Thursday, September 18, 2014

Exposing the Secret Killer: Eradicating the Roots of Cancer and Chronic Disease

When I was in medical school at Columbia University in the late 1960’s, I marveled at the extraordinary genius behind the creation and functioning of the human body. I became convinced that the complexity and integration of the extraordinary number of physiological functions with each of the body’s organ systems was the work of Divine Intelligence.

How then, I asked myself, how and why do we get sick? This question caused a shift from a planned career in eye surgery to that of integrative healthcare with the emphasis on community health and reducing the risk of serious disease.

Today, in the most expensive healthcare system in the world, we are facing epidemics of preventable disease.

Breast cancer is a growing problem: A woman’s risk has jumped from 1 in 20 in the 1960’s to 1 in 8 today.

Prostate cancer is also a growing problem: One man in six will get prostate cancer during his lifetime. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in American men other than skin cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer death in men, only behind lung cancer. 

Almost all of our resources regarding cancer have been focused on  early detection and treatment. Public debate regarding cancer in the United States has not focused on the issue of causation but has revolved primarily around the best means of early detection.

When I took my 96 year-old father to his HMO for an x-ray of a swollen wrist, while waiting in the radiology department, I saw a prominent poster addressing the ‘prevention’ of breast cancer. nThe poster stated: ‘Passionately Pink For Cure. Remember, early detection is the best protection.’

But is this really true?
When the medical  field talks about prevention they are almost always referring to what they call ‘secondary prevention’ which means early detection. While it is vitally important, if one is going to get cancer, to detect it as early as possible. But early detection is not true prevention (referred to as primary prevention) which is the state of health sufficient to prevent the onset and development of disease.

Primary prevention, that is true prevention, requires an understanding of the causes and a way to resolve those causes and risk factors before they manifest as a diagnosable cancer.

Effective solutions and true prevention, therefore, require a correct understanding of the cause.

We hear a lot about genetics factors and cancer. Inherited BRCA gene mutations are estimated to be responsible for less than 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and about 5 to 10 percent of all prostate cancers diagnosed are hereditary, meaning that an increased risk for the disease runs in the family.

This means that potentially 90-95 percent of breast and prostate cancers are associated with non-genetic lifestyle and environmental factors which are much more under our control!

The new science of epigenetics reveals how the choices you make can change the expression of your genes- and those of your children.

Cellular health is the basis for the health of the body. The metabolic interplay of genetics, environment and lifestyle can lead to damaged metabolic function on the cellular level triggering inflammation and the development of cancer.

In future articles, we’ll discuss the sources of injury at the cellular level, the resulting inflammation and the most effective ways to address the ‘inflammatory fire within.’
Breast Health NOW!  
While breast cancer is a growing problem (a woman’s risk has jumped from 1 in 20 in the 1960’s to 1 in 8 today), knowledge is power to significantly reduce the risk! 

Established risk factors for breast cancer have been established by the medical authorities but it is estimated that less than 50% of breast cancer cases can be accounted for by these risk factors! 

The medical profession’s approach regarding breast cancer in the United States has not been focused primarily on the issue of causation but has rather focused on the best means of early detection. A leading medical entity in Colorado has notices in their X-ray department stating: ‘Remember, early detection is the best protection.’ But is this really true? 

While vitally important, early detection of breast disease is known as ‘secondary prevention.’ Primary prevention is true prevention and requires knowledge of the underlying causes of breast cancer which can be addressed prior to early detection if women are properly informed.

Genetic factors regarding breast cancer, including family history and genetic markers, are important to consider regarding predisposition and inherited tendencies. Some studies indicate that only 5 percent of breast cancers are linked to inherited genes, like BRCA1 and BRCA2. If this is true, then potentially 95 percent of breast cancers may be associated with ‘epi-genetic’ (beyond genetic) risk factors which are much more under our control!

It is important for women to consider the findings of this new science of epigenetics which is confirming that the choices we make can affect ‘gene expression’; this means that nutritional, environmental and psychological factors (belief systems and emotional states) have influence on turning genes ‘on and off’ and thus the impact of our genetic inheritance is not set in stone.

