Tag Archives: Cancer Risks

Let the Season Joys Boost Your Immune System, Not Stress Ruin Your Happiness

Holiday Season is approaching! Are you excited? Or stressed out? The primary cancer risk factors during holidays are diet and stress. We covered the diet factor in our Newsletter December issue, and focus on coping stress here.

Holiday realities

The holidays are both a wonderful and stressful time of the year. Besides the usual work loads and family commitments, we have new functions, as we rush around trying to meet looming deadlines. Parties and social events, holiday shopping, decorating, trips, holiday meals, going to the new movie releases, entertaining guests, … see how much we try to cram into the festive season! It gives me a headache just naming all the things.

The key danger of stress

Now imagine doing all that. It’s certainly a recipe for stress. Holiday stress normally falls into categories of financial, physical, psychological/emotional drains. Stress has a negative effect on your health. This is not just a theory. Many studies have found key mechanistic evidence at the cellular level. Chronic stress and/or depression can increase the body production of cytokines, that is, immune-modulating substances. One of them is called interleukin-6 (IL-6). High serum levels of IL-6 have been linked to risks for several adverse conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, mental health complications, and some cancers.

The relationship between stress and cancer is complex. Many factors may come into play. However, research has demonstrated that stress factors (e.g., the death of a spouse, divorce, social isolation, and medical school examinations) alter some white blood cell functions and promote immune dysfunction. Taken together, stress reduction is of importance for many health reasons.

Win control over stress with top 8 effective tips:

Since stress can translate into negative changes in the body, this year I challenge you to have the least holiday stress ever, and let the joyful spirit of the season boost your immune system! I’m here to help you achieve that.

1. The keywords are Prioritize, Be realistic, and Simplify (PBS). So, plan ahead based on PBS.

2.      Take it easy. Make the holidays enjoyable rather than perfect. If a card cannot get to its destiny on time, give the person a surprise call on that holiday morning! If you don’t feel like cooking or baking, buy some packaged prepared meals as an alternative, or go without one or two “traditions”. Instead of spending hours in the malls or sitting in the traffic, shop online for gifts to save time and get good deals.

3.      Tap the resources within your family, from neighbors and friends. Do what you enjoy, and make it fun for everyone. If you love decorating trees and hate shopping or dishwashing, trade chores within the family, so everyone picks up their favorite task.

4.      Create a budget within your means to avoid “New Year Depression” on debt. Folk wisdom tells us to shop ahead of time for bargains. However, we all can be creative and spend less, believe it or not. If your budget doesn’t allow you to buy expensive gifts, buy a small one. Everyone appreciates a gift regardless of its size. If it’s too costly to attend a fancy party, organize a new, fun activity to celebrate at home or go to a movie.

5.      Listen to your body and take care of it. If you are tired, acknowledge it; if you need a treat or massage, get it; and if exercises or physical activities make you feel good, go for it.  Also, be sure to get enough sleep.

6.      Practice stress-relieving techniques, particularly those that work for you. Breathe deeply, meditate freely, visualize a peaceful scene, or listen to soothing music. Enjoy some quiet time or “down” time for yourself, especially when you feel over-stressed or under uncomfortable conditions. Caution! Just because the letters in desserts can be used to spell stressed, it doesn’t mean you need to relieve stress with desserts. Avoid over-eating, particularly high sugar and/or high calorie foods.

7.      Laugh, laugh, and laugh! Laughter is an effective medicine.

And perhaps the most important tip of all is:

 

8. The holiday season is a time of Family, Friends and Fun! Connecting with others for laughter and love is the best stress-reliever and most effective immune-booster. And remember, for some, this is a time of loneliness and depression. Invite them to your home; show kindness to them. If you are alone during the holidays, reaching out to help others can benefit your own physical and psychological well-being.

If you like this post, please share it.  Sharing is caring and giving.

 

Photo Credits: By dtweney; By Just a Temporary Measure

 

 

Breast Cancer Prevention Is for Everyone

In October, we increase nationwide awareness for breast cancer. Remember: both men and women can get breast cancer. The most important factor is catching it early, because at an early stage, the cancer is most treatable, and can be closely monitored if you’re at increased risk.

How to catch it early:

1.   Recognize symptoms/signs.

2.   Consult your physicians especially if you have a family history of breast cancer.

3.   Get mammograms, and if necessary, MRI.

What are common symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore?

