Paying attention to inflammation, nutrition and the aerobic system is key to warding off this deadly and most-feared disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, but cancer may be the most-feared chronic illness in developed countries because of its relatively slow and painful debilitating process.
My stance on cancer has always been that the best approach is prevention by maintaining a healthy and fit body. This advice also holds true for those who have been diagnosed and need cancer treatment.
Through the years, I’ve seen hundreds of cancer therapies come and go, both in mainstream medicine (usually radical ones that don’t address the cause) and alternative medicine (often bizarre and many not truly effective). But most are not complementary — where all approaches are considered in a process that individualizes one’s care. In other words, finding the remedies that match the patient’s particular needs is optimal. But certain basic, fundamental aspects of health and fitness must exist first, whether for prevention or part of a logical therapeutic approach to the problem of cancer.
An unhealthy body triggers various secondary imbalances that can ultimately lead to abnormal cell growth, resulting in a tumor, which can become malignant in any number of body areas (brain, breast, prostate, stomach, etc.). It often spreads by metastasis. The tumor itself and/or the metastatic consequences lead to a deterioration in quality of life, often treated by intense radical therapies with side-effects, and resulting either in what is called “remission” (not a cure) or a relatively slow death.
While a massive amount of money is regularly spent searching for a so-called “cancer cure,” which seems to be more about business and politics than health, we already have a consensus about the best remedy: prevention. A healthy body does not have a diagnosis of cancer.
Within us are genes for many types of cancer. Whether these genes are turned on (“expressed”) to cause disease — or not — is affected, in most cases, by our influence on them through lifestyle, especially diet, physical activity and stress. One important aspect of health that helps prevent and control cancer is a well-functioning biochemical body. Particularly important is the metabolism, especially good fat-burning that prevents excess body fat and weight, poor blood sugar control, hormone balance and an effective regulation of other physical, chemical and mental stress.
Various biochemical abnormalities are associated with poor health that could lead to the development of cancer — in particular, these are chronic inflammation, carbohydrate intolerance and aerobic deficiency. Herein lies a key component of true prevention, not just screening for disease after the fact. We control these factors by being both healthy and fit.
I’ve discussed both chronic inflammation and carbohydrate intolerance extensively in relation to cancer — that both conditions are very early manifestations of most chronic diseases. Aerobic deficiency, often discussed in relation to poor fitness, can also be a cancer-causing culprit because of its metabolic influences.
Fitness is not something most people think of when faced with preventing or treating cancer. But many traditional cancer prevention recommendations include the notion that exercise has a positive effect. However, rarely is exercise defined so that the average person knows how much duration and at what intensity is adequate but not too high.
The fact is, negative consequences of exercise can just as easily contribute to cancer. In particular, too much hard, high-intensity or anaerobic exercise can adversely affect the metabolism to encourage — or even become a potential trigger for — cancer.
Fortunately, our bodies come equipped with another component of fitness, which can also significantly improve health, helping protect us from cancer — the aerobic system.
A primary feature of the aerobic system is its fat-burning capability, which reduces reliance on sugar-burning. Sugar is the very fuel used by tumor cells. The process of converting fat to energy is essential for a healthy metabolism, and takes place in the slow-twitch muscle fibers, the aerobic muscle cell’s mitochondria.
Poor mitochondrial function and reduced fat-burning are associated with impaired health, with cancer patients generally having very poor aerobic systems (although aerobic deficiency is very common in the general population, even in those without cancer).
A tumor, or cancerous growth, is primarily made up of sugar-burning cells that also produce lactate. As part of complex metabolic mechanisms, increased lactate can reduce aerobic function and fat-burning, and increases oxidative stress, and is associated with:
- Increased anaerobic activity.
- Increased sugar-burning.
- Antioxidant reductions.
- Reduced immune function.
In addition to this recipe for cancer, physical, chemical and mental stress can increase the hormone cortisol and sympathetic nervous system activity further impairing aerobic function. This maintains reduced fat-burning, increased sugar-burning, and poor mitochondrial and metabolic function — maintaining a viscous cycle even for patients in remission.
A healthy aerobic system — promoted with the combination of proper physical activity and healthy food, helps break this cycle.
Food and Cancer
Calorie restriction and fasting are two commonly employed cancer nutrition therapies that, over decades, have varying degrees of success. They have also been effective for:
- Treatment of other chronic diseases.
- Improving general health.
- Positively influencing aging in part because of reduced oxidative stress.
The one biochemical feature common to calorie restriction and fasting is ketosis — the high use of ketone bodies and fats for bodywide energy instead of sugar-burning.
But calorie restriction or fasting excessively while trying to live healthy and productive lives is not practical or necessary because it can lead to nutrient deficiencies and starvation. We can, however, prompt our bodies to burn more fat, to make more ketones, reduce reliance on sugar-burning, and lower our caloric requirement as metabolism becomes more efficient.
Most sugar-dependent cancer cells are unable to use ketones for energy like healthy cells can. Ketone bodies may even be toxic to cancer cells. A number of studies show that the change from sugar- to fat/ketone-burning results in three key anti-cancer actions:
- Anti-angiogenic (anti-tumor forming).
- Pro-apoptotic (cancer cell destruction).
From a dietary standpoint, increasing fat burning is accomplished by reducing carbohydrate intake, and increasing healthy fat consumption, while maintaining adequate high-quality protein intake. The exercise aspect of this means building the aerobic system. We need not necessarily have to go into nutritional ketosis, although some people are healthier doing so, and as an effective cancer therapy it is becoming more popular.
Of the other potentially useful cancer treatments, both medical and alternative, they tend to work best in a body with a better, healthier biochemistry, rather than be a replacement for it. Most of these remedies won’t create a healthier metabolism because some unhealthy lifestyle component overrides the therapeutic effect. For example, alkalizing the body with very expensive dietary supplements won’t work well if a person is eating a lot of carbohydrates (which strongly acidifies the body). Focusing on primary health benefits, which don’t cost any more than real food, as discussed here and elsewhere on philmaffetone.com, should be a primary focus.