- and lacking certain nutrients may play a vital role
New figures from the cancer database, Nordcan, reveal that Danish women hold the record in cancer prevalence, and both sexes still have the lowest cancer survival rate among the Nordic countries. Experts claim that this is linked to our lifestyle. However, cancer even occurs among people with healthy lifestyles, and international studies suggest that modern diets tend to lack optimal amounts of selenium, vitamin D and omega-3, all of which have cancer-preventive properties. Research also points to melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone.
One in three Danes gets cancer, and the trend has not changed. On the contrary. According to the Nordic cancer database, Nordcan, the number of cancers will increase by over 50 percent in the years to come. Cancer is currently the leading cause of death among people younger than 65 years of age. Even many people who follow the official dietary guidelines, maintain their ideal weight, limit their alcohol intake, exercise, and don’t smoke, develop cancer. Because it takes several years for the dreaded disease to develop, it is vital to have a proper intake of the above-mentioned nutrients, especially for long-term prevention, but also as part of a treatment.
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We have the trace element selenium in all our cells. It has an array of different functions and controls such things as the immune defense, the metabolism (thyroid gland), the cardiovascular system, and detoxification. Also, it functions as an antioxidant that counteracts cell damage caused by free radicals.
The soil in Europe is low in selenium. An estimated 20 percent of the Danish population gets less dietary selenium than the reference intake (RI), which is currently around 55 micrograms. In other countries like the United States and Japan, the natural selenium intake from the diet is close to 200 micrograms/day (the same amount that is often used in scientific studies).
Selenium yeast can reduce cancers by 50 percent
In 1996, the American scientist, Larry Clark, published the so-called NPC Study (Nutritional Prevention of Cancer), in which he demonstrated that daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of organic selenium yeast reduced the risk of three commonly occurring cancer forms by 50-60 percent. In practice, this would mean that millions of people could avoid or survive the dreaded disease.
Selenomethionin does not work. In fact, the studies are misguiding
Unfortunately, experts often refer to the more recent SELECT study where researchers gave the study participants supplements of selenium and vitamin E. They did not find a protective effect against cancer in this study. This is because they used a form of selenium called selenomethionine, which, in contrast to selenium yeast, has not demonstrated convincing results in the prevention of cancer. Moreover, the vitamin E they used was synthetic.
It is therefore misleading to use the SELECT study as leverage for discouraging people from using selenium supplements to prevent cancer. It would be more relevant to tell the facts and inform them that selenomethionine cannot be expected to provide an effect and recommend selenium yeast, instead.
Cancer is preceded by low selenium status
10-15 years typically pass from the time of the first cell mutation (change) until the observation of tumors. At the same time, lack of selenium leaves cells more vulnerable, making them more prone to mutate and spread in the body. Several large studies reveal differences in blood selenium levels between cancer patients and healthy individuals long before the disease is discovered. Because it typically takes years for cancer to develop, selenium is a vital and crucial part of long-term prevention.
|If you lack selenium, the trace element is unable to carry out its many functions in energy turnover, metabolism, immune system, and cancer prevention. It appears that the RI (reference intake) is too low, at least in terms of obtaining optimal protection against cancer.|
Selenium protects against prostate cancer
According to a study from DTU (the Technical University of Denmark), a daily selenium intake of 200 micrograms can lower the risk of prostate cancer. This amount is nearly four times higher than the reference intake level (55 micrograms/day).
Selenium controls the immune defense, which is derailed by several cancer types
University of Copenhagen researchers have carried out a study that shows how the selenium compound, methylselenol, inhibits cancer cell proliferation caused by cellular stress and a derailed immune defense. In situations with melanoma, prostate cancer, and certain types of leukemia, cells produce far too large quantities of some compounds called NKG2D that overstimulate, confuse, and exhaust the immune system, eventually causing the body to break down. According to the Danish researchers, the selenium compound called methylsenol counteracts this uninhibited NKG2D production as well as the morbid transportation of these compounds in the bloodstream.
How selenium protects against carcinogenic substances
Most carcinogens have one thing in common: Either they occur as free radicals themselves, or they cause the body to generate free radicals. Free radicals are highly aggressive oxygen compounds that damage cellular DNA. Stress, ageing processes, poisoning, tobacco smoke, and radiation increase the amount of free radicals.
Certain selenium-containing proteins called GPX serve as powerful antioxidants that protect the cells and their DNA against free radicals. Other selenium compounds repair DNA damage and neutralize cancer-causing environmental toxins such as mercury.
