The Importance of Integrative Oncology in Cancer Care

For cancer patients, integrative oncology, which combines conventional treatments like chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapies with complementary therapies, has many benefits in improving outcomes and overall well-being. Integrative oncology is defined as: a patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments. Integrative oncology aims to optimize health, quality of life, and clinical outcomes across the cancer care continuum and to empower people to prevent cancer and become active participants before, during, and beyond cancer treatment”. Here are some key points to consider when thinking about incorporating complementary treatments alongside conventional cancer care:

  1. Enhanced Quality of Life: Integrative approaches such as acupuncture, massage therapy, and mindfulness techniques can help alleviate symptoms like pain, fatigue, and nausea commonly associated with cancer treatment. These approaches, along with healthy diet and physical activity habits lead to an improved quality of life for patients.
  2. Reduced Side Effects: Some complementary therapies, when used alongside conventional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation, may help mitigate their side effects. For instance, acupuncture has shown promise in reducing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
  3. Improved Mental Health: Cancer diagnosis and treatment can take a toll on mental health. Integrative therapies like meditation, yoga, and counseling can provide emotional support, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and promote a sense of well-being.
  4. Strengthening Immune Function and Other Biological Processes: Certain complementary approaches, such as a healthy diet, physical activity, and mind-body practices may support the immune system and reduce inflammation, potentially aiding in the body’s natural defenses against cancer and its treatment.
  5. Empowerment and Active Participation: Integrative medicine empowers patients to take an active role in their healing process. By incorporating lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and stress management techniques, patients can feel more in control of their health journey.
  6. Scientific Evidence: While more research is needed, there is substantial evidence supporting the effectiveness of various complementary therapies in cancer care. Many reputable medical centers now offer integrative oncology programs, integrating evidence-based complementary approaches with conventional cancer treatments.
  7. Personalized Care: Integrative oncology emphasizes a personalized approach, taking into account the individual patient’s preferences, beliefs, and health goals. This tailored approach can address the holistic needs of cancer patients, focusing on physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of well-being.

Overall, integrative oncology offers a complementary approach to conventional cancer treatment, focusing on improving quality of life, reducing side effects, and supporting overall well-being and improving health. It’s essential for patients to discuss integrative options with their healthcare team to ensure safe and coordinated care.

Cultivating Gratitude

Throughout human evolution, our ancestors’ survival depended heavily on their ability to detect and respond to potential threats or danger in their environment, such as predators or hostile tribes, which led to a heightened sensitivity to negative stimuli. This evolutionary adaptation allowed individuals to prioritize avoiding harm, thus increasing their chances of survival and reproduction in challenging and often dangerous environments. Having this evolutionarily heightened focus on the “negative” comes at a cost of potentially overlooking the abundance of positive and beneficial aspects that surround us, which may be equally important for overall well-being and adaptation.

One of the ways we can move from negative to positive thinking in our daily lives is to focus on what we are grateful for. Research shows that gratitude, like a lot of what we traditionally think of as “just in our heads,” actually has a measurable impact on our physical and mental well-being. In one 2003 study, researchers at the University of California in Davis had subjects write a few sentences each week. One group focused on things they were grateful for, a second group focused on things that irritated them, and a final group focused their writings on experiences that had neither a positive or negative impact. After ten weeks, the group that focused on gratitude reported increased optimism and self-confidence. Members of the group also reported that they exercised more and made fewer trips to the doctor.

I tried a variation of this experiment myself a few years ago. I must admit that I initially found this exercise both difficult and frustrating. I realized that as an academic and scientist, I had actively trained my brain to focus on the negative. I spend my days searching for problems that need to be solved, either in studies, grants, or papers or some bad outcome that needs to be addressed and researched. It took effort on my part to tune into another side of things, which was in fact happening all around me. And the struggle paid off in ways I had not anticipated. As I continued, day after day, to recognize and record positive exchanges—strangers helping each other on the street, my colleagues laughing in the hallways, my kids being nice to each other—I found I was able to tune in to the good all around me, and my own behavior and outlook started to change.

