Health&Fitness--diet After Diagnosis
Can diet cure cancer?
Thursday, January 28, 1999
Since today''s environment swarms with chemical substances, and America''s diet oozes with fat and mysterious mega-syllabled additives, it is perhaps not surprising that cancer--a disease responsive to toxicity and a high fat diet--is the modern disease. This year, 1.22 million Americans will discover they have cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
"Strong evidence points to a low-fat diet, high in fruits and vegetables as a prevention for cancer," says Lisa Holden, clinical dietitian at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP). "Based on studies I''ve seen, bad diet [those high in fat, low in fruits and vegetables] may be responsible for one third of cancers."
But can diet cure cancer? "Diet as a treatment is a lot more controversial," says Holden. "Definitely, a lot of claims have been made that diet can cure cancer, and I think nutrition can have a beneficial effect during certain stages of the disease, but whether food can cure cancer--there''s no proof of that."
Nevertheless, plenty of cancer patients are exploring alternative cures, including diet, as a way of battling their disease.
Bruce Wilson, 65, retired colonel and garrison commander at the Presidio of Monterey, turned to diet, hoping to cure his cancer. In 1993, he was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. Doctors told him there was no cure; that surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation would not help. Wilson was informed his cancer could be contained for possibly two years with hormone therapy, but after that nothing could be done, leaving his life expectancy likely to be less than five years. Now, six years later his cancer is gone (according to his PSA--prostate specific antigen test, indicating level of cancer) and Wilson now lives a healthy, happy life with his wife, children and grandchildren in Pacific Grove.
Phil Hernon, a neighbor of Wilson''s parents, coincidentally was a survivor of prostate cancer (although one with a good prognosis), and had something to share with Wilson--macrobiotics. "Up to this time, I poked fun at vegetarians," says Wilson, who found himself on one of the strictest, most bland of diets imaginable.
"It''s tough. I''ve talked to lots of folks [with cancer] and they say it''s [macrobiotics] too strict," says Wilson.
Macrobiotics is definitely a diet requiring immense determination to follow. For the first two years, Wilson followed the regimen religiously, but now goes off the diet regularly. "I cheat. It''s hard. My wife''s a better macrobiotic than me. The first thing she did was throw out all the food in our kitchen, because none of it was allowed. It needed to be done but, I couldn''t have done this," says Wilson.
But Wilson''s slipping off the macrobiotic wagon may not be a bad thing. Author and nutritionist Linda Page says, "You''ve got to have protein to heal. I have found over and over, the macrobiotic diet seems to arrest cancer growth early on, but if they keep to that strict a diet, it tends to weaken." She recommends, after a year or so of cleansing and detoxifying with the spartan diet, to supplement it with more protein and other foods; always in moderation.
"Macrobiotics is a pretty big class and there many ways to interpret it. It''s high in grains and vegetables which make it an excellent cancer prevention diet. You need protein though," says Holden, referring to macrobiotics'' emphasis on low protein.
"Right now it seems macrobiotics is probably the most widely used alternative nutritional answer to cancer...Macrobiotics on their own have a very low rate of cure and remission. Doctors will say and are probably right that chemotherapy has a higher cure rate. The drawback to chemotherapy is the high level of toxicity it causes," says Dr. Bill Benda, Jr., M.D.
Benda, an emergency room doctor at Natividad Medical Center and CHOMP, is now studying Integrative Medicine at University of Arizona, Tucson, Medical College. "Integrative medicine is all over the media lately. New centers are developing at Duke, Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia devoted to studying this," says Benda.
Integrative medicine is "committed to the practice of good medicine whether its origins are conventional or alternative. It neither rejects conventional medicine nor uncritically accepts alternative practices," writes Tracy W. Gaudet, M.D. in his essay, "Integrative Medicine: The Evolution of a New Approach to Medicine and to Medical Education."
Ed Cooper, owner of Monterey Scuba Charters, was not as lucky as Wilson. When he decided to try macrobiotics to cure his cancer, some of his friends and family were against it, and in the beginning his struggle was alone. Cooper was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer. "Several doctors said I would be required to get a radical neck dissection, removing massive muscle tissue which holds up the head and part of the jaw. Plus they recommended chemotherapy and radiation, followed by a bone marrow transplant. With this procedure I had a 15-30 percent chance to make it five years. This was not appealing, to say the least," says Cooper.
