I am a Holistic Nutritionist, a certified Professional Cancer Coach and I am a breast cancer survivor. In my protocol for treatment I used both the medical path and the alternative path. So going toe to toe with the medical profession is not a road I wish to travel. But every once in a while I read an article that points my inner compass in that direction.
Recently I read an article entitled “Yet another woman with breast cancer lured into quackery by Ty Bollinger and “holistic” medicine advocates” by David Gorski, a surgeon who publishes under the name ORAC. He takes aim at Ty Bollinger and the film series he created called “The Truth About Cancer”. I am not going to speak to this aspect of his prose. Rather my issue is with his broad-brush swipe of alternative therapies painting a negative hue on their validity in cancer care. I cannot vouch for all holistic practitioners, only to those in the circle in which I practice. We look to oncologists as primary care and offer research based adjuvant therapies to support medical treatment such as acupuncture[i] [ii] for pain management, supplements to reduce various side effects of medical treatment i.e. glutamine[iii] to reduce the severity and duration of stomatitis, and lifestyle strategies such as meditation[iv] to mitigate the stressors of a cancer diagnosis and to positively influence cortisol and blood pressure levels. Our goal is to work with the medical team to offer the best overall protocol for cancer patients. Gorski offers no place for complementary therapies in cancer care as noted in this excerpt:
“Irritatingly, though, both used the example of… to promote their “integrative oncology” programs—and regular readers know that both Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic are heavily into “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM) and “integrative” medicine and that both are very active at “integrating” quackery with conventional medicine”
It is my very strong opinion that to dismiss alternative therapies as a whole in cancer care as “quackery” is an irresponsible swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction of his target Ty Bollinger.
Although not taken on in Gorski’s article, the importance of nutrition within a comprehensive cancer protocol is also undervalued. Working within my own scope of practice, I find it particularly irresponsible when cancer patients are advised that their diet is of little consequence in fighting their disease. I have encountered this in clinic with cancer patients that I have seen. To avoid cachexia, or excessive weight loss, some patients are misguided and misinformed by the notion that any calorie is a good calorie so mowing down on cookies and chocolate bars are within reason. Without going in to the argument of whether or not processed sugar is a fuel source for cancer, let’s just agree shall we that it has minimal if any nutritive value and dare I say may actually be detrimental to overall health.[v] [vi] [vii] And that processed foods are really not a recognized nutritive food group, offering little to no positive health value during a time when the body needs proper fuel to fight and repair.
So let’s flip the mat then and talk about macronutrients shall we:
- Protein is essential for big body issues such as tissue repair, immune function and cell communication. Is it not advisable that someone undergoing treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation should include adequate amounts in their diet? I’m not sure anyone would tell me that these treatments do not garner damage to the body rendering it in need of some degree of repair.
- We need good quality fat, not just any fat. Fats provide us with energy. They are integral for proper cell structure. They help absorb fat-soluble vitamins. They manage inflammation and they contain 9 calories per gram as compared to protein and carbohydrates, which contain 4 calories per gram. A rather important nutrient as well.
- Carbohydrates, for most of us, are our main energy source. It is important to get our carbs from nutrient dense, fibrous foods to help manage blood sugar. Fiber, also a carbohydrate, is essential for feeding our microbiome. And as an aside, science continues to discover the great importance of a balanced, well-functioning microbiome to our health.
Along with the macronutrients, the well-studied importance of vitamins, minerals, plant polyphenols and the like draw a straight line to the conclusion that yes, diet does matter. Why then would any doctor throw open the doors and say eat anything that makes you feel just fine? As I draw on my personal experience, I surely had a progressive oncologist then who told me to avoid soy products and limit my red meat intake. He saw some validity of dietary influence.
I strengthened my body prior to treatment using many “complementary” therapies including diet modification, yoga, meditation, supplementation and exercise. I maintained most of my routine during treatment and with the consent of my oncologist. And I continue to incorporate complementary therapies along with my medical therapies today as my prevention path.
Please do not throw the baby out with the bath water. Build a team of responsible practitioners who understand the importance of working together and with you to build the best possible protocol for your disease. Complementary therapies do have a valid, important place in cancer care.