February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and so we pay special attention during these four weeks to doing right by our bodies, and making sure our loved ones do the same.
In my household, however – and maybe also in yours – nearly every day, all year is devoted to cancer prevention, through diet, exercise and other healthy lifestyle choices.
With the National Cancer Institute estimating one in two adults will get cancer in his or her lifetime, here are some key steps my family takes to keep cancer at bay.
1. I continually advocate eating organically grown fruits and vegetables for many reasons, chief among them cancer prevention. Numerous studies have linked the phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli, and cabbage to reduced rates of mouth, esophagus, and stomach cancer. The American Institute for Cancer Research suspects that the lycopene found in tomatoes stops tumor development by interfering with abnormal cell growth. And antioxidant-rich berries have also been shown to reduce inflammation, and protect against lung and colon cancer.
2. Some of the worst cancer-causing offenders are the products people use every day on their bodies, hair, nails, teeth and faces. According to the Environmental Working Group, which maintains a highly regarded cosmetics database called “Skin Deep,” key cancer-causing ingredients to avoid include parabens, formaldehyde, and petroleum distillates.
3. Many cleaning products commonly used in the home are rife with dangerous chemicals such as sodium hypochlorite (chlorine bleach), ammonia and nitrobenzene. Avoid these and other toxins by using all-natural, green cleaning products that contain plant-derived ingredients and essential oils. Also, make sure these cleaners are third-party tested and verified, meaning an independent lab has confirmed they’re as healthy as they say they are.
4. Opt for organic dry cleaning, which uses a food-grade level of carbon dioxide to de-soil your garments, instead of a chemical known as PERC. The National Resources Defense Council notes that PERC can harm the brain and central nervous systems, and has been linked to elevated risks of esophageal cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cervical cancer in people exposed occupationally.
5. Aside from preventing heart disease, improving psychological well-being and keeping bones, joints and muscles healthy, exercise can also protect against cancer. Several recent studies have shown that exercise may lower your risk of developing colon, breast, prostate and lung cancer. What’s more, research has also shown that when people who already have cancer exercise, they experience less fatigue and depression. So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and get those 30 minutes (or more), five times a week.
6. Stress pervades all of our lives, whether we invite it or not. According to the National Cancer Institute, people who experience chronic stress can have digestive problems, fertility issues, and a weakened immune system. A 2010 study out of UCLA showed that in mice, stress feeds breast cancer progression by reprogramming the immune cells that are trying to fight cancer into “aiders and abettors” of the disease. And as we all know, stress can cause the strongest-willed among us to engage in unhealthy, potentially cancer-causing behaviors like smoking, overeating, or consuming alcohol. If you live with chronic or even moderate stress, act quickly to get it under control. Find a support group or therapist to air out your feelings and help you feel more in control of a situation. Also, get moving – exercise’s psychological benefits cannot be overstated.
The good news is these steps can help reduce the risk that you and your loved ones will develop cancer. The better news is that incorporating these approaches into your life is almost guaranteed to improve your overall health, and make you feel better on a daily basis.
It is a win-win situation in February, and all-year round.