Selenium’s six anti-cancer mechanisms
Vitamin D is important for our bones, muscles, immune system, and cell division. All cells in the body have vitamin D receptors that are believed to control 5-10 percent of our genes. Sunlight is the most important vitamin D source. Lightly clothed on a summer day, a human can produce around 60 micrograms of vitamin D in half an hour when exposed to sunlight. In the winter, however, the sun sits too low in the sky for this to happen. The average Danish diet contributes with as little as 5 micrograms per day (or less). This, according to research, is far too little to help in the prevention of cancer.
Less sun and vitamin D – more cancer
In the 1940s, scientists observed a link between exposure to UBV radiation from the sun and cancer mortality. People who lived in the northern latitudes had an increased risk of breast cancer and other cancer forms. This is still the case.
When the body’s vitamin D status is too low, it affects many of those genes that are responsible for coding proteins and controlling cell division. Over time, this may increase the risk of cancer or make it difficult to recover completely after treatment. Vitamin D is even able to regulate estrogen levels and inflammation, which are involved in several types of cancer.
Vitamin D deficiencies have become increasingly common because of
- more time spent indoors, fear of the sun, the use of sun factor, more overweight people, more seniors, prolonged use of cholesterol-lowering medicine, and an increasing number of dark-skinned people in this part of the world.
Higher vitamin D status reduces estrogen levels and the risk of breast cancer
A study has shown that high-dosed vitamin D supplementation lowers blood levels of estrogen, which can have a determining influence on the prevention and treatment of breast cancer, a cancer form that affects one in nine Danish women. The study was conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and involved post-menopausal, overweight women who took 50 micrograms of vitamin D daily for a year. The scientists found that women, whose vitamin D blood levels had increased the most, had the largest reduction of estrogen in their blood. This reduces the risk of breast cancer, as it is known that too much estrogen increases the risk of this widespread disease.
Earlier research shows that weight loss can lower estrogen levels significantly. Now, research shows that taking a 50 microgram/day supplement of vitamin D has the same effect.
Overweight and lack of vitamin D is a dangerous cocktail
This is because overweight people have difficulty with producing and utilizing vitamin D and tend to produce more estrogen
Genes cause us to utilize vitamin D differently
Vitamin D’s preventive effect on breast cancer and other types of cancer depends on our genes. One gene that is worth mentioning is the cells’ vitamin D receptor (VDR). Because we humans have different varieties of the VDR gene that is important for the cells and their ability to bind vitamin D, some people may be better than others at utilizing vitamin D.
Vitamin D supplements enhance the effect of tamoxifen
Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug, is part of the post-treatment offered to breast cancer patients as part of the post-treatment. In laboratory studies, vitamin D counteracts growth of tamoxifen-resistant breast cancer cells, possibly due to a VDR-related mechanism. It also appears that vitamin D can reduce levels of circulating estrogen in the blood by limiting a process known as aromatase.
Vitamin D counteracts the following factors, which are related to breast cancer development
New optimal threshold values require the use of supplements
When measuring levels of vitamin D as 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 in the blood, the official threshold values are 50 ng/ml. However, many experts believe that we need to go as high as 75-100 ng/ml for optimal protection against disease. Because we are unable to synthesize vitamin D during winter at our latitude, and because our diets only provide minimal amounts of the nutrient, a high-dosage vitamin D supplement is recommended (especially during the winter period) in order to increase blood levels of vitamin D to the point where it has a protective effect against cancer and many other diseases.
An anti-inflammatory lifestyle and effective supplements
According to recent studies, chronic inflammation plays a central role in the development of cancer, even if the inflammation is not noticeable as such. This is because inflammatory processes tire the immune defense, while bombarding the body with free radicals that damage the cells and their DNA. Selenium, vitamin D, and the omega-3 fatty acid called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) inhibit inflammation via different biochemical mechanisms. Because inflammation is involved in many chronic diseases, it makes perfect sense that anti-inflammatory diets and lifestyles have become a new health trend.
Omega-3 fatty acids are an important constituent of cell membranes and numerous biochemical processes. Flaxseed oil and a few other plant oils contain the form of omega-3 called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), which, helped by enzymes, gets converted into EPA and DHA, and some hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. The conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is often limited, which is why many people benefit more from getting EPA and DHA directly from fish or fish oil supplements. The omega-3 fatty acids work in a biochemical interplay with the omega-6 fatty acids, which we get from most plant oils and from meat. Too much omega-6 at the expense of omega-3 increases the risk of inflammation, cramps, and other biochemical imbalances.
