By Marika Sboros
If cancer has touched you or anyone love, this book is for you. Even if it hasn’t affected you personally, or you just want to reduce your risk of dread disease, it is for you.
The Metabolic Approach to Cancer (Chelsea Green Publishing) will probably seem controversial in some quarters. Its subtitle speaks volumes: Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet, and Nontoxic Bio-Individualized Therapies.
The very mention of ketogenic diets is still a red flag to some oncologists. That’s despite growing evidence for benefits, particularly for some brain cancers.
Take, for example, an oncologist’s response to a patient in South Africa recently who wanted to go on a ketogenic diet before chemotherapy. The specialist was abrupt, furious and threatened to cancel the patient’s chemotherapy. He also said that the patient’s medical scheme would no longer fund treatment.
That’s enough to terrify the life out of any cancer patient. The high cost of orthodox treatment costs is well-known to have bankrupted patients and their families even when they had medical cover.
Taking the fight to ’eminence-based medicine’
The patient took the line of least resistance. He went on a ketogenic diet anyway and didn’t tell his doctor. That’s not ideal, of course, but neither was the oncologist’s response. It was the result of what experts call “eminence-based medicine” and a paternalistic model of medicine.
In their book, US authors Dr Nasha Winters and Jess Higgins Kelley are clearly not against orthodox medicine. They just don’t buy into the conventional medical view that cancer is mostly a genetic disease. They also don’t believe that it’s just down to bad luck. Their main aim in writing this book is to demystify cancer treatment and offer complementary options.
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One of their many strengths is their authentic voices. Both have been up close and personal with the dread disease.
Winters is a naturopathic oncologist and a specialist in integrative medicine. After doctors diagnosed her with cancer, she switched midstream from studying orthodox medicine to becoming a naturopathic oncology physician. In her practice, Winters says that she has seen “hundreds of stage IV cancer patients who have lived far beyond their expiration date”.
Kelley is a master nutrition therapist and has practised oncology nutrition therapy for more than 10 years. She has taught at the Nutrition Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado since 2010. Kelley is also founder of the innovative Oncology Nutrition Therapy Certification Program.
In 2014, doctors diagnosed her father, John “Jack” Higgins, with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). GBM is the most common, aggressive form of malignant brain tumour in adults. It spreads as quickly as it kills. Therefore, the prognosis is grim.
Warburg theory under a microscope
Higgins died in October 2016, eight days short of his 62nd birthday. The book is dedicated to him.
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It draws on 30 years of collective work in the fields of naturopathy, oriental medicine, acupuncture, nutrition and integrative oncology. The authors go over some old scientific ground with new eyes. They also draw on one of the most exciting avenues of modern cancer research. It is the metabolic model based on the pioneering work of German physician Dr Otto Warburg in the 1920s.
The Warburg theory is that all cancer is a disease of energy metabolism. At the heart of the model is mitochondrial dysfunction and the role of glucose as a fuel that the disease needs to survive and thrive in the host body. Rebooting mitochondrial function and depriving cancer of fuel lie at the heart of this book.
A ketogenic (that is low in carbohydrate and high in healthy fats) is one way of reducing the body’s glucose (blood sugar) load.
Winters and Kelly know that they aren’t the first to suggest that “cancer loves glucose” (sugar). Nor are they the first to show that uncontrolled growth defines the disease. They also know that depriving cancer of glucose in the body is not easily achieved.
They build on the pioneering work of US biochemistry professor Thomas Seyfried. Seyfried, a world authority on the metabolic model of cancer. Seyfried has famously said that cancer has become “an industry” and doctors should “not have to burn and poison patients to treat it”.
In praise of a ‘gentler way’
He believes that there “must be a gentler way”. This book is about that gentler way.
Seyfried calls it a “valuable resource for all cancer patients and their oncologists”. They provide “logical, non-toxic, therapeutic strategies for starving cancer cells of their prime fuels” while enhancing overall health, he says.
