Saturday, November 03, 2007

Nutrition and Butt-moving vs. the Big C

The World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF & AICR) have released their expert report Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective and here in NZ, the media are all over it.This report is basically a huge literature review, where researchers examined study after study looking for common findings. In order to be valid, a finding had to have been repeated in two continents. This report has been processed down into an easily digestible take home message in how to minimise your chance of getting cancer. For those of you that have been away from earth for the last week, here is what they suggest:

1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight.
2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day (here in NZ some of the papers have been reporting this as 1 hour a day, perhaps kiwis can handle it?)
3. Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fiber, or high in fat)
4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes such as beans.
5. Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats.
6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day.
7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium).
8. Don't use supplements to protect against cancer.
Special Population Recommendations
9. It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods.
10. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention. And always remember – do not smoke or chew tobacco.

Having had the 'whole foods and exercise protect you against cancer' message drummed into me from birth and then reinforced by 3 years in Naturopathy school, my natural reaction to these recommendations was well, of course, duh. It seemed to me to just be another official confirmation of what we already know, except that this report is the first to focus emphasis on obesity as strong indicator of cancer risk and on the importance of being lean. Years of research and we get right back to what doctors and health scientists have been saying for hundreds of years. We don't know much about cancer, but we do know that eating right and exercising is your best defence. I've been listening to the talkback shows. From what I've heard, the recommendation that has got people most agitated is no. 5, the only suggestion that actually contains the word 'avoid'. One phone-in actually said 'what? no salami? I'd rather get cancer!'. Just about all of the phone-ins had something to whine about. One woman got completely worked up over the supposed 'fattist' report. She thought that the focus on weight was just another way for society to make fat people feel bad about themselves. Then there was the usual inundation of callers droning on with their take on ' but it's so ... boring/expensive/inconvenient/antisocial/time-consuming to eat healthy food' (yawn). One of the spin-offs of the release of this report has been a media blitz on the fat kiwi. We are no longer the lean, green country that we used to be. Just under 30% of kiwi's are overweight and a further 20% are obese. Nearly half the population are fat and as reports, this puts us at risk of a coming cancer epidemic and has put some wind in the sails of the let's ban junkfood ads movement.

I personally have known 6 people that have had cancer and have been in contact with many more through volunteer work in a hospice. I'm always grateful for a reminder that, when it comes to nutrition, there is more at stake than just the size of my waistline. Eating veges, staying lean and staying active is a powerful part of the arsenal but I'm sure it's not the whole story. It's very encouraging that science is focusing on a preventative approach because this means that there is growing acceptance that cancer is caused by something, rather than just always being an unlucky quirk. My grandad eats a lot of veges and is an active man (in fact, last year he broke his leg when he fell out of a tree), but he got a brain tumor. Grandad was a gardener for 40 years at a 'mental health' hospital, which had a huge garden with massive glasshouses full of exotic plants. Out of the men that worked in those gardens, most have now had some sort of brain cancer. I wonder if the daily exposure to weedkillers and other toxic chemicals had something to do with this 'strange coincidence'? One day I'm sure all those little pieces, nutrition, environmental toxins, stress will start to form a more clear picture, for now we just have the beginnings of something.

In writing this post I am aware that it could come across that my belief is if you have cancer, you must have done something to cause it. I know that this is not necessarily true (although, if you smoke, then yeah.. I'm telling you now, throat cancer and lung cancer, both strongly linked to smoking... you really don't want either of them). Three of my friends that got cancer were already living a 'cancer prevention lifestyle' -one of them was a homeopath- and I have no ideas about why they got it, but this doesn't mean that the research is wrong. It simply shows that science still has a long way to go in hunting down this particular beast. At least we have a place to start.


  1. I do believe some things can cause cancer, so can too much stress and other contribitors I think. I had an Aunt who was a health and fitness nut.. never drank or smoked, exercised every day, ate very healthy foods and lots of organic food too, and she got cancer in her intestinal track, liver, bladder, bowel the works and died within 6 weeks of diagnosis.... so it makes me wonder.... does it really matter what you eat or do at the end of the day???? I know I will never smoke cos it is too well known as a major contributor to some cancers, but what I eat? I'm not too fussed anymore... too many things have been deemed "cancerous" foods for me to take much notice now. My philosphy is " if I like it, I'm going to eat it".... in moderation. MODERATION in all things is the key I reckon.

  2. OOO I nearly wrote a book!


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