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Living a cancer free life

Basma Saleh

Living a cancer free life





It is Breast Cancer Awareness month! Ads and campaigns are everywhere asking women over the age of 40 to get screened for early detection. But why is all the focus on early detection? With emerging data stating that the fastest growing cancers today are occurring in people under the age of 35, wouldn’t it be better to campaign for prevention rather than detection? 


Cancer is work in progress

We all have cancer cells in our body, which the immune system should handle if functioning well. In fact, it takes 7 to 10 years for cancer cells to form a mass that is big enough to become detectable. Wouldn’t it make sense that if we take good care of our immune system, we won’t have to worry much about detection?


What if we have bad genes

We were previously told that the genes we were born with determined our health, traits and behaviors. However, new research in the field of epigenetics drastically refuted this theory by showing that our genes are like a switchboard that can be turned on or off. Epigenetics is the study of how factors such as food, sleep, nutrient deficiencies, toxic exposure and life experiences can influence our genes to remain dormant (keeping us disease free) or become active (1). Science has made its verdict. We can actually keep our bad genes inactive through lifestyle modifications.

“Illnesses do not come upon us out of the blue. They are developed from small daily sins against Nature. When enough sins have accumulated, illnesses will suddenly appear.” Hippocrates


Major culprits in the rise in number of cancer cases

- Exposure to chemicals in our food chain. There is no doubt that our current farming methods are far from those used by our ancestors. Today, a big portion of our food has become genetically modified and laced with dangerous chemicals in the form of pesticides and herbicides. According to a 2017 United Nations report, more than 200,000 people die every year from chronic exposure to pesticides with the majority being farmers. Moreover, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified one of the most worldwide used herbicides, glyphosate, as a potential carcinogen (2).


- Excessive consumption of sugar. Can you imagine how sugar intake has increased dramatically in the past 150 years? Sugar consumption went up from 5 pounds per person annually to 175 pounds per person annually. 

And, while some studies have found that sugar can deprive your body of vitamin C by preventing it from entering into the cells, other studies showed that patients with advanced cancer had very low levels of vitamin C. 


- Increased exposure to chemicals. There are about 80,000 chemicals on the market, less than 300 of which have been tested to detect their safety level.  Some of the chemicals that have been linked to cancer include:

. Polystyrene: Polystyrene contains the toxic substances styrene and benzene, both labeled as suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It has been widely used to make disposable beverage containers, meat and fish trays in supermarkets, packaging materials, and take-out food containers, toys, coolers and more. 

When used for hot foods and liquids, as well as acidic ones, polystyrene starts to breakdown causing some toxins to be absorbed into our bloodstream and tissue.

. Formaldehyde: Used as a preservative to prolong the shelf life and prevent bacterial contamination of the products. It is widely used in the beauty industry under the following names, dimethoxymethane, methylene glycol, quaternium 15,   and 3 dioxane.

. Bisphenol-A (BPA): This chemical, which is found in many household products made of plastic, has been known to disrupt hormones and is linked to breast cancer.


- EMFs. Emerging science has implicated prolonged exposure to EMFs from mobile devices, laptops, WIFI routers, etc. to internal inflammation, organ damage and sleep disruption. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reviewed the published literature and categorized the radio-frequency radiation (RFR) emitted by mobile phones and other wireless devices as a “possible” (Group 2B) human carcinogen (3)

Another article that was published on PubMed, detailed the incidences of breast cancer in four young women under the age of 40, which was deemed uncommon since all of them had no family history or genetic predisposition to the disease. However, the thing they all had in common is that they used to tuck their mobile phones into their bras. 


- Antibiotics. Besides killing the bad guys, antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your gut. This good bacteria works tirelessly to preserve the integrity of your gut lining, which when damaged will allow toxins, bacteria and viruses to enter your bloodstream, create inflammation and predispose you to all sorts of illnesses including cancer.


