Stress is the most powerful carcinogen imaginable. It increases inflammation, spikes blood sugar, and disables the immune system. Yet, chronic stress is the norm of modern living, and it comes in many forms – emotional, physical and chemical. High sugar diets cause a chronic stress response in the body, as does constant exposure to toxins, and lest we forget about the pressures of daily life that are mostly considered “normal”. In 2015, the American Psychological Association reported that one in four Americans said they were highly stressed.[i]
Stress of any kind triggers a complex metabolic cascade including the production of cortisol, our main stress hormone. Cortisol also regulates many normal body functions including our sleep/wake cycle, yet when in excess, pushes several aspects of the cancer process forward – namely metastasis. [ii] The stressors of modern living significantly deplete levels of another powerful hormone, melatonin. A 2015 meta-study of melatonin, considered the “sleep hormone”, concluded that melatonin not only reduces the side effects of chemotherapy but is also effective at eliminating cancer cells.[iii] Unfortunately, our addiction to screens (TVs, computers, smart phones) is having a major suppressive effect on this cancer preventing hormone. Bright artificial lights suppress melatonin and is a class 2B carcinogen.[iv] We are living far outside our natural circadian rhythms, which are the natural cycles of human clocks in the relation to the earth’s cycles we talked about in the last chapter in relation to hormones. This imbalance, recognized long ago in Chinese Medicine, is causing a massive metabolic disruption – cancer.
From a dietary perspective, stress comes in many forms, from pesticides and artificial colors, to high sugar, high carbohydrate, and low-fat diets. Eating foods you have an immune response to – which for most humans is grains, legumes, dairy and sugar – causes chronically elevated cortisol. Both our body’s and minds are under constant, chronic stress, which is just as destructive as chronic inflammation. Yet with all this stress 55% of Americans didn’t take their paid vacation time in 2015.[v] What is wrong with this picture?
For years, medical doctors have off-handedly made the “reduce your stress” comment to millions of Americans. But it’s not working – stress is considered one of the primary causes of heart disease, which, second to cancer, is the leading cause of death in America. Stress, sugar, synthetic hormone and toxin exposures are slowly killing us. The good news is they are all preventable.
The Metabolic Approach to Cancer, Chapter 11
Having a healthy level of stress is imperative for you to thrive. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and, hopefully, take a few days off from our go-go-go lifestyles this week, I want to share a few tips you can begin implementing that will help you shed mental/emotional, physical/metabolic and chemical stressors this holiday season.
1. PRIORITIZE SELF CARE. The mental/emotional aspect of our stress is usually the most highly recognized and sometimes the most difficult to control or avoid. You may have heard of, or have personally experienced, the physical reaction of a “fight or flight” response – aka running from a saber tooth tiger. Today, that may look more like opening a big bill or getting in a car accident. Fight or flight is a sympathetic nervous system response. Its antonym, “rest and digest”, is a parasympathic nervous system response that is activated during times of relaxation, rest and mediation. If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’ve heard the flight attendants explain in the case of an emergency, you should put your mask on before helping someone else with theirs. You aren’t able to help others if you aren’t taken care of, so self-care is a must for each and every one of us. Find the things you love and set aside time to do them daily, weekly, monthly and/or annually.
2.EAT ORGANIC & USE CLEAN PRODUCTS. Environmental toxins are the prime contributors to the chemical stress in our lives. We are exposed to a slew of toxins on a daily basis including pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, heavy metals, parabens – all hormone disruptors and carcinogens. There are over 20,000 pesticide products containing 620 active ingredients currently on the market. You may not realize it, but if you eat a non-organic apple, you’re also eating 47 different pesticides – six of which are known or probable carcinogens.[vi] It’s vital you know where the food you consume is grown or raised and are reading labels and researching the ingredients on all of the household and beauty products you’re using. EWG’s Skin Deep database is a great resource to find clean products and begin ditching and switching.
3. ELIMINATE PROCESSED SUGARS. In today’s time, the average American eats an excessive number of calories per day. Some are eating more sugar in 30 minutes than our ancestors would consume in an entire year. Since balancing the effect of insulin is the primary function of cortisol, you will find that when your insulin is chronically high, your cortisol is as well. If you are eating more than 30g of a sugar a day (25g for kids) you are living in chronic stress from sugar alone. It is always better to eat less than more. Children do this naturally as they have cycles of being hungry and not wanting to eat, which an evolutionary pattern. It’s important not to force your children to eat when they are not hungry, especially when they are sick.