One of the lead researchers in the ten-week gratitude study, Robert Emmons of the University of California in Davis, has gone on to compile a list of health data points from his own study and from other research related to gratitude. Research has found that actively practicing gratitude lowers the level of the stress hormone cortisol and reduces inflammation, two biomarkers linked to a variety of diseases, including cancer. Studies also show that gratitude reduces depression and improves sleep quality.

Here are a few steps you to start cultivating more gratitude in your life:

  • Set aside 10-15 minutes in a quiet and comfortable space where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and bring your focus to the present moment.
  • Begin by reflecting on three things you’re grateful for in your life. These can be big or small, recent or from the past. It could be about someone you’re grateful for who has made a positive impact on your life.
  • Write down each item of gratitude in a journal or on a piece of paper. Be specific and descriptive about why you’re grateful for each.
  • After writing down each item, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize it in your mind. Try to evoke the feelings of gratitude associated with each.
  • Take a few more deep breaths and spend a moment reflecting on how practicing gratitude makes you feel. Notice any shifts in your mood or perspective.

Cultivating gratitude is a powerful practice that can enhance your sense of happiness and overall well-being. By regularly reflecting on the positive aspects of your life and expressing gratitude towards others, you can foster a mindset of abundance and appreciation. Commit to practicing gratitude regularly. You can incorporate this exercise into your daily or weekly routine by setting aside time to reflect on what you’re thankful for.

The Golden Elixir: Olive Oil’s Role in Preventing Cancer and Avoiding the Counterfeits

In the quest for a healthier lifestyle, the role of diet cannot be overstated, and one standout champion in this regard is olive oil. Olive oil, often hailed as the “liquid gold” of the Mediterranean, has been a staple in culinary traditions for centuries. Beyond its exquisite taste and versatility in the kitchen, olive oil boasts a myriad of health benefits, with an increasing body of research highlighting its role in preventing multiple diseases, including preventing cancer. One key attribute of olive oil lies in its antioxidant capacity, particularly its abundance of polyphenols that can neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress – factors intricately linked to cancer development.

Another facet of olive oil’s health benefits is its anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation is a known catalyst for cancer, and olive oil’s compounds have demonstrated significant anti-inflammatory effects. This dual action of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents positions olive oil as a formidable ally against the multifaceted landscape of cancer risk.

Unfortunately, in the pursuit of health benefits from authentic olive oil, a dark side emerges – a surge in counterfeit extra virgin olive oils, particularly notorious crime syndicates in Italy. Exploiting the high demand for pure extra virgin olive oil, these criminals flood the market with fake products, targeting American supermarkets due to the country’s significant consumer base and The Wall Street Journal and NBC News have highlighted the prevalence of fake olive oil, with 60 Minutes warning of a “sea of fakes”. The dangers extend beyond deception, as fake oils may contain contaminants and even cancer-causing agents. To safeguard your health, it’s crucial to be vigilant and seek authentic, high-quality olive oil from reputable sources.

As we delve into the realms of nutrition and health, incorporating real olive oil into our daily diet may prove to be a flavorful and strategic choice to improve our health and prevent cancer.


Guarding Our Health: Navigating the Threat of PFAS Exposure and Building a Safer Community

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of persistent chemical pollutants that have gained attention due to their potential health impacts. PFAS exposure occurs through various sources, including consumer products like waterproof and nonstick items, household cleaners, clothes, dental floss, in food and food packaging, in 45% of our water supply and more. In recent years, concerns about PFAS exposure and its harms have come to the forefront.

In the United States, the dangers of PFAS exposure were highlighted by a lawsuit involving a DuPont factory in West Virginia, which dumped PFAS waste into the environment, contaminating drinking water and air. The subsequent study revealed a “probable link” between a specific PFAS variant and health issues like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, and certain cancers. Research conducted by scientists such as Grandjean and Weihe has shown that PFAS can interfere with immune responses, potentially reducing the effectiveness of routine vaccinations. However, broader concerns arise due to the numerous health conditions associated with PFAS exposure, including endocrine disruption, immune dysfunction, liver disease, asthma, infertility, and neurobehavioral problems.

