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Three Keys to Post-Cancer Recovery

By Sonja Fung, ND

You have finally finished your cancer treatments. After being inundated with doctors and doctor visits for however many months, all of a sudden, you are set free. Yea! ….now what? You’re in the middle of “season” with social events and holidays. How do you create balance while recovering from cancer therapy? Start with these three keys.

Mindful Eating. Over 2000 years ago, the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates, said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Don’t get bogged down with all the different kinds of diets that you find online. There is no “one diet” for everyone; however, there is a diet that everyone can certainly avoid –  the SAD or “Standard American/Western Diet.”  It is estimated that dietary factors are related to 30% of all cancer development, and the SAD diet captures them all. When eaten over time, foods high in poor quality protein, refined sugars/carbohydrates, and bad fats (breads, processed foods, pastries, fried foods, fast foods, alcohol) can lead to the development of cancer by influencing your genetics, environmental exposures, stress, depleted immune system, and weight gain. 

What should you eat? Start by maximizing your (mostly) vegetable and fruit consumption to at least 50% of your plate, 25% (ideally) organic lean protein, and 25% healthy fats like nuts and seeds. You should NOT be eating more than 6 tsp of sugar daily. 

Move Out Your Stress.  A large study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine from the National Cancer Institute showed that moderate exercise activity reduces risk of 13 types of common cancers by up to 38%. Other studies show that you can reduce breast cancer death and recurrence by 60% with moderate daily exercise.  Moderate activity includes walking, swimming, Zumba, hiking, yoga, tai chi, etc., for an average of 150 minutes a week. That breaks down to only 22 minutes of daily exercise!

It is critical to have some type of stress reduction technique as part of your complete treatment plan. Whether it is deep breathing, prayer, exercise, or quilting, doing something that you love brings your body into a parasympathetic mode (relaxation), normalizing your blood pressure, balancing blood sugar, improving your immune system, reducing inflammation, and helping your digestion function more optimally.

Balanced Immune System = Healthy Gut.  The key to health starts in your gut which makes up 80% of your immune system. The unfortunate side effect of conventional cancer treatment is the destruction of your digestive system, and subsequently much of your immune balance. The first step in any type of recovery is healing the impaired digestive system and restoring proper function. There are many steps in this process; however, one of the most important steps is removing foods that cause more inflammation in an already inflamed gut (see Mindful Eating above). A comprehensive treatment protocol may also be complemented by vitamins, supplements and IV nutrient therapy.

It’s important to remember that the more you reduce inflammation, the faster your body can heal and recover, and the more you reduce your cancer risk.

Dr. Sonja Fung is a naturopathic primary care doctor with a focus on integrative oncology and IV nutrient therapies at the Live Well Clinic in La Quinta. You can find us on the web at www.livewellclinic.org or call (760) 771.5970.

Sources: 1) Riboli E., Nora T. “Epidemiologic evidence of the protective effect of fruit and vegetables on cancer risk.” Am J Clin Nutr, 2003; 78(suppl):559S–69.  2)  Rock, C. L., Doyle, C., Demark-Wahnefried, W., et. al. “Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors.” CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, Volume 62, Issue 4, pages 242–274, July/August 012. 3)  Donaldson, M. “Nutrition and cancer: A review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet.” Nutrition Journal 2004, 3:19, doi:10.1186/1475-2891-3-19 http://www.nutritionj.com/content/3/1/19.4)  Moore SC, et. al. “Leisure-time physical activity and risk of 26 types of cancer in 1.44 million adults.” JAMA Internal Medicine. May 16, 2016. DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1548.5) Bhaskaran K, et al. “Body-mass index and risk of 22 specific cancers: a population-based cohort study of 5·24 million UK adults.” Lancet. 2014; 384: 755–65.6).  Anderson, Carter, Osborne. Clinical Applications and Advanced Topics of IV Nutrients in Oncology. Cedar Ridge: May 2014. 7)  Alschuler, L., Gazella, K. Five to Thrive. El Segundo: Active Interest Media, Inc, 2011. 8)  Alschuler, Lise and Gazella, Karolyn. Definitive Guide to Cancer. 2nd Ed. Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2007.9)  Obesity and Cancer Risk- National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet.

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