Oily fish, fish oils, and omega-3 reduce the risk of several cancer forms
Researchers from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, asked more than 35,000 menopausal women about the consumption of nutritional supplements other than vitamin and mineral pills. It turned out that fish oil supplements with the two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, were associated with a 32 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer. The other supplements that these women typically consumed had no effect. Research from 2002 shows that omega-3 fatty acids affect two genes (BCR1 and BCR2) that help repair DNA damage and counteract uncontrolled cell growth.
Similarly, scientists have observed that the Inuit Eskimos, who consume a diet with lots of fish and omega-3 fatty acids
from animal sources, have a lower rate of breast and prostate cancer. Fish liver, seal liver, and oily fish also contain vitamin D and selenium that have cancer-preventive properties.
Animal studies have shown that fish oil can inhibit the growth of certain cancer tumors and prevent them from spreading. Fish oil also inhibits inflammation by blocking the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) in tumors.
Fish oil and its cancer-preventive properties
Although melatonin is primarily known as a sleep hormone, studies show that the compound prevents cancer in a number of different ways. Melatonin supplements can increase the effect of chemotherapy and counteract side effects.
The brain’s pineal gland produces melatonin when the eyes are exposed to darkness in the evening. The older we are, the more our pineal gland shrinks and calcifies, causing our melatonin secretion to go down. In our 60s, the melatonin production is around 50 percent lower than it is in our 20s and it continues to decrease. Scientists have tried for decades to find a link between older people’s decreasing melatonin production and their growing risk of cancer. Lack of both daylight and darkness at night plus exposure to stimulants, medicine, jet lag, and electro-smog may also lower the body’s natural melatonin production.
Melatonin increases the lifespan and lowers the cancer risk of mice
Studies show that mice who are given melatonin supplements can live up to 30 percent longer, and it also reduces their risk of developing cancer. Researchers assume that melatonin has several different roles – it is an antioxidant, it regulates the hormone balance, it supports the immune system, and it counteracts inflammation. Although no clinical studies have been conducted with humans so far to show whether melatonin is able to extend our lifespan and prevent cancer, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that it can delay the ageing processes. Scientists have even seen promising results with melatonin given to cancer patients.
Melatonin enhances the effect and reduces the side effects of chemotherapy
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are standard treatments against cancer. An article in the Danish science journal Ugeskrift for Læger states that melatonin supplements can increase chemotherapy’s damaging effect on cancer cells and reduce the many side effects. By combining chemotherapy with melatonin, it is possible to increase the chances of surviving a cancer disease from 28.4 to 52.2 percent measured over a one-year period. The positive effect of melatonin on cancer patients confirms earlier studies.
Melatonin’s effects on cancer prevention and cancer inhibition
Melatonin prevents cancer by means of various mechanisms, and is even able to fight cancer once the disease has occurred. However, this requires that the body is properly supplied with melatonin. Because many years can pass from the first cell changes until the discovery of a cancer tumor, both melatonin and the body’s own ability to recover play a large and underestimated role in prevention.
Melatonin’s cancer-inhibiting properties
Nightshift work and breast cancer
Women who work during the evening and night are up to 40 percent more likely to develop breast cancer, according to Johnni Hansen, a senior scientist from the Danish Cancer Society.
There is a possible link between too little melatonin and breast cancer, as melatonin inhibits the production of those estrogens that are involved in the hormone-sensitive types of breast cancer. There may even be a link between night work, breast cancer and too little vitamin D, which we primarily get from the sun during the summer period. Too little melatonin and vitamin D generally seems to be a bad combination in connection with night work.
Prostate cancer and irregular melatonin production
During a conference on ageing and cancer, Christian Bartsch, a doctor from Tübingen University in Germany, told that men with prostate cancer not only have elevated testosterone levels but also other types of hormone disturbances. The most striking was the imbalance in their melatonin production. Not only do these prostate cancer patients produce too little melatonin, they even have irregular fluctuations that do not follow the 24-hour rhythm (circadian rhythm).
It is a dilemma that melatonin (and other natural substances) are non-patentable
There is plenty of evidence pointing to melatonin as an inexpensive and very effective contribution to cancer therapy.
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By Kristen Woodward / Fred Hutch News Service
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