We are used to cancer. It is the leading cause of death in the world. Despite the fact that 609,640 people died of cancer in the United States in 2018, there still hasn’t been much progress in the treatment and outcome of cancers like breast cancer and many others. We take it for granted that this disease will probably occur in our lifetime either to us or someone we know.
My wife Beth was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma when she was 21 years old. This is an environmental cancer, and was likely caused by something she was exposed to. That should be alarming in its own right. We both were not exposed to anything out of the ordinary when we were younger, yet she and countless others are diagnosed with environmental cancers like this every year. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way. All it takes is a shift in our perspective on what preventative medicine means. It doesn’t mean simply getting checked out once a year and hoping nothing has developed. It doesn’t mean following the conventional wisdom of nutrition and staying away from essential healing foods like animal products. Keeping your body bulletproof from cancer takes an ancestral perspective. There is evidence coming out now that cancer is a for the most part, man made disease. Let’s look at the factors that have affected cancer rates since the industrial revolution, when we started to become exposed to the start of modern life we are living now.
Set Your Circadian Rhythm
Our modern lifestyles are rife with things that disrupt our circadian rhythm, the internal clock system that controls all processes in our body. Every cell has its own circadian rhythm (CD), and the disruption of it can result in complete dysfunction. This has been demonstrated in many studies.
- In conclusion, abnormal expression levels of core clock genes in CRC tissue may be related to the process of tumorigenesis and exert an influence on host/tumor interactions.
- Circadian clock gene dysfunction is likely to be of importance in the development of cancer as well as various other diseases.
- In 2007, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized “shiftwork that involves circadian disruption [as] probably carcinogenic to humans”
The takeaway is that many factors in our lives work against our circadian rhythm. When this happens over an extended period of time, we are much more susceptible to the development of cancer. This is something that is easy to make right with habits that correct and fine tune our internal clocks. These habits/influences are called zeitgebers, factors that influence the circadian rhythm. Here is a list of zeitgebers that we can use to optimize our CD and ward off the negative effects of disruption.
- Exercise in the morning can set our bodies to wake at the same time everyday. Exercise is a potent way to influence the release of morning cortisol and the sympathetic nervous system. This can be a hard resistance training session or a low impact aerobic exercise like walking. Anything to get the body up and primed.
- Eating sets the circadian rhythm. If your sleep cycles are already disturbed and you are trying to incorporate a fasting schedule that makes you skip breakfast and lunch, that will only further the disruption of the CD. Eat around when you want your body to naturally wake up. Do this over the course of a couple of days and your rhythm will start to become set. If you still want to follow an intermittent fasting schedule, try making dinner earlier. Just make sure to eat soon after you awaken.
- Proper light exposure is VITAL. Bright light from something as common as an overhead room light it enough to trigger the release of cortisol and activate the sympathetic nervous system while blunting the buildup of sleep pressure and release of melatonin. This study showed the ability of household lights to reset the CD. Get bright light or sunlight early in the day to activate the release of stress hormones and wake up, and stay away from bright lights towards the end of the day when you are trying to wind down. Turn off the blue light on your phone and get some blue blocking glasses if you have bright lights or the TV on in the evening.
Restrict Your Carbohydrate Intake
This is one that we could benefit from as an entire species. I know your probably sick of hearing about low-carb diets. You might be thinking of the popular Atkins Diet. While the branding around the diet is pretty ridiculous (check out the ingredients in the line of bars and foods under the Atkins name), the concept is sound. Out of all the nutrients our body can use for fuel, glucose (carbohydrate) is the most inflammatory and unnecessary. Glucose is a dirty burning fuel that cannot be utilized beyond a certain amount and is commonly stored as fat. Too much glucose in the bloodstream results in AGE’s (advanced glycation end products). AGE’s cause premature aging and oxidative stress on the body. That is its own problem. The issue we are talking about here though, is cancer.
We already established that cancer is mostly a disease of civilization. I feel that it is a good assumption to make that the lifestyle factors we made as hunter-gatherers most have had a protective effect on the proliferation of cancer. One of the main differences between how we live now and how we lived for 99 percent of our history as a species is our diet. The advent of agriculture and consumption of easy-to-grow grains only account for a fraction of 1 percent of our history. Conveniently, the growth of cancer as a killer of our species happens to increase in step with our focus on sugars and carbohydrates for duel. Our ancestral diet of mostly animals and small amounts of foraged berries and root vegetables is a far cry from the processed carbohydrate-laden way of eating we follow today.
With the premise that most of us are not eating in alignment with how our species is supposed to eat, lets look at how this relates to the growth of cancer. Although Otto Warburg discovered in the early 20’s that cancerous cell proliferation requires an abundance of glucose to take place, science is just now recognizing this important factor in cancer treatment and prevention. Hyperglycemia (consistently high blood sugar) is associated with an increased risk of cancer. This is further evidenced by the fact that the population with the worst blood sugar control, type-2 diabetics, have a much higher risk of cancer occurrence than other populations.
Now associations are great, but does specifically restricting carbohydrates result in a lowered risk of cancer? Unfortunately, there are not many human studies looking directly at a low carb diet and cancer prevention. Here are a couple promising studies looking directly at a high fat diet and people with cancer.