1.   A lump in the breast, sometimes an area of lumpiness, which can be found through regular self-examination.

2.   The lump is not always painful or visible, but can be felt.

3.   Any change in the skin around the nipple.

4.   Unexpected inversion of the nipple.

5.   Breast pain or discomfort.

6.   Weight loss.

7.   Signs that indicate the cancer could be spreading, such as a lump in the underarm area or bone pain, or other symptoms depending on the organ/tissue affected.

Cancer is such a scary, horrible and challenging disease. Although early detection is the key, “prevention is better than cure.” Always. There are things you can control.

How to prevent breast cancer:

1.   Keep informed and educated, do so beyond health promotion events or cancer awareness campaigns.

2.   Avoid your exposure to radiation, toxic chemicals and carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Particularly, start limiting the use of chemical cleaner wherever you can.

3.   Quit alcohol consumption and smoking. When combined with genetic or inherit factors, drinks and cigarettes enhance several cancers’ risks.

4.   Live a healthy lifestyle, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercise, and sleep well.

5.   Maintain a healthy weight, because the link between body fat and cancer risk has been proven.

In short, these are essential things everybody can do in Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a year around.

Infection Is a Risk Factor for Cancer

We have discussed the association of salmonella typhi with gallbladder cancer in the last post. Let’s look at more examples on this topic.

Helicobacter pylori is linked to both gastric cancer and MALT lymphoma (a form of lymphoma involving the mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue, often in the stomach); Chlamydia pneumoniae to lung cancer; Streptococcus bovis and/or Enteroccocus faecalis to colon cancer.

Although research has shown that certain bacteria are associated with human cancers, their role in cancer is of complex. Convincing evidence links some species to the formation of cancer while others appear promising in the diagnosis, prevention or treatment of cancers. However, you might wonder how bacteria infection could lead to cancer. Here I provide you some insights.

Bacteria may cause cancer through:

1. Chronic infection. Some bacterial toxins can negatively impact the process that controls the normal cell cycle and cell growth, others disrupt the cellular signaling pathways that regulate normal cell death, consequently promoting cancerous growth. In addition, infection-induced immune response may release immune modulating substances from inflammatory cells, contributing to carcinogenesis.

2. DNA damage. Bacteria can produce free radicals – very unstable but highly reactive with other molecules. They can bind to DNA and cause DNA mutation, thereby altering the genes that control normal cell division and cell death. Cancer is initiated when uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells takes place.

3. Weakened or suppressed immune system. The immune system is an important line of defense for any toxins or diseases including cancer. Toxins or pathogens sometimes can get away from the host’s immune system to survive, and then modify one’s immune function. When its function is compromised, the immune system no longer recognizes and fights bacteria or toxins as foreign bodies, nor gets rid of them.

That being said, don’t panic. A majority of individuals will not develop cancer after infection by a cancer-causing agent. However, be conscious and alert. The facts are:

  1. Certain individuals are more susceptible to cancer-causing infections.
  2. Incidence of certain cancers may vary among populations or geographic regions.
  3. It often takes years or decades between acquiring the infection and getting cancer.

Take-home-message:

Chronic infection is a risk factor for cancer. Staying away from or treating the infection may prevent it.

Photo illustration: Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph showing Salmonella typhimurium (red) invading cultured human cells

Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH

Salmonella Infection — How to Avoid the Risk

Do you eat eggs? They are nutrient-rich, esp. vitamin D-rich food. Now you know eggs can also be a source of food poisoning, based on the fact that Salmonella outbreaks drove a nationwide egg recall recently. The New York Times reported that a half billion eggs have been recalled because of possible contamination with salmonella.

Today we focus on top 3 takeaways from this incident.

First, who is most vulnerable to salmonella infection?

Salmonella infections cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps, as well as fever. Usually symptoms of infection begin 12 to 72 hours after consuming contaminated foods/ beverages, and last 4 to 7 days. However, some cases can be serious and even fatal. In particular, the following populations are at high risk:

  • young children
  • elderly or frail individuals
  • people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients and those undergoing chemotherapy

Second, what precautions can you take to eliminate the risk of infection?

Again, the food safety system has failed to eliminate salmonella threat. Therefore, you need to take some precautions to protect yourself and your family from food poisoning or bacteria infection. Based on recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and my own practice, I’ve compiled the following eggs/poultry safety Dos and Don’ts.

 

The Don’t list:

  1. Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs.
  2. Don’t use raw eggs for salad dressing or homemade ice cream.
  3. Don’t handle food, esp. cooked food or ready-to-eat food before washing your hands.
  4. Don’t consume unpasteurized milk or any raw dairy products.
  5. Don’t eat restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked eggs.
  6. Don’t prepare food or serve food/drink for others when you’re infected by salmonella.