Cooper sought out the best physicians at a hospital in the Bay Area. "These people used hardcore selling techniques on me. There were eight doctors in one room hammering at me. When talking to the head chemotherapist, he was writing upside down on a piece of paper, just like a shady salesman. I asked him ''what are my chances if I try a macrobiotic diet?'' He wrote a big zero," says Cooper.
Cooper, although not happy with the prognosis, still arranged for surgery, lacking knowledge of other avenues. The night before his scheduled date, he called Vega Macrobiotic Study Center (Cooper learned of the center from Wilson) and after speaking with them, decided to cancel his surgery and try macrobiotics. "They don''t pretend to be doctors and they tell you macrobiotics is not a cure," says Cooper. Now almost two years later, his throat is nearly back to normal and his tonsil, which was "completely covered in cancer" shows minimal signs.
But macrobiotics alone weren''t the magical cure for Wilson and Cooper. Throughout two years of hormone therapy and macrobiotics, Wilson watched his PSA drop from 76.7 to 0.1. (Zero to four is considered safe, and anything above calls for concern and further tests.) Then, to his deep chagrin, it began rising steadily. "I was really scared because this was when the doctors said my hormone therapy was supposed to wear off." At this point, he was at a loss for what to do and Wilson literally feared for his life.
A colleague told Wilson about a veterinarian in Idaho who makes an anti-cancer remedy. His friend knew a man who recovered from terminal lung cancer after taking it. The formula is a black paste made from 70 medicinal herbs, some from China, Tibet and India.
For 12 months, Wilson took "match-head" size portions of the paste, three times a day, and watched his PSA slowly decrease to zero. "I think it was the herbs that cured me. Macrobiotics were a good base though. I owe my life to two people, Phil Hernon and the veterinarian," he concludes. Wilson gets his PSA checked every six months. "Now I dread getting the test, because it can''t go any lower, it can only go up. Each time I go in, I''m scared to hear the results."
Like Wilson, Cooper didn''t rely solely on macrobiotics. Upon hearing Wilson''s success story, he tried the potent black paste. Three and a half months later, his vision began blurring and he stopped taking it. Still seeking the magic cure, Cooper spent hours on the Internet reading information about cancer treatment. "It seemed people with systemic diseases were doing everything they could to get more oxygen in their blood," says Cooper.
Deciding to try oxygen therapy, Cooper researched extensively and was most interested in hyperbaric oxygen--changing the surrounding atmospheric pressure concurrently with a raised oxygen level, forcing oxygen into the body. These chambers are difficult to gain access to in America, so Cooper sought a different avenue. Being an avid diver, he mimicked a hyperbaric chamber through diving to two and a half atmospheres, while breathing 100 percent oxygen. "When the diving community heard I was doing this, they gave me lots of support. There were always local divers in the water with me, and many strict safety measures were followed." He did this one hour a day for 35 days, then took 10 days off; and repeated the set twice more.
"There''s no magic bullet," Cooper says in regards to what element controlled his cancer. "It took years to get cancer and will take years to get rid of."
Wilson and Cooper were made aware of alternative treatments, and able to make their own choices of what to do. Unfortunately nontraditional therapies are not well-known, and many cancer victims pass away without having the option. Often, people like Cooper and Wilson hear about alternative treatments through the grapevine or by coincidence.
If you are considering an alternative treatment, consult your physician before doing so. Ask lots of questions. Many alternative treatments, due to lack of financial backing, aren''t supported by studies, but offer anecdotal evidence.
"Oncologists on the Peninsula are much more open [to alternative treatments] and will be honest if they think it will harm, but open to it otherwise," says Holden. "It [alternative medicine] is definitely a controversial issue, but I see it changing." cw
Curious about alternative cancer treatments? Try Options: The Alternative Therapy Book by Richard Walters, a clearly written and dynamic book, thoroughly examining 29 alternative cancer treatments.