Today is going to be a little unique because I decided to share my research project for the semester with all of you. My presentation was on the monster of all monsters – cancer. I first want to explain that cancer, unlike other diseases and illnesses, is completely nondiscriminatory. It does not care who you are, what you look like, your gender, age, color, whether you are the poorest person or the richest, the most unhealthy or even the healthiest, cancer can affect anyone. In the general population (in the United States) it is estimated that about 1 in 3 people are at risk. But I want to focus on the positive. On that small beam of light of hope and possibility and that is to take preventative measures because at the end of the day that is something we can all control – regardless of who we are and where we are in life.
I will admit, up until last year, cancer was just a word of a disease I knew existed but had not yet touched the lives of anyone close to me. In my family, the people who have had cancer (that I personally know), have all survived. Needless to say, when my grandma was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, also known as stage 4 and the most advanced stage, my family and I were in a total state of shock; and when we lost her only a few weeks after her diagnosis there was a cloud of fear, questions, and doubt. My mom and I met up with a genetic counselor just to clear some of that fear and we found that fortunately we did not carry the BRCA gene; regardless, breast cancer is the #1 killer for women. We left that day understanding that what happened to my grandma is something that happens to about 40,000 women a year. And we now know that even if we cant control whether or not we will fall victims of breast cancer, there are ways to prevent it from happening to us as best as possible. The answer: nutrition, exercise, and getting 3D mammograms.
This project allowed me to dive deeper into preventative measures as well as understanding why and how people can get cancer. In a way, it was therapeutic to find answers and know that I am ultimately in control of such a monster and I hope to help my family, all of you, and others when I make it as a dietitian. Again, cancer can attack any one of us, but if we are healthy and strong and catch it early on, we may have a chance to get out of it alive.
So first, what is cancer: “Cancer is the name given to a collection of related diseases. In all types of cancer, some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into surrounding tissues.
Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.
When cancer develops, however, this orderly process breaks down. As cells become more and more abnormal, old or damaged cells survive when they should die, and new cells form when they are not needed. These extra cells can divide without stopping and may form growths called tumors.”
So who can get cancer? Again, any one of us. The good news is that our bodies are designed to fight & destroy cancer cells. Therefore, we have the power to determine whether we feed or starve them.
What are risks that can cause us to get cancer? According to my textbook:
- Red meat, processed meats
- Salted & salt-preserved foods
- Beta-carotene supplements
- High calcium (over 1500 mg/day)
- Alcohol & smoking
- Low physical activity level
And how to lower our risks?
- Fruits & non-starchy vegetables
- Carotenoid-containing foods
- Tomato products
- Allium vegetables (onion, garlic)
- Vit C containing foods
- Folate containing foods
- Fiber containing foods
- Milk and calcium supplements
- High level of physical activity
And yes…that’s right, my textbook mentions milk. Shocking to me as I have heard that milk can actual be harmful to us, mostly due to its proteins. I added to my presentation unsure of how my cow milk-drinking peers and professor would feel but I showed two published medical articles side by side with their research. One stating that milk is not beneficial and can actually cause cancer cells to multiply, and the other stating that milk may be helpful for some cancer such as colorectal cancer. I wanted to include this because I have heard so much in regards to both sides and I was reading articles found through my library database for hours. In conclusion to this debate, I found that ultimately research is still unsure if milk is what is helpful, or if it is just the calcium it has. I wanted to bring this up especially because in the field of nutrition, there is always new research and there are always controversial foods and this is one I find especially interesting.
Moving right along lets talk about fruits and veggies! Phytochemicals are found in our fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains. Nutrition researchers estimate that more than 4,000 phytochemicals have been identified, but only 150 have been studied in depth. Because that is such a huge topic all on its own, here is a list of your fruits and veggies easily accessible and great to consume to help us fight off cancer cells – but also to keep us healthier in general. Phytochemicals are helpful to keeping even the common cold away so they are extremely beneficial for the smallest of illnesses to the biggest.
Veggies: Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Tomatoes, Corn, Carrots, Celery, Spinach, Kale, Beets, Red peppers, Yams, Garlic, Onion
Fruits: Mangos, Oranges, Blueberries, Strawberries, Cantaloupe, Apricots, Grapes, Blueberries, Cranberries, Raspberries
When in doubt….eat the rainbow and try to include these beautiful fruits and vegetables every day!
Besides fruits and vegetables, exercise and staying active have also been shown to fight off cancer cells. According to a published study, physical exercise has been shown to reduce cancer incidence and inhibit tumor growth and exercise inhibits tumor growth across cancer histologies and at all stages of tumor development. My textbook further explains that to help prevent cancer it is helpful to achieve & maintain a healthy body weight throughout life. This means be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight for your height & avoid weight gain and increases in waist circumference throughout adulthood. In addition, be physically active as part of everyday life. For adults: engage in moderate physical activity for at least 30 min. each day; increase with improvement. For children & adolescents: engage in moderate to vigorous activity for at least 60 min. each day. Limit sedentary habits such as watching television.
The takeaway message, brought to you by Dr. Greger:
“We should all be Eating fruits & Vegetables like Our lives depend on It – because they do.”
I know that cancer is such a scary and heartbreaking subject, but I want you all to feel empowered to take control of your own health. I want you to know that even if you or a loved one is ever touched by cancer, it has been proven that if you catch it early enough and are healthy, then the chances of getting better are greater. Unfortunately, this was not the case for my grandma as it isn’t for millions of other people, but the more we know and the more research teaches us, the greater of a chance we have to eliminate it. It is because of my grandma and the strength of my family that I feel passionate about continuing my studies and research. Without them, I don’t think I could have dived into this. Our hearts still ache for our loss but I feel that because of that, I can hopefully inspire you all and continue to talk about living a happy, healthy life in hopes that it will make a difference.
Thank you so much for reading this long post!
Until next time,