studied ways that we can prevent cancer effectively, we now know that there is serious potential to reduce our risk factors. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, approximately 40% of cancers may be prevented by simply not smoking in conjunction with other healthy lifestyle behaviors.


Cancer is caused by changes to our genetics that control how our cells behave and, more specifically, how they grow, shed and divide. Some genetic changes are inherited and may arise over a lifetime or from damage due to our environment, radiation, smoking, or UV light from the sun. Cancer cells undergo more genetic changes than normal cells, and each person's cancer experience has a unique set of genetic circumstances and alterations.

Abnormal cells that turn into cancer emerge from several internal processes. Oxidation is one of them. It is a natural process that helps our bodies fight infection. However, too much can cause harm. An excess of oxidation is neutralized by antioxidants, including vitamins like C and E, micronutrients, and phytonutrients found in plant-based foods.

Environmental factors such as smoking, secondhand smoke, pollution, and poor diet quality contribute to the oxidation of our cells. When excessive oxidation and insufficient antioxidant activity occur, cells become susceptible to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurologic diseases.

Inflammation also significantly affects how the disease presents in our bodies. Inflammation is essential to healing by providing nutrients and immune cells to infection sights or injuries. Still, when inflammation is chronic, it can lead to many of the modern-day health problems we see today. Eating a plant-based diet with omega-3 fatty acid-rich seafood can provide anti-inflammatory nutrients that may help control inflammation. Additionally, excessive visceral belly fat and other places worsen the problem by fostering a pro-inflammation, high oxidizing environment throughout our bodies.


Diet quality, healthy or unhealthy weight, and lifestyle factors such as movement and exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption may significantly influence cancer risk. Each of these factors affects the environment where cells are dividing and growing. Our immune system helps to mitigate the negative influences of the above list, but without "helping" our immune system with positive diet and lifestyle factors, it can become overwhelmed.

Understanding that we all have abnormal cells in our bodies is essential. These abnormal cells usually die off before developing into full-blown cancer if we have a typical functioning immune system. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients aid by neutralizing oxidation, suppressing inflammation, and helping our kidneys and liver by ridding our bodies of toxic substances that our bodies can't use. We decrease risk by adopting beneficial lifestyle changes such as eating a more plant-based diet, cutting added sugars and highly processed low-nutrient foods, and exercising regularly. We may not be capable of changing our genetics, but we can help our defense mechanisms within our bodies to ward off cancer.

It's important to understand that although one may do all of the "right" things with their diet and lifestyle, they can still get cancer. It's a very complex disease, and we're continuing to learn more every decade, and we're leaps and bounds ahead of where we used to be regarding treatment options. The good news is that significant evidence suggests adopting these lifestyle and diet habits may have a meaningful impact on prevention.


In the last twenty years, the World Cancer Research Fund and AICR have revised their cancer prevention recommendations based on more current and available research on diet, exercise, nutrition, and cancer. This has been due to the increasing interest in prevention and survivorship.

High-quality data has been used to form these recommendations. Each must be backed by evidence and abundantly clear to the general public. The importance of having quality research back recommendations cannot be overstated. With so much misinformation about cancer and prevention, now more than ever, we need a steady voice to guide people in how they conduct a healthy lifestyle.

The top Cancer Prevention Recommendations are as follows:

1) Keep weight within a healthy range and try to refrain from gaining weight as you age.

Aside from refraining from smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important things you can do to prevent cancer. Compelling evidence has indicated that excess body weight increases overall cancer risk. The cancers involved include breast (postmenopausal women), colon, rectum, endometrium, kidney, pancreas, and esophagus. Research suggests that being overweight may also raise the risk of cancer of the gallbladder, liver, cervix, and possibly prostate. Additionally, excessive fat in the midsection has been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer and may contribute to pancreas, endometrium, and breast cancer in women post-menopause.

How and why excess weight contributes to the risk of breast cancer for postmenopausal women but not in premenopausal isn't known. We know that body fat affects one's physiology, and fat can affect the growth of abnormal cells and be detrimental to health.

· Excessive fat can increase circulating insulin levels and trigger insulin resistance.

· High amounts of body fat produce the hormone estrogen, which can lead to the growth of hormone- sensitive cancers

· Body fat may promote inflammation and oxidation, which can damage cells and lead to cancerous changes

· Obesity inhibits the immune response that rids the body of abnormal cells

What happens if we lose weight in our middle-aged years? Weight loss and lowered cancer risk need to be researched more to answer this question. However, the evidence does indicate that weight management may contribute to a reduced risk of breast cancer. Physical activity, in particular, was associated with lower breast cancer risk in both pre and postmenopausal women, and high-intensity exercise had an even higher indication of lowering risk.

2) Move more, sit less. Be as physically active as possible and do things you enjoy.

Numerous research underscores the importance of physical activity and its role in lowering the risk of breast, colon, endometrial, live, and esophageal cancer. Additionally, it may improve survival after diagnosis. Physical activity:

*Keeps hormone levels within a healthy range

*Strengthens the immune system

*Helps to keep the gut lining healthy by promoting the movement of food and toxic substances through the intestinal tract.

*Helps to avoid weight gain

The current recommendations are 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

Sitting too much is linked to weight gain, poor gut function, and higher amounts of belly fat. Don't underestimate the value of taking a simple walk for even 30 minutes daily. All movement is good!

3)Eat high-fiber foods

Food containing dietary fiber like vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains may have a protective effect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, and stomach. Fiber helps to manage glucose and insulin levels and speeds the passage of harmful substances through the intestines while helping maintain healthy bacteria. Aim for about 30 grams of fiber daily: the more disease-fighting fruits, vegetables, and whole grains you can include, the better. The majority of Americans don't eat enough of these foods.


Soy is a plant-based protein food researched because of its potential role in promoting cancer. Extensive human studies consistently reveal that soy is safe to consume, even with cancer. In studies looking at soy consumption and breast cancer, the findings indicate that soy is not associated with cancer recurrence or death.


Recently, some conjecture that sugar may feed a tumor or promote cancer has appeared in the media. We need to cut back on sugar consumption for several reasons, primarily due to weight gain and its link to several cancers. However, stating that sugar feeds cancer does not accurately state sugar's role.

Overconsuming sugar-laden foods can increase insulin secretion. Insulin is a growth hormone that increases cell growth-whether they are cancerous or not. Consuming small amounts of sugar occasionally is critical, and large quantities will expose your body to elevated levels of insulin which may have detrimental effects on health.