J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Tag: autophagy

Can You Greatly Reduce Your Risk of Cancer with Lifestyle Changes?

Collage of mixed fruits and vegetables, MRI, by Wellcome Images.

Collage of mixed fruits and vegetables, MRI, by Wellcome Images.

Cancer. It’s one of the few diseases with a personality. The F*ck Cancer meme is much stronger than the F*ck Heart Disease meme, even though both kill a similar number of human beings. While both diseases can develop with no obvious warning signs, cancer is perceived as a sneakier, meaner disease.

Maybe that’s because cancer is mysterious. There are more than 200 different types, and risk factors and causes are multitudinous: genetics, chemical exposure, radiation exposure (including sunlight), age, certain viruses, smoking, alcohol abuse, lack of exercise … the list goes on.

But cancer isn’t a death sentence. As several of the older members of my family have experienced in the past few years, cancer can be successfully treated. Though my family members used both conventional treatments and lifestyle changes, sometimes cancer goes away with lifestyle changes alone.

About half of people in developed countries will be diagnosed with some kind of cancer in the course of their lives. 100% of middle-aged or older people will have small pockets of abnormal cell growth — microcancers — most of which will be either too slow-growing to ever cause a problem, or will be eliminated by the immune system. And if you get cancer and beat it, the only way you know for sure you are “cured” is when you die of something else.

Nobody is totally safe from cancer, but there are things we can do to improve our chances of not developing the disease in the first place. While genetic risk factors play a significant role, so do environmental (lifestyle) factors. The clinical research is there to prove it. We can prevent cancer (or at least improve our odds) in at least seven ways:

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What Your Doctor Isn't Thinking About (Dragging Medical Professionals Into the Modern Era)

The other day I came across this alarming video of what it’s like to drive in Poland. My first thought after watching the clip was “What’s the Toxoplasmosis gondii infection rate in Poland?” T. gondii is a brain parasite easily acquired from eating undercooked meat, or contact with cats, and is associated with a six-fold increase in traffic accidents (this association has been replicated a number of times, in different countries). Well, I looked it up, and found that the latent infection rate in 2003 was around 41% (at least among pregnant women). That’s quite high — in the U.S. the infection rate is only about 11%.

Is there anything to my hypothesis that terrible driving in Poland is related to the relatively high T. gondii infection rate? Probably not. The accident fatality rate in Poland is relatively high for a modern industrialized country. But France has a very low accident fatality rate, and a much higher rate of T. gondii infection. So while T. gondii might be a contributing factor, it’s probably not the most important variable.

I’m fascinated by latent/chronic biological infections, and how they affect human health and behavior. T. gondii in particular is linked to changes in personality, and even schizophrenia.

What’s shocking to me, as shocking as the driving in Poland video above, is that so few medical professionals are considering latent infections as part of their diagnostic process. The research is here, and so are the diagnostic tests. So why aren’t medical professionals taking advantage of them?

The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed -William Gibson

The above quote definitely applies to the medical profession. How many general practitioners are doing the following?

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Death Will Eat Itself (The Enormous Benefits of Autophagy, or Why You Should Stop Eating Once in Awhile)

Martin Berkhan destroys body fat for a living.

About a year ago I became interested in the benefits of intermittent fasting after reading a number of articles on Martin Berkhan’s Leangains site. Martin is a Swedish nutritional consultant/personal trainer/writer. His recommendations run contrary to conventional wisdom among personal trainers, but his ideas are well-researched and accompanied by numerous examples (pictures) of his own physique and the physiques of his clients, who are all very muscular and impressively lean. Martin’s writing style is bombastic, confrontational, and entertaining, but also thorough, persuasive, and rich in citations.

Martin’s main idea is that intermittent fasting can assist with fat loss and muscle growth simultaneously. Most weight-lifters would tell you that both “growth phases” (where muscle and fat are added simultaneously) and “cutting phases” (where calories are restricted and fat is lost) are required. Martin calls B.S. on that idea, and provides ample evidence that restricting eating to an 8-hour daily “window” (only eating between 2pm and 10pm, for example), combined with simple, consistent workouts can allow a person to get leaner and stronger at the same time.

My Own Experience

At this point in my life I’m not looking for a radical change in my physique, but Martin’s posts piqued my curiosity enough to give intermittent fasting a try. I decided I would “dip a toe in” and try not eating until 2pm, one day a week.

I found it to be easier than expected. On my partial fast days, I only drink water and black coffee until 2pm. I rarely experience any hunger pangs (though I do look forward to my first meal more than I would otherwise). Here are a few other subjective observations:

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