Maintaining a healthy body weight throughout life is second only to avoiding tobacco as the most powerful thing an individual can do to decrease their cancer risk – yet studies repeatedly show only a minority of the population is aware of the body weight cancer link (so help me spread the word by forwarding this to friends and loved ones).
Even fewer folks are aware that gaining weight in adulthood, even if your weight is still in the “normal” range can increase cancer risk. Indeed, weight stability (ideally keeping your weight where it was in your early 20’s) appears to be important for cancer protection too. This observation was echoed in a study published in the International Journal of Cancer (September 2008) that included 46,000 adult males followed over an 18 year period. Investigators were seeking the relationship between adult weight gain and colon cancer and found that for every 10 pounds of weight gained per decade since the age of 21, the risk of colon cancer increased by 33%, i.e. if you are now 50 and weigh 20 pounds more than you did at age 21, your risk of colon cancer has increased 66%. (For women a plethora of studies have found adult weight gain significantly increases the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.)
In a second related study, that was one of the first and definitely the largest to evaluate the risk of colorectal cancer in those afflicted with metabolic syndrome, scientists found a sharply increased risk. Amongst about 1,200 metabolic syndrome patients included in the study, the risk of colon cancer was increased by 75%. Metabolic syndrome is a now epidemic (25 – 30 % of population) condition strongly tied to excess body fat that includes the simultaneous presence of multiple cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and low HDL.
Lastly we are also seeing repeatedly in studies (especially for colon, breast, and prostate cancer) that overweight cancer survivors are significantly more likely to die of their cancers than their leaner counterparts. A striking study in an issue of The Lancet Oncology drives home the all-important guidance for cancer survivors to strive to keep body weight in a healthy range. After following 2,500 prostate cancer patients over a 24 year period, scientists found that being overweight (BMI 25 – 29) increased the risk of cancer death by 47%, while being obese (BMI >30) increased cancer death risk by a whopping 250%.
Scientists believe the high insulin level that accompanies excess body fat is the most likely culprit behind these findings. (FYI – insulin promotes cell growth and blocks cell death, a deadly combo if you have cancer cells in your body.) The lead investigator in this study, Dr. Michael Pollack, was so struck by these findings that he feels dealing with excess body weight and its frequent companion, high blood insulin levels may provide more benefit to overweight prostate cancer patients than chemo-therapy.
For my best advice on the healthiest, simplest, and most effective way to lose weight and keep it off, attend my seminar on March 23rd at The Schoolhouse of Charleston.