- Lack of sleep. After comparing data from 61 studies, including more than 114,000 cancer cases and more than 3.9 million participants from North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, researchers found that women who worked night shifts for longer periods of time had a 41% higher risk of skin cancer, 32% higher risk of breast cancer and an 18% greater risk of digestive system cancers compared to women who did not work night shifts. Many functional medicine practitioners have attributed these implications to the lack of melatonin. How?

Ideally, your body begins to produce melatonin soon after the onset of darkness. Production peaks by the middle of the night then starts to decline gradually.

I am saying 'ideally' because studies show that you need to be in full darkness for your pineal gland to produce adequate levels of melatonin. In other words, turning on artificial light at night lowers your levels of melatonin. 

Some of the studies on melatonin and cancer:

- A study found that blind women, whose eyes can't detect artificial light and their bodies are capable of producing high amounts of melatonin, had lower than average breast cancer rates.

- Another study found that giving melatonin to breast cancer patients who were being treated by conventional methods such as chemotherapy and radiation doubled both their survival and time before recurrence.

- A very interesting study found that night light created tamoxifen (a breast cancer drug) resistance and that administering melatonin solved the problem.


Screening Methods


Despite being promoted as life saving, there has been a lot of controversy around the efficacy and safety of mammograms. In an article published in the International Journal of Health Services, Dr. Samuel Epstein, one of the world’s top experts, stated that radiation exposure from one mammogram is close to 1,000 chest X-rays. He also mentioned that "The premenopausal breast is highly sensitive to radiation, each 1 rad exposure increasing breast cancer risk by about 1 percent, with a cumulative 10 percent increased risk for each breast over a decade's screening." (4)

In September 2010, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that examined the effectiveness of mammograms. The study found that mammograms seem to have reduced cancer death rates by only 0.4 deaths per 1,000 women (5).

Furthermore, mammograms were found to carry up to six percent chance of false positives.


A safe alternative to mammography: 

Thermography, also called thermal imaging, is a test that uses an infrared camera to measure the temperature of the skin on the breast’s surface. This procedure uses NO radiation and has many benefits including,

- Thermography doesn’t require any compression, which reduces the risk of spreading cancer cells, if present.

- Unlike mammography, which can only detect a tumor after it has grown to around 1 cm in size, about one billion cells, thermography detects any change in the breast tissue before the cancer has even formed.

- Since thermal imaging detects changes at the cellular level, studies suggest that this test can detect activity 8 to 10 years before any other test.

- Unlike mammography, thermography can be used to screen young dense breasts.

- Thermography is safe and can be used during pregnancy and nursing.


Useful markers to check the current status of your health:

Prevention is key. Getting to know what’s cooking inside our body is very important so we can take action at the right time. These are a few markers to consider checking.

- Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins that we should strive to maintain at an optimal level. It affects around 3,000 genes within our body and studies show that it is critical for the prevention of chronic disease in general.

A pooled analysis that was published in PLOS ONE found that vitamin D concentrations of 40 ng/ml and more were associated with a 65% lower risk of cancer. Another meta analysis found a 38% reduction in mortality rates for those with the highest levels of vitamin D compared to those with the lowest level at the time of diagnosis. 

It is noted that experts believe that maintaining a level ranging between 70 and 80 ng/ml is critical.

- COMT (catechol-o-methyltransferese) is an enzyme that is responsible for the break down of catechol estrogens inside the body. Any mutation or SNP in the COMT gene may result in excessive amounts of estrogen circulating in the body. It is noted that excessive estrogen or estrogen dominance increases the risk of breast cancer, as well as other types of hormone related cancers. 

People who have a variation or SNP in their COMT gene should pay extra attention to detoxification and avoid external factors that may overload their body with synthetic estrogen, such as plastics and pesticide laden foods. They should also AVOID drinking green tea and supplementing quercetin. Mercury was shown to inhibit COMT so they need to make sure they don’t have excessive amounts within their body. Genetic testing has become easier and more affordable than ever. And, testing for SNPs in genes such as COMT could literally save lives. 

- CYP1A2 is another gene that helps to break down toxins and drugs. It is also the key enzyme responsible for metabolizing caffeine. Those who have a gene variation with 'C allele' are slow caffeine detoxifiers and coffee intake will contribute to excessive amounts of estrogen inside their body. 