4. AVOID ALLERGENS. Did you know that an estimated 1 in 10 people have at least one food allergy and 1 in 100 people have celiac disease? Rates of food allergies are soaring and are also going undiagnosed. Currently some physicians believe that food allergies are the leading cause of undiagnosed symptoms, and that at least sixty percent of Americans suffer from symptoms – including hypothyroidism, behavior issues, and depression – that are associated with food allergies. Food sensitivities to gliadin, casein, soy, eggs, peanuts, artificial colors and more place the adrenals in a chronic stress response. When a food allergen is consumed the body produces histamine, an inflammation producing compound that cortisol also modulates which also pushes metastasis. The more histamine released, the more cortisol it takes to control the inflammatory response and the harder the adrenals have to work to produce more cortisol. The harder the adrenals have to work, the more fatigued they become and the less cortisol they produce, allowing histamine to inflame tissues even more. This makes sense when you consider how many people suffer greatly from seasonal allergies. If you’ve got the sniffles, chances are you’ve got high stress and it’s time to look at your diet.
5. EAT FAT. Nothing contributes more to adrenal fatigue than low-fat diets. The basic biochemical fact is that both stress and sex hormones are produced from cholesterol – just google it! Without proper amounts of cholesterol in tandem with chronic stress the body becomes unable create sex hormones. This causes what’s known as the pregenolone steal. Pregenolone is made from cholesterol and is the precursor to most of the steroid hormones, including the progestogens, estrogens, and cortisol. During times of stress, pregnenolone will direct production of cortisol over estrogen (remember it’s more important to save the baby than to make another one). This effect causes infertility, “early menopause” (which is a bogus diagnosis), hormone imbalance, PMS, and menopause which often drives women to hormone replacement therapies. Avoiding cholesterol rich foods like eggs, lamb, and liver is not a good idea. Fat is our friend, it always has been, and always will be.
6. EAT SEASONALLY. One of the greatest changes to our human biorhythms occurred with our disconnection from eating wild foods and eating seasonally. Until about 15,000 years ago there were few, if any, permanent homes or villages. We were nomads for 99 per cent of our history, and, like animals, we followed a seasonal migration pattern. When the land was void of desired plants and animals we moved on. Being human has meant our ability to adapt to many habitats and combine different foods to create a sustainable diet. The seasons change, and so should our food sources. In fact, the nutrition and mineral content of both plants and animals change with the seasons depending on what their food sources are.[vii] The earth’s wild food sources live in harmony with the natural biorhythms of the planet. Alongside humans, plants and animals are products of millions of years of adaptation and evolution. Humans – and our genome – have been eating the foods and their corresponding nutrients that vary season with the seasons for most all of our existence.
The earth makes one complete revolution about the Sun each year. In spring (the English word meaning “to rise”) dark, bitter and leafy greens are the first foods to poke out of the ground in many areas. Plants direct nutrients and sugars to their newly sprouting shoots, buds, and leaves. Those bitter greens not only provided phytonutrient dense carbohydrates for many humans coming out of a winter-long primarily ketotic-state, but also stimulated liver detoxification processes. Spring has always been a time of renewal, needed after our livers spent winter months producing ketones. Daylight hours are shorter in winter so historically humans would have less time procure food so nighttime fasting would last longer. Conversely, summer is the time of abundance; when there is more sun, we are able to process higher amounts of glucose as we have more daylight hours of activity. In the fall we slow down, and our bodies require more calories for surviving – like fat. Plants prepare for dormancy by directing nutrients and sugars to roots and other interior storage. Naturally, our ancestors would swing from a ketogenic-type diet in the winter to a higher carbohydrate and plant-based diet in the summer. There is no one diet for all seasons, in other words, but should always be changing based on the seasons and what is available to you locally. Foods that travel far distances or get picked before they are ripe have a fraction of the nutrients found in local and wild plants – nutrients desperately needed to our immune systems and more.[viii] Nutrient depletion is a huge stress on the body and can cause cancer. In today’s world, we need all the nutrients we can get, not to mention, getting our hands in the dirt and picking wild foods help populate the microbiome with friendly bacteria.
