Turn on, tune in, but don’t burn out

There is no doubt that our mental state has a bearing on our physical health – few would argue with that point any more – so it’s ironic that a cancer diagnosis can trigger such a strong stress and fear response, the exact opposite of what our bodies need. But there’s something else I’ve noticed time and time again: a cancer diagnosis can trigger a strong rebellion too. As I was travelling home from the Yes to Life Conference on Sunday night I found myself reflecting on why that might happen.

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The Five Facets of Recovery

The pioneering work of Otto Warburg in the 1930s showed that cancer cells need a highly specific set of biochemical conditions to thrive. In the 1990s, the brilliant biochemist, Mina Bissel, named it the tumour microenvironment, and showed that it is a key factor in breast cancer development. Unfortunately our modern lives, filled with high stress levels, environmental chemicals, uncontrolled inflammation, disregulated hormones and depleted diets are pretty good at creating that precise toxic bath, and some of us are genetically less suited to this brave new world. Nutrigenomics can target the areas which are more problematic for you. 

Long before Watson and Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA, cancer was viewed as a genetic disease. However, as we begin our exploration of the genome (yes, it really is just beginning), the focus on genetic mutations in cancer is giving way to a wider understanding that epigenetics – the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work – may be a more influential factor. Moreover, the work of researcher Michael Fenech shows that gene damage from macronutrient imbalances and micronutrient deficiencies is just as dangerous as exposure to X-rays when it comes to genetic damage. This emerging understanding puts nutrition and nutrigenomics centre stage. 

The ability for nutrigenomics to support DNA synthesis and repair, and remethylation of the genome makes it an ideal choice for patients who are going through standard medical treatment and recovering from cancer. It is, however, important to recognise that nutrigenomics may be incompatible with long term chemotherapy regimes.

For me, nutrigenetics is not just an add-on test to include in a nutritional therapy consultation, it forms the foundation of my work. The science of ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ seems to me uniquely applicable to breast cancer. I believe it’s helpful for everyone dealing with cancer but especially so when cancer comes ‘out of the blue’. Understanding where your DNA differs from the norm provides an exciting level of personalisation that can make all the difference to your recovery plans. Understanding your nutrigenomics not only makes your nutrition protocol more effective, it makes it safer too. Nutrigenetics can even guide your treatment choices, and pinpoint the areas you need to focus on to improve your health in the longer term. DNA testing can make sure your recovery plan is designed to work with your body and not against it. Although the work is highly technical it still sits in that magical place that supplies the raw materials that your body needs, honours the way your body works, and then stands back and allows healing to happen.

Food is at the heart of this transformation but it’s not all about what we put in our mouths. The Power Flower pictured below shows the different areas we need to consider if we want to change our health for the better. These key ‘interfaces’ are closely linked to cancer onset and recurrence, and supporting them is an important part of recovery. All health problems, but particularly cancer, can be supported by considering the five petals in turn.

THE POWER OF NATURAL HEALING

  • MINDSET is the starting point for recovery because the first step on the journey is believing you can survive, no matter what your prognosis, and stubbornly maintaining that faith in yourself and your cells as you go through the different stages of cancer treatment and beyond. Our mindset is profoundly affected by the quality of our diet but it is primarily created by the thoughts we allow ourselves to think. Genetic variants and SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) significantly affect your mood and sleep patterns, your stress response and your ability to be calm and collected. Learning how to support these pathways can make life feel so much better. 
  • Despite being a nutritional therapist I think of FOOD as sharing importance with the other areas in the POWER FLOWER. There are no hard lines between the different petals – the quality of each one influences all the others – but without a good diet we can never enjoy good health. Some of us need to take more care than others, especially in the first few years after diagnosis as we reboot our bodies after cancer and the rigours of treatment. Understanding your SNPs (tiny variations in your DNA) can be a valuable way to build a diet that matches your needs more closely, improving health and reducing the risk of recurrence. 
  • Hippocrates famously said that all disease starts in the GUT. For a start, our digestive function determines how much of our careful diet we can use, but more importantly the microbes that live in our gut (and live on our leftovers) have also been shown to be directly linked to cancer onset and survival. Their combined genes exert a powerful influence in the body. Genetic variants impact the way our gut functions and the quality of our microbiota, stool testing provides further insights into optimal health. 
  • Your ENVIROME is describes the collective impact our natural, social and personal environment and the effect on your biochemistry. It includes the places where we live, work, and play; the chemicals and toxins we are exposed to; our air, water and soil quality; the and also our relationships and social connections.The way we live our lives has a massive impact on our health and dietary requirements and our SNPs help to explain why some people seem to ‘get away with’ unhealthy habits more than others. This area is closely linked to genetic stability and DNA damage and forms an important part of recovery.
  • Last but not least, advances in science mean we are learning how to support the health and expression of our DNA. This area is at the core of my practice and goes to the heart of cancer recovery. Genes are often talked about as being a cause of cancer, and genetic malfunctions are often considered to be irreversible. In our work together I want to show you how to get your genes back on your side. How to nurture the health of your DNA, how to encourage optimal gene expression, and how to use nutrigenomics to support the genes that may be causing health problems for you. 

