Cancer and Other Maladies: Bad Luck, or Diet and Lifestyle?

February 1, 2015

A recent headline captured the message that conventional medicine wants to make sure everyone believes: "Most types of cancer largely down to bad luck rather than lifestyle or genes." In this model of things, there is nothing to be done, no particular way to eat, no nutrients to keep in good supply, no healthy habits or stress reduction programs that will lower our chance of getting cancer. It's just the bad luck of the draw.


The conventional world likes the message because it negates the efforts of those who try to live healthy, an approach to health that shuns drug-based approach to disease management. More surprisingly, the "bad luck" message is one that many health advocacy groups and patients embrace as well. If it is suggested that the occurrance of cancer or other diseases is connected to diet or lifestyle, this is commonly interpreted as a "blame the victim" stance.


Living a healthy life is in no way a guarantee that cancer or other chronic disease won't happen. But if we're talking about luck and probability, think of living healthy as hedging bets. There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to health. In our clinic on a regular basis we have patients present with cancer who have none of the typical risk factors. In fact, often they have lived exceptionally healthy lives prior to the diagnosis. It is baffling.


But the fact that people who live healthy lives can be diagnosed with cancer doesn't negate the probabilities, any more than people who smoke for decades and don't get cancer show us that smoking doesn't cause cancer. Statistics don't work that way.


It is widely understood in the conventional medical world that, at most, about 10% of cancers are the result of genetics. It is also widely understood that the large bulk of cancers are caused by diet and lifestyle. So what are we supposed to believe that bad luck has to do with all of this?


"Random mutations that occur in DNA when cells divide are largely responsible for two thirds of adult cancers across a wide range of tissues."


It's a deceptive use of the word "random." The particular locations where mutations happen may be random (the research literature is full of findings that mutations happen in a non-random way, BTW), but the probability of any mutation happening is not randomly determined. Not at all. Mutations are determined by - you guess it - diet and lifestyle.


The tendency toward DNA mutations is not the same for everyone. What predisposes us toward greater risk of mutations? Inflammation, for example. What causes inflammation? Diet and lifestyle. What else leads to DNA mutations, damage and instability? Toxic exposures. Are those random? Perhaps to some extent, but not completely. Particulates in the air, contaminants in our water, and even common food additives can lead to greater risks of cancer.


There are two inevitable truths about all of this. First, we can minimize, but not entirely eliminate, these risks. Second, even if we live pristine lives with minimal exposure to any of these things, we still might get cancer. The probability is lower, but it never becomes zero.


I convey this idea to patients often: engage in healthy practices in your life because you enjoy them, because you feel more vital, because it makes you feel better. Don't do them just because you think they will prevent any particular disease, including cancer. Cancer isn't random. You are hedging your bets with those practices, but nothing is guaranteed.


No one knows how many points we shave off our personal probability of getting cancer by eating healthy, working out, meditating, eating organic, avoiding chemical exposures or other healthy practices. Maybe lots, maybe a little. It should be the day-to-day satisfaction and vitality that motivates these behaviors. The reduced cancer risk is just a perk.









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