What Causes Cancer (Hint: It’s Not Meat)

Written By

Rhea Dali

Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Jay Wennington 280321 Unsplash | What Causes Cancer (Hint: It'S Not Meat)

What REALLY Causes Cancer?

Cancer is an epidemic of modern day.

Approximately 1.7 million new cancer cases are expected to be diagnosed this year, and cancer is the second most common cause of death in the US, exceeded only by heart disease, and accounts for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths (ACS, 2017).

Cancer affects everyone, not just the person diagnosed.

While there are no statistics showing how many co-survivors know someone affected by cancer, chances are high if not you, you know someone who’s been affected by cancer— family, friends, co-workers, teachers, celebrities. It’s rampant.

And yet it is still so mysterious.

What causes the horrible disease?

While you may say things like “cancer,” “pesticides and GMO’s” or “Red Dye in processed foods,” —these are linkedcauses” of cancer.

I am talking about the root cause—the underlying cause that forces your body to be more susceptible to these outside stressors (like tobacco and food additives) in the first place.

Why do some people get lung cancer and others don’t? Or why do some people get breast cancer and others don’t?—even if they are exposed to the same tobacco, or the same soy-milk?


Cancer is an inflammatory conditionmeaning it’s a “stress” response inside your body.

In fact, studies show that much like any other disease (Autoimmune Disease, Heart Disease, Diabetes), cancer is a sign that something is not right inside: internal inflammation and imbalances in your body.

In the case of cancer specifically, the disease presents as your body attacking itself.

While most modern day medicine focuses on treating the symptoms of cancer (killing off the cancer cells), little treatment is focused on addressing the roots.

What causes the body to attack itself in the first place?

And, again, while things like tobacco and fast food, are triggers to the disease, there is something else underlying it all.

This simple equation:

Poor Gut Health (internal inflammation or “leaky gut”)
Genetic Pre-disposition for (10%)
Outside Stressors or Triggers (like toxic exposure, poor quality food choices, chronic stress)

Let me explain…

What Causes Cancer: Poor Gut Health

Cancer is very similar Autoimmune Disease—the body’s attack upon itself.

Hence, if we look to Autoimmune Disease for more insights (be it Celiac Disease—an  attack on intestinal lining and irritation by gluten, Hashimoto’s—an attack upon thyroid tissue, or Rheumatoid Arthritis—inflammation in the joints), we see that more and more research (1, 2, 3) is beginning to reveal that Autoimmunity is an inflammatory condition that starts in the gut—namely “leaky gut.

Bugs In Your Gut Hands Making Heart Over Stomach Image2 | What Causes Cancer (Hint: It'S Not Meat)

Essentially: When your gut health is “off” (or inflamed), then your body is unable to “thrive” and get the full nutrient profile and nourishment it needs to thrive (for all body systems) and, in the case of Autoimmune Disease (and cancer for that matter), your body begins attacking itself.

Couple this with the fact that 80% of your immune system and disease-fighting cells are housed in your gut and your immune system ALSO takes a hit.

In addition, low “healthy” or “good” gut bacteria counts have been shown in both Autoimmunity and cancer—meaning, you have less “good guys” to “fight off” the bad (toxic) guys from that tobacco, fast food, soy, toxic exposure or conventional meat in the first place.

What Causes Cancer: Genetics

In functional medicine we often say, “Genetics load the gun, and environment and lifestyle pull the trigger”—meaning your Genetics may determine what conditions you’re more likely to get, but these Genetics will not present unless there are stressors and triggers to pull them out of their shell.

You can take a 23 & Me Genetic Test and discover you’re more likely to “get” breast cancer, Diabetes, Celiac or heart disease, BUT if you are genuinely healthy, your gut is healthy and you lead a lower stress life, you are MUCH LESS LIKELY to “catch” that disease your great-grandmother or dad may have had in the first place.

Genetics is PART of that puzzle, but really only about 5-10% of the puzzle of cancer. 

What Causes Cancer: Lifestyle Factors & Stressors

As mentioned above, a leaky gut is more predisposed to the “effects” of lifestyle and outside stress.

Stress is the leading cause of ALL disease, and not just psychological stress, but the lifestyle stressors and factors previously discussed as well.

One stressor in particular that breeds cancer is the “drug of choice” in modern day food source and culture: Sugar.

Cancer cells love sugar—in fact the more sugar we have, the more we encourage cancer cells to grow.

Cancer cells uptake sugar at 10-12 times the rate of healthy cells.

This is why it’s completely ABSURD that many chemotherapy treatment procedures involve feeding cancer patients cookies, Coca Cola or orange juice following treatments to “restore energy”—only perpetuating the disease.

(And this is not “new” news).

