Healthy Lifestyle Tips By Cancer Specialist Dr Catherine Nyongesa

August 5, 2019
Dr Catherine Nyongesa, founder, owner and chief executive of Texas Cancer Centre, in Nairobi

With an estimated 47,887 new cancer cases and over 32,987 reported deaths annually, there are many different things that you can do to reduce the risk factors.

Cancer specialists Dr Catherine Nyongesa and Dr Ahmed Komen share their top tips for a healthier lifestyle.

  1. Cut down on artificial flavours and meat Diet isn’t a direct cause for cancer; however, eating healthy with about 80 per cent of the diet being raw and majorly organic produce can help in reducing your chances of contracting it. A healthy diet has no room for artificial colours, flavours, preservatives or refined sugar. Remove as much processed sugar and processed foods from your diet as you possibly can and when it comes to eating meat, especially red meat it should be in moderation and always choose organic, free range meat and eggs.
  2. Avoid sweetened drinks Here, it is strictly drinking plenty of clean water. No room for soda pop, those artificial fruit flavoured drinks, or anything that contains artificial sweeteners is lethal and will increase your chances of falling a victim of the disease.
  3. Drink moderately Limit your intake of alcoholic drinks to one drink a day for women and two drinks for men. However, one should remember alcoholic beverages not only reduce one’s lifespan but also have a direct connection to root cause for many lifestyle diseases and cancer. The smartest choice would be not to drink at all.
  4. Cook right In Kenya, we enjoy our nyama choma so much. This is besides the fact that it is proven roasting meat over an open fire till it is charred is dangerous. Roasting over an open flame causes heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), chemicals formed when meat is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. These chemicals cause changes in DNA that may increase the risk of cancers like colo-rectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer. To avoid this, avoid overconsumption of roasted meat and avoid the charred parts. If you cook fruits and overcook vegetables, you also kill the beneficial nutrients that protect your well-being.
  5.  Watch your water Clean water from Nairobi Water Company is fine, but some sources have carcinogenic material such as heavy metals. Some of the water sold on the street, through branded, can be contaminated. Try to go for trusted brands, as the authorities still need to look into the new brands being sold, to ensure that they are not just bottled under questionable environments. When there is water shortage and you have to buy water from various sources, do not just drink it until you are sure of the source. Invest in a filtration system if you can, as filtering water gets out some of the carcinogens.
  6. Store cereals properly Aflatoxins are related to liver cancer, so you need to dry cereals like maize well enough before storing. If they get in touch with water, they can get contaminated with Aflatoxins, a fungus that grows on it and cannot really be killed by cooking. Store grains and nuts in cool, dry places and try to consume them within one or two months.
  7. Don’t heat food in plastic At home and when you go to food take away places, people often heat food in microwaves using plastic bags and containers. Bisphenol-A (BPA), which is used to make clear hard plastic and phthalates, which are added to make plastic soft and flexible, are potentially carcinogenic and may leak into food when you do this. Instead use glass, ceramic containers or containers with a “microwave-safe” label.
  8.  Dietary factors Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, so having them in your meals reduces the cancer burden, especially mouth, throat and lung cancer. Conversely, processed meat (like sausages, smokies tr5and bacon) and red meat can increase the risk of bowel, stomach and pancreatic cancer. Food rich in fibre like brown bread and brown ugali reduces the risk of colon cancer.


  1. Lose weight Being overweight or obese exposes you to higher chances of contracting cancer like any other lifestyle diseases. Try to focus on not gaining any more weight with regular exercises like swimming, dancing, walking or even gardening and committing to heavy housework. This will largely help lower your risk of cancer. Kick start your weight management programme by eating an apple before each meal, getting in five minutes of exercise two or three times per day, and slowly working yourself up to 10 or 15 minutes of exercise twice per day
  2. Get vaccines when you can The major cause of cervical cancer is a virus known as HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which can be prevented through vaccines. Girls as young as 9 can be vaccinated against it. Hepatitis B virus has been linked to liver cancer, which is a common cancer and on the rise and yet one can get vaccinated against it.
  3. Get moving This helps you maintain a healthy weight, which can guard against cancer as being overweight increases the risk. Exercise also helps move food along the bowels, which reduces the amount of time the body comes into contact with harmful substances in food. It also helps reduce inflammation, which prevents abnormal multiplication of cells. In women, physical activity lowers the level of oestrogen, which is associated with breast and womb cancers. Walking, biking, swimming or dancing for at least 30 minutes a day should be adequate.
  4. Beware of environmental factors Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke, which poses a risk. In addition, when in a room where fuel sources such as wood or kerosene are used, ensure there is enough aeration by opening the windows and doors. Aim to use cleaner energy such as electricity and cooking gas as much as possible.
  5. Don’t smoke Tobacco is a leading cause of cancers of the mouth, throat, voice box and oesophagus. Alcohol increases the chances of getting cancers of the pancreas, liver and stomach. When you drink and also smoke, the risk of getting these cancers rises more significantly.
  6. Get enough sun exposure The most unfortunate thing is that persons with cancer tend to have very low levels of Vitamin D. The best time to get this valuable vitamin is around 10am and any time after 4pm.
  7. Protect yourself from STIs It is better to just avoid these sexually transmitted diseases than to try to deal with them later and hope that they do not start cancer in your body. Limit the number of sexual partners and try to stay in a monogamous relationship. Having multiple sexual partners increases chances of you being infected with HPV which is linked to a number of different cancers. Equally, remember to always wear a condom.
  8. Detox regularly No matter how healthy or organic your diet is, your body still absorbs toxins and pollutants from the air. Equally, no one can eat home grown food every day, take in recommended levels of water daily to keep toxic cancer causing chemicals from our daily life. Toxic chemicals and heavy metals get into our bodies in numerous ways and performing detox programmes on a regular basis can help our bodies remove these chemicals. Different types of programmes are available. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.
  9. Clean up your beauty routine Many cancer-causing toxins are absorbed through our body’s largest organ –the skin. Whatever you place on your skin is absorbed directly into your bloodstream. This means many cosmetic and beauty products, if they haven’t undergone a thorough screening by Kenya Bureau of Standards could contain other chemicals that can expose you to cancer. Always try and use medically approved cosmetics.
  10. Manage your stress In today’s world, it is virtually impossible to eliminate stress, but you can learn to manage it better. People with negative outlooks on life and those with chronic, ongoing stress levels tend to have higher rates of cancer. Practices like yoga and/or meditation help in relieving stress. Empower yourself by taking charge of your life, rather than feeling like life is something that is just happening to you.

Source: Sunday Magazine

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