Another positive view of the book comes from Travis Christofferson, author of Tripping over the Truth agrees. He calls it a “new gem” in the universe of books on the disease.
It is “a powerhouse of detailed information on how to prevent, manage, and treat cancer”, Christofferson says. That’s largely because they hone in on the health of the person, “not just killing cancer cells alone”.
The book’s foreword is another gem by Harvard graduate Kelly Turner, PhD. Turner is author of the best-selling Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds, now translated into 20 languages. In it, she documents extensive research into “radical remission of cancer”.
She calls cancer “a mitochondrial disease related to a person’s physiology, psychology, and ecology”. Examining a damaged gene by itself is like “putting on your seat belt after your car has crashed”, Turner says.
Winters and Kelly clearly don’t underestimate the battle to survive cancer. They describe it as history’s ” most elusive, cunning, adaptable, intelligent, and innovative disease”. It is also one that has “outsmarted us for a long time”. And while it isn’t contagious, cancer is “unquestionably the bubonic plague of our day”.
Cancer not about ‘rogue’ cells
They have a different perspective from the conventional view of the somatic mutation theory (SMT). According to that theory, “rogue” cells cause the disease. The SMT also holds that there needs to be extensive damage over time to a cell’s genetic material — deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). And that once it reaches breaking point, the cell “goes rogue from its intended function and becomes cancerous”.
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They say that the SMT was set “in carbonite over 75 years ago” but is outdated. It doesn’t get us any closer to preventing or curing this “scary, heartbreaking, expensive and painful disease”. Therefore, they seek to release research and treatment from “the tiny confines of this tenet”.
They say that doctors are “not winning the war on cancer — not even close”. The World Health Organisation (WHO) rates it as the second leading cause of death globally. On its website, the WHO says that in 2015, cancer caused around 8.8 million deaths. And that the vast majority (70%) of deaths are in low- to middle-income countries. In the US, research also shows that cancer directly affects almost half the country’s population.
The authors dispel the enduring myth that cancer is a disease of ageing. Statistics show that from the early 1980s to 1990s, the incidence of cancer in American children under age 10 rose by 37%. And after accidents, cancer is the next most frequent cause of death in US children.
Why dread disease is ‘big business’
They take a sober look at why cancer research and drug development are big business. In 2014 alone, for example, the global market for cancer drugs hit $100 billion. Cancer may be “spectacular for the economy” but has proven “both costly and deadly for the patient”, they say.
That’s all about the problem. Their book is also strong on solutions.
They don’t pretend that there’s any magic bullet or single “natural” intervention to cure cancer magically. Instead, they offer insight into how the disease develops and how best to stop it in its tracks.
Fighting cancer requires diets and lifestyles in accordance with our evolution, they say. The key is to understand “the underlying conditions” that allow metabolic disorders and inflammation to develop. In turn, these create the fertile ground (Winters and Kelley call it the “terrain”) for cancer to grow.
They expose ubiquitous threats to optimum health in modern urban lifestyles. Among these in the US are the American food pyramid, overconsumption of sugar, GMO foods, modern agriculture practices, processed soy, grains and gluten, pesticides and antibiotics. They also finger low-fat and vegan diets, processed foods, nutrient deficiencies, sedentary lifestyles and stress.
These contribute to “imbalances in the terrain” and to the cancer process, they say.
Getting the ‘terrain’ right
They devote a chapter to epigenetics and explain how to influence gene expression and mitochondrial function positively through diet, lifestyle and even thoughts.
“That’s powerful medicine,” they say.
Get the terrain right and like a healthy garden, your body will flourish, they say. Feed it anti-nutrients and chemicals, insufficient sunshine and expose it to excessive stress, and your body will wither.
Winters and Kelley empower patients to be actively involved in their own health and treatment and to have healthy collaborations with doctors. Therefore, they invite readers on a neverending journey towards living with, not dying from, cancer.