Three weeks have passed since I attended that magnificent 2018 spring oncology nutrition symposium. I’m still giddy over the massive amount of nutrition science and research takeaways I gained.
The information I learned at that event supports my mission to serve as a reliable nutrition, fitness and lifestyle resource for the breast cancer community, and with that, to call out dangerous, potentially harmful nutrition guidelines and information.
This past week, three things came across my radar that I want to share with you in an effort to underscore just how pervasive the world of unreliable nutrition information can be.
Scientific literature confirms the role of nutrition in breast cancer care, healing and survivorship as beneficial and supportive of optimal outcomes, as well as potentially reducing risk of recurrence. (1) What it hasn’t been shown to do is replace conventional cancer treatment, you know, to “miraculously” allow the body to cure or conquer its cancer.
But that doesn’t stop unscrupulous people from hawking questionable nutrition practices, foods and ideas to vulnerable and occasionally desperate folks.
Allow me to share some examples by way of those “three things” I mentioned earlier. . .
Thing 1: “I Used to Be a Holistic Nutritionist”
I belong to a couple of private Facebook pages for dietitians, on one of which the link to the article headlining Thing 1 was recently shared. As I read the piece (it’s short, find it in my sources list and give it a read), it felt so refreshing to witness transparency and truth spoken about the chicanery of an esoteric branch of nutrition known as ”holistic” nutrition.
Not only did the author call out the one-sided philosophy of the organization spearheading and perpetuating the “education” of individuals pursuing this particular line of work, but also the shallow level of preparedness required to earn the title of “holistic nutritionist.” (2)
The history of dietetics has origins dating as far back as ancient Greece (think Hippocrates “Let food be thy medicine. . .”), with progress – thanks to advances in chemistry – made in the 19th century and continuing to 2018, where “registered dietitian” is a respected profession. (3)
Even with all of that, rarely a week goes by when someone doesn’t ask me to explain the difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist – ANY kind of nutritionist – be it holistic, spiritual (yes, there is such a thing), or otherwise.
We earn the privilege of calling ourselves RD’s after obtaining a 4-year undergraduate nutrition (or other health-related) degree, completing a grueling, 1,200 hour, highly competitive internship lasting anywhere from 8-24 months, taking a 4.5 hour RD exam, and by maintaining our professional credentials with 75 hours of continuing education every 5 years.
It took the author of the article a mere 10 MONTHS to earn the right (by way of a ! CERTIFICATE ! no less) to begin working one-on-one with clients to share nutritional guidance; no internship, residency, or clinical hours required.
I don’t know about you, but that scares the crap out of me.
Thing 2: “I Can Help You By Using Sound Waves Across State Lines”
I’m not making this up.
Earlier this week someone shared with me that they had a friend diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and although she didn’t survive, she worked like hell to do so.
Desperately seeking lifestyle information as part of her treatment plan (it wasn’t offered), she researched on her own to cobble together guidelines for food, nutrition, fitness, etc.
Even with dogged determination to shift the course of her outcome, the cancer progressed; it was then that she connected with and agreed to pay someone in a state adjoining Illinois for HEALING SOUND WAVES.
No, I don’t know how much she paid.
No, I don’t know any details about how it was purported to work.
I share this with you via the memory of someone else, so there may be parts of the story that are inaccurate, but regardless of whether it was sound waves, sonic booms or lightning strikes, it doesn’t matter.
What’s important is that bullsh#t like this happens all. the. time. I believe there is a special place in hell for people who take such shameless advantage of another human being.
Thing 3: “Cancer Patients Who Choose Alternative Medicine Are Richer, Smarter, and More Likely to Die.”
This attention-grabbing headline belongs to an article shared with me by one of my oncology nutrition colleagues.
It’s a piece covering a recent study that found patients who chose alternative medicine (AM) in place of conventional cancer treatment (CCT) for common, curable cancers like breast cancer had an increased risk of death. (4)
Now, before you say to yourself, “Well, duh.”, I encourage you to not be so quick to dismiss the message.
I remember my breast surgeon recounting a consult with a patient who announced that she was going to treat her breast cancer with broccoli.
While broccoli certainly has a place in a breast cancer diet, and lord knows I may be the most ardent broccoli fan on the planet, I can assure you that broccoli is 100% ineffective as a solitary breast cancer treatment.
But let’s get back to the study.
According to the research, the number of patients who go this route are rare, but women diagnosed with breast cancer who used AM as initial treatment without CCT had more than a fivefold increased risk of death – the largest magnitude of difference when comparing breast, colorectal, lung and prostate cancers.
In this study, the researchers identified 281 cancer patients who chose AM, defined as unproven cancer treatments administered by non-medical personnel. Patients in this group were more likely to be younger, female, have breast cancer, at a more advanced cancer stage, have a higher income and education, and reside in the intermountain West or Pacific regions.
As with many studies, this one had its own self-reported limitations, yet if you consider that there were 281 people in this study (not all of them breast cancer patients), that’s 281 people at risk for not moving into survivorship.
Believe me when I say, a cancer diagnosis has a way of twisting your brain into a configuration hell-bent on seeking safer, less invasive, less terrifying treatment options then what some people call the “poison, burn and cut” approach.
I even researched some of them myself (I was curious – not convinced!).
And promptly dismissed them.
Using nutrition alongside your conventional cancer treatment is highly encouraged, but it’s not without its dangers; think food/drug interactions, dietary supplements that decrease effectiveness of chemo and/or radiation, and malnutrition’s ability to weaken the immune system. Please, keep reading my blog for breast cancer nutrition updates and guidance to help you make safe choices!
If you’re looking for a primer on which foods to eat, which foods to avoid, and how nutrition helps, this will help you make those choices safely and with confidence.
And finally, if you’re unclear about the differences between unconventional types of treatment, here’s a quick overview:
Alternative Medicine: Treatments used INSTEAD of standard medical treatments. An example would be using a special diet to treat cancer instead of anticancer drugs prescribed by an oncologist.
Complementary Medicine: Treatments used ALONG WITH standard medical treatments, but are not considered to be standard treatments. An example is using acupuncture to help lessen cancer treatment side effects.
Integrative Medicine: A total approach to medical care that combines standard medicine with CAM practices that have been shown to be safe and effective. They treat mind, body, and spirit. (5)