If you read one article on cancer prevention and treatment prior to seeing a doctor, this is it. -Maria Dorfner
About the Guest Author: Gary Hyman, MD is Director at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, The UltraWellness Center and The Institute for Functional Medicine
A Functional Medicine Approach to Cancer by Gary Hyman, MD
Functional medicine empowers patients and practitioners to achieve the highest expression of health by working collaboratively to address the root causes of disease. It is an emerging, personalized model of diagnosis and treatment that better addresses the need to prevent and manage chronic disease. In a word, it is the medicine of WHY, not WHAT.
Functional Medicine doctors are like soil farmers. They create a healthy soil, so pests can’t come and weeds can’t flourish. A healthy soil means disease can’t take hold.
So with cancer, a Functional Medicine practitioner would say that yes, we still need radiation and other conventional approaches, but what else can we do? How can we properly cultivate a healthy soil?
Cancer results because of in an imbalance in the system. So many people are walking around with tumors and don’t know it. We can do something to prevent them from growing by maintaining a healthy soil.
Instead of dividing everything into diseases and labels, emerging science points to a different way of thinking about diseases. Rather than divide the body into organs, Functional Medicine approaches disease as a systemic problem, and we have to treat the system, not the symptom; the cause, not the disease. This completely redefines the whole notion of disease. The landscape of illness is changing.
How we label cancer is no longer synced up with what we know about the origins of cancer or the fact that two people who have cancer with the same name—like breast cancer—can have two completely different diseases which require different treatments. Just because you know the name of your disease doesn’t mean you know what’s wrong with you or what to do about it.
Classifying tumors by body site — lung, liver, brain, breast, colon, etc. — misses the underlying causes, mechanisms, and pathways involved in a particular cancer. What’s more, it gives us no information about how it manifested in a given patient. Two people with cancers in different parts of the body may have developed it for the same reasons.
Similarly, two people with cancers in the same part of the body may have developed it for different reasons. A patient with prostate cancer and one with colon cancer may have more in common with each other than two patients who have colon cancer.
We need to look under the hood and find out what caused the illness to begin with.
Cultivating a Healthy Soil
Numerous things can contribute to cancer. Studies show diet, exercise, thoughts, feelings, and environmental toxins all influence the initiation, growth, and progression of cancer.
If a nutrient-poor diet full of sugar, lack of exercise, chronic stress, persistent pollutants, and heavy metals can cause cancer, could it be that a nutrient-dense, plant-based diet, physical activity,changing thoughts and reactions to stress, and detoxification might treat the garden in which cancer grows?
In other words, treat the soil, not the plant. It is a foundational principle of sustainable agriculture, and of sustainable health.
We can enhance immune function and surveillance through dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as nutrient and phytonutrient therapies. We can facilitate our body’s own detoxification system to promote the elimination of carcinogenic compounds. We can improve hormone metabolism and reduce the carcinogenic effects of too much insulin (more on that in a minute) from our high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet.
We can also alter how our genes are expressed by changing the inputs that control that expression: Diet, nutrients, phytonutrients, toxins, stress, and other sources of inflammation. And we can focus on less divisive and more generative thoughts that, in turn, create more uplifting emotions — all good fertilizer for the soil in the garden of our body.
The Number One Thing You Can Do to Prevent or Control Cancer
Diabesity, the continuum of health problems ranging from mild insulin resistance and overweight to obesity and diabetes, is the single biggest global health epidemic of our time. It is one of the leading causes of heart disease, dementia, cancer, and premature death in the world and is almost entirely caused by environmental and lifestyle factors.
This means that it is almost 100 percent preventable and curable.
Diabesity affects over 1.7 billion people worldwide. Scientists conservatively estimate it will affect one in two Americans by 2020; 90 percent of whom will not be diagnosed.
Obesity (almost always related to diabesity) is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and around the world. The link between obesity and cancer is well documented and is driven by insulin resistance. Insulin, the fat storage hormone, also drives more inflammation, oxidative stress, and a myriad of downstream effects including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low HDL, high triglycerides, poor sex drive, infertility, thickening of the blood, and increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, and depression.
The best thing you can do to prevent or control cancer is to control insulin levels with a high-fiber diet rich in real, fresh, whole foods and minimize or eliminate sugary, processed, insulin-raising foods.
