5 Things That Help Prevent Cancer (That You Can Actually Control): A Doctor Explains

Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller By Mark Hyman, M.D.
Functional Medicine Doctor & NY Times bestseller
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field. He is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine.

No doubt, cancer is scary. However, the worst thing you can do is succumb to hopelessness. There are in fact things you can do to help lower your risk of this devastating disease.

Unlike conventional medicine, which asks what disease you have and what drug should be used to treat it, I believe we must ask why the disease occurred. In this case, what underlying causes can lead to cancer?

That’s what functional medicine does: It looks at the underlying causes of disease. It asks why — not what.

Studies show diet, exercise, stress, and environmental toxins all influence the initiation, growth, and progression of cancer.

From that perspective, if a nutrient-poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress, persistent pollutants, and heavy metals can cause cancer, a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, physical activity, changing thoughts and reactions to stress, and detoxification might help treat the garden in which cancer grows.

I don’t want to oversimplify cancer — but I want to be clear that dietary and lifestyle factors can impact this disease.

For example, research by Dr. Dean Ornish showed that after just three months on an intensive lifestyle program including a whole-foods plant-based diet, over 500 genes that regulate cancer were beneficially affected, either turning off cancer-causing genes or turning on the cancer-protective genes.

While there are many lifestyle strategies to help prevent cancer, I’ve found these five to be effective with my patients:

1. Eliminate food sensitivities.

One major study found hidden gluten sensitivity could increase the risk of death, including by leading to heart disease and cancer. Which means that by just this mechanism alone, more than 20 million Americans could be at risk for heart attack, obesity, and cancer.

Dairy and gluten are the most common triggers of food allergies linked to insulin resistance. Temporarily cutting them out of the diet can allow the inflamed gut and an inflamed body to heal.

Learn more about how to discover a gluten intolerance and spot hidden food sensitivities.

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2. Reduce inflammation with the right foods.

Inflammation is the common thread connecting most chronic diseases, including cancer.

There are plenty of things you can do to reduce inflammation, including eating plenty of omega-3 rich foods, like wild fish and flaxseeds.

Find out more about the right foods to eat to fight inflammation, like leafy green vegetables and berries.

3. Improve your gut health.

Researchers are currently studying the link between the gut microbiome and breast and prostate cancers.

Beyond avoiding inflammatory foods, you can also add more probiotics and prebiotics to your diet — like miso and yogurt — to help cultivate a healthy gut garden. Consuming lots of phytonutrients in plants like curcumin and resveratrol can help reduce gut-based inflammation.

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4. Limit toxic exposure.

The average newborn has 287 chemicals in his or her umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are toxic to the brain and nervous system. Toxic chemicals have a broad range of negative effects on human biology, including increasing cancer risk, and contributing to obesity.

Going clean and green means becoming more aware about how environmental toxins affect your health. Visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to learn more, and find out what cancer-causing ingredients you should avoid, like BPA in water bottles and phthalates in beauty products.

5. Manage stress and live a healthy lifestyle.

Besides these strategies to combat cancer, I also strongly recommend sufficient sleep, controlling stress levels, and exercising regularly.

Overall, you should work to develop a healthy living plan and stick with it. That might involve working with a functional doctor or a chronic disease-specialist nutritionist.

If you’ve experienced cancer firsthand or received the devastating news from a loved one, what did you find best helped you cope in this difficult situation? Share your story below or on my Facebook page.

Mark Hyman, M.D.
Mark Hyman, M.D.
Dr. Mark Hyman is a practicing family physician and an internationally recognized leader, speaker,...
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