Ironically, even though good oral health is one way how to prevent cancer, using mouthwash daily has been linked to it in some studies. “Alcohol is a risk factor for oral cancer, so mouthwash that is high in alcohol content might be considered a risk factor,” says Dr. Burk. Although the link is not well understood, it still might be best to . it safe and choose a mouthwash without alcohol—or better yet, skip the mouthwash all together and stick to brushing and flossing.
The link between alcohol and cancer is well-established—in fact, in its Report on Carcinogens, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists consumption of alcoholic beverages as a known carcinogen. “Excessive and prolonged alcohol use can weaken the immune system, which is important for preventing and controlling cancer,” says Robert L. Ferris, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery at UPMC. Dr. Kabat notes that the risk is much worst if you smoke in addition to drinking heavily. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are other links between alcohol and cancer: The ethanol in alcohol breaks down to a toxic chemical that can damage DNA; alcohol may prevent the body from absorbing nutrients that may decrease cancer risk; and it increases estrogen, which is linked to chest cancer. Cancer-causing chemicals could also enter alcoholic beverages during the fermentation process. However, “moderate alcohol, particularly red wine, may have anti-inflammatory properties that contribute to a larger preventative goal,” Dr. Francis says. “Personally, I enjoy moderate alcohol as part of lifestyle that promotes gratitude and social engagement.
- Dial down on sugar intake
Unfortunately, the yumminess that sugar brings your taste buds has many downsides—one of which is an increase in cancer risk. A study from Spain showed how high sugar levels can lead to abnormal cell growth. “The larger theory is that factors . to insulin resistance and the general inflammation from certain types of processed foods may increase growth factors associated with cancer risk,” Dr. Francis says. “Working toward your ideal body weight through a diet that limits white sugar” is best, she advises.
Unfortunately, red meat has also gotten a bad rap when it comes to a cancer prevention diet. IARC classifies it as a “possible carcinogen,” and the American Cancer Society recommends a diet low in red meat. “Ideally, we should be thinking of red meat as we do lobster, having it for a special occasion if we like it,” Dr. Wu says. “This is how red meat is consumed in many traditional eating cultures, such as the Mediterranean diet.” The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests limiting red meat to 18 ounces per week.
- Use rubber gloves when cleaning
Environmental toxins don’t just come from pollution outside—they could be coming from inside your home. Household cleaning products contain toxic chemicals that could cause cancer, including phthalates, petroleum solvents, and formaldehyde. One study found that women who reported the highest cleaning product use had double the risk of chest cancer compared to those with the lowest use—although, this could be because women who had chest cancer were hyper-aware of anything they may have done to “cause” their cancer. Even so, given the toxic chemicals in household cleaners, it’s best to use caution. “Don’t use strong solvents, drain-cleaners, or cleaning agents that could get absorbed through the skin without using rubber gloves,” Dr. Kabat says. Or better yet, clean with non-toxic products like baking soda and vinegar
>’s a good reason to get your seven to eight hours of shut-eye a night: Chronic lack of sleep and poor sleep habits have been linked to cancer. Many studies have shown this association with different types, from prostate to colorectal to chest cancer. According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the link could be because poor sleep leads to inflammation and disrupts immune function, which may promote cancer growth. Also, the sleep hormone melatonin might act as an antioxidant, so if you aren’t getting enough sleep, you aren’t getting that benefit. Plus, “sound sleep is important for overall health,” Dr. Kabat says.
Although stress hasn’t exactly been proven to cause cancer, some studies point in that direction—and a review of research . the UTMD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Iowa found that stress has been shown to help cancer grow. “Studies over the last 30 years have identified psychosocial factors including stress, chronic depression, and lack of social support as risk factors for cancer progression,” the authors wrote. Another study from Ohio State University may have found the reason why: Turning on a “stress gene” may promote the growth of cancer cells. Practicing mindfulness and physical activity can help lower your stress levels. “For me, I practice yoga along with running and barre class, and this is a stress release, a chance to socialize with my community,” as well as good exercise, Dr. Francis says.
- Avoid storing your food in plastic
Phthalates are chemicals that are used to make plastics flexible, and although the link to cancer has not been definitively established, certain phthalates are listed as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” according to the National Institutes of Health. To be on the safe side, Harvard Medical School suggests to not microwave foods in plastic containers and don’t let plastic wrap touch food when microwaving—instead, try covering your food with wax or parchment paper, or a paper towel. Also, throw out old or scratched plastic containers, and consider replacing them with glass instead. “The push toward storage and containing food products in glass is a strategy that I recommend to patients,” Dr. Francis says. (Phthalates are also used in cosmetics and personal care products, but the doctors we talked to said these are trace amounts that aren’t of concern.
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