Throughout human evolution, our ancestors’ survival depended heavily on their ability to detect and respond to potential threats or danger in their environment, such as predators or hostile tribes, which led to a heightened sensitivity to negative stimuli. This evolutionary adaptation allowed individuals to prioritize avoiding harm, thus increasing their chances of survival and reproduction in challenging and often dangerous environments. Having this evolutionarily heightened focus on the “negative” comes at a cost of potentially overlooking the abundance of positive and beneficial aspects that surround us, which may be equally important for overall well-being and adaptation.
One of the ways we can move from negative to positive thinking in our daily lives is to focus on what we are grateful for. Research shows that gratitude, like a lot of what we traditionally think of as “just in our heads,” actually has a measurable impact on our physical and mental well-being. In one 2003 study, researchers at the University of California in Davis had subjects write a few sentences each week. One group focused on things they were grateful for, a second group focused on things that irritated them, and a final group focused their writings on experiences that had neither a positive or negative impact. After ten weeks, the group that focused on gratitude reported increased optimism and self-confidence. Members of the group also reported that they exercised more and made fewer trips to the doctor.
I tried a variation of this experiment myself a few years ago. I must admit that I initially found this exercise both difficult and frustrating. I realized that as an academic and scientist, I had actively trained my brain to focus on the negative. I spend my days searching for problems that need to be solved, either in studies, grants, or papers or some bad outcome that needs to be addressed and researched. It took effort on my part to tune into another side of things, which was in fact happening all around me. And the struggle paid off in ways I had not anticipated. As I continued, day after day, to recognize and record positive exchanges—strangers helping each other on the street, my colleagues laughing in the hallways, my kids being nice to each other—I found I was able to tune in to the good all around me, and my own behavior and outlook started to change.
One of the lead researchers in the ten-week gratitude study, Robert Emmons of the University of California in Davis, has gone on to compile a list of health data points from his own study and from other research related to gratitude. Research has found that actively practicing gratitude lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol and reduces inflammation, two biomarkers linked to a variety of diseases, including cancer. Studies also show that gratitude reduces depression and improves sleep quality.
Here are a few steps you to start cultivating more gratitude in your life:
Cultivating gratitude is a powerful practice that can enhance your sense of happiness and overall well-being. By regularly reflecting on the positive aspects of your life and expressing gratitude towards others, you can foster a mindset of abundance and appreciation. Commit to practicing gratitude regularly. You can incorporate this exercise into your daily or weekly routine by setting aside time to reflect on what you’re thankful for.
In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, the role of diet cannot be overstated, and one standout champion in this regard is olive oil. Olive oil, often hailed as the “liquid gold” of the Mediterranean, has been a staple in culinary traditions for centuries. Beyond its exquisite taste and versatility in the kitchen, olive oil boasts a myriad of health benefits, with an increasing body of research highlighting its role in preventing multiple diseases, including preventing cancer. One key attribute of olive oil lies in its antioxidant capacity, particularly its abundance of polyphenols that can neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress – factors intricately linked to cancer development.
Another facet of olive oil’s health benefits is its anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is a known catalyst for cancer, and olive oil’s compounds have demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory effects. This dual action of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents positions olive oil as a formidable ally against the multifaceted landscape of cancer risk.
Unfortunately, in the pursuit of health benefits from authentic olive oil, a dark side emerges – a surge in counterfeit extra virgin olive oils, particularly notorious crime syndicates in Italy. Exploiting the high demand for pure extra virgin olive oil, these criminals flood the market with fake products, targeting American supermarkets due to the country’s significant consumer base and The Wall Street Journal and NBC News have highlighted the prevalence of fake olive oil, with 60 Minutes warning of a “sea of fakes”. The dangers extend beyond deception, as fake oils may contain contaminants and even cancer-causing agents. To safeguard your health, it’s crucial to be vigilant and seek authentic, high-quality olive oil from reputable sources.
As we delve into the realms of nutrition and health, incorporating real olive oil into our daily diet may prove to be a flavorful and strategic choice to improve our health and prevent cancer.
