How not to get cancer
Richard Babor is an upper gastrointestinal and bariatric surgeon at Counties Manukau District Health Board. In his clinic, the question of how not to get cancer, or ‘why did I get cancer’ comes up a lot. Nobody is to blame for getting cancer. But there are risks and behaviours that we can impact, he says.
“Probably around 40-50% of cancers are preventable by us changing our lifestyle, or the way that we eat, or how we exercise, or the environment that we live in.”
The biggest risk factor for cancer is age. “The older you are the more likely you are to get cancer.”
Then there are things like the relationship between the HPV virus and cervical cancer – cervical cancer could be eradicated by HPV vaccination – and the relationship between tobacco smoking and cancer – 19 of 20 lung cancers are caused by smoking.
And then there are less certain things, like diet.
“You can’t live a perfect life in terms of cancer prevention and expect not to get cancer. But what you can do is reduce your risk. One of the really nice things about all of the things that reduce the risk of cancer is that they are generally good for all the other aspects too – like your cardiovascular fitness, avoiding cardiovascular events, and avoiding the risk of dementia and neurogenerative diseases. It’s a very happy story if you think of how you can apply those things in your life.”
Currently, there is a lot of talk of a national cancer strategy, but there is very little talk about prevention, he says.
“Obesity is a massive problem. It’s already overwhelming the health system. So much of the resources are going to go to looking after people who weigh 150, 160, 170 kgs. And there doesn’t seem to be a coordinated approach to preventing obesity.”
“Sleep well. Eat vegetables. Do low-intensity exercise. Make some friends and form connections in your community.”
Want to save the planet? Don’t blame the cows.
Dr Robert Szabo, a Melbourne-based GP, started low carb clinic four years ago, helping patients who are looking to reverse insulin resistance and adopt a low carb diet to improve their health. He is also a well-researched environmentalist, who sees a link between low carb eating and living sustainably.
Seven years ago, Robert was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which led him to try a low-carb diet himself.
“I saw the power that had in reversing the disease, giving me this health and vitality that I didn’t think was going to be possible.”
He is frustrated that it took his being sick to gain the insight he now has.
“I was ashamed when I was diagnosed,” he says. I kept it to myself. I was 10-15 kg heavier than I am now, but I wasn’t obese. I still felt like I’d done something wrong. That’s how it’s taught to us – that there is a mistake you’ve made in your lifestyle. I wasn’t sure what mistake that was. At the time I didn’t recognise that the sugar in my life had been the cause.”
“A lot of the things I’ve learned that are the most powerful, I kind of had to stumble across. It shouldn’t be that way. This stuff should be in our lectures as medical students. This is the critical life and death stuff.”
“This was out in the 1880s with William Banting and then we spoke about it with epilepsy in the early 20th century, and then we spoke about it in the 70s and 80s with Atkins, and now we’re speaking about it again. This will not go away. Because this works.”
Whether it’s looking after the insides of organisms or looking after the planetary organism, it’s all connected, says Robert.
“The big issue of our time is this climate situation, and the big gripe that I have is the role of animals in carbon sequestration, particularly the role of ruminants – cows and sheep – resulting in soil build-up and soil growth, i.e. carbon sequestration is not being spoken about nearly enough.”
All these people who are so well-intentioned with their vegan diet, thinking they’re going to be saving the planet, they are actually accelerating climate change through leading to the erosion of soil, he says.
“The best way you can get the carbon back in the ground is by utilising ruminants. This is the bizarre irony – we’re demonising something that is actually part of the solution.”
However, the way we are farming animals at the moment is not ideal – growing soy and corn to feed the animals, let alone the cruelty of industrialised farming.
“Sustainability is not enough,” he says. “We can’t sustain an absolutely destroyed eco-system. We need to renew our eco-system and this is what cattle can do for us.”
The future of health
“I think there is a massive opportunity for leaders within health to really open their minds about how we can do things differently.”
Dr Carlo Bellini, PreKure’s Lead Coach, takes us on a journey from Perth to Oxford, from medical studies to consulting work, through Silicon Valley and artificial intelligence, to the oil industry and its perspective on health.
Carlo miraculously escaped unharmed from a car accident while travelling in New Zealand. This provoked a lot of thought and consideration for him. “When you die, when it’s all over, you either did it or you didn’t.”
Carlo also talks about his own experience of going on a keto diet and being confronted with the science around low-carb. “It’s the opposite of everything I’ve been taught. It’s a challenge and a process.”
The health care sector is going to significantly change in the next 10 years, because of exponential change, the use of data and artificial intelligence.
“Going forward, there is a massive opportunity in the broader world of health care, around connecting dots in a different way than we have before, and impacting people’s lives.”
“I do believe mindset is in many ways the most important thing. I made this decision that I am ‘Healthy Carlo’. I’m not ‘Unfit Carlo’ trying to become ‘Healthy Carlo’. I am healthy so I just make decisions as if I was already as healthy as I can be. It’s powerful.”
Food, your brain and you
Julia Rucklidge is a professor of clinical psychology who has spent the last 10 researching the interface between nutrition and mental illness, using micronutrients as the way to test and look at the relationship between the two.
“13% of the New Zealand population is on an antidepressant and we still have rising rates of mental illness. At some point you kind of go, if this treatment was working so well, our rates of mental illness by now should be going down.”
It’s pretty uncommon to find a psychologist who is interested in nutrition. But Julia Rucklidge thinks it should be part of the core training of psychologists, because it’s such an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle in terms of good health and wellbeing.
New Zealand, along with many other countries, have serious problems with mental health with high rates of suicide, and no one discusses the role of nutrition and mental health. “Millions of dollars are getting spent and it’s mainly on counselling. How is that a solution? It’s not a solution.”
For the past 50-60 years we’ve thought the only way of treating serious mental health issues is with drugs.
“There’s a whole bunch of challenges associated with that model, but we’ve bought into this chemical imbalance theory. There’s no good data to support it, but that’s what we’ve been sold.”
The depressing part of it is, how many trials do you have to do before the public healthcare system wakes up and goes, ‘we should do things differently’, she says.
“They don’t want to open their minds to a different way of thinking. Part of me gets grumpy about that because I pay tax dollars to a system that is broken. That just doesn’t seem right.”
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