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Concerned about 'healthy' lifestyle connection to serious illness

(27 Posts)
BarbaraWindsor Sat 04-Dec-10 07:42:13

I suspect this is going to sound a bit bonkers, but I have been thinking about it and wanted to canvass opinion.

Okay, starting by saying I've previously been an absolute health nut, strict vegan for 3 years and vegetarian for 15 years. I am not really into healthy eating any more, since before any of this occurred to me.

My concern is this. In the past few years I have known several people have serious illnesses. One was a friend who had cancer, she had chemo, survived - she was around 40 at the time. she lives a very healthy lifestyle with organic food and such, growing her own food, low stress, no alcohol or smoking etc.

the second person was my dear friend who sadly didn't survive cancer. She was in her early 30s. She was also a vegan, ate organically and grew food. Rarely drank, never smoked etc.

Yesterday I met a friend from school who told me her sister had tragically passed away a few years ago, also from cancer, also in her early thirties. and she was also like this - grew her own vegetables, never smoked or drank.

We spoke about how maybe there was no protection in living so healthily. But I am seriously wondering now whether there is a link. I have not got a great many friends and certainly don't know a great many who have or had cancer - but the ones I know to have had it, are the same ones who live in this way.

I just can't think what the link might be. I wondered about vitamin D, that's all I can think of...or maybe just total coincidence. But after yesterday I feel I need to look further into it as it's too much to ignore.

has anyone else had this experience? I'd be interested to hear what people think.

Thankyou.

PassionKissUnderTheMistletoe Sat 04-Dec-10 11:49:42

I sometimes wonder the same thing. Well, not that healthy living can give you cancer but that it doesn't seem to offer the protection you would think.

My FIL died of a brain tumour at 57. He drank very little, never smoked, was a vegetarian, went to the gym and led a very active lifestyle. It just seemed so unfair sad

In his case I wondered if a high stress job had something to do with it.

Yes, perhaps if people are very careful about sun protection, they miss out on vitamin D (this has been linked to cancer prevention hasn't it?)

BarbaraWindsor Sat 04-Dec-10 14:08:44

thankyou for answering - and I'm sorry about your FIL. sad

The vitamin D thing, well, I was thinking more to do with milk and dairy products. There was some vegan thinking around when I used to read a lot about it, that the vit D we get from dairy isn't good for us - it's the wrong sort? So people have too much, or something. However I'm a bit unsure about this. I think when people are veggie they tend to have a lot MORE dairy than meat eaters, but then again, vegans have none at all.

It's probably nothing to do with it. But I had to put it out there iyswim...I wonder if it is a more common phenomenon than we realise.

PassionKissUnderTheMistletoe Sat 04-Dec-10 14:28:24

Sorry about your friends BarbaraWindsor sad It's such a horrible disease.

Obviously there's still a lot we don't know about cancer prevention.

I'm leaning more and more towards the everything in moderation and try and enjoy yourself school of thought smile

PonceyMcPonce Sat 04-Dec-10 14:47:46

I think the statistical anomalies combine with our affection make these things look really weird.

I remember ranting that I could not believe that George Best had outlived my mum when the disease she had was normally suffered by heavy smoking and drinking men and she was a non smoking teetotal lady.

Frankly as neither of my parents lived to retire, I am spending all my loot, writing a decent will, and trying to hang on until dc are 20 plus.

BarbaraWindsor Sat 04-Dec-10 14:55:15

Me too, Passion! A decent bit of moderation is good for the soul. smile

Poncey, yes, maybe it seems very stark when we are affected ourselves by a loss such as this. Your poor Mum.

It was pretty odd yesterday, because as we discussed our respective sister and friend, it became clear their lifestyles were very similar, they both died at the same age within months of diagnosis, leaving children of the same age as well.

We both sort of went hmm and shock at each other. I hope she believed me!

Very strange.

USoRight Sat 04-Dec-10 17:15:24

With cancer there is usually some kind of genetic predisposition linked with lifestyle choices and environmental factors. But not always! Statistically the people you mentioned affected by cancer were less likely to get the disease as a healthy lifestyle is a protective factor.

For instance people who never smoke rarely get lung cancer.

Obesity, smoking, high alcohol intake will statistically put you more at risk, but you wont necessarily get cancer, but by living as healthy a lifestyle as possible you will minimise the risk.