Dr. Dean Ornish showed that after just three months on an intensive lifestyle program including a whole-foods, plant-based diet, over 500 genes that regulate cancer were beneficially affected, either turning off the cancer-causing genes or turning on the cancer-protective genes. No medication can do that.
5 Strategies to Reduce Cancer Formation and Growth
Cancer results from an imbalance in our system where the immune system can’t fight off tumors. We can do many things to prevent that cancer from getting to its full stage, and if you have cancer, you can make your body inhospitable to that cancer.
Eliminate food sensitivities. In a major study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, hidden gluten sensitivity was shown to increase risk of death by 35 to 75 percent, mostly by causing heart disease and cancer. By just this mechanism alone, more than 20 million Americans are at risk for heart attack, obesity, cancer, and death. Dairy and gluten are the most common triggers of food allergies that are linked to insulin resistance. Cutting them out of the diet allows the inflamed gut and an inflamed body to heal.
Reduce inflammation. Inflammation is the common thread connecting most chronic disease including cancer. In fact, out-of-control inflammation causes insulin resistance, which, as we now know, is the main factor in all these diseases apart from autoimmunity and allergy. The insulin resistance then creates even more inflammation, and the whole biological house burns down. Besides removing sugar and food sensitivities like gluten and dairy, we want to eat plenty of anti-inflammatory foods, including omega-3 rich foods like wild fish and flaxseeds.
Improve gut health. Cancer often originates in your gut. Not just colon cancer, but with many cancers. We are currently studying about the gut microbiome and breast and prostate cancers. Beyond avoiding inflammatory foods, adding in probiotics, prebiotics, and lots of phytonutrients, like curcumin (found in turmeric) and resveratrol (found in grapes), can reduce gut-based inflammation.
Reduce toxic exposure. The average newborn has 287 chemicals in her umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are neurotoxic (poisonous to nerves or nerve cells). The chemicals these infants are exposed to include pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants, and heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and arsenic. These chemicals have a broad range of negative effects on human biology; they damage the nervous system and increase the risk of cancer, and now they have been shown to contribute to obesity. Going clean and green means becoming more aware about how environmental toxins affect your health. I encourage you to visit the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to learn more.
Change your thoughts to change your immune system. Science is now proving what we all knew intuitively — that how we live, the quality of our relationships, the food we eat, and how we use our bodies determines much more than our genes ever will. There are numerous strategies to combat or prevent cancer, including getting sufficient sleep, controlling stress levels, and exercising regularly.
The important thing is to figure out what works for you and develop a plan to stick with it. That might involve working with a Functional Medicine doctor or a chronic disease specialist.
Whether you have been diagnosed with cancer or have become concerned about family and friends being diagnosed, the most important thing is mindset and not playing into fear.
While we all hope there will one day be a miracle cure for cancer, there are things that we know now will combat cancer or keep our quality of life high while our body is fighting the cancer.
The science of cancer genetics is changing. Two people who have the same cancer could be completely different in terms of how the cancer performs. That’s why I’m very excited about the work that Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is doing in California on the cancer genome and creating targeted therapies to treat the cancer in every patient individually. This and other emerging technologies, combined with the Functional Medicine approach to cancer, give me great hope about our ability to further prevent and treat this disease in the future.
I encourage you to think about cancer differently and more importantly, not lose hope.
Stay healthy, everyone! -Maria
At 24, she helped launch CNBC after working full-time at NBC for two years and part-time throughout college. She then joined Ailes Communications as director of research and producer for TV pilots successfully syndicated. She then co-anchored and senior produced several health series airing on CNBC for three years. She wrote, produced and directed medical documentaries for Discovery Health Channel and helped launch the Cleveland Clinic News Service. She is the owner of NewsMD Communications, a full-service production company specializing in health content and distribution. She is the author of three books. Her awards include an Outstanding Leadership Abilities and Commitment to the Advancement of Women in Media award from her alma mater and a Media Recognition Award from the American Heart Association for her “Heart Smart” series and a Medical Reporting Scholarship. Maria is in Who’s Who in American Women, 22nd edition, 2000/2001. She is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Her health blog is a division of Healthy Within Network, which is her existing labor of love. It connects the dots in medicine, media and marketing. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org