For decades, scientists have spent billions of dollars searching for new treatments for cancer.
And yet one of the simplest, healthiest, most affordable ways to help prevent cancer remains overlooked, at least by most conventional oncologists. What’s more, it can even help treat cancer if you’ve already
What is this remedy?
You know that sleep is essential to good health. But it’s also essential to fighting cancer. In fact, research shows that the more sleep-deprived you are, the faster cancer cells multiply in your body.
“Disruptions in the body’s ‘biological clock,’ which controls sleep and thousands of other functions, may raise the odds of cancers of the breast, colon, ovaries and prostate,” reports an article on sleep from Johns Hopkins Medical Center’s health and wellness archives.
Irregular sleep patterns increase cancer risk
A study published in the International Journal of Cancer found a relationship between overnight shift work and the rate of breast cancer. Researchers compared 1,200 women who had developed breast cancer between 2005 and 2008 with a control group of 1,300 women who did not have a cancer diagnosis.
They found that women who worked the night shift had a rate of breast cancer 30 percent higher than those who did not work the night shift. But there’s more…
Researchers found working the night shift wasn’t the only thing that increased cancer risk. So did working an irregular schedule with some nights and some days. In fact, women with fewer than three night shifts per week (keeping them from ever fully adjusting to one schedule) joined women who had at least four years of night shift work in the highest cancer risk category.
Shift work has also been shown to increase the incidence of certain cancers in men, such as prostate cancer.
Researchers believe the increased risk has to do with overnight work’s disruption of your body’s natural circadian rhythm—which tells the body when to sleep and when to wake up.
Sleep triggers hormones that protect against cancer
Stanford University psychiatrist David Spiegel, M.D. says the sleep hormone you’re probably familiar with, melatonin, is critical in preventing and treating cancer.
Melatonin is produced by the brain during the day and reaches its peak just before bedtime, helping you to fall sleep and sleep well. It’s believed to have antioxidant properties on the body’s cells. In addition, melatonin lowers estrogen production from the ovaries.
Levels of melatonin steadily decline through the night and reach a low point when it’s time for you to wake up. When too little sleep disrupts melatonin, women in particular can be affected by cancer, such as breast cancer.
What’s more, exposure to light while working overnight shifts for several years can disrupt levels of melatonin, encouraging cancer to grow.
“There’s a definite hormonal pattern that is affected by sleep that in itself, can predict a more rapid progression of cancer,” says Dr. Spiegel.
Another hormone is cortisol, which helps regulate immune cell activity, including natural killer cells that help the body fight cancer. It has the opposite cycle of melatonin: cortisol levels increase during the night while melatonin levels fall.
Cortisol levels are known to peak at dawn, after hours of sleep, and decline throughout the day. But night shift workers, Dr. Spiegel says, have “shifted cortisol rhythm” which is believed to be a factor in their higher risk of cancer.
One more important point, Dr. Spiegel also found abnormal cortisol patterns in people who wake up repeatedly during the night. So, if you suffer with bouts of insomnia, it’s important to address the issue.
Sleep, already being used in cancer treatment
Numerous natural and alternative doctors prescribe rest and stress relief as part of their holistic treatment cancer. But even conventional oncologists are starting to take notice of how sleep affects how well your body utilizes vitamins, nutrients, and medicines like chemotherapy.
Recently, we reported in this newsletter on the higher success rates patients see with chemotherapy when it’s timed with the body’s circadian rhythms.
If chemotherapy is administered during specific times in the circadian cycle against certain cancers, doctors can actually useless chemotherapy and it will be more effective.
Using nutrition to improve your own sleep cycle
It follows that if you are able to enhance or improve your sleep patterns, you’ll experience health benefits, including a stronger immune system and a better ability to fight off free radicals that could cause cancer. Better sleep also typically translates into lower blood pressure, lower levels of inflammation, a lower risk of dementia, a lower risk of heart disease, and a reduced risk of diabetes, among other things.
