Let’s start with the facts. As of the latest information available from the National Center for Health Statistics, cancer is the number two leading cause of death in the U.S. per year at 559,312. Heart disease is number one at 652,091, while stroke is at a distant number three at 143,579; followed by chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, diabetes, Alzheimers, influenza/pneumonia, nephritis/nephrotic syndrome/nephrosis and septicemia.1
What is cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, cancer is the general name for a group of more than one hundred diseases in which cells in a part of the body begin to grow out of control.2 Let’s state it more plainly. Cancer is ultimately a failure of the immune system. You see, at any given time there are cancerous cells floating throughout the body. It is the job of the immune system to identify and eradicate these aberrant cells. It is not until thousands of these cancerous cells form an aggregate colony, if you will, that they become self-sufficient and possess the ability to propagate to the point of being able to produce disease.
So what lowers the immune system? The biggest culprit,…..stress. Stress can be found in many forms; work-related, marital/family distress, sleep deprivation, poor diet, catastrophic events, etc. Ask any cancer survivor. The majority will tell you that prior to their bout with cancer, they underwent a major stressful event; like losing a job, a divorce, a death in the family, caring for an indigent family member, etc. A major stressful event or a chronically stressful lifestyle can inhibit the immune system and set the stage for cancer.
The obvious question now becomes how does one lower stress. In a nutshell: Remove, when possible, the major stressors in your life – not always easy. It takes courage. I am not asking you to put your kids up for adoption. However, there are times when you have to say, “No.” You have to set time aside for yourself on a DAILY basis. Being a soccer mom takes it toll. If you try to be Atlas, the world will eventually come tumbling down on you. Once you have removed as many stressors as you are able, you have to take care of yourself. Yes,…..I am asking you to make lifestyle changes – Changes in diet, in exercise, in sleep and in treating yourself well. There are many “good” diets, and many more “bad” diets. You want something that is well-rounded. Avoid extremes. All good diets will revolve around daily vegetables, fruits, nuts/legumes, healthy oils, i.e. – olive oil, and will significantly frown on excesses of sweets/refined sugars, red meat and bad fats, i.e. – partially hydrogenated fats. Examples are The Harvard Study Diet, The Zone Diet and The Mediterranean Diet. Exercise should be on a regular basis and should focus on aerobic conditioning. Six days a week is wonderful, but even once a week helps. My advice: Get a personal trainer. They can help you reduce the chances of injury and give us that “kick” we need when we get lazy and don’t show up. Let’s be honest, we all need some structure. Don’t waste your money on a personal gym or a membership unless you are disciplined enough to use it. Strive to get seven or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. It makes the difference. Treat yourself daily to personal time: Massage, yoga, intimacy, meditation, spiritual reflection, etc. For those of you who are already doing all of these things – Bravo! There are indeed many supplements you can also take in addition to these lifestyle recommendations. Focus on products that are third-party verified for purity and potency. A small list of supplements would include: Fish oil, green tea extract, grape seed extract, vitamin C, vitamin E (mixed tocopherols!), coenzyme Q10, and a good multivitamin (Not a one-a-day!). Remember, it’s not just how long you live, but how well you live too.
Shannon M. Maguadog, Pharm.D.