I’ve noticed how often when health problems emerge, some people will double down on diet improvements, or exercise regimes, but may fail to consider their microbiome. By taking all of these areas into account we can be more holistic in our approach and avoid becoming obsessive in any one area.

DNA testing adds an unrivalled layer of personalisation to your cancer protocol; the test is done at home with a simple cheek swab. Nutrigenomics provides an understanding of your personal risks and vulnerabilities which helps us to tailor a unique protocol for you. These areas correspond with the Power Flower, looking at more than 150 SNPS that cover the key breast cancer risks.

THE POWER OF INTEGRATED ONCOLOGY

The growing body of research that looks at integrated oncology protocols (those that include both conventional and complementary medicine) confirms that diet and lifestyle are important at all stages of the cancer experience, from onset and diagnosis, through treatment and into recovery. Cancer patients desperately need to know that they can get involved in their own recovery. Natural healing can really make a difference; in many cases it makes all the difference. Thankfully, organisations like Radical Remission exist to remind us that we can heal even when medicine tells us ‘there’s nothing more we can do’. 

The ability to heal is a power that you were born with, and it never leaves you. My role is help you regain that power – to join the dots between cancer, nutrigenomics and the power of natural healing, and put you back in charge of your health and happiness. I hope you will consult a wide range of experts, including your doctor and oncologist, but also recognise that they are not in charge. It’s your body, your choice, and your life. Every step of the way.

NB It’s worth pointing out that not all DNA testing offers the same value. Firstly, not all DNA testing is equally rigorous, both the research and the analysis can be mis-reported or over-interpreted – the quality of the lab you use is key. Secondly, although DNA testing is the ultimate in personalisation the value is only really harvested when someone (human) applies the knowledge to your health situation through the lens of clinical experience and makes the vital connection between groups of genes, rather than simply reporting them one at a time. As a result, I believe the analysis I provide is unique: uniquely rigorous, uniquely layered, and uniquely focussed.

Finding A Deeper Connection

After twenty years of clinical practice as a nutritional therapist, I’m continually reminded that healing is not all about broccoli! No matter how much we would like to rely on randomised controlled trials, and base our advice on things that are irrefutably proven, there are elements of healing that are beyond our ken, and way beyond our ability to experiment with. Not everything that can be measured matters, and not everything that matters can be measured.

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Take Care of Yourself This Christmas

Many of you must be weighing up the risks and benefits of spending time with loved ones over Christmas this year and wondering what’s best to do. There are no magic answers and the government is right to highlight the potential downside of celebrating together. But maybe there are things – over and above the current public health advice – that we can do to protect ourselves from infection and, more importantly, to ward off the worst case COVID scenario if the virus manages to get through our defences?

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Cancer and Coronavirus: where are the synergies?

“If you can keep your immune system while all around are losing theirs…”

I hesitated before using, or rather abusing, this Rudyard Kipling quote because there’s nothing funny or flippant about the state we and our loved ones find ourselves in. Nevertheless, with no medical treatments available for coronavirus, maintaining a strong immune system is the name of the game. Cancer patients will be all too familiar with this dilemma and, in many ways, the advice for coronavirus builds on what you already know. Natural medicine, as far as we know, cannot stop you becoming infected, nor can it offer a cure, but research suggests you maybe able to reduce your chances of hospitalisation by improving your metabolic status. Continue reading

A message of renewal

As I write this, I am listening to Handel’s Messiah playing in the background – an age old Easter ritual for me. As well as calming my soul and lifting my heart, it reminds me of the underlying pagan theme of this time of year — the cycles of nature: spring and summer, flower and fruit, birth and death. It’s a message that all of us affected by cancer need to take to heart.  Continue reading

Cancer and your weight: is it better to be fat or thin?

Your weight is an especially sensitive subject after a cancer diagnosis. Everyone knows that being overweight is linked to a higher risk of cancer but after diagnosis we are also told that it’s not a good idea to lose too much weight. I have found that the science around weight and cancer is not well understood, giving rise to all sorts of unhealthy advice. So what are the facts?  Continue reading

Making congruent cancer decisions

As I prepare for the first ‘Get Comfortable with Cancer’ workshop, I’m aware of a huge bubble of potential. The day already exists In my imagination and there’s a lot of work to do to translate that vision and excitement into the uplifting and inspiring day I want it to be. As well as making your more comfortable, I’d like to think that you will end the day with more confidence, and with more knowledge.

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Cancer: Game On

In 1971, president Richard Nixon declared war on cancer when he signed the National Cancer Act. At the time the scientific community was confident that we were no more than a decade away from a cure; their confidence based on a new understanding of DNA and the observation that cancer tumour cells all seemed to contain significant DNA, or gene, mutations. Continue reading

Four Food Rules for 2014

We could hardly have got it more wrong. All these years you’ve been depriving yourself of butter on your bread when it’s the bread you should have been worrying about!

Twenty thirteen was the year when the volume of opinion in favour of low carbs for health (not just weight loss) was impossible to silence, and when the evidence started to stack up.

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