Let’s get personal

It is increasingly accepted that cancer is not one disease but many, and that everyone’s cancer is different. Personal programmes are the best way to leave no stone unturned when it comes to your cancer diagnosis.

Breast cancer tumours carry a range of receptors which may be influenced with both conventional and complementary therapies; cancer cells differ greatly in the mutations they contain and the fuels they use to grow and divide; the tumour microenvironment changes daily according to your diet, lifestyle and stress levels: these are the variables we seek to influence with nutrition and lifestyle changes, and there is plenty of evidence that we can.

as well as 17 years of clinical observation and experience, I use functional and nutrigenetic testing to help clients understand and improve their health: gastrointestinal function, hormonal balance and genetic polymorphisms can all help us build a picture of why your body is struggling. Recent advances mean we can also track cancer cells to discover what therapies are likely to be effective and to assess individual response to interventions.

It is widely accepted that cancer outcomes are random but I don’t believe that to be true. The more likely explanation is that we are not yet measuring the factors that make the difference. Ultimately, I believe that correcting the tumour microenvironment is more important than destroying every last cancer cell, and my clinical programme is based on building a clearer understanding of what that means for you. Even more exciting is the prospect that we may, in future, be able to target every first cell.

In the last few years the research has been churning out at such a pace that it is impossible for any one person to keep abreast of it all and yet there are, as yet, no definitive answers and no available therapies that can cure cancer. And yet people regularly present with a cancer condition called ‘spontaneous remission’, where the cancer disappears for no apparent reason. Or else, you might say, patients have created the right conditions for their body to do unprecedented healing work. That, I believe is still our best hope when dealing with cancer. And while we don’t fully understand how to create the perfect conditions for that to happen it is clear that, given the right conditions, your body has more healing power than the whole of the NHS put together. If you look at the anecdotal stories you will clearly see that there is no grade or stage of disease that cannot be reversed – your body is always trying to heal – and there are countless examples of ‘radical remission‘ even though the mechanisms behind these transformations are not properly understood.

In 2016, after 13 years of clinical practice, I embarked on a Masters degree in Personalised Nutrition. It was a fascinating experience which took me way down the rabbit hole of cancer mechanisms and cellular pathways, and earned me a ‘first’ for the module I completed on breast cancer and longevity. However, I chose to abandon my studies in the middle of the course because I learned three important things:

  1. Cancer is such an adaptive and metamorphosing life form that it soon gets around every ‘single-mechanism’ roadblock we put in its place.
  2. All of the carcinogenic mechanisms and pathways I studied, looking for individual nutrients and supplements that could make a difference at a cellular level, were also influenced by healthy diet and lifestyle practices at a ‘macro’ level.
  3. Even strong evidence of effect in laboratory and mouse studies does not easily translate into successful treatment in human studies because of point 1.

This was the beginning of my understanding that a multi-factorial approach is the only way we will ever help patients beat disease that had not been eradicated with surgery. I realised my time could be better spent helping people to change their diet and lifestyle than with my head in a screen full of studies that are not good enough.

Bottom line: when and if there is a cure for cancer available from academic and pharmaceutical world, we’ll know about it soon enough – meanwhile, we need to support our bodies in as many ways as we can, and maybe they will reward us with what some like to call ‘spontaneous remission’ – a.k.a. healing.

Based on this understanding I offer a clinical nutrition service for breast cancer clients. I want to be clear about what nutrition can and can’t do: for example there is no evidence that you can cure cancer with diet alone, but it’s possible that you can create such a healthy tissue environment – or cancer-hostile microenvironment – that your body can mobilise its healing potential against the identified ‘hallmarks of cancer’ and inhibit, destroy or transform the rogue cells. Nutrition can also help other therapies to work better: for example it can improve the effectiveness of chemo and radiotherapy, and work in synergy with pharmaceutical protocols, whether with licensed or repurposed drugs. In clinic, my aim is to put metabolic pressure on cancer cells and also to improve the cellular microenvironment and support the systems involved in cancer so that your body can mobilise itself against the rogue cells.