- Here is a study looking at cancer patients fed either a high glucose diet, a high fat diet, or a “normal” diet that was identical calories. Tumor celled increased by 32.2% in patients receiving a glucose based diet, and decreased by 24.3% in patients on a high-fat diet.
- Two patients with advanced stage malignant Astrocytoma tumors were put on a very high fat diet (60% MCT oil diet). After 7 days levels of blood glucose were brought down to low-normal levels and glucose uptake of the tumor was decreased by 21.8% in both patients.
- A woman with a partial surgical removal of a brain tumor was put on a ketogenic diet for 2 months. At the end of this period a PET scan showed no tumor growth or detectable brain tumor tissue. 10 weeks after the diet was ended the tumor reacurred.
What is important to note is that in all of those trials, the pattens had end stage cancer. They were fighting an uphill battle seeing the efficacy of diet and treatment of cancer. If we followed a low-carbohydrate diet for the most part of our lives the cancer would have a much harder time occurring in the first place. For the uncontrolled multiplication of cells to occur, a steady overabundance of glucose needs to be present.
- Get rid of the grains. Breads, cereals, pastas, they all contribute to high blood glucose levels and provide very little nutrition.
- Do not consume beverages with added sugars or lots of fruit juices. If you do one thing, do this. The lack of any fiber bound to the sugar allows it to spike our blood sugar instantly, resulting in massive inflammation and fat storage.
- Focus on animal foods like meat, fish, eggs, and raw dairy being the core of your diet. Good vegetables to include are leafy greens and small amounts of starchy tubers.
- For sweetness consume small, low-sugar polyphenol rich berries like blueberries, strawberries, and blackberries.
Following a simple diet like that the majority of the time will ensure your body is metabolically efficient at burning fat and good at clearing the glucose you ingest quickly from your bloodstream. I have an article over here on how to eat in an ancestral manner.
Get Regular Exercise
According to the The International Agency for Research on Cancer, 25% of all cancer can be linked directly to being overweight or obese and living a sedentary lifestyle. The majority of our population is overweight or obese. Right off the bat a fourth of our population is much more likely to develop cancer at some point in their lives. Plenty of epidemiological evidence links those that live sedentary lives to an increased risk of cancer. The mechanisms effected by exercise are many. Exercise beneficial to our bodies in so many ways.
- Our sex steroid hormones effect our likelihood of developing cancer. In women, higher BMI and higher levels of free estradiol and estrogen coincide with a higher likelihood of breast cancer. Regular exercise and a leaner physique helps control levels of these hormones, lowering risk of breast cancer.
- Exercise dramatically improves our response to insulin by controlling blood sugar and making our musculoskeletal system sensitive to glucose. Being insulin resistant increases our likelihood of many cancers. From this report, “Conclusions are that chronic hyperinsulinaemia may be a cause of cancers of the colon, pancreas and endometrium, and also possibly of the breast”. Smart exercise ensures that hyperinsulinaemia does not occur.
- Bodyweight is a big predictor of colorectal cancer. This study adjusted for dietary risk and the fact remained that overweight individuals were put at a statistically larger risk of cancer.
- This review looked at the mechanisms that cause exercise to play such a beneficial role in health maintenance. From the review, “Improvements in immunity due to regular exercise of moderate intensity may be due to reductions in inflammation, maintenance of thymic mass, alterations in the composition of “older” and “younger” immune cells, enhanced immunosurveillance, and/or the amelioration of psychological stress. Indeed, exercise is a powerful behavioral intervention that has the potential to improve immune and health outcomes in the elderly, the obese, and patients living with cancer and chronic viral infections such as HIV.”
So far it looks like regular bouts of exercise benefit us by modulating the function of our immune system. It encourages cellular cleanup, encourages the maintenance of inflammation, and overall boosts the function of immune cells. At the opposite end of the spectrum too much exercise can lower immune function. This can be found in both elite athletes and endurance athletes engaged in long, drawn out bouts of things like cardio. It looks like the most beneficial type of exercise would be a focus on resistance training with lots of slow movement interspersed through out the day. Get in 2 or 3 sessions of resistance training a week (bodyweight movements, barbell, or free weights), and go on plenty of walks. The difference between no exercise and a little is MASSIVE. Simply keeping your body mass in check seems to be a huge predictor in the development of cancer.
There it is folks. To recap
- Get your circadian rhythm set to the same timing everyday. Eat breakfast soon after you wake up to lower cortisol in the morning and encourage a healthy internal rhythm. Stay away from bright lights and blue light from phones in the evening. Get exercise or gentle movement in the morning.
- Lower your carbohydrate intake by getting rid of processed carbohydrates and sugars. Make an effort to focus on well sourced animal foods and organic vegetables. This will lower inflammation and encourage your body to be efficient at mobilizing and burning fat for fuel, not glucose. Remember, cancer runs on glucose.
- Get exercise in. The best type of exercise is the one you will do. Go for walks everyday. Lift weights a couple times a week. Sprint a couple times a month. The difference between no exercise and a little is huge.
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Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA. He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed practices. This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits. Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!