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Don’t Be a Sitting Duck

by Cara Michele Nether, L.Ac.,M.Ac., NADA RT

Recently a friend said sometimes she feels like it is inevitable that she, or someone she knows, will be diagnosed with a major illness like cancer or heart disease.  If you’ve ever felt like this you may be surprised by the following information.  “All cancers involve the malfunction of genes that control cell growth and division. About 5% of all cancers are strongly hereditary, in that an inherited genetic alteration confers a very high risk of developing one or more specific types of cancer. However, most cancers do not result from inherited genes but from damage to genes occurring during one’s lifetime. It’s been estimated that approximately one-third of the cancer deaths that occur in the US each year are due to poor nutrition and physical inactivity, including excess weight.” American Cancer Society, Cancer Fact and Figures 2011

When I initially read this information I was appalled.  The next emotion that showed up for me was anger.  Over the years I have personally know at least 50 women who were dealing with the diagnosis of breast cancer.  I have been witness to hundreds of walks, conferences, rallies, and fundraisers, all doing their part to “win the fight” against breast cancer.  Could it be that while so many people are suffering and their supports are working so hard to find a scientific cure that the answers have been right in front of us the whole time?

Well according to the American Cancer Society the answer is a huge yes!  The answer for the vast majority of women and men who could be diagnosed with breast cancer is as simple as preventative behaviors based on lifestyle changes.  The doubly good news is that we are not just talking about breast cancer.  Remember that the statements above speak to cancers in general.  We can also add heart disease and diabetes to this conversation.

According to the CDC and Mayo Clinic, the top causes of death for women are:

#1 Heart Disease
#2 Cancer
#3 Strokes
#4 Diabetes (ranked 4th or 7th depending on ethnicity)

As a health care provider I am truly relieved that the answer is this simple.  I know what I need to recommend to my clients to help them live longer with a high quality of life. The tricky part is that simple is not necessarily easy – and here is why.  Fewer than 32% of adult Americans eat three or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.  It is a little harder to get the nutrients that our cells rely on in order to function properly if we are not putting in the items that carry the nutrients.  What keeps us from eating nutrient dense foods?  I suggest two things:  convenience and the idea that food should be cheap.

Convenience rules our fast paced lives.  The sound that is replacing the old metal dinner bell is the sound that comes from ripping open frozen packages. Secondly, we have been brain washed by food manufacturers to believe that food that is truly healthy for us sits on a rack and cost pennies on the dollar.  Raising and selling whole food has expenses just like any other industry.  Farmers need to be paid enough to take care of their families, buy farm equipment, market and ship their goods.  How do we get to eat a whole meal for $3.00?  The answer comes in the degradation of the quality of the food.  In other words, the lack of concern for nutritional value.

I suspect that many people would be surprised to learn the devastating and compounding effect these two facts are having on the health and well being of our society as a whole and for each of us as individuals. It is hard to produce food that meets our low cost and convenience expectations and is still high in nutritional value. Often we end up missing out on nutrients that matter like vitamin C and D.

Vitamin C, found in broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, and tomatoes, aides in wound healing and plays a role in the formation of red blood cells.  Low blood levels of the vitamin have been associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancers.  Fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and the sun are great sources of vitamin D.

Luckily, there are two prevention steps that we can take to work our way to health and well-being.

First, consume more nutrients.  There is no way around the fact that without them our cells are in trouble which means that we are in trouble. Here are four suggestions:

  1. At every meal and snack make sure 70% of what you are taking in is a whole fruit or vegetable.
  2. Keep from adding more toxins from your body buy eating organic whenever possible.
  3. Make sure you are taking whole food supplements to fill in your nutritional gaps.
  4. When considering what you are going to eat, make your decision based on the nutrients you body needs.

Second, move your body.  Exercise stimulates our lymphatic system, strengths our bones, increases our oxygen intake and helps reduce the size of our fat cells. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Make exercise as important as going to work. You would never neglect the responsibilities you have at work.  Why skip on the responsibilities you have for yourself?
  2. Find a workout buddy or group.  You will stick to programs that you are accountable to.
  3. Exercise vigorously so that you break a light sweat and are breathing more heavily.  Sweating detoxifies the body and heavier breathing strengthens your heart and lungs.
  4. Choose an exercise that you enjoy.  We will stick to things that are fun.

Changing old habits is never easy – and in the case of what we put on our plates and in our mouths is it extremely important.  The American Cancer Society states that “In 2011, about 571,950 Americans are expected to die of cancer, more than 1,500 people a day.” We will pay in time and resources for our health today or we will pay in even more unpleasant ways later.

Let’s choose to get moving in a proactive way instead of being sitting ducks waiting for the phone call from you doctor’s office.  If I am ever diagnosed with a major illness, I want to enter into the treatment process knowing that my body is in the best shape possible inside and out to aid in my healing.

In partnership,

Cara Michele

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