German Otto Warburg, PhD, the 1931 Nobel laureate in medicine, discovered that cancer cells are low in oxygen (i.e. “oxidative stressors”) because they use sugar as their main energy source.

He also found that malignant cancer tumors have a completely different energy metabolism than our healthy cells, exhibiting increased glycolysis — a process wherein glucose (sugar) is used as the only fuel for cancer (compared to normal cells that extract energy from all food sources—glucose, amino-proteins and fats).

Additionally, sugar suppresses a key immune response known as “phagocytosis”  -the disease- eradicating effect of the immune system. Consuming just 40 grams of sugar can cause about a 50% reduction in phagocytosis.  (Fact: Americans consume an average of 94 grams of sugar every day). 

Unfortunately, sugar (and artificial sweeteners) are in just about everything nowadays—not just Hershey’s chocolate bars, soda and Oreos, but things like pasta sauce, salad dressings, ‘sugar-free’ gum, deli meats, fruit juice and yogurt cups.

The Bottom Line

Prolonged exposure to toxins, sugar and other stressors, PLUS a poor digestive system (i.e. cells that have not been properly nourished, oxygenated, hydrated and cleansed), PLUS your genetic pre-disposition (5-10%) is THE primary cause of cancer.

What to Do About It?

Knowledge is power and just because your great grandmother had breast cancer, or you even have been diagnosed with an early stage cancer yourself, there are measures you can take:

  1. Enhance your gut health and build a strong armor internally;
  2. Eliminate stress, toxins and other environmental exposures
  3. Nourish your body for life.

Here are 8 tips you can proactively take against cancer today—no matter where you are on the spectrum of health or sickness:

  1. Boost Gut Bacteria.
    Arm your gut with the real “multi-vitamin” you need to enhance health and boost your immune system: Probiotics. In fact, early studies have shown that Probiotics may have an anti-tumor effect (1, 2) I like soil based formulas like Prescript Assist for the wide array of cultures (29) that are typical of those progressively found resident inside the healthy human GI Tract. Couple this with a prebiotic powder 1 to 2 times per day to help “absorb” your probiotic in the first place and you have a winning combo. Dosage is 1-2 capsules a day (1 in the morning and./or 1 at night). In addition, fermented foods—like sauerkraut, kimchi, low-sugar kombucha (2g or less), water kefir and fermented full-fat yogurt can be good additions to support a healthy gut flora.
  1. Daily Digestive Protocol
    In addition to taking probiotics, implementing daily healthy “digestive practices” can support an overall healthy gut micro biome and restoration of your leaky gut. Some of these include:Drink Water Throughout the Day. Preferably fresh, filtered (clean) water. Aim for half your bodyweight in ounces. Sip at meals.Proper Food Hygiene. Slow down, take 1-2 minutes to breathe before meals and chew your food throughly. Also home-prepared meals the majority of the time ensure less hands (and toxins) handle your food.Boosting Stomach Acid. Many people are low in stomach acid to help initiate digestion in the first place. Boost it with 1 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar in water before meals or an HCL Tablet.Digestive Enzyme Punch. Help assist the full breakdown of your foods throughout the remainder of your digestive process with 1-2 digestive enzymes around meals as well.
  1. Eat Real Food.
    Protein, a healthy fat and veggie(s) with every meal. Aim for organic, grass-fed and pastured sources of meat and produce as much as possible. Boost cellular health and metabolism (and decrease sugar cravings) with added healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, ghee/grassfed butter). If it didn’t swim in the sea, walk the land or grow on the earth, it’s not real food. Aim to shop the perimeter and “spice” things up with seasonings and herbs. In addition, cut out the foods that you have an intolerance to (note: get in touch with how food makes you feel. Bloated? Gassy? Skin breakouts? Fatigue? Allergies? These are all signs and symptoms your digestive system—or the foods you’re feeding it—are not on par). Some common stressors include: Grains/gluten, conventional dairy, sugar, un-soaked nuts, conventional eggs, artificial sweeteners, processed or fake diet foods.

    Bonus: Want to learn how to boost your own health and fight cancer? It starts with your gut! Try out my Free 7-day Gut Healing Cleanse (no crazy diets included).
  1. Cut the Sugar
    Taking our “real food” a bit further, familiarize yourself with (hidden) sugar, lurking in just about everything that is not real food. Get in a habit of turning over nutrition labels to not look at calories or fat grams, but instead sugar content and ingredients. Some common hidden names of sugar include:
    • Corn Syrup
    • High-fructose Corn Syrup
    • Evaporated Cane Juice
    • Agave
    • Fruit Pulp
    • Fruit Puree
    • Fruit Juice/Concentate
    • Blackstrap Molasses
    • Sorghum
    • Brown rice syrup
    • The “-oses” (sucrose, galactose, maltose, dextrose, etc.)

