Failure to understand the basic cause of a disease can negate the effects of well-meaning prevention strategies. At any given time, popular myths surround the real causes of human disorders.
While you may have heard all kinds of reasons why increasing numbers of people are contracting cancer, the underlying cause (that few doctors address) is the aging process itself.1
One reason this fundamental cause has been neglected is that up until recently, there was little one could do to protect against this proven risk factor.
In this article, we are going to explain how aging increases cancer risk and what you can do to protect against this pathological phenomenon.
To enable you to fully understand the carcinogenic effects of aging, we have reprinted on this page a chart showing women’s breast cancer risk by age. A quick look at this chart clearly documents that aging is the underlying cause of breast cancer. Next we are going to tell you why and what you can do to protect yourself.
Why Aging Cells Are So Vulnerable
An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine titled “Roads Leading to Breast Cancer” provides a great one sentence explanation of why aging cells are vulnerable to cancer. Here is that sentence:
“Cancer results from the accumulation of mutations in genes that regulate cellular proliferation.”3
In this one sentence, you have just learned why people contract more cancer as they grow older. To clarify this further, please understand that every time a cell divides, slight mutations occur to the genes that regulate cellular proliferation. Furthermore, mutations to genes happen in response to direct insult from ionizing radiation. The longer you live, the more gene mutations you encounter. Once too many regulatory genes become mutated, cells lose normal regulatory control and can turn into cancer cells.
So a basic prevention strategy is to do something about the gene mutations in your cells that make you more vulnerable to contracting cancer with each passing day. The encouraging news is that this is now possible with a very simple approach.
Restoring Healthy Gene Function
In recent years, a multitude of studies have shown cancer risk reductions of 50% and greater based on higher vitamin D status.4-9 People with higher vitamin D levels have sharply lower risks of cancers of the breast, prostate, colon, esophagus, pancreas, ovary, rectum, bladder, kidney, lung and uterus, along with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma.4,10-22
What has fascinated us most, however, is that vitamin D protects against cancer by enabling people to regain control over the genes that regulate cell proliferation.
Vitamin D has an effect on at least 200 human genes.22 Many of these genes are responsible for regulating not only cell proliferation, but differentiation and apoptosis as well. Here are simple definitions of these cellular processes:
Proliferation: Uncontrolled cell division (cancer cells are characterized by rapid and uncontrolled division).
Differentiation: Process that cells undergo to mature into normal cells (uncontrolled reproduction of immature cells is a defining feature of cancer).
Apoptosis: Natural termination of defective cells (cancer cells are resistant to natural destruction, making them difficult to eradicate).
With less than optimal vitamin D status, the expression of the genes that regulate the three critical processes above becomes defective. This means these regulatory genes can no longer maintain healthy cellular function (including programmed termination). The result is sharply higher cancer risks, as the lack of vitamin D negatively impacts gene expression that controls proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis of our cells.
So for only pennies a day, we can all achieve optimal vitamin D status and help our cells regain control over genes that protect us against cancer. For the first time, humans can exert a significant degree of control over a lethal aging process, i.e. gene mutations that are the underlying cause of cancer itself!
Breakthrough Study Documents Effectiveness of Vitamin D
While numerous studies show people with higher blood levels of vitamin D have lowered cancer risk, what had been lacking was a doubleblind, placebo-controlled study that specifically measured the effects of higher-dose vitamin D supplementation (with calcium) on cancer incidence in humans. This is the kind of study that conventional medical doctors insist on seeing if they are to believe a nutrient (or drug) really provides a health benefit.
In a breakthrough report, the effects of administering 1,000 IU a day of vitamin D (with calcium) was evaluated in 1,180 postmenopausal women living in the Midwest.10
After four years, the risk of contracting any cancer was 60% lower in the vitamin D (and calcium) group, compared with the placebo arm of the study.
The scientists then performed an even more detailed analysis of the data. When excluding cancers diagnosed in the first year of the study, which would have included preexisting cancers present at the time participants began taking vitamin D, they found an astounding 77% reduction in cancer incidence in the group receiving vitamin D, compared with placebo. (Interestingly, in a third arm of this study in which the participants received calcium but no vitamin D, the cancer risk reductions were not as significant.)
What this means is that if all Americans began taking just 1,000 IU of vitamin D each day (with calcium), as many as three-quarters of all cancers could be prevented in just four years.
Not Good Enough!
While a 60% to 77% reduction in cancer incidence in response to taking a moderate dose of vitamin D is impressive, it’s not good enough for us! It would be absurd to ignore the “other” documented factors that increase the incidence of cancer in aging people.
