Dr. Odile Fernandez, a family physician and mother of two, overcame a cancer diagnosis and decided to share her “anti-cancer recipe.” After facing fear and panic, Odile investigates the relationship between diet and cancer, and discovers the importance of complementing chemotherapy with lifestyle changes.
Now, in his book “Habits That Will Save Your Life,” he wants to pass on the knowledge he’s gained during the process and offer hope to others facing similar challenges.
After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you decided to investigate the connection between diet and the disease. What discoveries most surprised you during this process?
What surprised me the most was to find that there were many studies that linked cancer to diet, physical exercise and lifestyle, and they had told me nothing even during my university education, doctorate or hospital training. The current focus of medicine is only therapeutic and based on the prescription of drugs, with few resources devoted to the prevention and treatment of disease in an integrated manner.
You talk in your books about the importance of diet and lifestyle habits in preventing disease. Can you summarize what are the main changes you recommend to make in our diet and lifestyle?
We should base our diet on the vegetable world. Our plate should be rich in vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, legumes, herbs and spices. We should reduce our intake of sugar and sugary foods, refined vegetable oils and red and processed meat. Regarding lifestyle, you have to stay active, you have to move around and, if possible, implement a strength training routine. Good sleep hygiene is also essential, limiting screen use at night and trying to get 7 to 9 hours of rest a night.
What are the alarm signals that our body can send to indicate to us that something is wrong? How can we learn to spot those signs and act accordingly?
Sometimes these are subtle and non-specific signs. Symptoms include cravings, overeating, irritability and anxiety, brain fog, lethargy, difficulty losing weight, mood swings, headaches, immediate hunger pangs, trouble sleeping, and lack of energy.
If we feel these symptoms, we should be alert, because something is not right. In this case, we will review what we are eating and how much physical exercise we are getting.
You mentioned that internal inflammation caused by an unhealthy diet can slowly make us sick. Can you explain how an unhealthy diet can contribute to inflammation and what are its long-term effects?
An unhealthy lifestyle can also lead to chronic low-grade inflammation. Bad habits such as smoking, not exercising regularly, not getting enough sleep, or eating a diet rich in refined carbohydrates can contribute to chronic inflammation over time. In this book, we’ll focus on lifestyle-caused inflammation, which is the easiest to change.
Chronic inflammation that persists over a long period of time contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke; obesity; cancer, especially kidney, prostate, ovarian, hepatocellular, pancreatic and colorectal; diabetes type 2; rheumatism and diseases of the joints; lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Alzheimer’s disease, related to cognitive decline and dementia; Allergies; Depression.
Eating too much sugar can increase blood sugar levels, which can lead to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation. Hyperglycemia can also cause oxidation of fatty acids stored in fat cells, thereby contributing to chronic inflammation. In addition, high blood sugar levels promote the narrowing of blood vessels and the accumulation of platelets, which can promote the formation of blood clots and the appearance of thrombi in arteries and veins.
Excess sugar intake can lead to weight gain and excess adipose tissue, especially around the waist, which promotes the activation of immune cells that secrete anti-inflammatory chemicals.
Besides diet, what other factors do you think are important in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and preventing disease?
Apart from a healthy diet, other important factors to maintain a healthy lifestyle and prevent diseases include regular physical exercise, daily exposure to the sun to get enough Vitamin D, use of natural and non-toxic cosmetic products, good sleep hygiene . Fast for 12 to 16 hours a day, stop using alcohol and tobacco, learn to manage stress through relaxation techniques and at least 10 minutes of daily meditation.
In your experience, what barriers do people often face when making changes to their diet and lifestyle? What advice would you give them to overcome them?
One of the main obstacles is resistance to change and the convenience of continuing with established habits. Many people find it easier and more convenient to buy ultra-processed and ready-to-eat foods than to buy fresh produce and cook at home. To overcome these hurdles, it is important to realize that our health is at risk and decide to take steps towards a healthy lifestyle. With a little planning, a healthy menu can be prepared quickly and easily.
It’s also important to address chronic stress, which is often another major obstacle. Learning to reduce stress through relaxation techniques and taking time for self-care can help overcome this barrier.
In your latest book, you present a menu proposal to improve our diets. Can you name some major food items or ingredients that we should include in our daily diet?
Vegetables, nuts, fresh fruits, seeds, spices, avocados, olive oil, eggs, fish, full-fat dairy products and white meat will be your allies in controlling blood sugar and reducing inflammation.
The gut microbiota has received a lot of attention in recent years because of its impact on our health. What is the connection between food and the health of our microbiota? What advice would you give us for maintaining a healthy balance in our intestinal flora?
The bacteria that live in our gut can stimulate or, conversely, inhibit chronic inflammation. The bacteria that live in our gut and the chemicals they release vary depending on the food we eat. Some foods promote the growth of pro-inflammatory bacteria, while others encourage the growth of anti-inflammatory bacteria. A Western diet rich in refined vegetable fat, saturated fat and high sugar promotes the growth of inflammatory microbiota.
When we eat anti-inflammatory foods, not only do markers of inflammation decrease, but our microbiota population changes as well. Following a certain eating style based on low sugar intake and high fiber intake promotes great diversity in the microbiota. The Mediterranean diet is able to modify the intestinal microbiota, increasing its diversity. Consuming probiotics, either in food form (sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, miso, tempeh) or as a supplement, supports beneficial microbiota.