The ‘wellness revolution’ and integrative medicine have created new views of breast cancer causation:
  • Environmental toxins including those that biologically mimic estrogen (xeno-estrogens)
  • Over-consumption of drugs and synthetic hormones, including hormones in food 
  • Nutritional deficiency, unhealthy fats, being overweight and the ‘metabolic syndrome’
  • Gastro-intestinal dysfunction
  • ‘Sub-clinical’ infection, including gum disease and the role of chronic inflammation
  • Stress
Personal dietary habits, stress and environmental impact can overwhelm our natural defenses which generate ‘symptoms’. The word symptom is a Greek word which means ‘signal’ and is literally the way the body communicates that it is in need of corrective action. Addressing the cause of symptoms early on, perhaps years or even decades before diagnosis of a serious condition, can often lead to the avoidance of needless human suffering.

The good news, therefore, is that there’s a lot that women can do proactively to promote their breast health and reduce the risk of serious disease!
Genetics, Estrogen and the Promotion of Women’s Health

While breast cancer is of growing concern based on unfavorable trends, there is so much we now know regarding effective ways of reducing the risk of this diagnosis or its recurrence!

One challenge is the fact that the established risk factors for breast cancer account for only one-fourth of breast cancer cases! This is largely due to the fact that the research and medical profession in the United States has not focused primarily on the issue of causation but has revolved primarily around the best means of early detection and treatment.

The term ‘secondary prevention’ means early detection through mammography, clinical breast exams and self-exams. While vitally important, the ideal, of course, is true prevention (called ‘primary prevention’) which requires knowledge of the underlying causes of breast cancer which can be addressed prior to the detection of actual disease.

Genetic factors also have to be taken into consideration. Having a genetic marker for breast cancer, a BRCA gene mutation, is relatively uncommon, estimated to be between 1 in 300-800 in the general population, but do tend to increase the risk by about 60 percent.

While very important when present, these inherited BRCA gene mutations are estimated to be responsible for less than 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers and about 10 to 15 percent of ovarian cancers. Therefore, potentially 90-95 percent of breast cancers are associated with non-genetic risk factors which are much more under our direct control!

The new science of epigenetics reveals how the influence of diet, environment and belief, and the choices we make, can change our genetic inheritance and affect what genes will be turned on and off, so-called ‘gene expression.’

One of the most important epigenetic factors is the hormone estrogen. Estrogen can stimulate breast tissue and increase cellular division. Since cancerous cells can result from mutations occurring during the cellular division process and cancer involves uncontrolled cellular growth, prolonged exposure to excess estrogen and its breakdown metabolites is probably the most significant risk factor currently known for developing breast cancer.

Reducing the degree of exposure to estrogen is therefore extremely important.
How are we all exposed to excessive levels of estrogen?
  • Toxic pesticide residues and compounds found in plastics mimic estrogen and stimulate the estrogen receptors in an unhealthy way and are therefore referred to as ‘endocrine disrupters’.
  • Hazardous ingredients in skin care products such as paraben preservatives that mimic estrogen have been found in tissue taken from women with breast cancer. Journal of Applied Toxicology, Vol.24, Jan/Feb 2004
  • Estrogens have been used as additives to poultry and cattle feed resulting in excess estrogen in meat and milk.
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was widespread for many years and younger women are often prescribed birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives, even for acne.
  • As body fat increases, so does an enzyme in fat called aromatase which turns hormones made in other organs in your body (such as adrenal glands) into estrogen.
  • Nutrient-depleted food, highly processed sugars and carbohydrates have created blood sugar problems and the pre-diabetic condition known as ‘metabolic syndrome.’ The increased level of insulin is associated with higher estrogen levels, increased breast cancer and its recurrence.
  • Disruption of the gastro-intestinal flora reduces the degree to which the good bacteria living in your gut can detoxify the estrogen made in your body after it’s been used to avoid re-absorption.
  • Increase of stress-associated hormones like cortisol (which is made from progesterone), causes a depletion of progesterone and a relative estrogen dominance.
Health coaching to help achieve a healthy lifestyle and to overcome psychological resistance to behavioral change becomes, therefore, an indispensable component in an effective approach to promoting breast health and reducing the risk of breast cancer.