A new study recently published in Nature Medicine is quite personal, as I too had stage 3 melanoma over 5 years ago. In a groundbreaking study, researchers found a surprising connection between emotional distress and the effectiveness of the most promising melanoma treatment – immunotherapy. The study, part of the phase 2 PRADO trial, focused on neoadjuvant immunotherapy, a cutting-edge approach for advanced melanoma where immunotherapy is given before surgery, the approach that I received.
While getting immunotherapy before surgery for advanced melanoma has already shown superior results compared to immunotherapy after surgery, scientists were puzzled by the inconsistent responses among patients. To unravel this mystery, they explored potential biomarkers like interferon-gamma signature and tumor mutational burden but found them to be insufficient in explaining the variations.
Delving deeper, the researchers also examined the effects of emotional distress of the patients undergoing neoadjuvant immunotherapy. Preclinical studies and clinical studies show that high levels of stress hinder the body’s immune responses, and this the researchers hypothesized could potentially negatively affect treatment outcomes.
Using self-report measures of emotional functioning, the team identified two distinct groups: patients with pretreatment stress and those without stress. The results were eye-opening.
Patients with pretreatment stress showed a significant reduction in major pathologic responses at the time of surgery compared to their less stressed counterparts (46% versus 65%). The effects remained even after adjusting for other biological and clinical factors. The harms of stress extended beyond the immediate response, with stress leading to sooner recurrence of disease within the first 2 years (26% of those with stress versus only 9% with no stress) and having distant metastasis (22% versus 5%).
These results open the door to further investigation, emphasizing the need to understand the complex interplay between emotional well-being and the body’s ability to control melanoma or other cancers. As researchers delve deeper into this intriguing connection, we should focus on different ways to manage stress to optimize treatment outcomes.
Mind-body practices to help manage stress include meditation, various forms of yoga, and practices such as tai chi and qigong. These practices can help decrease stress by bringing balance to the body and, ultimately, to our lives. I, for one, try and engage in a stress management practice daily.
Image: Pedro Figueras
Sleeping well is profoundly healing; a vital “activity” in which we must engage to foster well-being. Virtually nothing else can change your outlook on life and your ability to heal as much as sleep does, and there’s a lot to be said about what goes on biologically during these hours, too. Anticancer living means prioritizing this highly productive healing time and addressing any obstacles or difficulties. Your body will thank you!
In addition to being linked with weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease, poor sleep has been linked in many studies to increased cancer risk and poorer outcomes for cancer survivors. The most recent study on the topic found that short nights and total sleep duration were associated with a high risk of cancer incidence a middle-aged and elderly population.
Arguably, the number one reason most of us don’t get enough sleep is due to psychological stress. When we slow down and the lights go out, we tend to ruminate on our problems, be they social, financial, work related—you name it. But for those who are also contending with cancer, the stress can be multiplied by the combining of psychological or existential stress with physical stress and symptoms such as pain. The good news is that there are many ways to help you manage the stress or other factors causing a bad night’s sleep.
We are strong proponents of cancer survivors and others avoiding sleeping pills whenever possible. There are of course times when taking sleeping pills may be appropriate to help break a bad cycle or for a limited period. But it is vital to understand that sleeping pills do not tackle the root problem leading to sleep disturbances. Also, pill-assisted sleep is not truly restorative sleep. While sleeping pills do put you to sleep, they do not move you through all stages of sleep. In fact, no drug on the market increases the deepest stages of sleep, the restorative part of sleep, critical for maintaining health. So, you may feel like you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, but the true restoration needed to improve your health will still be missing.
There are several anticancer living approaches to addressing healthy sleep. These strategies are evidence-based techniques for improving sleep quality and quantity and include the following: 1) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-Insomnia; 3) Tai Chi; 3) Yoga; and 4) Meditation. Each strategy has been found to improve sleep outcomes in cancer survivors and people with no experience with cancer. Learn more about these techniques and other behavioral strategies for restoring healthy sleep in our book Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. There is also great information at the Sleep Foundation and at the National Counsel on Aging.
Photo credit: Marcus Aurelius
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of persistent chemical pollutants that have gained attention due to their potential health impacts. PFAS exposure occurs through various sources, including consumer products like waterproof and nonstick items, household cleaners, clothes, dental floss, in food and food packaging, in 45% of our water supply and more. In recent years, concerns about PFAS exposure and its harms have come to the forefront.
