Plant-based nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits for improving cancer outcomes
Plant-Based Health Online, a new CQC registered plant-based healthcare company, has recently partnered with The Chartwell Cancer Trust in a pilot project to deliver plant-based nutrition and evidence-based lifestyle medicine to help people with cancer who have completed their treatment. In this article, co-founders Dr Shireen Kassam and Dr Laura Kassam explain how and why their new healthcare company was developed and, most importantly, how plant-based nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits improve cancer outcomes.
The information provided takes a science-based approach, backed by personal experience and patient outcomes over several years.
Laura and I may seem an unlikely pairing for a new healthcare project. I am a Consultant Haematologist who looks after patients with lymphoma and Laura is a General Practitioner. Yet for different reasons, we have come to the same point in our careers where we want to offer a different approach to healthcare.
For Laura, it started with her own diagnosis of thyroid cancer 5 years ago and the knowledge that she carried a gene that put her at higher risk of other cancers. This led her to investigate the impact of her own lifestyle choices on the future risk of chronic illness.
For me, it has been years of treating patients with cancer who so often are also suffering from preventable chronic diseases that negatively impact their cancer outcomes.
The six key pillars of lifestyle medicine
We have both joined a growing global movement, first founded in the US, called Lifestyle Medicine. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine was formed in 2004 and its influence has exploded over the last 5 years.
In the UK, the British Society of Lifestyle Medicine continues their work of educating health professionals on the implementation of the six key pillars of lifestyle medicine with the aim of helping patients address the root cause of their chronic ill health. These six pillars include:
- A plant-predominant whole food diet
- Physical activity
- Avoidance of toxins
- Fostering social connections
- Reducing psychological stress
- Restorative sleep.
Lifestyle changes could eliminate 80% of common chronic illness
The basis of this rather ‘common-sense’ approach to medicine is the knowledge that 80% of common chronic illnesses could be eliminated in Western societies by adopting these healthy lifestyle habits. This includes conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, and stroke.
Laura started using the power of lifestyle interventions in her own clinical practice 5 years ago, which at the time was as a family doctor in Canada. The results she saw in her patients were astonishing and inspiring.
Both Laura and I have gone on to sit the lifestyle medicine diploma from the international board of lifestyle medicine in 2019.
We both have a special interest in supporting patients before, during, and after a diagnosis of cancer.
We know from many sources that around 4 out of 10 cases could be prevented if we were to all to adopt healthy lifestyle habits, these same pillars of lifestyle medicine.
Many healthcare professionals do not emphasise the importance of key risk factors
Mainstream healthcare professionals are now very comfortable with advising patients to stop smoking cigarettes, but Laura and I know that very few healthcare professionals emphasise the importance of other key risk factors. For example:
- processed red meat is known to be a direct cause of cancer and thought to be responsible for over 5000 cases of colorectal cancer every year in the UK.
- alcohol consumption is responsible for around 1 in 20 cases of cancer.
- Being overweight is now rivalling tobacco smoking as a risk factor for cancer.
In contrast, consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables and fibre-rich whole plant foods along with regular physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of cancer. This is because these healthy habits all help reduce the key drivers of cancer; insulin-resistance, unhealthy gut microbiome, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Lifestyle changes can also favourably impact the expression of genes that are responsible for promoting cancer.
There is a great deal of work to be done to increase the understanding of many healthcare professionals in how plant-based nutrition and healthy lifestyle habits improve cancer outcomes.
Of course, not all cancers are preventable yet some of our commonest types are strongly impacted by lifestyle factors.
What is often forgotten is that underlying chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease contribute significantly to the risk of developing cancer, yet these conditions could be virtually wiped out using a lifestyle medicine approach.
It’s never too late
The good news about lifestyle medicine is that it’s never too late to make use of the key principles. A healthy plant-predominant diet such as the Mediterranean diet and regular physical activity have the ability to reduce the risk of cancer coming back, improve quality of life, and might even help improve survival.
In the early staging of prostate cancer, a lifestyle medicine approach may slow the growth of the cancer, reducing the likelihood of needing treatments such as radiotherapy or surgery. Unfortunately, the standard medical treatments I need to prescribe for my patients increase further their future risk of heart disease and second cancers, and therefore healthy habits become even more important. The same risk factors that contribute to developing cancer in the first place are also in part responsible for the increased risk of second cancers.
The first CQC registered online plant-based lifestyle medicine service
With all the above in mind, Laura and I have recently launched a new healthcare service, Plant-Based Health Online. It’s one of kind in the UK being the first CQC registered online plant-based lifestyle medicine service.
Lockdown demonstrated that virtual consultations with healthcare providers have a number of benefits for the provider and the patient. Lifestyle medicine lends itself perfectly to the virtual setting given that its application is in the chronic rather than acute setting.
Plant-Based Health Online brings together a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare providers to deliver a lifestyle medicine service to everyone that needs it. Our team includes GPs, nutritionists, a dietitian, and a health coach. Our aim is to use lifestyle first as a means to prevent, manage and sometimes even reverse chronic diseases, whilst working alongside patients’ primary and secondary care providers.
Partnering with The Chartwell Cancer Trust
Plant-Based Health Online is delighted to be partnering with The Chartwell Cancer Trust to bring healthy diet and lifestyle support to people with cancer and their families.
The Chartwell Cancer Trust supports cancer patients – adults and children – across the Bromley Borough, Lambeth, Southwark, and beyond in South East London and Kent.
We will be running a pilot project to deliver plant-based nutrition and evidence-based lifestyle medicine to help people with cancer who have completed their treatment. We will help patients transition to a healthy plant-based diet and incorporate other healthy lifestyle habits in order to improve their overall health and well-being and cancer outcomes.
We would also like to deliver the project to parents of children with cancer. The project aims to help parents improve their energy, sleep quality, stress management as well as increase resilience whilst also tackling any underlying health issues such as overweight, obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
To contact Plant-Based Health Online and/or to make an appointment, visit the website.