Currently in the United States, cancer is the cause of death of one out of every four people, and by some estimates, will increase as much as 50% by the year 2020. Although malignancy has always been an affliction of humanity, these statistics of epidemic proportion are likely out of sync with the rates of cancer observed in the pre-civilized world, leading some to conclude that civilization itself is a root cause of cancer.
Before you go into the woods to live out the rest of your days, consider the following. There are some facets of civilization that are healthy and restorative, such as art and music, and some that are questionable or downright destructive, such as petrochemical agriculture and dirty electricity. We must then develop our own personal model of what features of civilization and technology serve us and what may be compromising our health.
When a patient consults with me with a cancer diagnosis, I begin by examining all the aspects of their life that are out of balance. I do this for two reasons. One reason is I am not an oncologist and my scope of practice does not entail treating cancer. This is also the reason why I rarely offer an opinion about what conventional therapies a patient should undergo.
Although I have strong reservations about the standard of care for the treatment of cancer (particularly chemotherapy and radiation) it is best for a patient to establish a trusted relationship with a knowledgeable and compassionate oncologist, and once fully informed, make a judgement as to the best course of action. In an ideal world, this same trusted oncologist would be respectful of whatever course of treatment the patient chooses to undergo or decline, but all too often, fear drives a decision which reason should dictate.
The second and more important reason that I focus on treating a person and not cancer is that cancer is not a problem isolated and independent from the individual and their environment. In other words, at no point does cutting, poisoning, or burning cancer cells reveal the underlying reason why the cancer has developed in the first place. These therapies may be adequate to obtain remission, but they do not address the myriad physiological, environmental, and emotional contributions that coalesce into the modern condition known as cancer.
Because it is so multifactorial, I’m unsure Western allopathic medicine will ever find a direct cure for cancer. Although we have made great strides in genetics to help understand the predisposition for cancer, the environmental and lifestyle triggers remain varied and complex. Even if you could distill one primary cause to a particular cancer, it might not be the same cause for a patient with a different type of cancer. Because causality is such a moving target, the most prudent course of action is to remedy any and all known causes of physiological dysfunction while eliminating exposure to known carcinogens. We’ll tackle this second aspect of known carcinogens first.
Assuming we may never find a single cause, we can keep a running list of the environmental factors that predispose one to cancer. One obvious example is tobacco use underlying oral and lung cancers. A similar correlation can be drawn with the parabens in antiperspirants (which act as pseudo-estrogen) increasing the incidence of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. Microwave radiation from wireless and cellular phones is suspect in brain cancer and has been listed as a group 2B (possibly carcinogenic) by the WHO since 2011. Unfortunately the list goes on, from asbestos and BPA to flame retardants and pesticides. In some cases, such chemicals are known or probable carcinogens; in other instances, the connection is less obvious.
Though extensive databases are maintained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, it is impossible to predict how all these compounds collectively interact in a biological system, nor is there adequate research on how a cocktail of such chemicals may impact a person’s individual biology with exposure over the course of decades.
Similarly, it can take decades of observational evidence to reveal a cancer trend, such as the case of cigarette smoking, so it is wise to apply the precautionary principle and avoid chemical exposure, especially if you have received a cancer diagnosis. Likewise, it is prudent to adopt detoxification as a strategy to regularly cleanse the body of accumulated toxins. You may be surprised by how good you feel once establishing a routine of detoxification.
Avoidance and detoxification are two clear strategies but there are many lifestyle factors that need to be considered for the holistic treatment of cancer. One key strategy is to adopt a diet rich in nutrients and low in processed foods, especially those that elevate blood sugar.
In the management of solid mass tumors, one way to detect sites of metastases is a PET scan, whereby glucose (sugar) is radioactively tagged to see where it is preferentially consumed. Put another way, cancer cells love sugar. It stands to reason that one could starve cancer by adopting a high-fat, ketogenic diet absent of sugar, a hypothesis that views cancer as a metabolic disease. This theory has spurned research and a corresponding dietary protocol that shows great promise in the treatment of cancer, particularly brain cancer.
