This post is part one of a two-part series on advanced stage cancer and nutrition. I have two sides to my reason for writing this series of posts. The one hand is my personal reflection on traditional medicine (with particular attention to oncology) and the (lack of) focus on nutrition, and the second side is to discuss the connection (and powerful tool) between diet and disease.
Part One: For What (Nutrition) Is Worth
I am currently studying to become a nutritional therapist, so, I’m just going to go ahead and say this here and now: There is simply too much confusion — and a lack of guidance out there — to help people live their healthiest life possible. The reason adding this certification to my collection is so important to me is, I honestly feel there is a disconnect between the prevention and treatment of disease and nutrition. Not just a disconnect, but a negligent disconnect.
There is simply too much confusion and a lack of guidance out there to help people live their healthiest life possible.
The purpose of this post is certainly not to derail, dismiss, or argue that oncologists are not medical professionals who face one of the worst diseases of all time because they certainly are amazing people. I have an enormous amount of respect for doctors, believe me when I say this. However, I had the first-hand experience with the issue I will be discussing today while my father was treated for his stage IV colon cancer in 2011. I have reflected long and hard about what I am posting, so this is not something I just decided to discuss offhand. I also know that I am not the only person who could recount a (similar if not identical) story about the subject I’m about to reference in my discussion.
Nutrition is such an intricate part of life in sickness and (good) health.
Stage IV cancer is terminal, and it is heartbreaking to hear that diagnosis. When my father was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in February 2011, the two options his oncologist had for him were as follows: Chemotherapy with a life expectancy of 12-36 months, or do nothing and live six months. My father chose to fight and underwent an aggressive form of chemotherapy.
My father’s drug combinations included substances that would make him unable to breathe in cold weather and unable to drink liquids colder than room temperature. Drugs that caused him chronic nausea and fatigue. Drugs that caused him skin lesions, hair loss, and chronic rashes. Drugs that ultimately corroded his liver and ended his life eight months to the day of his prognosis. During my father’s treatment, he was in the hospital between 20-30 times for treatment, regular appointments, and surgeries. He saw his oncologist and the oncology nurses regularly, but he was only referred to speak to an oncology nutritionist once in 8 months.
I would accompany my father to his appointments, and more than once his oncologist dismissed my comments about types of foods we were encouraging my dad to eat, including getting him a juicer. In fact, her response to our buying a juicer was this, “at this point if he wants to eat McDonald’s and he’s eating, just let him have what he wants.”
I was floored by such an answer.
Really, Doc? McDonald’s?
Yes, that’s what she said. What this comment told me was, “the end is near, so let him eat whatever he wants.” — which was not only a dismissive, but very upsetting (not to mention, frustrating) message to hear.
Now, I’m not suggesting that juicing was ever going to cure my father’s advanced stage cancer, but what I am saying, outright, is that every person — regardless of their current health profile –should be encouraged by their healthcare provider to eat a balanced and healing diet.
I’m also not suggesting that all specialists should be required to obtain a degree in nutrition, or that this is what your doctor would say to you. However, going back to my frustration with the comment made by my father’s oncologist, how could she be so blatantly dismissive about what my dad was eating? It was ignorant, in my opinion. Maybe that was it, ignorance, but even if my father’s oncologist was not in the position to comment on his nutrition, surely she knew that — regardless of his current health — eating processed food would not be the best choice for him. Period. Why be dismissive about nutrition — for any reason — at any stage of life?
Practitioners and Nutrition Education
The National Academy of Sciences sets a guideline minimum of 25 hours of nutrition education for medical school students. However, findings from the Nutrition in Medicine Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducted from 2008-2009 show that this requirement is often not met.
A total of 105 schools completed the portion of the survey regarding the number of nutrition contact hours. According to these responses, U.S. medical schools provided an average of 19.6 hours of required nutrition teaching (range: 0–70 contact hours). Only 27% (28/105) of U.S. medical schools responding to this question indicated that they provided the minimum of 25 hours recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in 1985.3 Thirty medical schools (29%) reported requiring 12 or fewer hours of nutrition instruction (Figure 1). Most of these contact hours took place during the first two years of medical training when students received an average (standard error of the mean [SEM]) of 15.4 (1.0) hours of required nutrition instruction. The third and fourth years provided an average (SEM) of only 4.2 (0.6) additional hours.
– Nutrition in Medicine Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Of course, some specialists are educated specifically in nutrition and, yes, they would be better to consult with for matters specifically concerning diet. I also know you wouldn’t go to a chiropractor for a heart condition any quicker than you would go to a gastroenterologist for a back problem. However, despite my father’s disease, I never heard any real advice or encouragement about the power (or possibility) of nutrition as a way to heal or comfort him from any medical professional.
Again, this account is based on the experiences I (closely) watched my father have, but I can’t help but feel, when it comes to advanced cancer (or any condition, for that matter), it is a common attitude often to “throw in the towel” on nutrition.
If so, this is an attitude in need of serious reconsideration.
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!
Further information on medical school and nutrition education: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/health/16chen.html?_r=0
Information on the Nutrition in Medicine Project: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042309/
Important read — Advanced Stage Cancer and Nutrition #NutritionalTherapy #Health #Wellness #Prevention #FoodIsMedicine @beetsperminute
Do you think nutrition is not emphasized enough both in prevention and treatment of diseases?