Despite the widespread presence of PFAS and their potential health risks, many individuals, including medical professionals, remain unaware or unconcerned about the issue. The complexity of PFAS-related health problems, coupled with their prevalence in everyday products, makes it paramount to address this issue now. In fact, a report published in The Lancet in 2022 estimated that nine million people die each year from chronic diseases caused by environmental toxins. The connection between environmental exposures and chronic diseases emphasizes the need for prevention and recognition of the role of pollutants like PFAS in disease development.

To address the challenges posed by PFAS exposure, it is essential to raise awareness about their potential harms and promote strategies to reduce contact with these chemicals. Researchers continue to investigate the long-term impacts of PFAS on human health, particularly as exposed individuals transition from childhood to adulthood. Could PFAS chemicals be partly responsible for the increased incidence of multiple cancers in people under 50, and especially between 30-39? By understanding the breadth of health conditions associated with PFAS and taking proactive steps to minimize exposure, individuals and communities can work towards better overall health and well-being.

To lower our exposure to PFAS and protect our health, here are three things we can do:

  1. Choose Safer Products: Look for household items that are labeled as PFAS-free or made with alternative materials. Choose stainless steel or cast-iron cookware instead of nonstick pans, and try natural cleaning products without these chemicals.
  2. Healthy Eating Habits: While it’s tough to avoid PFAS entirely in our food, we can make better choices. Eating fresh, whole foods and reducing the consumption of fast food or packaged goods can help lower exposure.
  3. Clean Drinking Water: If you’re worried about your drinking water, consider using a water filter that is certified to remove PFAS. This can be especially important if you live near industrial areas or places where PFAS contamination has been found.

By being aware of PFAS and taking these steps, we can minimize our exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals and promote better health for ourselves and our families.

Unveiling the Hidden Dangers: Microplastics and Their Potential Harms to Human Health

Close-up of microplastics. credit pcess609 Getty Images / iStockphoto

In recent years, the widespread prevalence of microplastics has emerged as a growing concern. These tiny plastic particles, measuring less than 5mm in size, have infiltrated various ecosystems, including our oceans, rivers, or bodies, and even the air we breathe. While their impact on the environment is well-documented, the potential health risks posed by microplastics to human beings have raised significant alarm bells among scientists and researchers.

Several studies have shown that certain types of microplastics, such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), which are known endocrine disruptors, can leach from plastic particles. These chemicals have the potential to mimic or interfere with natural hormones in the body, leading to disruptions in the endocrine system. While human exposure to microplastics is widespread, it is challenging to establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and endocrine-related health issues.

One study examined the presence of microplastics in human stool samples. The study found microplastics in all the samples analyzed, indicating that humans are exposed to microplastics through ingestion. Another study analyzed the presence of microplastics in human tissues, including the colon and another study found MPs in lung tissue. It is estimated that on average humans consume a credit card worth of microplastics on a weekly basis.

There is a more definitive harmful effect of microplastics when we look to the animal studies. Research suggests that exposure to microplastics and can impact inflammation-related disorders. An animal study conducted at the University of California exposed mice to various concentrations of microplastic particles commonly in the environment, including polyethylene and polystyrene, and found that there was a significant increase in inflammation markers, indicating a potential correlation between microplastics exposure and inflammation-related health issues. The study suggested that microplastics may play a role in the development or exacerbation of conditions such as asthma, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders, which linked with chronic inflammation.

Microplastics have even been found to disrupt the gut microbiota.  A study explored the impact of microplastics on the gut microbiota—a complex community of microorganisms residing in our digestive system that plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. The researchers exposed zebrafish to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastics commonly found in marine ecosystems. The results revealed a significant disruption in the composition and diversity of the zebrafish gut microbiota. This disruption was accompanied by microbiota dysbiosis, metabolomic dysregulation, and oxidative stress. Disruptions in gut microbiota have been associated with a wide range of health issues, including metabolic disorders, immune dysfunction, and mental health disorders, suggesting that microplastics may have the potential to disturb the delicate balance of our gut microbiota and contribute to various health complications.

