By: Dr. Landon Opunui, ND
$1B in cancer research over the past 45 years plus $1B spent on cancer treatment every year has not yielded a significant improvement in cancer outcomes. Despite the efforts of brilliant researchers and clinicians across the globe, how is it possible that still have yet to make a significant dent is the successful treatment of cancer? We are failing the war on cancer. Perhaps we need to shift our perspective and understanding of this complex disease state.
Genes vs. Environment
Which do you think is more influential? Conservative research suggests that genes are at most 15% responsible for cancer. Other research suggests that this figure could be as low as 2-3%. Habits outweigh genes by a huge factor. Genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. We need to break free from the myth that genetics are the sole cause of cancer development. We are not powerless.
Genetic vs Metabolism Theory
Is the origin of cancer genetic or metabolic? If cancer were genetic then we would see similar rates of cancer incidence in adopted children who have biological parents with early onset cancer before the age of 50. We simply do not see this happening in the research suggesting that there are other drivers of cancer development. Interestingly we do see this correlation in adopted children whose foster parents have been diagnosed with cancer, who share no biological inheritance. Parents (biological or not) pass on habits.
Cancer is caused by a dysfunctional metabolism driven by lifestyle which precedes genetic mutation. If cancer is not caused by genes, and driven by a disruption in metabolic function, we need to adopt cancer treatments that address the underlying cause.
The metabolic therapy of cancer is associated with the following cellular disruptions:
Acceleration of growth signals
Impaired anti-growth signals
Resistance to apoptosis (programed cancer cell death)
Limitless replicative potential
Sustained angiogenesis (creation of new blood supply to cancer)
Tissue invasion and metastasis
Disguise from the immune system
Genome instability (increased genetic mutations)
Terrain vs. Tumor
Imagine a tree infected by a virus that results in the discoloration of its leaves. It would not be very wise to assume that cutting, burning or poisoning the leaves would resolve the systemic infection. One might have better success if they evaluated why the tree became infected and what nutrients the tree may be deficient in.
In another analogy, adding ice cubes to a boiling pot of water on the stove will only temporarily cool down the water. Why not also turn the heating supply off or remove the pot from the stove?
We have an inner environment where cancer either thrives or dies. The primary tools used by conventional oncology are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy which are primarily focused on the tumor. What about the cancer supply lines? What about the inner terrain that has created an environment hospitalble for cancer growth?
Dr. Nasha Winters, ND in her book The Metabolic Approach to Cancer writes about The Terrain Ten which are various factors (mostly modifiable) that influence our inner terrain:
Genetic, epigenetic, and nutrigenomic modifications
Blood sugar balance
Toxic burden management
Repopulating and balancing the microbiome
Immune system maximization
Managing inflammation and oxidative stress
Enhancing blood circulation while inhibiting angiogenesis and metastasis
Establishing hormone balance
Recalibrating stress levels and biorhythms
Enhancing mental and emotional well-being
Learned helplessness vs. Learned optimism
The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two characters: danger & opportunity. Although a cancer diagnosis and the subsequent treatment that follows can be the most traumatic experience of ones life, there is tremendous opportunity for growth. We can find meaning and strength from even the greatest challenge. What we focus on is what we feel, so having a perspective of optimism will serve us well. This is a trait that can be learned, developed and fostered which provide a great sense of peace and comfort. The mind is powerful with unlimited potential, we should all tap into this incredible resource.
Dietary Promoters of Cancer:
Nutrition is a very important lever to create an anti-cancer terrain. There are 3 primary dietary sources that need to be reconsidered:
Cancer loves sugar and needs to be viewed as a poison. Sugar and insulin disrupts your metabolic function and causes inflammation within the body. Cancer’s achilles heel is it’s metabolic inflexibility. In other words, cancer is unable to adapt in an environment free of sugar. If we dramatically reduce our sugar intake, we can starve cancer.
Fat: The good, bad and ugly
Not all dietary fat is created equal and thus should not all be viewed as the same. The worse fat is trans fat also commonly referred to as fake fat found in margarine and baked goods. The bad fats are the processed vegetable oils such as canola, corn, soybean and peanut oils which are highly processed and rich in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. Fried foods and high fat animal protein commonly found in the Standard American Diets are also high in Omega-6s. The good fat are the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood and unprocessed plant fats such as avocado, nuts, seeds, olives and coconut. Having a low Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio is an anti-cancer strategy.
Protein is important, but the health benefits are dose dependent. Overconsumption of protein can activate an enzyme called mTOR which has been identified as a known promoter of cancer growth. An adequate amount of protein should be the goal which can be calculated as 0.5g per pound of lean body mass. The Standard American Diet is very rich in animal products which often results in an excessive amount of protein.
Dietary Defenders of Cancer:
Our diet acts like ammunition in the fight against cancer. At the top of the cancer fighting list are cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, chard, bok choy, mustard greens). Garlic, leaks, onions, mushrooms and green tea are also protective.
A unique nutritional approach that addresses the metabolic theory of cancer head on is focused on shifting the bodies metabolic fuel source from glucose to fat. Nutritional ketosis can be achieved by fasting or a high fat, low carbohydrate diet.
Stress can be defined as a demand for adaptation. Many stressors that we experience are out of our control. Despite these forces, we have the ability to control our reaction and response to stress. Similar to a muscle stressed during exercise, the repair process leads to muscle growth and strength. What do you need to accept? What is within your control that you need to change. How can you find peace amidst the storm? Cultivating serenity and implementing daily stress management practices can allow you to become more resilient to the navigation of stressors outside of your control. We want to let emotions flow through us so that we can alchemize stress into strength.
A very good mantra, affirmation or prayer that is a useful reminder of strength is the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot control, the courage to change the things I know that I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
Why can’t you be the statistical anomaly that falls outside of the bell curve and defies all statistical prognosis? Researcher Dr. Kelly Turner in her book Radical Remission writes about her research investigating cancer survivers that defy the odds. She identifies 9 key factors and themes in these remarkable cancer thrivers:
Radically changing your diet.
Taking control of your health.
Following your intuition.
Using herbs and supplements.
Releasing suppressed emotions.
Increasing positive emotions.
Embracing social support.
Deepening your spiritual connection.
Having strong reasons for living.