September 13, 2012

Does Cancer Start in the Womb?

Photo: Flequi

Cancer Risk Starting In Utero.

What’s new in the world of cancer prevention? I started writing this over a month ago…one research study led to another, then another, then another…endless. Rather than throwing in the towel, I will do my best to sum things up for you. We will never have a cure for cancer, only a better understanding of what causes it to grow, and a better understanding of things we can do to fight it once it does.

Increasing cancer risk is coming down to that response of eating excess calories, at least partially, but enough so that I am impelled to let you know what is being presented at these conferences we doctors go to. Back in the cave, I was taught that sugar was bad for cancer, and you may have heard that “sugar feeds cancer.” But as it turns out, it is the response to the sugar that is the problem. What is most surprising, if not downright shocking is that a person’s risk for developing cancer is starting in the womb!

The birth weight of a baby increases the more that mom eats. And an increased birth weight in female babies has been found to be associated with a higher incidence of breast cancer later in life.

But it is not just weight, as height is linked to cancer risk also. In fact, studies are showing that early childhood and prenatal calorie intake is now correlated to greater height, and with that comes a greater risk of all western cancers: breast, colon, kidney, pancreatic and aggressive prostate cancers. In Japan, as their diet became more westernized after WWII and their calorie intake increased, so did their height and their cancer incidence. We are not taller due to our genes but rather due to the food we are eating early in life. The average height of western populations has increased by three inches in the past 150 years. Studies in Chile and Korea have also shown greater cancer risk as their heights have increased with changing diet.

The take home from this: childhood and adult excess energy intake can make up about 50% of a person’s overall cancer risk. I want to emphasize that early childhood diet and weight and subsequent height increases are not the cause of cancer, just contributing to risk.

So what is going on here? Findings are implicating something called insulin growth factor one (IGF-1) which helps control normal human growth, and is very close in nature to insulin itself. As we consume more calories, as children and even in the womb, this insulin growth factor (and insulin) increases and in turn our bodies grow more cells; more cells in our tissues and organs, and more cells to make us taller. More cells equaling more risk of cancer, as we now understand it.

A study with centenarians actually showed that a genetic mutation in IGF-1 caused shorter stature and greater longevity. Targeting IGF-1 in cancer treatment is surely on the horizon.

Taller height is influenced by increased IGF-1. Fat tissue is higher in IGF-1 receptors also. So what else besides increased calories is correlated with higher IGF-1 levels?

I hate to say it as I do love my cheese and yogurt, but it is dairy intake. Dairy raises IGF-1 more than any other food, so therefore it is also most associated with enhancing growth in children. Another finding was that increasing dairy intake in children leads to an increase in colon cancer later in life (and this would be before Monsanto’s bovine growth hormone came on to the scene—who knows what is downstream from consuming that mess!). Am I condoning that children stop dairy? Not at all! Children are equipped to handle IGF-1 as it is part of their growth. But if you are a cancer survivor wanting to decrease your risk or recurrence, then you may want to “ask your doctor if dairy is right for you.”

And don’t despair if you are a tall person, or if you have been eating dairy your whole life. Remember this is only looking at cancer risk here. Height is actually associated with overall better mortality—taller is healthier, just not when looking at cancer incidence, which I am doing here. And this risk factor is something that you can change, which is why I am pointing it out here.

There are websites out there that talk about how increasing IGF-1 is the key to youth. Well, it is something that we need when we are young, but it stops there. Trying to increase IGF-1 in older adults and taking human growth hormone for anti-aging purposes is dangerous business. It has been shown that taking human growth hormone does not increase longevity, and that may be due to the increased cancer that it has the potential of generating. (If you happen to want something anti-aging, contact me. An oral stem cell therapy is the best way to get that accomplished safely!)

The big take home here is that lifestyle does affect cancer risk, whether you are the parent of an overweight child, or an adult that wants to practice preventive medicine. Decreasing the calories is the best way to decrease insulin and IGF-1, especially if you are an adult at high risk, and especially if you are diagnosed with cancer. Exercising helps make your body more sensitive to insulin and IGF-1, which is a good thing as it means less is circulating unattended. Taking the steps, running that 20 minutes, saying no to that dessert—these are little things which can all help make a larger difference, especially if you want to decrease that cancer risk!

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