A diet rich in nutrients is a proactive approach to rebuilding the body while aiding detoxification. One subset of this is the adoption of a mostly vegetarian diet for a period of time. Clinics offering juice fasts are an option to consider for those serious about a short-term detoxification.
At face value, it may seem that the previous research on a ketogenic diet may be at odds with a juice fast that could potentially raise blood sugar, albeit to a far lesser degree than the standard American diet. To this I offer several comments. Whether a juice fast or a ketogenic diet, the point is to reboot the body of processed foods, lower blood glucose (and in turn insulin), detoxify the body, and provide key nutrients for immune function. A ketogenic diet will accomplish this but with far more emphasis on lowering blood glucose. A juice fast will accomplish these same goals but with a much greater emphasis on detoxification. Furthermore, if fruits and starchy vegetables are minimized during a juice fast, blood sugar dysregulation can be kept in check.
It comes down to the case history of a patient and the guidance of a holistic health practitioner knowledgeable in both these approaches. The decision should be based on a number of criteria including the type of cancer, presence of elevated blood sugar, history of toxin exposure, and the constitution of the patient.
Another lifestyle factor is getting regular, deep, and restful sleep. It has long been known that shift workers are categorically more susceptible to many different types of cancer. One mechanism proposed is a suppression of melatonin production. This hormone is responsible for proper sleep rhythm but is also a potent free radical scavenger. Without melatonin to negate free radical damage, one is predisposed to mutation, and by extension malignancy.
Of course, working during the day does not guarantee that you will get enough sleep or that it will leave you refreshed. Sleep deprivation can accrue gradually, and sleeping more on the weekends doesn’t compensate for the loss of rest (and healing) that is performed on a nightly basis. How do you know if you are getting enough sleep? If you need an alarm clock to wake up, you are not getting enough sleep. Going to bed early enough to naturally rise at the time needed takes discipline of a firm bedtime and proper sleep hygiene.
One example of poor sleep hygiene is the suppression of melatonin output (which rises following the darkness after sunset) by exposure to the artificial light from television and computer screens. This may seem harmless (as this effect can not acutely be felt) but without adequate melatonin, the body simply cannot heal to its fullest capacity. Because of this association between melatonin and cancer, particularly breast cancer, it is essential for those patients serious about the holistic treatment of cancer to get at least eight hours of deep sleep in a very dark room. It is also worth considering functioning only by red or amber colored light in the evening hours so as not to suppress melatonin while winding down.
Keeping the immune system strong is another key strategy; the lion’s share of which can be accomplished with the aforementioned lifestyle changes (particularly proper diet and sleep). Beyond that, there are many natural remedies that aid immune function, many of which can be utilized during conventional cancer therapy. You can find anecdotal evidence on a number of natural remedies that claim to treat cancer. It is beyond the scope of this article to condone any particular remedy’s use or confirm its efficacy, however, there are some very promising therapies that are worth individual investigation and consultation with a holistic health practitioner, in concert with one’s oncologist, to develop an appropriate supplement protocol.
One of most intriguing are a number of medicinal mushrooms which exhibit anti-tumor properties. Another budding area of research surrounds the cannabinoid molecules within cannabis which also display an impressive array of anti-tumor effects. It is now possible to legally obtain a medicinal-grade cannabis oil that is grown in a way that maximizes the dominant medicinal cannabinoid (CBD) while minimizing the active psychoactive cannabinoid (THC), thereby negating the illegality of marijuana.
In the case of cancer, one’s body has succumbed to a combination of imbalances that have severely misaligned proper functioning. This is not the fault of the immune system which is responding in an evolutionary consistent manner; rather, it is the environmental triggers (many of which we have control over) that are distorting the body’s normal physiology. This is true of a number of chronic diseases. Therefore, the best strategy of all is prevention. Avoiding contact with carcinogens, adopting a practice of regular detoxification, maintaining a clean diet, getting adequate sleep – none of these lifestyle habits are exclusive to the treatment of cancer. Given the increasing prevalence of cancer, it is far more empowering to practice preventive strategies, and feel good now, than to wait until something breaks.