7. USE YOUR CIRCADIAN CLOCK. Did you know that mechanical clocks were only invented in 1656? Before that, humans evolved on daily, monthly and annual patterns. In fact, scientists have discovered that every cell in your body is a clock. Humans – completely independent of the pocket watch – have an exquisitely accurate internal biological clock that times normal daily events like sleep and wakefulness. Our circadian rhythms represent an evolutionarily conserved adaptation to the environment that can be traced back to the earliest life forms.[ix] The discovery of these ‘clock genes’ led to the realization that there is actually circadian gene expression widespread throughout the body in organs and tissues. Rhythmic gene expression is driven by both local intracellular clocks and by extracellular systemic cues. Some genes are supposed to turn on at night, some in the daytime. The human body is truly amazing. That said, there is accumulating epidemiological and genetic evidence showing that the disruption of circadian rhythms is linked to cancer and that the abnormal metabolism in cancer could also be a consequence of disrupted circadian clocks.[x] Turns out staying up until midnight eating cupcakes and watching Dancing with the Stars is sending a dangerously altered message to your genes.
8. START INTERMITTENT FASTING. In addition to cellular clocks, the gut microbiome is also involved in controlling our circadian rhythms. Gut microbiota produce metabolites in diurnal patterns, which influence the expression of circadian clock genes in the liver. Researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Center found that our microbes sense what, when, and how much food is consumed which in turn produces “metabolic signals that feed into the regulation of circadian networks which control our metabolism,” lead researcher Eugene Chang told “The Scientist” in 2015. “High-fat, western-type diets alter these microbial signals in a way that disturbs circadian functions.” Our dietary habits are the largest contributor to circadian rhythm imbalance. It was only 15,000 short years ago that we became capable of controlling the interactive earth-given food supply that assured our survival. No one species has ever had unlimited access to carbohydrate energy without regard for effort, season, competition, or natural disaster. This is why research – and lots of anecdotal evidence – are showing the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Fasting helps reset circadian rhythms. It acts as a good stress – similar to an acute immune or inflammatory response. Fasting revs up cellular defenses against genetic damage while increasing the body’s responsiveness to insulin. Mice that feasted on fatty foods for eight hours a day and subsequently fasted for the rest of each day did not become obese or show dangerously high insulin levels. From an evolutionary perspective, three meals a day is a strange modern invention – we just eat too much too often. The volatility in our ancient ancestors’ food supplies contributed to frequent fasting, something completely foreign to most people day. These evolutionary pressures selected genes that strengthened brain areas involved in learning and memory, which increased the odds of finding food and surviving. Period fasting or at least eating within eight-hour windows during daylight hours reduces the risk of cancer and has been found to also support weight loss. If your first meal is at 7 am, your last should be no later than 3 pm. Try it.
Also, I recommend drinking Pique Tea for extra support during your fasts.
9. GET A FULL NIGHT’S SLEEP. When cortisol is out of balance it disrupts what is the most ancient and healing activity a human can do – sleep. When we sleep—adults need at least 8 hours and kids at least 12—hormones are released, tissue growth and repair occur, neurological pathways are regenerated, detoxification occurs, and the immune system is replenished. And, you probably guessed it, sleep affects the body’s reaction to insulin. Just two nights of poor sleep can increase levels of IGF-1.[xi] Sleep deprivation also causes a decrease in leptin, known as the satiety hormone, and an increase in ghrelin, or “the hunger hormone”. In other words, not enough sleep stimulates the appetite leading to increased weight. What’s more, ghrelin is associated with cancer progression including proliferation, apoptosis, and cell invasion and migration.[xii] Not sleeping is straight-up carcinogenic, so why are so many of us having a hard time getting enough zzzz’s?
10. LIMIT SCREEN TIME & GO OUTSIDE. Spending a huge amount of time indoors glued to screens is the greatest change to our human biorhythms. Second to imbalanced blood sugar, one of the primary reasons behind the modern insomnia epidemic is not getting enough exposure to natural light during the day while getting way too much exposure to artificial light from TVs, computers, and cell phones. The pattern of waking during the day when it is light and sleeping at night when it is dark is a natural part of human life, and this is getting totally disrupted by modern lifestyle. The result is depressed melatonin, known as the sleep hormone. Melatonin also happens to be one of the most powerful anti-cancer hormones (and natural antioxidant) the body produces and too much screen time is causing its extinction.
