How to prevent cancer

Vegetables and FruitsSix years ago the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute of Cancer Research published the mother of all literature reviews on food, nutrition, physical activity and the prevention of cancer (1).

A panel of 21 world-renowned scientists reviewed the research evidence and drew conclusions based on in-depth analysis of over 7,000 scientific studies published on cancer prevention over the last 50 years.

As a result of this review they made a number of recommendations:

  1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight
  2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes per day
  3. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks
  4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and pulses
  5. Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats
  6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 per day for men and 1 per day for women
  7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt
  8. Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer
  9. Do not smoke or chew tobacco
  10. Breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods
  11. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

Since then further research has been conducted to see whether compliance with these recommendations has any effect on the risk of death from cancer and other diseases.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on 3 April 2013 (2).

Researchers investigated nearly 380,000 people in nine European countries over 12 years and examined their diet and lifestyle to see how closely they complied with seven of World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research’s (WCRF/AICR) Recommendations for Cancer Prevention.

They found that the risk of dying from several diseases, including cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory diseases, can be reduced by 34 per cent if these recommendations are followed.

Those who most closely followed the WCRF/AICR Recommendations had a 50 per cent reduced chance of dying from respiratory disease, 44 per cent for circulatory disease and 20 per cent for cancer, when compared to the group with the lowest level of compliance.

The Recommendations with the greatest impact on reducing the risk of death from disease were being as lean as possible without becoming underweight (22 per cent reduced risk) and eating mostly plant foods (21 per cent).

In terms of cancer, limiting alcohol consumption and following the plant food recommendation reduced the risk of dying from the disease by the greatest margin, at 21 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

The study is the first to examine breastfeeding as part of a combination of lifestyle changes to see what effect it has on risk of dying.  It showed that women who breastfed for at least six months had a reduced risk of death from cancer (ten per cent) and circulatory disease (17 per cent).

Although the WRCF/AICR recommendations were focused on the prevention of cancer, this study shows that adherence to these recommendations also reduces the risk of other diseases.

The bottom line is that maintaining a lean body by consuming a predominantly plant-based diet, being physically active and minimising intake of alcohol is most likely to protect you from cancer.  Looking after yourself in this way will also help to reduce your risk of circulatory and respiratory diseases.

If you would like to learn about how to introduce more plant-based dishes into your diet why not sign up for free email updates with information, recipes and news and visit my website at http://www.cookingforhealth.biz.

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References

1. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. Washington DC : AICR, 2007.

2. Adherence to the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research guidelines and risk of death in Europe: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Nutrition and Cancer cohort study. Anne-Claire Vergnaud et al. 3 April 2013, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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Nutrition – a game changer in global healthcare

Fierce political debate rages on both sides of the Atlantic about the rising cost of healthcare and what should be done about it.

Spending on health services in the UK has more than doubled in cash terms in the last decade, growing from £53 billion in 2000-01 to £120 billion in 2010-11; this is equivalent to an increase of around 80 per cent in real terms (1).  In England, 22 per cent of total public spending is devoted to healthcare.

In the USA, more than $2.5 trillion is spent annually on medical care.  But as recently as 1950, Americans spent only about $8.4 billion ($70 billion in today’s dollars).  After adjusting for inflation, Americans now spend as much on health care every ten days as they did in the entire year of 1950 (2).  In the USA, medical spending now represents nearly 20 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

The cost of health insurance continues to climb for US companies and workers, with annual family premiums growing at a pace triple that of 2010 and outpacing wage increases (3). The chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, is quoted as saying that his company spends more money on insurance for its employees than it spends on coffee (4).

New legislation, large-scale reorganisation of health services, changes in insurance schemes and budget cuts are all among the radical measures being taken by governments to address this issue.

There is much less press coverage though about the real game changer with respect to reducing healthcare costs – improving nutrition and lifestyle.

Chronic or non-communicable diseases are the top cause of death worldwide, killing more than 36 million people in 2008.  Cardiovascular diseases were responsible for 48 per cent of these deaths, cancers 21 per cent, chronic respiratory diseases 12 per cent, and diabetes 3 per cent (5).

In most middle- and high-income countries non-communicable diseases were responsible for more deaths than all other causes of death combined, with almost all high-income countries reporting more than 70 per cent of total deaths due to non-communicable diseases (6).

In the UK and the USA, non-communicable diseases account for over 80 per cent of all deaths (5).

Common, preventable risk factors underlie most of these non-communicable diseases.  These risk factors are a leading cause of the death and disability burden in nearly all countries, regardless of economic development.

The leading risk factor globally for mortality is raised blood pressure (responsible for 13 per cent of deaths globally), followed by tobacco use (9 per cent), raised blood glucose (6 per cent), physical inactivity (6 per cent), and overweight and obesity (5 per cent) (7).

If we were to stop overeating, stop eating unhealthy foods, stop smoking and stop living sedentary lives, these risk factors would reduce, the prevalence of these diseases would reduce, healthcare costs would reduce and we would enjoy a greater quality of life.

Simple changes to diet and lifestyle really can make a dramatic difference to your health and well-being (8).

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Works Cited

1. National Audit Office. Healthcare across the UK: A comparison of the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. s.l. : National Audit Office, 2012.

2. Robbins, John and Robbins, Ocean. Beyond the Obamacare debate – why does healthcare cost so much? . s.l. : Fox News, 2012.

3. US Health Insurance Costs Rise. [Online] 27 September 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/27/us-health-insurance-costs-climb.

4. Businessweek. [Online] 21 November 2004. http://www.businessweek.com/stories/2004-11-21/online-extra-a-full-bodied-talk-with-mr-dot-starbucks.

5. World Health Organisation. Non-communicable diseases country profiles 2011.

6. —. Global status report on noncommunicable diseases 2010. . Geneva : s.n., 2011.

7. —. Global health risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks. . Geneva : s.n., 2009.

8. Willett, W.C. Eat, Drink and Be Healthy. New York : Free Press, 2001. ISBN 0 684 86337 5.

9. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology. Health Behaviour. Postnote, May 2007, no. 283. 2007.