In my experience, tackling cancer in this way attracts exceptional people and it can bring exceptional results. I find it a great privilege to work with the clients who choose me and I am getting used to hearing the phrase, ‘my oncologist can’t believe how well I’m doing’. However the intensity of approach may be overwhelming for some and the desire to change has to come from deep inside you: for that reason I only work with people who contact me directly, so please don’t ask me to help your mother or your best friend, no matter how much you love them: if they are not fully on board and driving the process this is not the path for them.

It’s not unusual for the people I work with to have very strong instincts and convictions about the path they want to take and the things that are important for healing. I always encourage clients to tune into their inner voices and intuitions, I believe there’s knowledge there that we ignore at our peril. But if you have immovable beliefs around food or habits that will be hard to change, then nutritional therapy may not work well for you. The whole idea of nutritional therapy is that you need to find a different diet to the one you’re eating in order to change your health. The tests will give us information about your nutrition status and your grade and stage of cancer will also determine the content and balance of the diet we agree on.

In recent years the challenge of food and planetary sustainability has added another layer of complexity to our food choices: a plant-based diet is at the core of all my food plans and I work with a range of omnivorous, pescatarian and vegetarian clients, but it is much more difficult to achieve a nutritionally optimised anti-cancer diet as a strict vegan.

Since almost all of my clients are having treatment at the same time as working with me it’s impossible to make any claims about what is having an effect. In my view it’s the whole combination – medical treatment combined with a synergistic diet and lifestyle plan. Correcting nutrient deficiencies, rectifying hormonal imbalances, gut disorders, calming inflammation, improving detox and repair and addressing sleep and stress issues can help treatment to work better and help you to stay healthy to withstand more treatment. It’s a winning combination that makes all the difference.

Building a Personal Nutrition Protocol

Everyone, no matter what your diagnosis or stage of disease, can benefit from a nutritional protocol aimed at supporting metabolism, hormones, immune, digestion and detoxification – to improve general health and create a more cancer hostile microenvironment. You can book an exploratory chat or arrange  Personal Protocol consultation here which will lead to a comprehensive, evidence-based diet and lifestyle programme based on your diagnosis and individual circumstances. For patients who have been through conventional treatment and have no detectable disease this protocol provides a blueprint for recovery and may be all you need although I may also recommend functional or nutrigenetic testing to help us understand how to promote a complete return to health.

Creating an Advanced Cancer Protocol

For patients dealing with active cancer it’s possible to take things a stage further with onconomic testing. Nutritional therapy is a powerful tool and there are several well-researched natural remedies, such as turmeric, artemisinin, CoQ10, that have been shown to impact the activity of cancer cells. Oncogenic testing uses a blood sample to identify the ones that work against your tumour and, when combined with functional and nutrigenetic tests, it’s possible to build a programme designed for maximum nutritional impact. Since cancer cells mutate and adapt on an ongoing basis this provides a chance to work at a much more powerful level for a period of time, based on an accurate assessment of your biochemistry and tumour status. By carrying out these tests we can base your protocol on knowledge rather than guesswork, but it’s an expensive route. You need a budget of around £3000 for testing and clinic time, as well as enough income to buy high quality food and supplements. You also need to budget your time: ideally the first few weeks of your plan will coincide with plenty of free time in your schedule so you can devote yourself to changing your habits without causing yourself undue stress. Please note that this the only option I offer for advanced cancer cases; it allows us to work with facts and figures rather than generalisations. If you decide to work with me at this level the process starts with a Personal Protocol consultation after which I will arrange for test kits to be sent to you; the Advanced Protocol consultation will take place roughly eight weeks later when test results have arrived and I have had time to synthesise them into a programme for you. 

For all clients, it is important to approach nutritional therapy with an open mind; while we will work with your preferences, you need a flexible attitude to food, willingness to change drinking habits and meal times, and scope to address sleep and stress levels.

So… if you’re still reading, if you’re prepared to work with me in a space of uncertainty, and I haven’t put you off with all my caveats and exclusions, maybe you’d like to find out more? If so, please book an exploratory chat or arrange a Personal Protocol consultation over here.

If you decide that the clinical approach is not right for you please have a look at my workshops – they may be just what you’re looking for – or visit my resources page to find further areas for exploration.

Picture: Artwork by Tracey Emin from a photograph by Dawn Waldron