The Do list:

  1. Do wash your hands thoroughly after handling poultry and anytime before preparing foods, especially cooked or ready-to-eat items.
  2. Do thoroughly wash the cutting board, involved counter surface, knives, utensils and containers/plates after handling uncooked poultry or foods.
  3. Do separate the cutting board or plates for raw food from those for cooked or uncooked ready-to-eat food to avoid cross-contamination; — a practice that many folks overlook.
  4. Do throw away any cracked or dirty eggs.
  5. Do keep eggs or egg-containing foods refrigerated at 45oF or lower.
  6. Do cook eggs until they are well-done (i.e., both yolks and whites are firm).
  7. Do judge or determine whether meat or poultry is cooked or safe to eat by a food thermometer when in doubt, not by food color or poking depth.
  8. Do make sure to cook any egg mixture (casseroles or cakes/pies) until the center of the mixture reaches a safe temperature level.

Third, is Salmonella infection linked to cancer risks?

The relationship between bacterial infection and cancer is rather complicated in the way that bacteria can either cause one type of cancer or protect from the other type of cancer or both. Here we only look at the link between salmonella bacteria and cancer – it’s like two sides of a coin.

There is a close association between mixed bacterial and salmonella infections with the carcinogenesis of cancer, particularly gallbladder cancer – a cancer with a poor prognosis. Even though one infection won’t get you cancer, repeated bacterial infections or chronic infections may lead to cancer development. Therefore, don’t overlook infection. As WHO advocated, preventing infection is one strategy to prevent cancer.

Reversely, the same bacterium, salmonella, has been found as a potential strategy to fight melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer. Specifically, research showed that injecting salmonella (of course, in a safe form) into cancerous mice and cancer cells from human melanoma increased an immune-killing response to tumor cells through elevating immune surveillance.

In short, food hygiene and food safety measures are always worthwhile for your overall health.

Photo credits:  by andar; by g-point

Cancer Got a New Name – Numbers of Human Toll and Economic Burden

“Cancer’s human toll, in terms of suffering and death, is tragic and largely preventable.” Also, cancer is the world’s top “economic killer” and likely the leading cause of death, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society presented at 2010 World Cancer Congress in China (Aug. 18-21).

The following figures illustrate cancer costs globally and nationally:

“We now know that without immediate intervention, the burden of cancer will grow enormously in low- and middle income countries, with demands on health care systems and economic costs that are more than these developing economies can bear,” said John R. Seffrin, PhD, CEO of the American Cancer Society.

The good news is that approximately 40% of cancers are potentially preventable – a message from the International Union Against Cancer (UICC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The question is: Is there any way to fight cancer at a lower economic cost?

Cancer prevention by daily nutrition through a healthy diet is, at least, one effective strategy that can be put into action by individuals in a broader population with less economic burden.

Think about it. What do you do to your body? What does the environment do to your body? And what does the society promote (fat, fast food,…)?

“Sow melon, reap melon; sow beans, reap beans.” ─ Chinese Proverb

Green Leafy Vegetables Help Reduce Cancer Risks

Research shows that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables has been associated with reduced risks for several cancers. Fruits and vegetables contain a wide variety of potential cancer-inhibitory nutrients and antioxidants. Today, let’s just focus on dark green leafy vegetables.

Dark green leafy vegetable family includes the following members commonly available on the market:
* Spinach
* Kale
* Collard Greens
* Mustard Greens
* Swiss chard
* Romaine Lettuce
* Bok Choy

Key cancer protective factor
Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in folate, a group of water-soluble B vitamins.

Key role in cancer prevention
Folate’s primary function is to maintain DNA integrity. Free radicals generated by sunlight, cigarette smoke, air pollution, infection, toxins, and metabolism constantly attack our DNA and cause much of the damage. Without DNA repair, damaged cells can develop into cancer. Folate keeps up DNA stability by regulating DNA biosynthesis, repair and methylation.

Let me explain a little bit more about DNA methylation. Plainly speaking, it involves the addition of a methyl group to DNA structure. DNA methylation patterns go wrong in cancer, often causing tumor-suppressor genes to switch off; which occurs in common cancers in the United States, such as colon, lung, prostate, and breast cancer.

Accumulating evidence indicates that inappropriate diet may contribute to one third of cancer deaths. Folate deficiency has been implicated in the development of several types of cancer, including cancer of the colorectum, breast, ovary, pancreas, brain, lung and cervix.