Microplastics undergo various changes in the digestive system and appear to be different in structure when they reach the colon. A recent study found that consuming microplastics can alter the composition of the microbial community in the human colon. The researchers suggest that some bacteria in the colon may attach to the surface of microplastics, leading to the formation of biofilms. These findings indicate that microplastics can have negative effects on digestive health. Given the growing exposure to microplastics in the food and beverages we consume, it is important to investigate how plastics affect the functioning of the gut microbiome and whether they can be broken down by digestion and intestinal bacteria.

While these studies provide valuable insights into the presence of microplastics in humans, they do not establish a clear cause-and-effect relationship between microplastics and health issues. Further research is needed to understand the potential long-term effects of microplastics on the endocrine system and human health. Controlled human studies, along with more comprehensive monitoring and analytical techniques, are essential for drawing more definitive conclusions.

As the research in this field continues to progress, it is crucial to prioritize measures to reduce microplastic pollution and limit human exposure. By minimizing the production and consumption of single-use plastics and promoting sustainable waste management practices, we can contribute to a healthier environment and potentially reduce the potential risks associated with microplastics to the endocrine system and human health.

Reducing exposure to microplastics is essential for both personal and environmental well-being. Here are three simple ways to minimize your exposure to microplastics:

  1. Choose reusable alternatives: Use reusable items instead of single-use plastics whenever possible. Replace disposable plastic water bottles with a reusable stainless steel or glass bottle. Carry a reusable shopping bag instead of relying on plastic bags. Store food in glass containers. By choosing reusable options, you reduce the need for single-use plastics that can break down into microplastics over time.
  2. Be mindful of clothing choices: Synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon, and acrylic shed microplastic fibers when washed. These fibers eventually find their way into water bodies. Consider opting for clothing made from natural materials such as cotton, linen, or wool. If you have synthetic garments, use a laundry bag designed to catch microfibers or consider using a washing machine filter designed to reduce microplastic release.
  3. Avoid personal care products with microbeads: Many personal care products, such as facial scrubs, body washes, and toothpaste, contain tiny plastic particles called microbeads. These microbeads can enter water systems and harm aquatic life. Check the ingredient labels of your personal care products and avoid products that contain ingredients like polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), which indicate the presence of microbeads. Instead, choose products with natural exfoliants like salt, sugar, or apricot seed powder.

By incorporating these simple practices into your daily life, you can significantly reduce your exposure to microplastics and contribute to a healthier environment.

Photo: Close-up of microplastics. Credit – pcess609 Getty Images / iStockphoto

Ultra-Processed Foods May Increase Cancer Risk

A new study published in the British Medical Journal reported that individuals who eat more highly processed foods have higher odds of developing cancer than their counterparts who eat less processed foods. In fact, the risk went up to 12 percent in the group consuming the most highly processed foods. Although correlational in nature, the study was a prospective study conducted in just over 100,000 individuals over an 8-year period of time. Correlation (when two things are associated) does not equal causation (when we know that one things causes another), but this is not the first time processed foods have been linked with cancer. The association may be due to a number of factors including the poor nutritional value of the food, dietary constituents such as sugar that may lead to inflammation, and additives that in and of themselves may be carcinogenic.

Community Recipes

Pea and Asparagus Salad

A talented cook and friend, Mark Dykes, created this recipe. It is so good that at one point we were eating it once a week! We keep the onions separate if we eat it over several days and add them as we go. The onions are also terrific in eggs, tacos, or just about anything.

This dish can be vegan or vegetarian, is high in fiber, and a good source of vegetable protein.

These amounts can be adjusted to personal taste.

1-2 handfuls of washed arugula

1 bunch washed fresh chopped mint

1 bag of frozen green peas – cooked for 1-2 minutes in boiling water

1 bunch chopped raw asparagus – washed and tough ends removed
and sliced in ½ inch pieces (you can steam them lightly if you prefer)

Parmesan to taste – shaved or grated – optional
½ a red onion thinly sliced and soaked 15-30 min. in rice wine vinegar

Put onions in a bowl and cover with rice wine vinegar. Let soak for 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the rest of the ingredients. Add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Combine desired quantity of soaked onions to the bowl and mix.