The C word. Cancer, a word which strikes instant fear into our hearts.Opinions seem to differ but by all accounts it seems that Cancer is mostly a modern disease. A disease caused by our Western lifestyle which is far from ideal; high in stress and processed food and low in whole foods and exercise. In fact 30-40% of all cancers can be prevented by lifestyle and dietary factors alone.
In 2016 alone, it is estimated that there will be over 500 000 deaths attributable to cancer in the United States of America (USA) (1). Globally, by the year 2025 it is expected that there will be 19.3 million new cases diagnosed each year (2).
Unfortunately for some of us we have a strong genetic link to certain types of cancers such as prostate or breast cancer for example. For most of us however there are many lifestyle changes we can make to prevent cancer.
Nutritionally speaking changing over to the Paleo way of life goes a long way to address many of the dietary and lifestyle factors which put us at risk of some types of cancer. Addressing each individual risk factor adds up to an overall decrease in you and your families risk of developing the dread disease.
If you are still not convinced let’s have a look at some of these factors and exactly how the Paleo diet can help:
1) Diets which are low in fiber
The western diet is notoriously low in fiber. Leading to a multitude of problem including constipation, lethargy and an increased risk of cancer, mostly colon and rectal cancer.
The Paleo diet greatly increases your intake of fiber as we encourage an greatly increased intake of specifically fibrous vegetables and fruits like berries which are lower in sugar and higher in fiber. The best news of all is that studies have proven that the protective effect of increasing fiber is greater amongst older populations (3). It shows, it’s never too late to improve your health.
2) Omega 3:6 ratio imbalance
Studies have shown that populations who have imbalances in terms of their intake of omega 3 to omega 6 intake have an increased risk of certain types of cancers. Increased Omega 3 intake has been shown to be protective whilst increased omega 6 intake has shown to be cancer promoting (4)
The good (and yummy) news is that one of the key underlying features of the Paleo diet is greatly increasing your omega 3 intake and focusing on eliminating excessive harmful omega 6 sources. For this reason vegetable oils such as sunflower oil and canola oil are greatly discouraged and a greater intake of high quality fatty fish, grass fed beef and flax seeds are encouraged.
3) Low intake of fruit and vegetables
This is perhaps the most obvious one, and the one in which you hear your mom telling you to finish your greens. Sorry, but she was spot on! Studies have statistically shown that people who eat the least amount of fruits and vegetables are twice as likely to develop cancer in comparison to those who eat the most amounts of fruit and vegetables (5) .Interestingly the alliums (garlic, onion and leeks etc.), specifically have a protective effect against stomach, colorectal and prostate cancers (too bad about the onion breath) (6).
Well once again the Paleo philosophy ticks this box. With each and every meal the Paleo diet encourages a multitude of fresh, rainbow produce. A lower processed carb intake means that there is a huge gap on our plates to be filled with all the good stuff. It keeps us full and most importantly decreases our risk of cancer.
4) Low antioxidant intake
We seem to keep coming back to it, but it is obviously that important. Fruit and vegetable intake. When we talk about rainbow foods we are referring to the natural colors found in your fresh fruit and vegetables. Each color represents a different antioxidant. Each antioxidant bringing a different protection against cancer and other diseases.
There are too many antioxidants to mention, so for our purposes we looked at one common and important one: Lycopene
Lycopene is mostly found in tomato. This one’s for the guys; Lycopene has a major protective effect in preventing prostate cancer. This protective effect is even more effective in advanced cases of prostate cancer (7).Best of all is that the lycopene becomes more available for absorption in cooked tomato. So your favorite bolognese or tomato sauce is really good for you. Just be sure you are making your own Paleo tomato sauce and avoiding the sugar laden ones from the store.
5) Unhealthy gut
The importance of the relationship between our gut and our health is becoming more and more apparent as time passes. The balance between good and bad bacteria in our gut is dependent on our diets and the amount of vegetable fiber we eat (back to vegetables and fiber). Our gut cannot ordinarily digest these vegetable fibers and they become food for the good bacteria.
In a symbiotic relationship, the good bacteria in our gut provide us with natural antibiotics which end up preventing infections such as diarrhea. More importantly they end up preventing cancers as various stages of development. They also produce essential B vitamins. This is all in return for digesting the fiber we have eaten (8).
The beauty of the Paleo lifestyle is the return to an older, slower way of life. Consuming fermented products such as sauerkraut and kombucha is encouraged. These fermented products along with an increased daily intake of fruit and vegetables all lead to a healthier gut environment. In return, a healthier you and a decreased risk of certain types of cancers (9).
6) High intake of glucose
There are a multitude of studies and theories existing surrounding the relationship between glucose and cancer. Studies have consistently found a link between an diet high in refined carbohydrates and several types of cancers including colorectal, endometrial and ovarian cancer (10). Other theories exist concerning helping to prevent and fight cancer by following a diet extremely low in carbohydrates, a ketogenic diet. The theory is that because the main source of fuel for tumors is glucose, starving the tumor of its fuel will result in shrinking the tumor. Results are unfortunately not yet conclusive (11).
Ultimately, as we have already discussed, reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates can only improve your health. The Paleo diet requires cutting out of all sugars and refined carbohydrates (12).