I think its as passion says - everything in moderation (except smoking!)

Unprune Sat 04-Dec-10 17:52:52

I think you have to see those people as part of a far, far larger group. In order to draw some sort of statistically significant result, you need a lot of people in the sample. Only then can you observe something happening and start to form a hypothesis about what might be causing (or more likely contributing to the development of) the cancer.

(Sorry, I'm talking about real people like units in an equation sad)

Doyouthinktheysaurus Sat 04-Dec-10 18:16:38

I'm probably talking rubbish but I was of the impression that a 'healthy lifestyle' can protect you to a degree from certain cancers and illnesses as you get older, but when cancer affects younger people, it's just horrid bad lucksad

I had cancer, not a hereditary type, and just figured it was rough luck. I was less healthy before than I am now, not sure what relevance that hasconfused

It's absolutely tragic whenever anyone is lost to cancersad

I think we all have a duty just to live life to the full and make the most of each day.

AMumInScotland Sat 04-Dec-10 18:23:33

It's possible that your friends who choose to live such healthy lifestyles do so because they have lost family members to cancer, or had scares in the family. If so, and the cancers were ones with a strong genetic component, then its not really random - ie they were susceptible to those cancers and tried to do what they could to reduce their risks, but their healthy lifestyle doesn't cancel out the family risk.

OTOH it can easily just be random - people notice the "patchiness" of things, and think it must have a cause, but random things are patchy by nature, not evenly spread. For each person like you who says "its the healthy people who are getting cancer" there are plenty of others saying "I've smoked every day for the past 80 years and never had a day sick" - but niether of those things changes the overall statistics.

BarbaraWindsor Sat 04-Dec-10 18:26:53

I see what you are saying. I just worry that nobody is looking into this, because the doctors don't randomly ask cancer sufferers whether they are vegetarian, what they eat, how they live.

It could be that people are dying all over the world because of some ridiculous thing like a food supplement commonly used by vegetarians - who would know?

I know that's patently stupid and paranoid but it's kind of playing on my mind. Sorry blush

Not generally a conspiracy theorist, but you know...

BarbaraWindsor Sat 04-Dec-10 18:29:47

Amum - that's a good point about trying to prevent something in their family already, but actually, not to my knowledge had any of these people any reason to try to be healthier.

I guess it's possible they did just have really bad luck.

I know, it's sad when anyone dies from these illnesses...whether or not they lived healthily. My first experience of proper grief was losing a lovely man in his forties who smoked a great deal! But since then, just young, healthy people.

It's sad either way.

mrsgordonfreeman Sat 04-Dec-10 18:30:50

Keep living your healthy lifestyle: I'm sorry to hear about your friends.

It's a statistic thing, it's like breastfeeding. Living healthily will reduce your cancer risk, but it won't eliminate it, just as giving a baby breastmilk will reduce that baby's risk of getting various infections and so forth: doesn't mean they won't, just that they are less likely to.

AMumInScotland Sat 04-Dec-10 18:33:11

I'm pretty sure there will be loads of studies of cancer patients to find out about diet, exercise, lifelong smoking habits etc - if the statistics showed a big spike in people with "healthy" lifestyles, then it would be spotted and looked into. Cancer is one of the most studied kinds of disease, so I'm sure it would get noticed.

FreudianFoxSquishedByAPouffe Sat 04-Dec-10 19:07:03

I'm not really sure what I feel about this issue. I do try to be fairly healthy, although I am overweight (but I'm fixing this now age 24, losing 1lb a week) - but the main things, we don't drink, we have never smoked even a single cigarette or worse. I don't use too many chemical things like air fresheners. I'm BFing partly due to the health benefits for myself as well as DCs. We cut down on meat and increased pulses etc.

But in the end you can't prevent everything can you. As I said, never even tried smoking, haven't lived around it either and yet I really suffer with bronchitis etc a few times a year

Tbh the main reason I'm losing weight is because I am scared of developing diabetes, and also sleep apnoea which my dad has.

ThingOne Sat 04-Dec-10 20:58:54

Living a healthy lifestyle can offer some protection against certain diseases, including some cancers. It does not prevent these diseases.

It is important to eat healthily, not to smoke, to maintain a healthy weight, not to drink to excess and to keep active. These things together will help you. But they will not stop you getting cancer.

