Nutrition and Lifestyle Tips to Help You Thrive After Cancer

1. FOOD

35% OF ALL CANCERS IN THE US MAY BE DIET RELATED.

What we eat affects our gut health. Our gut health relates to our gut microbiome, which has trillions of gut bacteria and plays a role in up to 70% of our immune system functions. This is our first defense against pathogens. It makes vitamins and acts as a neurotransmitter for mental heath. Poor gut health is related to autoimmune diseases. A poor diet, stress, antibiotics (in our food and from the doctor), medications, and alcohol can all negatively affect gut health. We know certain gut bacteria are higher or lower in certain cancers and diseases, and the numbers also fluctuate in overweight patients. More research is being done and will continue to come out about this.

Most of us are eating a SAD diet (standard American diet) of processed foods and fast food, with few fresh veggies, fruits, and whole grains like beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa, brown rice, or other non-wheat grains that are good for us. Whole grains, fruits, and veggies feed our gut bacteria and provide us the most nutrient-dense foods.

The American Institute for Cancer Research promotes a plant-based diet. 2/3 or more of your plate should be plants. Eating too much meat can contribute to certain cancers like colon and esophageal.

GENERAL GUIDELINES

Reduce or avoid white, processed foods and sugars. Avoid artificial sugars like Splenda, aspartame, or Sweet-n-Low. Anything that says “diet” or “sugar-free” probably has these in them. As an alternative, use natural sweeteners like honey, dates, and maple syrup—but use them sparingly.

Drink mostly water. Some sparkling water is okay, as well. Herbal teas and green tea are other great options. When it comes to alcohol, the less the better. As a general guideline, stick to 1-2 drinks no more than 3 days per week.

Focus on as many whole foods and veggies as you can in one day. The rainbow chart will be helpful. Literally eat the rainbow of colors each day. If you are not a big veggie eater, try to add one extra veggie serving in each day. This is the concept of crowding out. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, focus on what you can, and add in as many nutritious foods as you can each day. Eventually, you will be eating less of the bad and more of the good.

For veggies and fruit, organic does matter. Organic veggies and fruits have significantly less pesticides on them. To know what you should buy organic, the Environmental Working Group (ewg.org) has their “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” lists each year. There have been links to RoundUp, the main pesticide being used on our crops, contributing to cancer.

Use olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil instead of canola or vegetable oils. Vegetable oils can be GMO and higher in the inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids. Grass- fed butter or ghee is also a good option. Don’t be afraid of the good fats! We need them for brain health.

If you eat meat: reduce the portion and look for grass-fed, pasture-raised cows or chickens or local farms that let cows eat grass and roam, let chickens eat grass, and feed them a normal diet instead of corn feed. Avoid processed meats altogether: cured meats, lunch meats, hot dogs, bacon, etc. If you must have them, find nitrate-free options.

The same goes for eggs. My favorite brand is Vital Farms: no antibiotics, no growth hormones. Conventional cows and animals are given antibioitcs and growth hormones to make them grow faster and be fatter at slaughter or produce more milk. Then, we eat and drink this, and it is contributing to poor gut health and excess hormones in our systems.

GMO FOODS

Try to avoid corn and soy. They have been modified to withstand high levels of RoundUp, so it’s best to avoid them, if possible. Remember to always read labels. If there is a questionable ingredient, put it back. This may take you more time in the store, but it’s worth it, and you will get used to what is good and not good.

Along those lines, pay attention when buying milk and dairy products. Only buy those that have no growth hormones. It should say on the label RBGH-free. Try to buy from local farms, if possible. I use alternative dairy options like coconut milk, almond milk, and cashew milk. I substitute coconut cream or coconut milk for milk in recipes. Limit cheeses. If you buy yogurt, look for plain Greek yogurt and add honey and fruit to sweeten.

YOU NEED TO OVERDOSE ON NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS!

2. EXERCISE

A good exercise routine can modify your risk of certain cancers (breast, endometrial, colon). It also helps improve lean muscle mass, reduce fat gain, maintain a healthy weight, and keep insulin levels steady. It even helps us sweat! Exercise can combat the fatigue associated with cancer treatment and can also help you sleep better.

Your lifestyle matters. Too much sitting is considered the new smoking! Most of our jobs force us to sit for long periods of time, so it’s imperative that we get up and move as much as possible. The ACS recommends 150 minutes of exercise a week—75 of those vigorous—and strength training twice a week.

You can exercise in all kinds of different ways: walking, swimming, or even gardening. Try getting up and walking around during commercials on TV. There are so many different exercise classes available at places like the YMCA. 10,000 steps a day is a good goal (try getting a tracker like a Fitbit if you need help keeping track).

We were meant to move! Aim for 5 hours of moderate activity per week or 2 1/2 hours of more intense activity per week.