We must start living in closer harmony with the natural world on a physical, mental and moral plane. It is the excess in life that is the main contributor to cancer – and that defines modern living, too much stimulation, too much food. Just look at the last 30 years – compare an episode of Mr. Rogers vs. Paw Patrol and we wonder why our children don’t sleep! We are constantly bombarded with stimulus, so the antidote is natural tranquilizers. We have to stop with the chronic screen time and get outside. Camping, playing outside and yes, taking vacations, are not just fun – they are essential for the prevention and management of cancer. Small studies have found that even four days and nights spending time outside mimicking a Paleo-type lifestyle of moderate exercise and caloric intake can significantly improve several metabolic markers including reducing insulin levels. [xiii] Lifestyle approaches that encourage calmness, peacefulness, quiet, and serenity are imperative.
I understand it can feel overwhelming to read through the suggestions and information above. However, if there was one or two that resonated heavier with you than the others, start with those. Trying to change everything at once will only add to your stress so it’s important to begin by focusing on the areas of your terrain you feel are most out of balance. Every day is another day to learn, another day to grow and another day to be grateful. This week, I hope you laugh with your family and friends, rest more than usual, spend time in the sunshine, shiver in the cool breeze, walk on the ground barefooted, drink lots of water, go a day without looking at a screen and eat a nourishing Thanksgiving meal.
[i] “2015 Stress in America Snapshot.” http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2015/snapshot.aspx.
[ii] Moreno-Smith, Myrthala, Susan K. Lutgendorf, and Anil K. Sood. “Impact of Stress on Cancer Metastasis.” Future Oncology (London, England) 6, no. 12 (December 2010): 1863–81. doi:10.2217/fon.10.142.
[iii] “Melatonin Could Be an Overlooked Treatment for Cancer.” Sciencenordic.com. Accessed November 12, 2016. http://sciencenordic.com/melatonin-could-be-overlooked-treatment-cancer.
[iv] Spivey, Angela. “LIGHT POLLUTION: Light at Night and Breast Cancer Risk Worldwide.” Environmental Health Perspectives 118, no. 12 (December 2010): A525. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3002207/.
[v] “55% of American Workers Don’t Take All Their Paid Vacation – MarketWatch.” Accessed November 12, 2016. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/55-of-american-workers-dont-take-all-their-paid-vacation-2016-06-15.
[vi] “What’s On My Food :: Pesticides on Apples.” Accessed November 12, 2016. http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/food.jsp?food=AP.
[vii] Igarashi O. The Significance of the Issuance of the 5th Revision of the Japanese Standard Tables of Food Components on Study and Research on Vitamins and Diseases. 36th Vitamin Information Center Press Seminar. Tokyo, Japan. 2001
[viii] Eating on the wild side
[ix] Mohawk, Jennifer A., Carla B. Green, and Joseph S. Takahashi. “CENTRAL AND PERIPHERAL CIRCADIAN CLOCKS IN MAMMALS.” Annual Review of Neuroscience 35 (2012): 445–62. doi:10.1146/annurev-neuro-060909-153128.
[x] Sahar, Saurabh, and Paolo Sassone-Corsi. “Metabolism and Cancer: The Circadian Clock Connection.” Nat Rev Cancer 9, no. 12 (December 2009): 886–96. doi:10.1038/nrc2747.
[xi] “Why Is Sleep Important? – NHLBI, NIH.” Accessed November 15, 2016. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why.
[xii] Chopin, Lisa, and et al. “Ghrelin and Cancer.” Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 340, no. 1 (June 2011): 65–69. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0303720711002218.
[xiii] Freese, Jens; Pardi, Daniel J.; Ruiz-Núñez, Begoña; Schwarz, Sebastian; Heynck, Regula; Renner, Robert; Zimmer, Philipp; and Lötzerich, Helmut (2016) “Back to the Future. Metabolic Effects of a 4-Day Outdoor Trip Under Simulated Paleolithic Conditions – New Insights from The Eifel Study,” Journal of Evolution and Health: Vol. 1: Iss. 1, Article 16. https://doi.org/10.15310/2334-3591.1035