There are plenty of factors that increase the risk of cancer, such as smoking or eating processed foods. However, recent research has shed light on 10 positive lifestyle choices that can reduce the risk of certain types of cancer by up to 30%.
These include consuming no more than three servings of red meat, avoiding sugary drinks, maintaining a balanced diet with sufficient fiber, engaging in two and a half hours of physical activity per week, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting fast food intake, and eliminating alcohol consumption entirely.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that these steps have considerable cancer-reducing potential. Doctors have now observed that individuals who steer clear of these unhealthy habits have a significantly lower risk of developing cancer. The University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom conducted a study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, which tested these guidelines on a group of 94,778 adults with an average age of 56.
The goal of this study was to validate a previous set of 10 similar recommendations made by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). For the study, participants provided self-reported data on their diet and exercise habits, as well as their body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. Each participant received a score based on their adherence to seven of the recommendations.
The researchers from Newcastle did not include the WCRF’s advice to avoid cancer-fighting food supplements, nor did they consider breastfeeding. These two categories lacked sufficient data, leading to their exclusion from the study.
The researchers accounted for factors such as age, sex, socioeconomic deprivation, ethnicity, and smoking status in their analysis. On average, participants scored 3.8 out of seven for meeting the eight recommendations under scrutiny. During the study, 7,296 participants (8%) developed cancer. The study revealed that a higher adherence to the recommendations correlated with a lower risk of cancer.
How does following these 10 health measures lower a risk of cancer?
For each recommendation followed, participants reduced their cancer risk by 7%. Additionally, each one-point increase in adherence score was associated with a 10% lower risk of breast cancer, 10% lower risk of colon cancer, 18% lower risk of kidney cancer, 16% lower risk of esophageal cancer, 22% lower risk of liver cancer, 24% lower risk of ovarian cancer, and 30% lower risk of gallbladder cancer. Notably, breastfeeding emerged as a surprising recommendation.
Maintaining a healthy BMI range of 18.5-24.9, engaging in two and a half hours of physical activity per week, consuming a balanced diet with at least 30 grams of fiber daily and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, limiting fast food consumption, consuming no more than three servings of red meat weekly, avoiding drinks with added sugar, abstaining from alcohol, breastfeeding for six months, and refraining from using purported cancer-preventing food supplements were all deemed critical in reducing cancer risk.
The protection offered by breastfeeding may be attributed to the hormonal changes that occur during the process. Breastfeeding leads to irregular menstruation, resulting in lower lifetime exposure to the sex hormone estrogen – which is linked to an increased cancer risk. Eating excessive amounts of fast food increases the likelihood of being overweight, which in turn triggers hormonal changes that can promote tumor growth. Red and processed meat contain compounds such as organometallic compounds (heme) and nitrates. These substances can damage the cells lining the intestines, thus increasing the risk of cancer.
Alcohol metabolizes into a chemical called acetaldehyde in the body, causing DNA damage that is associated with various types of cancer.
The researchers note that their study is observational, therefore they cannot definitively conclude whether following the recommendations directly leads to a reduced cancer risk. However, the findings certainly highlight the importance of adopting these lifestyle choices to lower the likelihood of developing cancer.