3. TOXINS

Our environment contains over 80,000 man-made chemicals, many approved by the government with no safety testing. Known carcinogens and drugs end up in our food and water supply and can increase the risk of cancers, disrupt our hormones, and contribute to other illnesses. We need to reduce our toxic load as much as possible and improve how well our bodies remove toxins.

REDUCE EXPOSURE

Look closely at your cleaning products, personal care products, candles, scents, and pesticides. Use resources from EWG, Skin Deep, and the Good Guide to check your products.

Most women use about 12 products in the morning and can be exposed to over 168 chemicals before leaving the bathroom! Men use about 6.

My favorite cleaner is Branch Basics, a plant-based concentrate that can be used for your entire house. I like Molly Suds for laundry, and the Honest Company and Norwex have good products as well. You can also use essential oils to clean.

Improve your body’s ability to remove toxins. Your body eliminates toxins in 4 ways:

Sweating, Breathing, Urination, Bowel movements

It’s critical for you to maximize your ability to adequately get rid of the toxins your body is mobilizing. If you do not properly eliminate them daily, you may experience increased fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and flu-like symptoms.

To avoid sabotaging your detoxing efforts, here are a few suggestions:

Drink enough water that you are urinating frequently. If your urine is not light in color, drink more water. Your urine should have a light straw color. However, if you are taking B vitamins, your urine will likely look bright yellow for most of the day.

Do gentle physical activities such as yoga or brisk walking to enhance sweat.
If you have access to a sauna or steam room . . . great! If your schedule permits, try using it daily for 10 to 20 minutes as tolerated. It has been shown that sauna therapy increases the excretion of heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals from the body.

Note: If you are chronically ill or take medication, be sure to get your doctor’s permission before using this program and especially before starting sauna or steam therapy. When your physician has cleared you, start with short time increments and gradually increase time as tolerated.
Remember to drink at least 16 ounces of water before entering the sauna and the same amount after therapy to flush the mobilized toxins.

You should be having bowel movements daily; otherwise, you’ll reabsorb the toxins in your gut. If you are not having daily BMs, consider taking an herbal laxative at bedtime. Herbal laxatives should include cascara or senna and can be found in capsule or tea preparations. Also, magnesium works great (200-400 mg daily). Make sure you’re eating high-fiber foods like fruits and veggies and drinking half your body weight in ounces of water daily.

4. STRESS, MINDSET, & GRATITUDE

Chronic stress is a big contributing factor to chronic disease. It releases epinephrine, which is bad on your lymphocytes (part of your immune system) and cortisol released by your adrenal (your stress hormone gland suppresses your immune system). Having a support system, faith, or a positive mindset can make a really positive impact on your outcome and health.

WE NEED OUR STRESS HORMONES IN A FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT SITUATION, BUT OVER THE LONG TERM, IT CAN BE DETRIMENTAL TO OUR HEALTH.

TIPS TO DESTRESS

  • 3-4-5 breathing, longer exhale, five minutes, three times a day

  • Progressive muscle relaxation

  • Walk outside

  • Sit outside with nature

  • Get some vitamin D!

  • Dance.

  • Laugh.

  • Schedule time for yourself every day for 15 minutes. It can be dancing, reading, talking to a good friend, but not social media! No TV or electronics.

What are you saying to yourself? Our thoughts are powerful. Every morning, say three positive things about yourself out loud. Speak what you want: say you are healed every day.

At the end of day, write down three things you are grateful for. Be specific, like, “I am grateful for my spouse, who helped me empty the dishwasher,” or, “I am grateful for being able to live in this house,” or, “I am grateful for this cancer group.”

5. SLEEP

Lack of sleep compounds everything. Sleep is when your body has time to recover and heal. There is a connection between shift workers and increased cancer risk.

SLEEP TIPS

  • Keep same schedule of sleep/wake hours

  • Dark cool room

  • No electronics, don’t use phone as alarm

  • Early morning light exposure

  • Have tea or water outside in the morning

  • Shut off electronics/blue light exposure 90 minutes before bed

  • Herbal tea

  • Turn lights down

  • Keep a gratitude journal

  • Practice breathing exercises

  • Magnesium supplements can help


RESOURCES WEBSITES & PROGRAMS

ARTICLES

  • "Does Eating Organic Foods Reduce Cancer? Researchers in France Say 'Yes'" by Christine Ruggeri, CHHC (draxe.com/organic-foods)

  • "Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: a Global Perspective" from the World Cancer Research Fund (www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer)

BOOKS

  • Eat to Beat Disease by William Li

  • Chris Beat Cancer by Chris Wark

  • How to Make Disease Disappear by Rangan Chatterjee

  • What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter

  • Breasts: The Owner’s Manual by Dr. Kristi Funk

ABOUT ALISON

HI, I’M ALISON—A MOM OF TWO, CANCER SURVIVOR, AND A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT TURNED HOLISTIC HEALTH COACH! I teach people just like you how to restore the health of your gut—which could be the missing link that’s holding you back from feeling your best—through my online gut restore program and one-on-one coaching. https://www.alisonwensrich.com/