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Extra Pounds Increase Cancer Risk

The good news is that fewer people are engaging in smoking, the leading cause of cancer. The bad news is that if you’re overweight, you are still at an increased risk for the disease, which is on track to become the top killer in the United States (a spot it’s already claimed in Canada).

LHSFNA Management
Noel C. Borck

“The link between obesity and cancer is a compelling reason to eat sensibly and exercise,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “The focus of most weight loss commercials and products is on changing our outward appearance. While that’s a great motivator for shedding excess pounds, it should actually be the least of our concerns.”

The Health Hazards of Excess Weight

It is well known that the physical effects of excessive weight – buildup of plaque in arteries and wear and tear on the legs and feet – can contribute to and sometimes be the cause of high blood pressure, heart disease and bone and joint disorders. More recently, it’s become clear that this excess fat also affects our hormones, triggers chronic inflammation and increases risk for cancers of the:

  • Esophagus
  • Pancreas
  • Colon and rectum
  • Prostate
  • Breast
  • Endometrium (lining of the uterus)
  • Kidney
  • Thyroid
  • Gallbladder

Below are examples of how extra pounds can increase cancer risk:

Excess Body Fat and Hormones

Excess fat cells upset hormone production. Take estrogen, for example. In women and men, estrogen is essential to reproductive health and helping bones stay strong. The body produces estrogen in the ovaries, the testes and the adrenal gland. Excess fat cells push this process into overdrive, resulting in the manufacture of more estrogen than the body can use. These high levels of estrogen increase risk of breast, endometrial, colon and prostate cancer.

Excess Body Fat and Inflammation

In addition to providing energy, body fat promotes cell growth and is responsible for cells released by the immune system during times of injury or illness. Inflammation is a normal part of this response. However, excess body fat can jumpstart the immune system, causing it to release these cells even when there is no injury or illness. This leads to chronic inflammation that can cause illnesses like Crohn’s disease and pancreatitis. People who have these conditions are at increased risk for cancers of the colon and pancreas.

Get Rid of Excess Body Fat

With diet changes and regular moderate physical activity, most people can lose weight and reduce their risk for cancer and other harmful conditions.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest a healthy eating pattern that includes:

  • A variety of vegetables: dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and other vegetables.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruit.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages.
  • A variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts and seeds.
  • Oils, including those from plants: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower. Oils also are naturally present in nuts, seeds, seafood, olives and avocados.

Additional resources developed by the LHSFNA’s staff of experts can also help Laborers improve their dietary and exercise habits. These include the Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers and Build a Better Body brochures. Order these and other materials devoted to health and safety by clicking on Publications.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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