If sleep is a struggle for you, consider increasing your intake of certain nutrients…
Vitamins play a critical role in sleep regulation. And B vitamins are particularly important. For example, B3 lengthens REM sleep and increases the effectiveness of tryptophan, which is one of the building blocks of melatonin.
The foods high in tryptophan include whole grains, meat, eggs, broccoli, and asparagus. So, any of these foods are great to eat for dinner, since that’s the meal closest to bedtime.
Vitamin B6, on the other hand, is necessary for serotonin production. Serotonin is known as the “calming hormone.” It’s also a neurotransmitter and often tends to run low in people suffering from depression. So, more B6 in your diet means more serotonin and less depression.
One of the reasons we often crave high fat, high calorie foods is that they increase levels of serotonin. But what’s interesting is that the right amount of B6 may control those cravings.
Then there’s vitamin B12, which helps sustain normal sleep patterns. Specific foods high in these B vitamins include whole grains, cereal, nuts, broccoli, and potatoes.
Finally, vitamin D, which your body produces when exposed to sunlight, helps keep your biological clock in tune, making it a major factor in good sleep. Besides sunlight, fatty fish are a good source of Vitamin D, as are canned tuna, egg yolk, and certain mushrooms.
Magnesium is a great relaxer at bedtime. You can take a supplement or try this old home remedy of banana tea.
Bananas are loaded with magnesium. But the peels have three times more magnesium levels than the fruit itself. Next time you buy organic bananas, wash them thoroughly, then cut off the tips but keep the banana intact within the peel. Boil about three cups of water, put the banana with the peel in the water and boil for another five minutes or until the banana turns brown. Then pour the water you used into a cup and drink the water. You can store it and drink it warm or cold.
Establish good sleep hygiene
The Sleep Foundation reports on the importance of cultivating a lifestyle that allows you to fall asleep easily and stay asleep throughout the night. Sometimes this is called good “sleep hygiene.” Here are some of their tips:
- Avoid light disruption. Excess light can interrupt your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your curtains or blinds aren’t blocking out enough light, try a sleep mask.
- Disconnect from devices. Tablets, cell phones and television can suppress your body’s natural melatonin production. Stop using them 30 minutes before you go to bed.
- Cultivate peace and quiet. Keep noise to a minimum. A white noise machine, earplugs or headphones can help drown out noise that’s keeping you awake.
- Wind down and relieve stress. Start your bedtime routine 30 minutes before bed. Taking a hot bath or shower can help relax your body, so can filling your room with the scent of natural, essential oils, such as lavender– which has been shown to calm the body and promote a state of relaxation.
- Set a fixed bedtime and wake-up time. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, even on weekends, can help you establish a healthy sleep routine.
- Exercise daily, but not near bedtime. Moving or stretching your body every day can help use energy and regulate body temperature to promote solid sleep.
- Be mindful of caffeine and alcohol intake. Overuse of caffeine or alcohol throughout the day or evening hours can disrupt sound sleep. Both affect the brain in ways that can prevent you from falling asleep and staying asleep.
The fact of the matter is, the better you sleep, the better your body can defend against– and even treat– cancer. So, make an effort to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. In addition to fighting cancer, you’ll no doubt experience other health improvements, too, from higher energy to sharper thinking.
- “5 Ways That Vitamin Deficiencies Can Impact Your Sleep.” By Michael J Breus Ph.D. for Psychology Today, 30 May 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201905/5-ways-vitamin-deficiencies-can-impact-your-sleep
- “Alternatives to Medication.” Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 02, 2019 for WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/ss/slideshow-natural-sleep-remedies
- “Power (Down) Vitamins: Promote Better Sleep With Magnesium.” Content created by the National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleep.org/power-vitamins-promote-better-sleep-magnesium/
- “Three Healthy Non-Alcoholic Drinks That Will Help You Sleep Better During The Holidays.” By Dr. Michael Breus, Nov 17, 2018. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2018/11/17/three-healthy-non-alcoholic-drinks-that-will-help-you-sleep-better-during-the-holidays/
- “What Is Banana Tea, and Should You Try It?” Written by Katey Davidson, MScFN, RD — Updated on August 22, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/banana-tea