Komen Lunch for the Cure
Speech By: Laura A. James, ND, FABNO
The Susan G. Komen Foundation is synonymous with prevention. Giving women the opportunity and access to get the care they need to prevent breast cancer: surveillance, novel research, and public awareness. All things essential for discovering ways to combat breast cancer.
My approach as a physician of integrative oncology is similar. Fundamentally, integrative medicine is all about prevention. Prevention of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and most importantly, cancer. View holistically and empower patients to take control of what they can control. Diet and lifestyle are the things you can control.
Medical literature abounds with studies that show diet and lifestyle changes affect disease development and outcomes. If you don’t know by now that smoking influences many cancers and exercise affects cardiovascular risks, I’m not sure that you are paying attention. 90-95% of cancers are environmentally influenced, and of those 35% are due to diet; smoking only 30%. What I know, as an integrative physician, is that diet and lifestyle—what I call the Four Cornerstones of Good Health—directly affect the development of cancer, its progression, and disease outcomes.
The Four Cornerstones of Good Health are Diet, Exercise, Sleep, and Stress Management.
A whole foods, nutrient dense, low carbohydrate eating plan is what works. Whole foods means foods grown in their natural form, without processing, additives, or chemicals. Nutrient dense means foods that pack a lot of nutritional bang for your buck—quinoa, kale, berries, other “superfoods.” And low carbohydrate means limiting every food that turns to sugar fast in your body. Whether it’s a cookie, a cup of brown rice, or a piece of fruit, it is all metabolized to glucose quickly to fuel your cells, and not just the healthy ones, the cancerous ones too. Eating this way doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of cardboard rice cakes. There are inexpensive and yummy ways to make excellent nutrition a part of your daily life. And most people lose weight and feel great in the process—an outcome no one argues with.
Exercise is the number one lifestyle change you can make to reduce the risk of all threatening diseases of aging. It is the number one thing that prevents secondary recurrence of breast cancer in someone already afflicted with the disease. Exercise has four main components: cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, and neuromuscular activities. Your exercise program should reflect aspects of all of these. The average time that national organizations recommend for maintenance of good health and minimization of risk factors is 40 minutes a day of exercise with moderate intensity. That is at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. It’s the moderate intensity part that we don’t always understand. It’s one thing to walk daily, it’s much more beneficial to walk hills.
The Third Cornerstone is sleep. Most Americans are chronically sleep deprived. We have moved our culture from one that respects natural light fluctuations to one that depends on electric light. Many people work at night—shift work—that alters their bodies’ biochemistry enough to greatly increase their breast cancer risk. Sleep should be simple. You’re tired, you sleep. But you have to make time and space for it. Eight hours really is the magic number. How do you get eight hours of sleep you ask? You have to make sleep a priority. Schedule it in. Clear out your bedroom of TV’s, computers, your PHONE, pets, children, spouses if necessary, and make your room a sanctuary. This is called good sleep hygiene. Daily exercise—Cornerstone #2—will also improve sleep. And stress management—Cornerstone #4—is paramount.
Stress management is a really big topic and I could spend hours talking with you about this. Stress pulls psychological, physiological, social, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual issues into play, and the quality of stress is different for every individual. We all have different perceptions of stress and the ways we handle it. What is stressful to me may not be stressful to you and vice versa. We may not be able to control the thing that stresses us, but we can control our response to it. Learning to control your response to stress in a healthful way, that is stress management. Healthful ways include exercise, sleep, good nutrition, counseling, fun activities, craft work, music, etc. The point is to include these—whatever works for you—into your daily routine. Then work on changing your response—as they say, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
So why are the Four Cornerstones of Good Health so important? Why am I emphasizing these simple things over herbs or nutrients or medicines to prevent breast cancer or improve disease outcomes? Because these aspects of diet and lifestyle have the power to change your biochemical terrain. Your biochemical terrain is the metabolic soup that swirls around in your body and bathes your cells. It includes glucose, enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, inflammatory products, free radicals…And many of these biochemicals are growth factors for cancer. That’s right, these biochemicals can encourage a cancer to grow. Additionally, these biochemicals can change your genes. There are little on and off switches on your genes that are susceptible to this microenvironment around them. This is a new field of research called epigenetics, “on top of the genes,” and what scientists are finding is that the microenvironment is changeable.
The Komen organization recognizes and supports this field of research, along with the clinical trials that are evolving what we know about how breast cancer develops – and shaping the future of cancer care for patients everywhere.
Medicine recognizes that cancer is a metabolic disease. The focus in research is to target aspects of cancer metabolism to shut it down and kill the cancer. Bringing these research initiatives from bench to bedside, understanding the impact of biochemical terrain metabolism, and welcoming integrative approaches to cancer prevention—all supported by the Susan G. Komen Foundation—this is where integrative medicine and conventional medicine can meet and save lives.
Advancing breast cancer research in a collaborative fashion has been a priority for Komen since its very beginnings, in 1982. And today, Komen is the largest nonprofit funder of breast cancer research outside of the U.S. government, funding hundreds of research grants worldwide. And a few right here in the Puget Sound region, at our own research institutions.
We need these research initiatives because sometimes a patient with cancer has done all of the things I have been talking about. They’ve invested fully in diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management, and they STILL get cancer. I would like to introduce to you a brave woman like this, a woman well known to the Komen community, a woman who thought she was doing all the right things and she still got breast cancer anyway. That woman is Kathy Bressler.