Key sources for safe intake
To safely and effectively increase folate intake, you should consume dark green leafy vegetables, and other naturally folate-rich foods like asparagus, strawberries, and legumes. Supplements are not preferred, as recent studies indicate that an excessive intake of synthetic folic acid (either high-dose supplements or fortified foods) may promote human cancer.

So, eat a lot of green leafy vegetables every day. They are loaded with cancer protective phytochemicals, antioxidants and nutrients. Also, you enjoy other health benefits beyond cancer prevention.

How do you incorporate dark green leafy vegetables into your daily diet?

Photo credit: By mahr; By jonsson; and By Sultry

Tomatoes and Tomato-rich Diet on Cancer Prevention

Tomatoes are loaded with a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants, delivering a broad range of health benefits… What you can take away from this post is how to maximize its cancer prevention potential through an easy, tasty diet.

Lycopene found in tomatoes is a strong antioxidant, and has been suggested to function as a protective factor against prostate cancer. Also, there is controversy raised over “Lycopene or tomato extract reduces prostate cancer risk”. Thus, the impact of tomatoes on prostate cancer risk holds no established promise for now.

However, there is a large body of evidence — that a diverse diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, as well as that of other cancers.

Countless combination of tomatoes with fruits and veggies can serve you a heart healthy and cancer prevention diet. Here I share a very simple one based on my own experience – fresh tomatoes and basil leaves from the homegrown garden.

The dishes you can make:
1. Tomato basil salad
2. Tomato basil pasta
3. Tomato basil soup
4. Tomato basil sauce
5. Tomato basil pasta salad (my favorites — whole wheat pasta, Farfalle pasta)
6. Add shrimp or chicken to tomato basil dishes.
7. Add other colorful veggies or healthy ingredients to tomato basil dishes or sandwiches.
You’ve got the idea….

To make it delicious and healthy, certainly mix the dish with such ingredients as olive oil, garlic, or lemon juice, but little or no salt.

Tip: Basil herb is better used fresh in cooked dishes, either as marinate or garnish, or toss — add at the last moment, as cooking dissolves its flavor.

Remember, one nutrient alone won’t help you combat any cancer. The key is to regularly consume a variety of nutrients and antioxidants from natural food sources, as the overall benefits of a fruit-vegetable-rich diet on cancer prevention are validated.

How often do you eat tomatoes? What’s your favorite recipe with tomato? We appreciate it if you share.

Photo credit: by topfer

Delicate Mushrooms Are Strong Supporters for a Healthy Immune System

Do you eat mushrooms? I love them, white button mushroom, Portobello mushroom, fragrant mushrooms (Shiitake in Japanese name) etc. are used in many of our dishes.

Immune function, particularly natural and cell-mediated immune response, is critical to preventing and controlling infection and tumor. Nutritional food is one of strategies to efficiently modulate the immune cell response. Mushrooms have been among foods that possess immune modulating properties.

The most common mushroom in the US is the white button mushroom found in every supermarket and available year round. Studies indicate that they can enhance natural and cell-mediated immune response, and promote efficient defense mechanisms against microbial invasion and tumor development.

Fragrant mushroom has always been one of my favorite ingredients added to our family cuisine – the taste is delicious! That’s why one of my must-packed items from my China trip is dried fragrant mushrooms. They have long been reserved as both a delicacy and medicinal food. Fragrant (or Shiitake) mushroom can strengthen immune system through its component called lentinan, which stimulates the production of T lymphocytes, macrophages, and natural killer cells, as well as interleukins, the biologically active modifiers of inflammation and immunity.

In short, various strains of mushroom (white button, shiitake, maitake, etc.) have strong immune impact, which contribute to their anti-tumor properties. They are available fresh in many U.S. supermarkets and oriental grocery stores. Plus they are easy to incorporate into your daily diet.

Advice: It’s always safe to clean mushrooms thoroughly and cook them before consuming them, in order to avoid carcinogens or toxic compounds from any pesticides and any pathogens on the surface of raw mushrooms.

Photo credits: by Bura ; by frankenstoen

Sleep Disordes, Immune Suppression, Cancer Risk

When an old saying tells you should “sleep like a baby” or “sleep like a log”, modern science is backing it up, especially when insufficient sleep can suppress your immune system. The human immune system plays an important role in protecting the body against the development of cancer. The cells of the immune system are our defenders, constantly destroying and eliminating any cell in the body that initiates or undergoes a malignant change. When this natural defense mechanism is weakened, as malignant cells increase and then overpower the immune system, cancerous growth takes place.