We are going to talk a lot about specific breast cancer-prevention strategies in this article. Please keep in mind, however, that the same approaches that reduce breast cancer risk also lower rates of other common cancers, including cancer of the prostate gland.
Studies that look at human populations (epidemiological studies) have consistently shown that what we eat affects our cancer risk. Women who eat red meat suffer higher breast cancer rates, whereas men who eat red meat have greater prostate cancer rates.23,24 It’s not a coincidence. The same carcinogenic effects that red meat inflicts in breast cells occur in prostate and other cells in the body.
In one of the better documented studies overseen by researchers at prestigious American universities, postmenopausal women in China who ate a Western-style diet (which included beef, pork, and desserts) were 60% more likely to develop breast cancer than those eating a diet based on vegetables and soy. Even more startling was the finding that in women who contracted estrogen receptor-positive breast tumors, those who ate the Western-style diet experienced a 90% increased risk!25
So what does this tell us when someone says that women should not take natural estrogen and progesterone because of fears of breast and other cancers? It tells us that we should not worry so much about natural hormone balancing, and should focus on the thousands of dangerous calories we are putting into our bodies each day.26
Don’t expect the government to warn you about the carcinogenic effects of common foods. Intense lobbying efforts by the food industry have resulted in the government perpetuating the myth that a “balanced diet” is healthy. The hard facts pulled from hundreds of published studies are that government-sanctioned Western diets are killing us in many ways, including sharply increasing incidences of breast, prostate, and other cancers.
Consuming more plant-derived protein, phytonutrients, and omega-3 fatty acids in place of meat, high-fat dairy, and sugary foods is a good way to cut back on the foods that have been shown to increase breast cancer risk.25,27-29
(For specific information on why these bad foods are so dangerous, refer to the article titled “Eating Your Way to Prostate Cancer” in the February 2007 issue of Life Extension.)
How Cruciferous Vegetables Protect Against Breast Cancer
There are certain fruits, vegetables and plant extracts that have been shown to protect against breast, prostate, and other cancers. Scientists have identified compounds in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale) that specifically neutralize dangerous breakdown products of estrogen that promote cancer growth.30-35 Cruciferous vegetable compounds also help neutralize the many carcinogens we are inevitably exposed to each day.36,37
One of best studied cruciferous vegetable compounds is called indole-3-carbinol, or I3C for short.
Women seeking to restore youthful hormone balance should make sure to obtain enough I3C from their diet or by taking standardized supplements. The reason for this is that I3C increases levels of a cancer- protective estrogen metabolite (2-hydroxyestrone, or 2-OHE1), while suppressing a dangerous estrogen metabolite (16 alpha-hydroxyestrone, or 16-OHE1) that promotes breast and other cancers.38,39
To emphasize the critical importance of I3C (and its related compounds), please understand that aging women still produce estrogen, and that the estrogen they supplement with can follow two primary metabolic pathways in the body. If we convert estrogen to 16 alphahydroxyestrone, then we increase the risk of breast and other cancers. If on the other hand, we convert estrogen to 2-hydroxyestrone, then we decrease our risk for breast and other cancers.40-42 I3C can readily be obtained by eating lots of cruciferous vegetables and/or taking the proper amount in supplement form.
To confirm the theory that certain estrogen metabolites can contribute to cancer, researchers analyzed data gathered from over 10,000 Italian women over more than five years. The objective was to determine how dietary and hormonal factors influence breast cancer risk. They found that women were much less likely to develop breast cancer when they had higher levels of 2-hydroxyestrone.40 This same finding has been shown in additional studies of different populations.43,44
The toxic estrogen metabolite 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone acts as a breast tumor promoter.45 By contrast, estrogen metabolized via the 2-hydroxyestrone pathway does not exhibit estrogenic activity in breast tissue. 45 Additionally, a form of this less active estrogen metabolite is believed to prevent the formation of blood vessels necessary to feed growing cancers, thus helping to arrest tumor growth.46
This delicate balance of estrogens is crucially important for men’s health as well. In a study that examined the ratio of estrogen metabolites relative to prostate cancer risk, elevated levels of 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone were linked with an increased risk of prostate cancer.41
Fortunately, the cruciferous vegetable compounds (such as I3C) are effective in shifting estrogen metabolism to the more beneficial pathway, thus reducing levels of toxic 16 alphahydroxyestrone and increasing levels of protective 2-hydroxyestrone.42,45,47,48 This beneficial modulation of estrogen with reduced risk of breast and other cancers, including cervical, prostate, and even head and neck cancers.33,40-42 Cruciferous vegetable compounds thus play an important role in fighting cancer.