In the United States, the dangers of PFAS exposure were highlighted by a lawsuit involving a DuPont factory in West Virginia, which dumped PFAS waste into the environment, contaminating drinking water and air. The subsequent study revealed a “probable link” between a specific PFAS variant and health issues like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. Research conducted by scientists such as Grandjean and Weihe has shown that PFAS can interfere with immune responses, potentially reducing the effectiveness of routine vaccinations. However, broader concerns arise due to the numerous health conditions associated with PFAS exposure, including endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, liver disease, asthma, infertility, and neurobehavioral problems.
Despite the widespread presence of PFAS and their potential health risks, many individuals, including medical professionals, remain unaware or unconcerned about the issue. The complexity of PFAS-related health problems, coupled with their prevalence in everyday products, makes it paramount to address this issue now. In fact, a report published in The Lancet in 2022 estimated that nine million people die each year from chronic diseases caused by environmental toxins. The connection between environmental exposures and chronic diseases emphasizes the need for prevention and recognition of the role of pollutants like PFAS in disease development.
To address the challenges posed by PFAS exposure, it is essential to raise awareness about their potential harms and promote strategies to reduce contact with these chemicals. Researchers continue to investigate the long-term impacts of PFAS on human health, particularly as exposed individuals transition from childhood to adulthood. Could PFAS chemicals be partly responsible for the increased incidence of multiple cancers in people under 50, and especially between 30-39? By understanding the breadth of health conditions associated with PFAS and taking proactive steps to minimize exposure, individuals and communities can work towards better overall health and well-being.
To lower our exposure to PFAS and protect our health, here are three things we can do:
By being aware of PFAS and taking these steps, we can minimize our exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and promote better health for ourselves and our families.
Artificial sweeteners are popular for those looking to reduce their sugar intake, reduce calories, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, recent research raises concerns about the safety of these sweeteners, particularly in relation to their potential link to cancer. The evidence linking aspartame (aka, NutraSweet, Equal, and Canderel), in particular, to our health is so concerning that in July 2023 it will be listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s (WHO) cancer research arm. The final nail in the coffin came from a recent large cohort study conducted in France that revealed some alarming findings.
The study, conducted over a period of 12 years and involving more than 100,000 adults, examined the associations between artificial sweetener intake and cancer risk. The researchers focused on three commonly used sweeteners: aspartame, acesulfame-K (aka, Sunett and Sweet One), and sucralose (aka, Splenda). By analyzing dietary records and using statistical models to adjust for various factors, they found that individuals consuming higher amounts of artificial sweeteners had a higher risk of overall cancer compared to non-consumers. Specifically, aspartame and acesulfame-K were associated with an increased risk of cancer. Furthermore, the risks were found to be particularly elevated for breast cancer and obesity-related cancers (e.g., gastrointestinal, ovarian, endometrial, kidney, etc.) among artificial sweetener consumers.
Although these types of observational studies cannot determine true causality, the researchers conducted sensitivity analyses to address some concerns and validated their results. There is also extensive mechanistic animal data linking the use of aspartame to cancer risk.
If the possible risk of cancer was not enough, the WHO also advises people to not use non-sugar sweeteners for weight control, as evidence suggests that use of non-sugar sweeteners does not help in reducing body fat in the long run for adults or children. Added to this are the potential undesirable effects from long-term use of non-sugar sweeteners, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and mortality in adults. There are those who will say the harms of aspartame are exaggerated and that you need to consume copious amounts over a lifetime to result in harm. Yet that still acknowledges that aspartame is not healthy per se. Perhaps it is prudent to try and avoid consuming a “possible carcinogen” when there are so many healthy alternatives.
What can consumers do?
While further research is needed to confirm the findings and establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship, it is prudent for consumers to be cautious when consuming artificial sweeteners. Opting for natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, or fruit can be a healthier alternative. Here are three healthy alternatives:
All three options provide a hydrating and safer alternative to diet soda. Cheers!
