As anyone who has seen a friend or loved one die of cancer knows, it can be a terrible disease.
Half of us will develop cancer at some point in our lives, so most will be affected in one way or another.
In the past two years, I have lost two friends to cancer, both relatively young. My dad found out he had prostate cancer around my age (I’m 65), so I know I’m at higher risk. I have regular PSA (prostate specific antigen) tests and also recently had a bowel exam (an examination of the bowel using a small camera).
Other things I do to keep cancer at bay include short bursts of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and following a healthy, relatively low carb diet.
It was therefore reassuring to see new research showing that these two approaches can have an impact on cancers, by depriving them of their preferred source of energy, glucose in the blood. This appears to not only prevent cancer cells from spreading, but also prevent the disease from recurring in people who have it.
Dr. Michael Mosley talks about the simple steps he takes to ward off cancer
Although there are drugs being tested that can also do this, they are far from reaching patients. Meanwhile, changes in diet and activity levels are things you can implement right away.
Cancers arise because of a DNA mutation in certain cells. If these mutant cells grow and manage to evade your immune system, they can spread throughout your body.
If you catch cancer early enough, the usual options are to cut it out (i.e. surgery) and/or destroy it using radiation and/or chemotherapy. Increasingly successful is the use of immunotherapy, an approach where the immune system is activated to fight cancer.
However, there is also growing evidence that you can weaken a cancer by depriving it of the fuel it needs to grow: blood sugar.
How can you reduce a cancer’s fuel supply without damaging other cells? This is where two relatively simple approaches come in.
The first is HIIT: we’ve known for some time that exercise can reduce your risk of cancer, up to 35% for some forms.
Analysis of data from 3,000 people over a 20-year period showed that those who engaged in intense aerobic exercise were 72% less likely to develop metastatic cancer (cancer that had spread) than those who did not. no exercise.
Now, a study from Tel Aviv University has shown that doing high-intensity aerobic exercise (i.e. running or riding a bike) is particularly effective. Analysis of data from 3,000 people over a 20-year period showed that those who did intense aerobic exercise were 72% less likely to develop metastatic cancer (cancer that had spread) than those who did no exercise .
To find out what was going on, the researchers injected cancer cells into mice that had run on treadmills. They found that running causes muscles and organs, such as the lungs and liver, to develop more glucose receptors on their surface.
In other words, they could “suck” more glucose from the blood, depriving cancer cells of the fuel they needed to spread. Any regular exercise should help, but scientists say that for the most benefits it should be intense, pushing your heart rate to at least 80% of its maximum.
To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So my maximum heart rate is 155 beats per minute – to be considered “intense” I would have to push it over 120 beats per minute.
Dr. Michael Mosley: I do it on my bike, biking hard for short bursts up the hill. Scientists suggest alternating a few minutes of brisk walking with a one-minute sprint, followed by more walking, then another sprint.
But that shouldn’t last long. I do it on my bike, cycling hard for short bursts up the hill. Scientists suggest alternating a few minutes of brisk walking with a one-minute sprint, followed by more walking, then another sprint.
If you can’t do that, don’t be discouraged. A study published in October in the International Journal of Cancer concluded that women with breast cancer simply benefit from walking (although the more strenuous the better) and maintaining a healthy weight. .
Why is weight important? A recent study of people with type 2 diabetes and obesity concluded that this is primarily related to maintaining your blood sugar levels.
Researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that patients who lost a lot of weight and brought their blood sugar back to normal were 60% less likely to develop cancer over the next ten years than those who did not. I find this study personally encouraging because ten years ago I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, I lost 20 lbs by fast dieting and managed to bring my blood sugar back to normal.
This new research suggests that not only did it reduce my risk of heart disease and dementia, but it also reduced my risk of cancer by 60%.
More controversial than exercise or weight loss, a ketogenic diet, where you eat more fat and protein but immediately cut carbs, may lower your risk of cancer.
Dr. Michael Mosley: The downside of the keto diet is that you can cut out foods known to prevent cancer, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Keto can also lead to weight loss at a time when people are struggling to maintain their weight. So it’s not to be taken lightly
This diet has been used for over 100 years to treat epilepsy, but studies on its impact on cancer are more recent. Like exercise, the idea is that by following a keto diet, you weaken cancer by depriving it of glucose.
And you are not replacing cancer treatments, but supplementing them.
Earlier this year, researchers from Princeton University in the US published a study which showed that in mice with pancreatic cancer, combining a keto diet with chemotherapy tripled their chances of survival. Researchers are now recruiting patients to participate in a clinical trial to see if the same approach works in humans.
The downside of keto is that you can cut out foods known to prevent cancer, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Keto can also lead to weight loss at a time when people are struggling to maintain their weight. It is therefore not to be taken lightly.
If you are being treated for cancer, you should discuss with your doctor whether vigorous exercise or trying a low carbohydrate diet would be safe or appropriate to add to your treatment regimen.
If, like me, you just want to stay in shape and reduce your risk of developing cancer, it’s a good idea to stick to a low-carb Mediterranean diet and do some HIIT. But if you’re not reasonably fit and healthy, be careful.
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