    In addition to being a sugar sleuth, here are some other ideas for getting sugar savvy:

    1. Drink liquids with no sugar. Water. La Croix. Herbal Tea. (Exception: Low sugar kombucha, like HealthAde)
    2. With dairy, the first 11 grams of sugar (per cup) are lactose, anything more is added sugar (consume full fat fermented, grass-fed dairy if you do eat dairy)
    3. Instead of reaching for sugar for a snack, reach for a healthy fat and/or protein, like:
    • Coconut butter packets
    • Half an avocado
    • Baby carrots with guacamole
    • Plantain chips with nitrate-free salami
    • Turkey or beef jerky (nitrate-free)
    • Coconut yogurt, raw nuts or seeds
    • Celery with sunflower seed butter
    • Seed-crackers with a spoonful of grass-fed butter spread
    • Cauliflower popcorn
    • Homemade kale chips
    • Pickles wrapped with nitrate-free ham or turkey
    • Homemade chia-seed pudding, apple slices with almond butter. Keep fruit to 1-2 servings/day
  1. Dig Deeper.
    Looking “under the hood” with a functional medicine practitioner or healthcare professional who is aware of the “signs” underlying digestive dysfunction (like SIBO, parasites, food intolerances, dysbiosis, thyroid and other blood chemistry markers, hormonal imbalances, and acid profile) can help you address a “leaky gut” and other inflammatory markers early on—especially if you show other markers of a leaky gut (constipation, bloating, acne, PCOS, chronic PMS, IBS, allergies, asthma, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, etc.).
  1. Address Stress.
    Remember, genetics load the gun, environmental and lifestyle stressors “pull the trigger.” Stress goes FAR beyond psychological stress or worry. It includes:
  • Burning a candle at both ends
  • Poor sleep
  • Reliance or dependence on coffee
  • Sugar cravings
  • Lack of outdoor exposure and high-amount of screen time
  • Poor social connectedness and/or isolation
  • Little “you” time
  • Poor quality foods
  • Chronic cardio
  • Erratic eating habits (binge, purge, restriction)
  • Being your own worst critic
  • Social media toxicity (comparison)
  • Use of environmental toxic products (hygiene, cleaning)Make a list of your current “stressors”—anything and everything that comes to mind! Then…create a counter list of “de-stressor” activities you can begin integrating into your daily life (make this list as long as your list of stressors). Some inspiration?
  • Meditate 5-minutes every day (Check out “Headspace” the app)
  • Move and exercise in ways that enliven your body (and your soul)
    Take a yoga class or start a home yoga practice (Yoga with Adrienne is awesome)
  • Get outside for at least 30-60 minutes/day (or at least away from screens and by windows)
  • Unplug electronics at night
  • Detox from social media binging
  • Eat meals until you feel satisfied, not stuffed
  • Just say “no” to being everything to all people
  • Schedule “you” time into your schedule
  • Connect (in person) with friends 2-3 times per week
  • Stop taking crap from yourself (and talk back to your inner mean girl)
  • Practice your digestive protocols
  • Listen to uplifting music
  • Start your day off with a morning routine that enlivens you
  1. Detox.
    Speaking of stress and environmental toxins, do a closet, home and beauty makeover! Eliminate harsh chemicals and products to the best of your abilities. Here are some simple swaps:
  • Toss out plastic water bottles for stainless steel
  • Begin filtering your water with a home water system or, at the very least, pitcher
  • Replace plastic tupperware with glass
  • Swap out your Neutrogena face wash with a chemical free organic face cleanser
  • Throw out your chemical laden toothpaste in replacement of a cleaner version like The Dirt

Bonus: Check out Think Dirty and the Environmental Working Group (1, 2) for the low down on all your favorite beauty and home products.

  1. Lean In.
    Despite EVERY measure we take for ourselves to be “healthy,” fit and cancer-free, quite honestly, sometimes there is “no explaining” why cancer does choose to attack some. If there is one thing I have learned in my own fight with chronic disease it is that I believe everything happens for a reason—and even though you may have NO idea of really WHY it’s happening to YOU (or your loved ones), there IS a reason—maybe multiple ones. Who knows what people you’re meant to impact? Meet? The faith or perseverance or character you’re meant to develop? A spiritual walk that is deepened? Wherever you are in the battle with cancer—or perhaps another disease or hardship, sometimes words and tactics are not enough to say anything but this verse that continues to speak to me in my own life and daily hardships that come up along the way: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within usEphesians 3:20. That which is “unchanging” is spiritual in nature—meaning if you feel stuck right where you’re at right now, it’s often the Universe speaking or calling our hearts to lean in, look up and have faith.



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