Image credit: Mikhail Nilov
The thought that relentlessly haunts cancer survivors, even after successfully having their illness treated, is the fear of its return. This becomes especially salient around the time of getting regular post-treatment screenings. Unfortunately, even when we think the cancer is gone, it is common that some cancer cells remain and are dormant. Scientists have been studying how dormant cancer cells, which are inactive and hidden, can become active again and lead to cancer recurrence. A new study focused on the role of stress and a type of white blood cell called neutrophils and how stress can cause recurrence of disease.
The researchers discovered that stress hormones can make neutrophils release certain proteins called S100A8/A9, which cause inflammation in the body – one factor linked with increased risk of cancer. These proteins activate a substance called myeloperoxidase and lead to the buildup of harmful substances called oxidized lipids inside the neutrophils. When these lipids are released from the neutrophils, they stimulate the growth of cancer cells, causing them to wake up from dormancy and form new cancers.
In patients with lung cancer who had their tumors completely removed, higher levels of S100A8/A9 in their blood were linked to a shorter time until the cancer came back. However, the researchers found that by targeting either S100A8/A9 or certain receptors called β2-adrenergic receptors, which are involved in the stress response and cancer growth, they could prevent the reactivation of dormant cancer cells caused by stress.
These findings show that there is a connection between stress, the activity of specific neutrophils, and early recurrence of cancer. Managing stress is important for cancer patients, and here are three ways to do it:
Remember, managing stress is not only beneficial for your mental health but may also play a role in preventing cancer recurrence and improving your long-term outcomes.
Photo credit: Rhoda Baer
In recent years, the widespread prevalence of microplastics has emerged as a growing concern. These tiny plastic particles, measuring less than 5mm in size, have infiltrated various ecosystems, including our oceans, rivers, or bodies, and even the air we breathe. While their impact on the environment is well-documented, the potential health risks posed by microplastics to human beings have raised significant alarm bells among scientists and researchers.
Several studies have shown that certain types of microplastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which are known endocrine disruptors, can leach from plastic particles. These chemicals have the potential to mimic or interfere with natural hormones in the body, leading to disruptions in the endocrine system. While human exposure to microplastics is widespread, it is challenging to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and endocrine-related health issues.
One study examined the presence of microplastics in human stool samples. The study found microplastics in all the samples analyzed, indicating that humans are exposed to microplastics through ingestion. Another study analyzed the presence of microplastics in human tissues, including the colon and another study found MPs in lung tissue. It is estimated that on average humans consume a credit card worth of microplastics on a weekly basis.
There is a more definitive harmful effect of microplastics when we look to the animal studies. Research suggests that exposure to microplastics and can impact inflammation-related disorders. An animal study conducted at the University of California exposed mice to various concentrations of microplastic particles commonly in the environment, including polyethylene and polystyrene, and found that there was a significant increase in inflammation markers, indicating a potential correlation between microplastics exposure and inflammation-related health issues. The study suggested that microplastics may play a role in the development or exacerbation of conditions such as asthma, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders, which linked with chronic inflammation.
Microplastics have even been found to disrupt the gut microbiota. A study explored the impact of microplastics on the gut microbiota—a complex community of microorganisms residing in our digestive system that plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. The researchers exposed zebrafish to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics commonly found in marine ecosystems. The results revealed a significant disruption in the composition and diversity of the zebrafish gut microbiota. This disruption was accompanied by microbiota dysbiosis, metabolomic dysregulation, and oxidative stress. Disruptions in gut microbiota have been associated with a wide range of health issues, including metabolic disorders, immune dysfunction, and mental health disorders, suggesting that microplastics may have the potential to disturb the delicate balance of our gut microbiota and contribute to various health complications.
Microplastics undergo various changes in the digestive system and appear to be different in structure when they reach the colon. A recent study found that consuming microplastics can alter the composition of the microbial community in the human colon. The researchers suggest that some bacteria in the colon may attach to the surface of microplastics, leading to the formation of biofilms. These findings indicate that microplastics can have negative effects on digestive health. Given the growing exposure to microplastics in the food and beverages we consume, it is important to investigate how plastics affect the functioning of the gut microbiome and whether they can be broken down by digestion and intestinal bacteria.
While these studies provide valuable insights into the presence of microplastics in humans, they do not establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and health issues. Further research is needed to understand the potential long-term effects of microplastics on the endocrine system and human health. Controlled human studies, along with more comprehensive monitoring and analytical techniques, are essential for drawing more definitive conclusions.
