A new medical report provides insight into the causes of cancer, tying risk to exposures and behavioral choices made even before conception. Apparently the genetic markers that raise cancer risk are present in the egg and are carried through fetal development and beyond birth.
“Someone’s risk of developing cancer starts from before the time of conception. The risk factors are already operating in the mother’s eggs before conception,” said professor Ricardo Uauy, an advisor to the U.N. and W.H.O. who presented the research.
If moms weren’t under enough pressure to hone their behavior for their babies’ benefit, this really kicks it up a notch. And kicks it in a whole lot earlier. It’s a scary concept, especially for those of us who are well beyond the point of altering our preconception choices to benefit our children. The idea that there were things we might have done to prevent something as terrifying as this—if only we had known—is really excruciating.
The thing to remember is that while certain preconception behaviors can lower cancer risk in future children, there are things you can do during pregnancy and throughout life to help balance out any risks from before.
After the jump, five known ways to reduce the risk of cancer from here on out.
1. Stop smoking. Cigarette smoke is one of the leading causes of cancer that is almost entirely within our control.
2. Eat fewer canned foods. Can liners contain Bisphenol A and other chemicals which can leach into food. Canned foods are also pre-cooked and contain fewer beneficial nutrients (see below) than fresh or frozen foods.
3. Eat more fresh pesticide free produce. Fresh vegetables contain antioxidants and other anticancer compounds. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts…) are thought to be especially powerful cancer fighters. Many cruciferous vegetables have lower levels of pesticides than other vegetables—perhaps because their strong smell repels bugs naturally, so they don’t require heavy chemical repellents—but it’s always preferable to consume as few chemicals as possible, so it makes sense to seek out pesticide free produce.
4. Maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy. We are learning more and more about the effects of a mother’s pre-pregnancy and pregnancy diet on her childrens’ health. The current study focused on keeping birth weights within the norm as the best way of lowering cancer risk. Low birth weight babies are more likely to gain fat around their middles, which is linked to health problems. Heavyweight babies have a higher risk of estrogenic cancers like breast and prostate.The study recommended that women try to acheive an ideal body mass index of between 18 and 25 before becoming pregnant, and keep pregnancy weight within reccomended levels for their pre-pregnancy weight.
5. Stay active now, and encourage your child to be active later. Besides being a valuable tool in maintaining a healthy body weight, exercise is known to reduce cancer risk.
Though all these studies and the accompanying recommendations make a lot of scientific sense, it’s hard not to see the down side for women. I can’t imagine these parameters will be making it any easier for pregnant women in the future. I hope that the increased information will lead to a kind of hierarchy of do’s and don’ts, so that women can see what choices really matter and where they can let things slide a little without panicking. And if this has you seething with anger and anxiety, here’s a mini-rant to let you know you’re not alone:
I’ll never forget the pressure I felt during pregnancy to eat, exercise, and even breathe with my baby in mind. One prenatal bible I read warned me that even morsel of food I put in my mouth, every beverage I sipped on, and every step I took would have serious implications for the health of my soon-to-be-born child.
I’ll also never forget how much I resented this type of pressure. I mean, I was bound and determined to eat a healthy diet and stay in shape, both for my own health and for that of my baby. But the last thing I needed at the time was a steaming pile of guilt every time I loafed on the sofa or snacked on a chip.
Unfortunately, a new study has confirmed that not only should soon-to-be moms be paranoid about their health, but they should also start that guilt, pressure, and paranoia even earlier.
-Jenn Savedge, Mother Nature Network
photo: Fabrizio Morroia/flickr