View from the real world:
I’m sure everyone can relate to what inadequate sleep can cost in our daily lives. Sleep deprivation and/or disorders are linked to an array of health issues from fatigue, lacking mental alertness, and depression to more serious problems such as heart failure, hypertension and diabetes. Insomnia certainly contributes to road or workplace accidents. Of significance, sleep disorders are commonly associated with chronic inflammatory diseases, and can lead to immune suppression. Some studies suggest that shortened/reduced nightly sleep is associated with a higher risk of breast cancer development.

View at the cellular level:
Sleep is a key factor for supporting a functional body defense system. During deep sleep, our bodies work to strengthen our immune system by producing and releasing potent immune-enhancing substances, such as cytokines. In contrast, there are cancer-stimulatory cytokines, which may be switched to dominance when sleep is deprived. It seems that cytokines are a group of critical players in the sleep-immune interaction.

When sleep is deprived, the immune T-cells go down and inflammatory cytokines go up, as shown by many studies. This alone may post a potential risk for a suppressed body defense. When your immune system is weak and not functioning well, germs or pathogens can easily penetrate the body and commit destruction to the cells, thereby you are susceptible to colds, flu, and even more serious diseases including cancer. In addition, sleep deprivation may lead to a higher level of C-reactive protein – an inflammation marker. Inflammation plays a role in heart disease, atherosclerosis and cancer.

How to get a good night’s sleep:
We all have had experience how it feels after a good night’s sleep. For those who are unable to sleep well, don’t be depressed. Here are a few practical, time-tested tips – in I-b-e-d:

I-b-e-d techniques help you have a restful sleep:

Individualize sleep hours.
Best practice on time.
Eliminate distractions.
Discover the cause (of sleep disorders).

1. Individualize your sleep hours, and get what you really need, whether is 6, 7, or even 9 hrs. Of course, more than 10 hours of sleep doesn’t make you healthier.

2. Best is to maintain so-called “sleep hygiene”, i.e. go to sleep at the same time every day and wake up at the same time.

3. Eliminate any distractions. These range from bedroom TV, computer, too much food before bed to thoughts and emotions. If necessary, discipline yourself: no coffee, no alcohol or smoking 6 hours before bed.

4. Discover the cause of sleep disorder, don’t rely on “sleeping pills”. There are various reasons responsible for sleep disorders: from stress, health complications to side effects from medication – including drug use or abuse, and drug withdrawal as well. Consult your physician, explore it and receive effective treatments.

How did your sleep impact your health? What’s your practice to get enough sleep?

Photo credit: by sean_mcgee

The infection may be gone, but the risk may not.

My father had pulmonary tuberculosis nearly 4 decades ago. Clinically, it had been considered healed tuberculosis after timely treatment along with years of monitoring. Even until 2 years ago before diagnosis of lung cancer, the only thing showing on his chest X-ray was a localized calcification (i.e., calcium deposition, a mark of healed lesion in his case) without any visible changes. Also, he was symptomless concerning any upper-respiratory diseases. Unexpectedly, there were some lung malignancies clearly showing on his very last chest X-ray in 2009 — one that appeared significantly different compared with the one taken 2 years prior.

Virus_1259076_untitledThere are countless similar stories regarding the link between personal histories of infectious diseases and cancer. A friend of mine died of liver cancer in his 40s — a real tragedy given his age. It turned out that he had hepatitis (infected with hepatitis B virus) when he was young.

It’s scientifically proven with regards to infection-associated cancer. Pancreatic inflammation appears to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, and some patients with pancreatic cancer had history of pancreatitis. A history of urinary tract infection is currently accepted as a risk factor for developing bladder cancer, and has been positively linked to the development of renal cell carcinoma (kidney cancer), with notably elevated risks for men with a history of smoking.

An infective agent is linked to some of the most common cancers. Human papilloma virus (HPV, also called “wart virus”) is responsible for cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers affecting women. A two-fold danger exists with this disease. First, HPV is highly transmissible and considered the most common sexually transmitted infection in most populations; second, most women infected with the virus may become negative within 2 years, or HPV infection can persist for years in the body without causing any problems. However, women with persistent high-risk HPV infections are at the greatest risk for developing cervical cancer. A recent study showed that a sexually transmitted bacterial infection (known as trichomoniasis) has been linked to increased risk for advanced prostate cancer – the illness that strikes nearly 200,000 American men each year.

We can go on and on …

This doesn’t mean that you’ll develop cancer if you have any infection or inflammation, because infection alone usually does not lead to cancer. However, it does mean that you need to control your infection, get it treated timely, and thereafter be vigilant about any cancer risk factors and live a healthy lifestyle.

Photo credit: by Leonardini