When I was in Naturopathic medical school, we were taught to treat the whole person. Today’s standard of cancer care model does a good job of treating the cancer. Unfortunately this takes up most of the oncologist’s time and the rest of the person goes untreated.
I completed a rotation at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa Oklahoma (CTCA). In this model we did both, we treated the cancer and the patient. Every patient saw an Oncologist, Nutritionist, Naturopathic Physician, Physical Therapist and a Psychoneuroimmunologist (fancy word for mind/body counselor). I learned a few very important things during my rotation.
1. No cancer patient should go through chemotherapy and radiation without supportive healthcare.
2. Most importantly, almost all cancers are preventable.
First, allow me give my disclaimer. Just because I am a Naturopathic Physician does not mean I am against drugs. Some drugs are absolutely necessary and some of us would not be around if we did not take them. I have even prescribed a few (two to be exact).
I saw some very common threads in the hundreds of cancer patients that I have worked with in both CTCA, and my private practice.
Most cancer patients:
1. Had no regular exercise routine for several years.
2. Ate the standard American diet (SAD) with a lot of fat, sugar, sodium and dairy.
3. Were on an acid blocker of some sort, and had digestive problems.
4. Had allergies.
5. Had joint pain.
Let’s take a closer look.
There are a number of studies that show a significantly lower incidence of cancer in those with a regular exercise routine. Cancer cells live in an anaerobic, low oxygen environment. Consequently those that exercise increase the oxygenation of the cells and decrease the viability of the cancer cell. Secondly, we know that toxins can cause cancer. Exercise moves the lymph, reduces the stagnation in the body, reducing toxic build up. Your lymph takes toxins away from cells. The lymph system runs parallel to the circulatory system. However, unlike the circulatory system which has a pump to move the blood around the body, the lymph system relies on muscle contraction. The less the exercise, the less the muscle contraction, the less the lymph is circulated and the more toxic our tissues become. We know toxins can cause DNA damage which can lead to cancer.
How about the SAD diet? We have all heard how terrible our diet is. We all know intuitively that eating high fat, sugar laden, processed foods leads to many degenerative health problems. Specific to cancer, fats are inflammatory and sugar feeds cancer. We know that cancer is an inflammatory process. Anyone with lots of inflammation in the body is at higher risk of getting cancer. Almost everyone with cancer has high inflammatory markers in their blood tests. We also know that cancer cells grow faster in a high blood sugar environment. In fact, there is a therapy in Europe during which they sedate the patient and bring their blood sugar up to 400 (normal after eating is below 145). This makes the cancer cells grow faster. Many of the main chemotherapeutic agents work by attacking fast growing cells. So the strategy is to bring the blood sugar up to make the cancer cells grow faster so the chemo will work better. The SAD diet is also low in the anticancer foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which are high in antioxidants and fiber. There is unlimited data that shows antioxidants and fiber reduce most types of cancer. In fact there was an analysis done looking at studies of spontaneous remission, those in which, cancer goes away on its own for no known reason. This analysis revealed that over 85% of those with spontaneous remission had reverted to a mostly vegetarian diet. One last thing about diet, I do a lot of reading of old research that was done before chemotherapy and radiation. Several of the popular pre-chemotherapy and radiation therapies used juicing and vegetarian diets that reduced fats and salt significantly. There is very little salt and fat in a whole foods natural diet. In our SAD diet almost anything that is processed or packaged is high in sodium to preserve the food.
We are inundated with commercials about acid reflux and heart burn. Acid reducers come in many forms, but they all do one thing. Reduce stomach acid. Our stomach acid is there for a reason. Not only do we need stomach acid to break down our proteins, but also to absorb B-12, iron, calcium, and kill any bacteria that comes in with our food. Additionally, without getting into a lot of biochemistry and physiology, if you don’t have stomach acid you will have reduced pancreatic enzymes and bile. Bottom line…if you are on any sort of acid blocker you are not digesting your food. Heartburn and reflux can be dangerous, so I am not advocating you do nothing. There are however, some natural approaches to heart burn that don’t suppress your body’s normal ability to digest food. So if you don’t digest, what is going to happen to the food? Well the proteins putrefy, the carbohydrates ferment, putting off CO2 gas and fats go rancid. This irritates the nice tight cells that line the intestines causing them to swell. So instead of letting small micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and amino acids through, the undigested large molecules can get into the blood stream. This is referred to as “leaky gut syndrome”. So now we have foreign material in the blood. The immune system says, “Ohhh no, you are not me and I need to react to you.” It responds with inflammation and a histamine reaction which lead to the common symptoms of allergies. So you have all this inflammation, which if unchecked, will eventually lead to joint pain. The other problem is, if you don’t digest your food, your cells are malnourished. This leads to all kinds of problems. First you are going to start craving sugar and simple carbohydrates. Why? Because your cells are starving and need energy to survive. Simple carbohydrates like bread, chips and sweets bring the blood sugar up quickly and help provide some energy to the cells. Additionally, if you are malnourished, many of your body’s normal functions begin to decline. One of the most important being, the immune system.
So let’s step back a moment. The following has been my experience with my cancer patients. If you eat food that is not good for you, what food you do eat is not digested, this will lead to:
1. Malnourishment so you crave things that bring the blood sugar up
2. You will have lots of inflammation
3. Your immune system will be depressed
4. This will lead to an increased risk of cancer
The best approach to cancer is prevention by:
2. Eating healthy whole foods
3. Digesting the foods you do eat
4. Addressing health problems by treating the cause as opposed to putting pharmaceutical band-aids on symptoms like reflux
Lastly, I help my patients to reduce the chance of recurrence by helping them to learn how to take good care of themselves, because prevention has a 100% CURE rate. You can go to my website for further information on nutrition and cancer.
About the author: Dr. Cynthia Bye is a Naturopathic Physician in downtown Vancouver. She is a general practitioner with emphasis are women’s health and cancer.