Diet, Genetics and Making a Difference

A gift for cancer survivors - Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen

We continue to hear that our book, Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen, makes a wonderful gift for women facing cancer (or even if cancer isn’t on the table). This is something we love to hear, because when we wrote it, our goal was to get this book into the hands of as many women as possible after a cancer diagnosis – because it’s exactly what we wanted when we first heard the words “you have cancer,” but couldn’t find anywhere. We felt like if we had been given this book, we may not have felt so alone, confused and lost. We also realized, as we wrote the book, that it was also fitting for any woman trying to prevent disease and be healthy and happy.

In light of all the buzz about Angelina Jolie’s surgery after discovering she carries the BRCA-1 gene mutation (making her a cancer previvor), it’s important to note that diet and lifestyle does affect genetics – crazy, right? And this is why The Kicking Kitchen’s, Annette Ramke, as a breast and ovarian cancer survivor and carrier of a mutation to the BRCA-1 gene, chooses to eat well and use food as a tool in her cancer-kicking toolbox. No matter what personal decisions are made around preventative surgery and other treatment options, what we put into our bodies either supports or hurts overall health.

In quoting David Katz, MD, the amazing voice behind the foreword for our book: “We can, in fact, nurture nature.” He refers to a study in which 30 men with prostate cancer had major lifestyle and diet intervention – they ate a plant-based, whole food diet, included moderate activity and addressed stress management. Katz says they found “roughly 50 cancer suppressor genes became more active, and nearly 500 cancer promoter genes became less so. This, and other studies like it, go so far as to indicate that the long-standing debate over the relative power of nature versus nurture is something of a boondoggle, for there is no true dichotomy.”

So while many factors contribute to cancer and our health, including genetic makeup, diet can indeed play a role, even if you carry a genetic mutation, such as one on the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genes. As we always say, it may help a little, or it may help a lot, but food will make a difference.

The information and recipes in Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen are designed to help the person in cancer treatment, dealing with side effects like nausea, mouth sores, fatigue, healing from surgery, etc., but they also support the the immune system and offer cancer-fighting foods. The recipes are simple, healthy, so yummy, and an enjoyable way to take back a bit of control in your health.

If you are looking for a gift for a loved one, perhaps a gal pal or woman you know who is dealing with Cancer World, we hope you’ll consider Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen. Please help us spread the word and get this book into the hands of those women who need the support, information and recipes, from two gals who have been through it and want more than anything to make a difference for the next person. Cancer sucks, but we don’t need to sit back and just let the doctors do their (important!) jobs – what we do makes a difference. The food we eat, how we live every day, affects our health more than many of us realize.

Previvors, Genetics and Food

“PREVIVOR” is a term used to describe those who have an increased risk for developing cancer due to close family history or due to certain genetic mutations, like mutations of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes (Annette carries the BRCA1 gene, which you’ll read about in her story in Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen), but who do not have a cancer diagnosis.

In 2007 Time magazine chose “previvor” as number three of the top buzzwords of the year, giving millions of people exposure to the term and bringing public attention to the issues that cancer previvors face. According to Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE), a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, the previvor community has its own unique needs and concerns separate from the general population, but different from those already diagnosed with cancer.

If cancer runs in your family, or you are especially young when diagnosed, you may want to consider genetic testing. Genetic testing can help assess your potential risk for cancer and determine if you are a carrier of a genetic mutation that increases the likelihood of cancer development; it does not determine if you have cancer.

Genetic testing involves taking a sample of blood, a cheek swab or a tissue sample. It can be complex and so it is important to speak with a specialist in cancer genetics if you are concerned that cancer may run in your family or if you are interested in testing. An expert in cancer genetics can help explain the benefits and limitations of testing and determine whether or not genetic testing is appropriate and likely to give a person further information about his or her cancer risk.

Those who test positive for one or more of these genetic mutations, our previvor peeps, usually go through a range of emotions upon learning of their predisposition status. Some choose to have prophylactic surgery as a way to prevent cancer, while others choose to get screened more often. Each person must do what feels right for her, from whether or not to test, to how to deal with the results: It is a personal journey with no right and wrong answers.

And what about diet? Can what we eat have any effect on our genes? In quoting David Katz, MD, the amazing voice behind the foreword for our book: “We can, in fact, nurture nature.” He refers to a study in which 30 men with prostate cancer had major lifestyle and diet intervention – they ate a plant-based, whole food diet, included moderate activity and addressed stress management. Katz says they found “roughly 50 cancer suppressor genes became more active, and nearly 500 cancer promoter genes became less so. This, and other studies like it, go so far as to indicate that the long-standing debate over the relative power of nature versus nurture is something of a boondoggle, for there is no true dichotomy.” Amazing!

So while many factors contribute to cancer and our health, including genetic makeup, diet can indeed influence our health in one way or another. As we say, it may help a little, or it may help a lot, but food will make a difference.