Eating well to battle sickness
WRITTEN BY JESSICA SANTINA
ILLUSTRATION BY EBEN DICKINSON
A bbi Holtom Whitaker, a 35-year-old Reno wife and mother, had everything she’d ever wanted: a thriving public relations business, a beautiful home, and a healthy savings. But then on June 29 she found blood in the toilet.
She knew instinctively that it was cancer, and she was right — a visit to a gastrointestinal specialist and a colonoscopy revealed a small polyp: stage 1 anal cancer.
“I had the perfect life, but when you find out you have cancer, none of that matters,” Whitaker says. “You realize how vulnerable you are.”
Her treatment plan was threefold: radiation, chemotherapy, and a solid nutritional plan.
The benefits of nutrition on healing are well documented. Karen Fisher, MS, RD, CDE, a dietitian and the supervisor for Saint Mary’s diabetes awareness program and outpatient nutrition services, has seen remarkable outcomes, whether it’s with a cancer patient rebounding from crippling treatments to people with diabetes, on large doses of medication, using diet to lower dosages or get off meds completely.
But Fisher believes that the health care industry hasn’t done a good job of communicating the importance of nutrition.
“People get focused on avoiding calories and fat,” she says, “but don’t really know what to look for.”
According to Dr. Stanley Omaye, a nutrition professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, the key to a healing diet is three simple words: “Variety, balance, and moderation — a lot of different sources of foods, a good balance of micro- and macronutrients, and in amounts that aren’t too excessive or too little.”
Though Omaye has seen the benefits of nutrition on healing, he cautions against the “magic bullet” theory of foods with healing properties.
“That’s where we start getting into trouble, for instance, people take large volumes of vitamin C supplements when they get a cold,” Omaye says. “But we’re finding studies that show excesses of vitamin C causing more problems than fixing them.”
Thus, he says, vitamin pills aren’t ideal.
“Lab experiments show that when you challenge a system with one nutrient at a time, it could cause adverse effects, but when taken as mixtures they work better,” he says. “That’s what we’ve found with antioxidants like vitamins C and E. It’s better to have them in a food source working in harmony than alone.”
FEEDING THE MACHINE
According to Corazon Ibarra, a homeopathic medical practitioner at Bio Integrative Health Center International in Reno, we should think of our bodies as machines.
“Our bodies rely on accurate communication, from nerve to nerve, organ to organ, and cell to cell,” she explains. “That communication comes from our food. To have good communication, all the messengers must be good. Think of a copier. The carbohydrates are the current of energy, like the cord in the wall, delivering the message that we need new cells. Proteins are the copiers. And fats are like the cleansers, ensuring that the old cells are disposed of properly.”
Ibarra says that, in the case of cancer, imperfect cell replication is the cause, which is why nutritional food is essential in its treatment. Not that Ibarra advocates diet as the cure-all. Her approach is three-pronged: alternative medicine, lifestyle maintenance, and traditional medicine.
“I’m not against radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy,” she says. “But what I think is, when you remove those abnormal cells, what happens to the new cells that are coming, if you don’t correct how they’re made? The thing that corrects that is food.”
This is why Ibarra recommends organic and all-natural foods whenever possible.
“If it’s filled with preservatives or pesticides,” she says, “it interferes with our body’s internal communication.”
WHAT TO EAT
“A lot of diseases come from the same two problems in the body: inflammation and acidity,” explains Dr. Lisa Metzgar of Concepts in Wellness, who also is Whitaker’s nutritionist. “Viruses and cancers like acidic environments. And our American diet, with its soda, coffee, alcohol, red meat … they’re all acidic. Inflammation is the underlying cause of so many diseases — diabetes, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer’s — and our diet causes that.”
Metzgar, who holds a Ph.D. in holistic nutrition and has been an alternative health practitioner for 16 years, has recommended for Whitaker, as she does for most of her clients, an anti-inflammatory, high-alkaline, high-antioxidant diet.
She recommends cutting back on acidic foods, which kill enzymes in our bodies that help them function, and they encourage bacteria growth, hardening tissues, attacking the immune system, and increasing inflammation. Acidic foods include animal fats, eggs, dairy, processed grains, and sodas. And plenty of water is essential in flushing out toxins.
In essence, as Whitaker points out, a diet that promotes healing doesn’t have to be difficult. It’s about using common sense and making better decisions.
“If it’s in a package and I don’t recognize or understand the ingredients, I don’t eat it,” Whitaker says.
And, she adds, the benefits are remarkable. Now finished with her treatments, her prognosis is optimistic.
“I feel better right now than I’ve felt in a long time,” she says.
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer and editor who fancies herself an amateur chef. Thanks to her research for this story, she’s experimenting with new ways to incorporate nuts and parsley into her meals at home.
10 Disease Fighting Staples
|Fish: They’re full of anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering Omega-3 fatty acids. Metzgar and Fisher recommend a diet that includes fish twice a week.|
|Parsley: This herb is a natural pH balancer and enzyme fortifier that should be part of your daily intake, Metzgar says. Juice it or add to a smoothie.|
|Berries: They’re rich in antioxidants, a natural immune booster, low in calories, and full of fiber. The darker the berry, the better.|
|Almonds: Almonds are anti-inflammatory and alkaline, and contain healthy fats that help to flush toxins from the body, and are rich in antioxidants such as lycopene and lutein.
|Broccoli: Metzgar calls broccoli one of the “super veggies.” They help detoxify the body, and they contain cancer-fighting phytochemicals.|
|Melons: Ibarra recommends melon to her patients because it contains heart-healthy enzymes, and Metzgar calls it a pro-alkaline food.|
|Green tea: Long known for its antioxidant properties, green tea also has been shown to reduce inflammation, decrease cancer risk and heart disease, and prevent type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.|
|Dark chocolate: This treat, preferably at least 70 percent cacao, is full of antioxidants and cancer fighters, and its mood-elevating properties seem to also bring healing.|
|Cinnamon: Metzgar recommends adding cinnamon to nutrient-rich smoothies; its delicious flavor helps stabilize blood sugar and lower cholesterol.|
|Yogurt: Probiotics, such as those found in yogurt, promote intestinal health, and “our intestinal tract is our immune system,” Fisher says.|