- Elevated homocysteine is a marker for vitamin B9 (folate) and/or vitamin B12 deficiency, both of which are very important for methylation (detoxification). Elevated homocysteine is associated with increased risk of breast cancer. People who have a SNP in their MTHFR gene can’t convert folic acid into a useable form, which makes folic acid supplementation a health hazard for them. However, they can supplement folate in its bioavailable form, which is 5-MTHF.

Besides the possible variations in genes, some drugs inhibit the enzyme that metabolizes folic acid such as antacids, some statins, oral contraceptives and diabetes medication. Another drug that blocks the enzyme is methotrexate.

- Low Free T3. Low thyroid function is another marker for low detoxification. FT3 optimal value should be >3.2 pg/ml.

 - C-Reactive Protein (C-RP) is a marker of acute inflammation. It should ideally be <1 ng/mL. Low levels of vitamin A are shown to increase C-RP.

 - Elevated Ferritin can be the result of cancer, liver disease or inflammation. It can also be the result of iron overload. Between 35 - 70 ng/mL is optimal.

 - HbA1c is not only reflective of blood glucose levels in the past six to eight weeks, but it is also a strong indicator of inflammation and should be kept at <5%


Supplements and herbs that can help protect against cancer:

- Omega-3s. Due to our modern lifestyle and diet the ratio between omega-6, which is pro-inflammatory, and omega-3, which is anti-inflammatory, has risen to around 20:1 inside our body. Optimally this ratio should be around 1:1 to 4:1. Studies have shown that omega-3 from fish oil is 8 times more effective in preventing cancer than plant-derived omega-3. Read more here.

- Vitamin A is critical for DNA repair and is important to keep the structural integrity of the tight junctions in the gut lining, thus preventing undigested food from leaking into the blood stream and creating disease. It is crucial for the production of SIgA, which is a strong anti-inflammatory, binds to pathogens and helps prevent leaky gut. However, it is very important to get vitamin A from a natural source such as carrots, butternut squash, broccoli, sweet potatoes and fish oil. Never use synthetic vitamin A as it’s highly toxic.

- Vitamin D. We've already covered its importance earlier in the article.

- Zinc is important for immune function as it aids in dealing with oxidative stress and helps repair DNA. It also enhances apoptosis, which is the programed death of cancer cells. Without apoptosis, cancer cells will become immortal.

- Colostrum. There has been a lot of research highlighting the importance of colostrum and its role in healing the gut and balancing the immune system. Read here.

- Ginger, turmeric and medicinal mushrooms are highly anti-inflammatory, while parsley contains a compound called apigenin. In a study, rats with a certain type of breast cancer that were exposed to apigenin developed fewer tumors and experienced significant delays in tumor formation compared to those rats that were not exposed to apigenin

- Cancer has the ability to spread within the body through creating its own web of blood vessels, which is called angiogenesis in scientific terms. Cinnamon extract was found to have the ability to inhibit this process. 

- An extract of cilantro root was shown to inhibit the spreading of human breast cancer cells by up to 94% in vitro, and inhibited their growth by over 50%.


Healing Foods:

An anti-inflammatory diet is very essential for the body to restore its balance. After all, you are what you eat. Some of the healing foods include:

- Bone broth

- Greens

- Fermented foods

- Cruciferous vegetables

- Ghee

- Berries

- Coconut oil

- Olives


 Foods to avoid:

 All pro-inflammatory foods such as:

 - Refined grains

- Vegetable oils (corn oil, sunflower oil, canola oil,.....)

- Refined sugar

- processed foods such as cold cuts, processed cheese and packaged food

- Foods with artificial colorings, preservatives and flavors

- All foods that contain hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and herbicides


Final thoughts:

 - Our genes do not dictate our future.

- Protection rather than detection should be our focus.

- Thermography is non-invasive alternative to mammography.

- Testing for gene mutations can help you carve a strong and reliable prevention protocol.

- Fish oil, colostrum, vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc, turmeric and ginger are crucial components in an anti-inflammatory and healing protocol. 


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