Can nutritional therapy really be of any help in the face of something as powerful as cancer? It’s a question I ask myself all the time. Partly because we are conditioned to see cancer as unbeatable. We’ve thrown the most powerful medicine on earth at cancer with only partial success, what can you expect broccoli to achieve?
It’s not surprising, then, that many oncologists roll their eyes when their patients ask if they should change their diet. The power of nutrition is not part of their education or belief system. (Yes, beliefs do come into it, for all of us: it’s not only about evidence, our beliefs, and the beliefs of our helpers, create a powerful placebo/nocebo influence around any treatment or therapy.)
It’s not unusual to hear that there’s ‘no evidence’ for nutrition and cancer, but that’s not true. The evidence that poor diet and lifestyle choices can cause cancer is irrefutable, and the evidence that diet and lifestyle changes can change outcomes is growing – enough to be the subject of a major report by MacMillan in 2019. The report, published in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research cancer and nutrition collaboration and the Royal College of Anaesthetists, suggests that prehabilitation should underpin the whole cancer pathway.
To be fair, the report is pretty basic but it presents convincing evidence for the role of diet, exercise and stress reduction in improving cancer outcomes. For the NHS it represents a major foot in the door: if generic ‘healthy living’ improvements can change the outcome of this disease, what could personalised protocols achieve?
The list below outlines some of the key areas where nutritional therapy has been clearly shown to change cancer outcomes, evidence based assertions that form the basis of my practice and, of course, beliefs.
Diet and lifestyle choices can:
- act as a speed bump to slow cancer growth during treatment and beyond
- support your cancer receptor status
- work in synergy with your anti-cancer drugs
- improve cell sensitivity to chemo- and radiotherapy
- help your immune system to target cancer cells, especially stem cells
- improve your ability to tolerate treatment
- support your overall health to allow you to receive more treatment
- improve your ability to detoxify and neutralise carcinogens
- promote genome stability via DNA protection and repair
- improve energy management
- reduce growth signal stimulation
- resolve inflammatory pressure
- activate anti-cancer phytonutrients
- create a cancer-hostile tissue environment
- support tissue integrity
The list above outlines known mechanisms whereby diet can impact cancer pathways but, in many ways it misses the point. In seeking to present the evidence at a cellular level it bypasses the psychological and spiritual benefits of changing your lifestyle – the immeasurable power of waking up to the need to work with your body rather than against it. To discover your own personal needs on a spiritual, psychological and physiological basis, to allow you, as an organism, to survive and thrive.
In truth these are not two separate lists: as above, so below. When we get our mindset sorted, our lifestyle aligned, our stress levels manageable, our sleep prioritised and our diet tuned to what our body really needs, then the cellular mechanisms are likely to fall into place. The evidence for that is all around us as more and more people take their healing into their own hands, choosing to see their oncology team as just one part of their cancer strategy rather than the only hope. Projects like Radical Remission clearly show that taking personal responsibility can defy medical projections time and time again.
That doesn’t mean that we can perfectly predict cancer outcomes, nor that cancer simply disappears when we eat enough salad. Cancer is still a much misunderstood disease, outcomes are always unpredictable and frequently tragic. But making personalised diet and lifestyle changes can fundamentally change the balance in your favour providing, at the very least, the same sort of results as the new drugs – more months of healthy life – and at the very best, many more years of healthy survival.