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Ask a researcher: How do you reduce your cancer risk?

Main Line Health January 25, 2019 Medical Research

So much health and wellness advice abounds that it is sometimes difficult to know which guidance to pay attention to these days. With the intent of helping patients focus on clinically relevant data to discuss with their doctors, we asked oncology researcher George Prendergast, PhD what steps he takes to reduce his risk of cancer.

What lifestyle habits have you adopted to help you reduce your chances of developing cancer?

Dr. Prendergast: I do intermittent fasting. There’s preclinical evidence derived from studies in laboratory species that intermittent fasting can reduce risks of cancer and improve health during aging. Different fasting regimens appear effective. For example, fasting one day per week or limiting eating to only an eight to 10-hour period each day. Of course, before beginning any fasting routine, you should talk to your doctor to determine whether this method is safe (or right) for you.

I also limit my alcohol intake. While there are clinical studies suggesting that limited alcohol consumption may have benefits for the cardiovascular system, the picture is less clear for cancer risk, where the latest studies suggest less alcohol is better.

Do you take any cancer-preventative supplements, and if so, which ones?

Dr. Prendergast: I take vitamin D3 (2,000 IU) daily. This is the only vitamin for which extensive clinical data exists to support a reduction in cancer risk, especially colon cancer risk. That said, there is not complete consensus in the medical literature, suggesting some people taking vitamin D3 may be helped but not others.

Nicotinamide riboside is a supplement that is a component of vitamin B3 complex. It helps produce a molecule that is vital to sustain the function and health of all cells. There is strong evidence from studies in laboratory species that boosting that molecule can promote health and even extend lifespan.

I also take lactobaccillus reuteri, a type of probiotic. This particular strain of lactobacillus differs from other strains found commonly in yogurt and other foods. It has been reported to promote several healthful benefits, including in the gastrointestinal tract and muscle stamina. Perhaps most interestingly, it may improve mood and sociability by affecting secretion of oxytocin, a social bonding hormone.

Do you focus on any particular foods?

Dr. Prendergast: When I was younger I used to joke that my diet was an expression of faith in the future of medical research. That said, today I pay somewhat less attention to fats, some of which are healthier than we used to think, and more attention to limiting my intake of carbohydrates, in which, like many people, I have a tendency to overdo. Some protein in a diet is important, of course; but unless you’re an athlete your body can make most of the protein you need. Over time I’ve reduced my intake of meats and replaced that protein source with fish.

Are there any other actions you take to reduce your cancer risk?

Dr. Prendergast: More and more studies show how important exercise is to overall health, especially to cardiovascular and metabolic health, but also to reduce risks of cancer and even limit relapses in people who’ve had successfully treated cancers. For all these reasons, I have become more diligent in exercise, including monitoring my daily movement, standing and aerobic exercise using the Apple Watch app.

George Prendergast, PhD, is the president and CEO of the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, part of Main Line Health. With experience in the pharmaceutical industry and academia, Dr. Prendergast is a cancer researcher widely recognized for his expertise in cancer biology, signal transduction and molecular therapeutics. He holds the Havens Chair for Biomedical Research. For more on Dr. Prendergast or LIMR clinical research, visit his profile.