Lifestyle choices, our environment, and cancer are intertwined. While we have a long way to go before we really understand how cancer works (for instance, a recent study concluded that it might be more random than we think) plenty of research shows that what we eat, the chemicals to which we are exposed, and our level of activity can correlate with incidences of cancer.
Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently started the series Conversations on Cancer -- an exploration of the latest research and developments on cancer. In the first installment, Curt DellaValle interviewed Jocelyn Weiss, Ph.D., assistant director of clinical research at Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York and blogger at An Unprocessed Life, on her understanding of the relationship between nutrition and cancer. We’ll let you read the whole article here, but there are some particularly insightful parts that we thought we could condense and share if your time’s short.
Though she is a medical researcher, Weiss’s take on nutrition and health has a deeply personal side to it. She had incredible success treating some of her chronic diseases with diet and exercise, and part of her work involves sharing those ideas with the rest of the world. Addressing the title of her blog An Unprocessed Life, she explained to EWG the importance of personal discovery and exploration on the path to wellness:
While “unprocessed” refers to types of foods to emphasize in one’s diet, it also reflects a way of life. Our own personal journeys and definitions of wellness and happiness should be discovered individually. In addition to nutrition, our health is impacted by physical activity, stress reduction, sleep, relationships, career, personal growth, spirituality and mindfulness. After I gained a handle on my nutrition, I focused on these areas as well. Within a year of starting my journey, I was able to come off of my medications.
Health and wellness, she explains, varies on a case-by-case basis and she acknowledges that what worked for her may not work for everyone. However, as a scientist in practice and sensibilities, she also acknowledges that when it comes to cancer there are some definite lifestyle choices that we can make that can reduce risk:
Both anecdotal and research-based evidence strongly indicates that a healthy diet and physical activity can impact the risk of cancer. While it is undeniable that our genetics play a significant role in our susceptibility to disease, our DNA is not the only player. A person at higher risk of a particular disease is not guaranteed to get it if she or he minimizes exposure to other modifiable dietary and lifestyle factors.
As of yet, however, there is no blanket prescription for cancer prevention. A scientist at heart, despite her personal successes, Weiss explains that there is still a vast amount of research needed, particularly in the realm of looking at the connection between body systems, before we can get a handle on cancer and personal health and wellbeing:
No single nutrient, food item or body characteristic exists in a vacuum. In addition, even the strongest findings come with some degree of uncertainty as to whether they apply to the entire population. If we hope to make sense of the complex milieu in which disease happens, and influence behavior, we need to understand the mechanisms by which different factors impact health.
The microbiome is an emerging area that is showing promise . Microbial cells (bacteria and viruses) outnumber other cells in our body 10 to 1. They play important roles in metabolism, immunity, digestion and other pathways. The key is to look at mechanisms in the context of a holistic, larger picture.
Check out the rest of DellaValle and Weiss’s interview here and look for more of EWG’s Conversation on Cancer in January.
PHOTO: Curt DellaValle, scientist and Jocelyn Weiss, Ph.D.
- Wellness Chat: The Importance Of Nutrition In Cancer Prevention via Environmental Working Group