I had cancer and I got extremely pissed off at the number of people who automatically assumed it must be "my fault". It was almost as if people thought they could kid themselves it would never happen to them as they ate ten-a-day/were vegan/ate fish oils/took the current trendy over-priced food supplement.

MaryAnnSingleton Sat 04-Dec-10 21:59:11

I do agree with you BarbaraWindsor - I am healthy i think, eat pretty well (things in moderation) drink very moderately (wine at weekends kind of thing) - eat tons of watercress and drink green tea and got breast cancer.
I am however generally a very stressy,anxious person - though since being diagnosed have really got to grips with sorting out my anxieties ( mindfulness meditation course - brilliant !) Am fine - 1 year clear -still drinking green tea and scoffing watercress.

topsi Sun 05-Dec-10 08:41:50

any one read 'the china project'?

MidnightsChild Sun 05-Dec-10 10:16:41

I agree with Thing One that people who don't have cancer are looking for a touchstone, something by which they can reassure themselves that they are safe. So, it helps them to believe that there is some fault in the lifestyle choices made by the cancer patient, poor choices that they can avoid or already do not make. Its a natural human reaction, if not terribly edifying. Thing is, no-one can categorically state why any one individual gets cancer and another doesn't. For some there are genetic markers and there is some scientific support for weightloss and limiting alcohol consumption, but otherwise its all guesswork. Some people who have cancer have lived horribly unhealthily, others have made all the recommended choices ... its why I describe getting cancer as being hit by the cancer bullet. You're just walking down a street and you get hit by a sniper who has randomly pointed his rifle and didn't even look through the sights. The victim is entirely unchosen ...

I do think that choosing to live a healthy lifestyle is a positive decision, either pre- or post-cancer. For one thing, it does have a measurable impact with regard to many health conditions (heart disease, diabetes etc). Secondly, by having a healthy body and immune system, you're giving yourself the best chance of living well with whatever illness or disease comes your way. But it can't keep you safe and nor should you believe it will.

There are (and have been) a lot of studies into lifestyle and nutrition in relation to cancer, but its difficult to carry out in an appropriately measured and scientific manner. Japan has always been key as their breast cancer statistics were markedly lower than the western world. I understand a major new study is underway there, because the BC stats have soared recently and they are trying to identify which aspect of the more westernised lifestyle being led in Japan is responsible. I think it will make interesting reading in years to come.

I do think its important that cancer patients make these choices individually, that they do not feel pressurised into making those choices they can't live with. MaryAnn mentioned stress - and I know that some people believe it to be a potential cause of cancer, but I say this: imagine the stress levels of a person feel who's life is already full of unavoidable stress, to then have to worry that they will get cancer (or have it re-occur) because that unavoidable stress is still with them and they can't side step it. Until there is scientific evidence to support any theories, my belief is that there's a lot of snake oil out there ...

belgo Sun 05-Dec-10 10:21:33

Interesting question.

What we need to know is: what is a healthy lifestyle, and what is an extreme lifestyle?

ppeatfruit Sun 05-Dec-10 10:35:33

Let alone the environmental factors such as living nr. nuclear power stations, fungicides,insecticides, asbestos natural radiation etc.

EggFriedRice Sun 05-Dec-10 20:37:27

I maintain a belief that what we put under our armpits "anti-perspirants" has a lot to do with why so many women develop breast cancer, all anti-perspirants should come with a health warning imo, I think that aluminium & parabens rubbed daily onto shaved armpits is doing us more harm than we we realise.

bibbitybobbitysantahat Sun 05-Dec-10 20:48:29

I quite understand why you are troubled by this Babs.

All I can offer to add to the debate is the anecdotal evidence I remember reading somewhere (I think by Bill Bryson - he is very fond of quoting facts and statistics isn't he?) that the average Gauloise-smoking, red-wine drinking rural French man is less likely to die of a heart attack than ultra low-fat, exercise-mad, health-obsessed Californian man.

And that stress and worry is the deciding factor.

MaryAnnSingleton Mon 06-Dec-10 08:36:05

the anti perspirant thing hasn't been found to be a cause of breast cancer though traces of aluminium etyc are often found in tissue removed in b cancer surgery.

ppeatfruit Mon 06-Dec-10 10:19:04

Bibbity IMO like Japan since Macdonalds has become popular in France there is a lot more heart disease and cancer here.

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