As the research in this field continues to progress, it is crucial to prioritize measures to reduce microplastic pollution and limit human exposure. By minimizing the production and consumption of single-use plastics and promoting sustainable waste management practices, we can contribute to a healthier environment and potentially reduce the potential risks associated with microplastics to the endocrine system and human health.
Reducing exposure to microplastics is essential for both personal and environmental well-being. Here are three simple ways to minimize your exposure to microplastics:
By incorporating these simple practices into your daily life, you can significantly reduce your exposure to microplastics and contribute to a healthier environment.
Photo: Close-up of microplastics. Credit – pcess609 Getty Images / iStockphoto
The American Cancer Society recommends that cancer patients aim for 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of physical activity a week. Broken down over seven days, this amount of time averages out to about twenty-two minutes a day. If you think about it this way, this is an incredibly doable goal. What’s even better is that those twenty-two minutes don’t have to be done at once.
In fact, research suggests that shorter bouts of exercise may have greater health benefits than longer endurance workouts. A 2016 study by Martin Gibala and his colleagues at McMaster University found that in previously sedentary individuals brief, but strenuous (10 minutes total, with only three 20 second episodes of flat-out exertion) exercise bouts three times a week for 12 weeks resulted in similar improvements in physiological and biological measures of fitness compared to those who exercised 45 minutes a week for twelve weeks.
It seems that benefits are also derived from bouts of intense exercise even as short as 4 seconds every hour! A study published last week by Edward Coyle and his team from the Human Performance Laboratory at University of Texas at Austin found that hourly 4 second bursts of maximal intensity cycle sprints interrupting prolonged sitting lowered the next day’s biological response to a high fat meal, decreasing markers of cardiovascular risk (triglyceride spike).
Previous research found the same effect for three 10-minute walks compared to a 30-minute walk in adults with borderline hypertension. The shorter walks had the same effect on blood pressure, but unlike the thirty-minute walk, they also reduced spikes in blood pressure, and so they had greater implications for overall health. We also know that simply sitting less and moving more is the ideal approach, as research suggests that:
Exercise During a Pandemic
The extend time we are all spending at home due to SARS-CoV-2 virus and the ensuing COVID-19 illness is resulting in excess sitting and lack of exercise. However, this is a time to stand up and get moving as being in motion will improve all aspects of your health, boost your immune system, and create an environment that can better keep you virus free.
The human body, which is an evolutionary masterpiece of biological engineering, is designed to be in motion. Yet in large part, most of the hours of our lives are spent sitting. Recently, scientists have discovered that sitting is becoming a major health liability, and it is as detrimental to our health as smoking or eating poorly or any other number of less-than-healthy lifestyle choices that make us vulnerable to disease.
It is a well-accepted fact that exercise lowers your risk of cancer and other diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as leading to increased quality and quantity of life. As we are all more or less isolated in our homes, how do we make it work for ourselves.
Making it Work for You
We believe that the best coach is our own body, so listen to your body and respond to its requests and needs. If you feel strong, balanced, flexible, and confident, you’re likely on the right track. Getting aerobic exercise (elevating your heart rate) on a regular basis is important, as is keeping your muscle strength up.
Break Up Your Day with Exercise Bursts
Break Up Your Sitting Time
Based on multiple studies, we encourage you to break up your sitting time by at least standing up:
Walk Instead of Sitting
Develop a Fitness Routine
When you are ready for aerobic training and fitness, we suggest finding a friend to join you. For Alison, having a workout partner is an essential part of improving her fitness that helps keep her motivated and makes her responsible to someone other than herself.
Build your strength and your stamina. Resistance work is great for building muscle mass and protecting bone health. And your own body is your best source of resistance. A near perfect exercise is the simple plank. This activates your large muscle groups and builds arm strength. You can include free weights or resistance bands to create more tension on the muscles.
Start with something easily accessible that works with your schedule and temperament. Alison admires the runners who jog by our house every morning and evening, but she has no desire to be one of them. Be honest with yourself about what you want to do and what you can sustain. You don’t have to run a marathon. You just have to find a way to move more that works for you.