Critical Choices: Nutritional Therapy as a Complementary Treatment for Cancer

By Dr. Michael Wald

Oncology patients looking for a natural treatment option face a daunting task. There are myriad alternative and complementary therapies for treating cancer, including—but certainly not limited to—herbology, dietary therapies, and the use of vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids and other natural compounds; chiropractic, acupuncture and naturopathy; and Reiki and other energy healing systems. Nutritional therapy, in particular, has become an increasingly popular natural treatment option for cancer patients. With nutritional therapy, as with any other natural cancer treatment, choosing the right expert to direct that treatment is as important as the choice of therapy itself. If you are faced with this critical choice, here are a few things to consider:

Make sure your practitioner has experience with your type of cancer.

Ideally, your nutritional therapist will have actively treated cases like yours, participates in ongoing research on the subject, and is willing to take you on as a patient. He should not only have a nuanced understanding of how nutritional therapies apply to your particular diagnosis (such as ovarian cancer or breast cancer), but he must also be aware of your biochemical and nutritional idiosyncrasies—the subtleties that make up the background of your cancer diagnosis.

Someone with ovarian cancer, for example, often has a complex and highly individualized history. The primary lesion in the ovaries may have a genetic link, reflecting an inherited predisposition to the disease. But that predisposition may have been triggered by the patient’s unique blend of biochemical and environmental factors, such as hormonal imbalances stemming from toxicities, inadequate nutrition, or stress. The nutritional therapist should understand and consider these complex factors when designing a course of treatment, rather than simply providing a “knee jerk” response and recommending the clichéd nutrients you might find in any encyclopedia of natural therapies. While the practitioner should have a fundamental knowledge of these basic protocols, he should also have the biochemical expertise and intellectual skills required to uncover his patient’s unique nutritional needs.

Nutritional therapies should be geared toward your type of cancer as well as how that cancer might manifest itself in your body.

A good nutritional therapist will be aware of your unique needs based on specific test results. If tests show that your cancer has spread to other organs, for example, she will understand the importance of nutritional protocols enhancing the adherence of cancer cells, so they don’t break apart from tumors and spread further. She will also adapt her therapy to help prevent leaking of lymphatic, vascular and organ membranes—critical to forestalling metastatic spread. A focus on your unique immune disorder may also be appropriate.

In other words, she will go far beyond the standard nutritional protocol. All too often, practitioners stop at the basics, not realizing that these otherwise sound nutritional remedies may have nothing whatsoever to do with a patient’s unique needs and how that patient’s physiology has expressed the cancer process.

The best therapy includes individualized, reliable and reproducible nutritional and lab testing.

It’s not unusual for oncologists and other healthcare providers to overlook key nutritional information that testing reveals about their cancer patients. And while many of my patients tell me, “I’ve had every test you can imagine,” I often find this simply isn’t the case—many useful and practical tests have been dismissed or not even considered, and the patient loses out.

The most effective nutritional practitioner has been educated to interpret laboratory work and has a thorough understanding of the connection between nutrition and cancer. Essentially, the practitioner should consider each case from multiple angles, including a detailed medical and nutritional history, a nutritionally oriented physical examination, and appropriate and reliable lab work. These tools, used together, are far more effective than any one tool used alone.

Pay attention to “bedside manner.”

A practitioner’s unyielding commitment to the health and well-being of the cancer patient should be obvious. When you meet him, you should sense that you’re in the presence of someone who will use whatever resources are available, and spend whatever time is necessary, to help you.

It has been my experience that even the most well-intentioned oncologists have little practical education in natural approaches to cancer treatment. They might have some rudimentary knowledge about how specific nutrients interact with certain chemotherapy drugs, surgeries and radiation. But I’ve found that many of their notions regarding nutritional contraindications are simply not scientifically valid or even reasonable.

Ultimately, your practitioner must be your advocate—not just in word, but in action. Insist on 100 percent, 24/7 access to your practitioner by phone, e-mail or some other form of communication. I can tell you that the most demanding patients usually get the best care. I appreciate patients who advocate for themselves, actively researching and talking to me about their case. After all, it’s their lives we’re working to improve.

Dr. Michael Wald practices at Integrated Medicine of Mount Kisco, 495 Main St., Mount Kisco, NY. For more information, call his offices at 914.242.8844, or visit IntMedNY.com.

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