Working with the Cancer Societyby Bonnie Kramer
Director, Nutritional Services
Preventive Medicine Center
It seems these days, that no matter what newspaper or magazine you read, or what news station you are tuned into, everyone is touting the value of a healthy diet and exercise for everything from weight loss to disease prevention and survival. This is good news, but not new news for the PMC. Dr. Silverstein has devoted almost a quarter of a century to sharing this wise advice to his patients, hospitals, and various healthy organizations all over the country. Because of his tireless efforts, he has won several awards over the years and is regarded with esteem by his peers.
What is new news, and terrific news at that, is the American Cancer Society's (ACS) published "Guide for Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Survivors" in its Sep.-Oct. 2003 edition of CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The guidelines panel's research focuses on a nutrition/exercise regimen that closely mirrors what the PMC has been teaching for years. This report would have escaped me had it not been for a chance encounter with Helen Chain, the ACS's Community Executive, Cancer Control, who represents several areas in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
This past May, my sister, Margaret, asked me if I would like to volunteer on her hospital team for the ACS's "Relay for Life" event. This event celebrates cancer survivors, and activities include walking around the relay track as much as you wished throughout the day. I liked the upbeat nature of the event and so I agreed to participate. As we were busy setting up the tables, Margaret introduced me to Helen and she told her that I was a survivor. Helen and I became engaged in conversation, and I immediately took a liking to this petite, chatty, and dynamic lady. She was so enrolled in and dedicated to the ACS and the programs that she helps to set up that I thought what a remarkable representative she was for this organization.
Throughout the course of the day, as time permitted, Helen and I covered my career history, my holistic embrace of the macrobiotic lifestyle and my volunteer work with the PMC. Her mouth literally dropped open when I told her that my metastatic breast cancer to the bones was healed 16 years ago using the complementary approach of radiation, the macrobiotic dietary and lifestyle guidelines (including exercise), and the use of Pau D'Arco, a medicinal herb extracted from the inner bark of the Lapacho tree. She was full of questions and intrigue and she said she was very interested in meeting Dr. Silverstein and learning more about the work of the PMC. She informed me about the AC S's advances in the area of nutrition and exercise.
In September, Helen was invited to our PMC meeting where she met Dr. Silverstein and Ed Esko, our Director of Education Services. She gave us the copy of the CA Journal for Clinicians with its report on nutrition and exercise. After reading this report, it was clear that in many respects, our respective organizations were on the same page in several areas of recommendations to the public. The following are some fine examples:
- Not all fats, proteins, or carbohydrates are similar in their health effects. Some fats, such as monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids, are associated with a reduced risk for heart disease and possibly cancer, whereas saturated fats are associated with increased risks. The best protein choices are foods low in saturated fats, such as fish, legumes, and nuts. Healthful carbohydrate choices are foods that are rich in essential nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber, such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit.
- It is better to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits than any individual component because it is likely that the various vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals in these whole foods act in synergy to reduce cancer risk. Vegetables are more nutrient dense than fruit. Micronutrient and phytochemical rich vegetables in a variety of deep colors and flavors should be selected. This is a simple way to ensure that the diet includes a variety of phytochemicals at least five servings of vegetables and fruit should be eaten daily.
- For especially immune impaired people, such as those taking chemotherapy treatments, raw vegetables may increase the risk of infection as a result of pathogens on these foods. Steaming or otherwise cooking vegetables increases the absorption of many nutrients and other phytochemicals, improves tolerance, and decreases the risk for infection.
- Moderate to vigorous activity can reduce anxiety and depression, improve mood, boost self-esteem, and reduce symptoms of fatigue. The ACS and other health organizations (such as the PMC) recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity at least 5 days per week to reduce the risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
- Complementary approaches are those that are used in combination with standard medical treatment and provide relief from symptoms without interfering with the effectiveness of standard cancer treatment.
- The macrobiotic diet and lifestyle is not primarily aimed at cancer survivors, yet many persons first encounter this diet in the context of cancer. This diet is based on whole grains, vegetables, sea vegetables, beans, fermented soy products, fruit, nuts, seeds, soups, small amounts of fish, and teas. Individualized diets are based on whether a cancer is classified yin or yang. Macrobiotic diets may be used as an adjuvant to conventional treatment with careful planning to ensure nutritional variety and adequacy.
The guidelines panel has recommended that health care providers provide more documentation and studies for the complementary approach to disease survival. One of the primary goals of the PMC in our future permanent facility is to coordinate our integrative care approach. We are currently developing our business plan to obtain the financing and grants for our facility.
In the meantime, the PMC has been invited to speak and participate in several ACS supported programs and health fairs this Spring. We are very pleased with this collaboration.
The PMC remains committed to share, teach, and learn the best methods to standard and complementary approaches to disease prevention and survival. And that's great news indeed!
Bonnie Kramer is Director, Nutritional Services for the Preventive Medicine Center and a macrobiotic cooking teacher.