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Nutrition, supplements—and the power of the mind
Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is a shocking, life-changing moment. No one is ever prepared to hear that they have a serious disease. Even with the best support systems, patients can easily become overwhelmed with fear, concern for their families, and anxiety about treatments, side effects, finances, and the unknown. Stress can skyrocket.
This is a perfectly human response to a potentially catastrophic situation. It’s also the ultimate catch-22.
That’s because research shows that the ways in which people respond to their cancer can greatly impact the course of their disease. There’s a large body of data indicating that strong negative emotions over time can impair the body’s ability to fight cancer. But let’s be clear: short term stress can be healthy—it stimulates our “fight or flight” responses. The shock of a grave diagnosis spurs many people into a proactive mode, giving them energy to make dramatic lifestyle changes that can support their recovery. However, it’s the chronic daily stress, the pattern of dwelling in negativity and fear, that can impair the body’s immune response and drive cancer’s aggressiveness.
A Story of Hope and Healing
I’d like to share an inspirational story about a remarkable patient of mine, Bonnie Bell. Ten years ago, Bonnie came to see me with metastatic stage 4 breast cancer. Her doctors were expecting the worst. The odds were tipped against her, but fear and pessimism wasn’t a path Bonnie chose.
Her bravery and determination were clear. She told me, “No, I don’t accept this prognosis … I don’t want anyone projecting to me that I am going to die from this.”
Bonnie and her husband David admit that the journey was frightening at times. Her disease was advanced and had spread to her bones. But eventually, through an integration of advanced conventional treatments and alternative anti-cancer therapies, Bonnie healed herself completely. Today, she lives a happy, healthy, cancer-free life. Bonnie attributes part of her success to a positive outlook, artistic expression, a strong support system, and a spiritual connection to nature—all proven elements in the fight against cancer. The uplifting story of Bonnie’s recovery was featured in the TV program The Incurables, and can be viewed at bonniebellstory.com.
The Journey of Healing
As a holistic cancer physician, I strongly believe that the journey of healing, especially the journey of healing in cancer, is found in integration. That means it’s not just about doing one course of treatment from one medical system. Instead, we must strategically combine therapies from diverse medical traditions to support each patient’s unique needs.
In my years of working with cancer patients, one of the most powerful therapies I’ve found to support recovery —especially for breast cancer patients —are mind-body practices such as meditation, yoga, Qi Gong, and others. These time-honored healing methods can calm the mind, ease stress, and help patients cope with the weight of their diagnoses. Essentially, these practices increase our innate healing capacities.
Even in the wake of terminal cancer, regular practice of mind-body therapies can generate positive feelings that are proven to boost immunity against cancer. Cultivating inner calm can reduce the stress hormones and inflammatory proteins that fuel disease. The mind plays an important role in recovery and prevention.
One of the ways chronic stress chemicals damage cells is by shortening telomeres. Found on the tips of chromosomes, telomeres are end-caps that protect DNA from unraveling, preserving its integrity and preventing damage that can lead to chronic disease. Cells with shortened telomeres age prematurely and pose risks for numerous cancers.
Stress, pessimism, and other negative emotions can also impact our immune system by suppressing and even destroying critical immune cells. As a result, cancer can gain a stronger foothold. Some research suggests that cancer risk increases in women who experience long-term distress.
Regular meditation is a proven way to neutralize depression, anxiety, fear, and other stressful mindsets. Simply taking a few minutes to sit quietly and focus on deep, slow breathing can reduce cortisol and other stress-related hormones. A number of studies have shown that meditation and other forms of mindfulness-based stress reduction boost immune activity, increase antioxidant activity, reduce pain, and improve quality of life.
Other mind-body methods that can reduce stress and improve immunity are “moving meditations” such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. These exercises emphasize breathing and help deepen the mind-body connection for greater healing capacity. Again, studies have shown that these practices have an excellent effect on immunity and other processes. For example, one study found that yoga enhances telomeres, protecting our DNA from stress and other damage. Studies show yoga significantly alters genetic expression, activating genes associated with immunity. Yoga also helps accelerate healing in patients following lumpectomy or mastectomy surgeries.
Meditation and exercise are proven to fight cancer, but don’t hesitate to personalize your approach. Remember, joy is cancer’s enemy. Any activity you enjoy can ease stress. Walks in nature, doing art, spending time with friends, laughter—these can all improve your mental state and strengthen immunity.
Food vs. Cancer
Just as there’s a strong association between emotions and cancer, there is also an established link between our eating habits and the disease. Red meat and fried foods are shown to heighten cancer risk. Sugar feeds inflammation and tumor growth.
On the other hand, fruits and vegetables provide abundant antioxidants that help to neutralize free radicals, unstable molecules that wreak havoc on cells, tissues, and DNA. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in phytochemicals, which support health from many angles, including fighting cancer.
Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, kale, and cauliflower are especially beneficial because they contain components that support breast health by helping to balance hormones. One compound that’s particularly helpful is DIM, which is created naturally in the body when cruciferous vegetables are digested. Once inside the body, DIM helps reduce inflammation, boost immunity, regulate hormone metabolism, and fight cancer metastasis. You can also find DIM in supplement form.
While many foods are great sources of anti-cancer compounds, there are also many nutrients that have been shown to fight breast cancer, even in aggressive cases. Here are a few of my favorites:
Modified citrus pectin (MCP)
Derived from citrus peels, modified citrus pectin (MCP) has been shown to reduce cancer aggressiveness and metastasis. MCP is high on the list of anti-cancer supplements because it fights cancer in so many ways. It boosts immunity, our first line of defense against cancer and other diseases. This compound also reduces inflammation and encourages cancer cells to self-destruct—a process called apoptosis. Perhaps most exciting, early research suggests that MCP can make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy, potentially reducing treatment resistance and making these front-line therapies more effective.
Many species of mushrooms contain therapeutic compounds such as beta-glucans that have a profound impact on immune response. The mushrooms do more than boost immunity—they actually optimize it, helping to train the immune system and make it more efficient. In a recent study, Argentinian researchers found that Maitake D-Fraction (a bioactive extract from maitake mushroom) induced apoptosis in breast cancer cells.
Breast Health formulas
I recommend using a combination formula designed to promote breast health. Key ingredients to look for include: turmeric,
Chinese skullcap, astragalus, and quercetin, as well as DIM and medicinal mushrooms, as mentioned above. This combination has been found in studies to suppress cancer invasiveness, control metastasis, and provide additional benefits when combined with MCP. Note: MCP should be taken as a single supplement.
In my practice, we are seeing the most successes against breast cancer using highly individualized programs that take into account a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. The goal is to strategically combine a number of approaches that can work synergistically, while simultaneously supporting a patient’s health from multiple angles.
If you or a loved one are faced with cancer, don’t let it overwhelm you. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family. There are always choices, and new medical breakthroughs are providing hope for even the most aggressive cancers. “I’m grateful to be alive,” Bonnie affirms. “I feel a lot of joy, and hope that the treasures I gleaned will benefit other people on their healing journeys.”
Isaac Eliaz, MD, LAc, MS, is an world-renown expert on integrative cancer treatments, meditation, herbs, and nutrition. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, Calif. Eliaz also frequently travels the globe, lecturing to other doctors about complementary cancer therapies. Visit dreliaz.org to learn more.
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