Nasha Winters is a Durango naturopathic doctor specializing in the field of oncology. Winters aims to support the whole person via Hippocrates’ credo: “Let food be thy medicine.” While not expecting cures, she believes cancer can be a manageable disease, and has supported patients out of stage IV cancers. Winters and her team are currently leading nationwide workshops teaching their specialized cancer support protocols to other health practitioners. If you could sum up her philosophy in a sentence, it might be: Live more like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Edible Southwest Colorado is fortunate to get the scoop (tip of the iceberg, really) on her cancer philosophy and protocol.
Edible Southwest Colorado: How long have you been treating cancer patients?
Nasha Winters: I first started learning about nutrition and cancer 24 years ago when dealing with my own cancer diagnosis. At that time, all information available in alternative cancer care pointed to raw food, juicing, and a vegan diet. There is much good in this and it did work for some people because of its profound cleansing effect. But cancer patients can’t get their blood sugar low enough on a vegan diet nor replenish some key nutritional deficiencies or build/repair tissue and adrenal function. In fact, I no longer work with vegan clients because of the roadblocks I have faced with trying to support their terrain. There was a lot we didn’t understand then that we are just beginning to grasp now with regard to nutritional biochemistry and therapeutic diets.
What is the first thing you tell a new patient about diet?
We want patients to understand that we can enhance their conventional therapy by enhancing nutrition.
You encourage your patients to do chemo, radiation and surgery?
Oh, yes. The majority of my patients are already doing conventional therapy. There is so much we can do to optimize their nutrition, which in turn offsets side effects, and, in many cases, allows the chemo/radiation/surgery to be more targeted and effective.
All my patients keep a diet diary. I use lab markers, physical symptoms, body mass index and consider the type of chemo and cancer to determine their program. I don’t expect cures ever, but I think this can be a manageable disease like diabetes. We all have cancer cells all the time and we are learning that we can manipulate their expression.
Tell me more about that.
Our bodies are constantly making new cells. We make new skin and gut cells every 24-72 hours. One of the things that happens with cancer is that a mixed message comes in and tells the cell to grow up into a different cell altogether. When the “cruise director” of our cellular matrix is guiding appropriately, we make new healthy tissue. When she’s on break, that’s when the cancer cells get out of hand.
The number-one nutrient that differentiates our cells into healthy cells is Vitamin D3. Everyone should get their Vitamin D levels checked. The average Vitamin D at the turn of the century, which we know from soldiers’ records, was 115 ng/ml. Today it’s 30. Vitamin D3 comes from grass-fed animals, lard, supplementation (must be D3, in an oil source, preferably non-soy, taken with a fatty meal and leafy greens for the vitamin K2 that enhances its absorption), and being outside for periods of time without sunscreen. Vitamin D takes three days to synthesize in skin, so I tell my patients: no soap anywhere, except pits and parts (so as not to wash away this lovely fat soluble molecule).
What’s the worst thing to eat if you have cancer?
Cancer lives on sugar. Tumors require large amounts of glucose. Some patients do well on a short-term ketogenic diet (not the same as keto-acidosis): high fat, some protein, no carbs. Some require an intermittent fasting. Others may simply need to cut back on sugar, and processed and conventionally-grown foods. Even registered dieticians say we should be getting no more than 25 grams a day of sugar. Most Americans eat three days’ worth of sugar in their first meal of the day. Vanilla yogurt with granola, a banana and a glass of orange juice have over 70 grams of sugar. One hundred years ago, Americans ate 5 pounds of sugar per year. In 2013, 175 pounds.
How important is it to watch your sugar intake if you don’t have cancer?
Very. The National Institute of Health and the CDC says half of us will have diabetes by 2020 and one in three of us will be diagnosed with cancer. On our planet today, you’re most likely to die of three diseases: cancer, Alzheimer’s, and/or diabetes. They’re all sugar-based diseases. The oxidative stress that sugar brings into the mix is why our DNA is unraveling and exploding into obesity, diabetes, mental disorders, heart disease, and cancer.
Do all your patients get the same diet plan?
Diet is based on lab blood values. We run labs monthly until someone is stable, then go to every three months. Seventy percent of all cancer patients die of cachexia, which is metabolic muscle wasting process. You can only build muscle with fat and protein, not carbs.
And you can’t treat cachexia by stuffing yourself with calories. It’s the nature of the calories. I’ve actually had people gain weight on 250 calories a day of nutrient-dense food, not a gram of sugar, starch or carbs. Conventional oncology often gives TPN (total parenteral nutrition) through IV to severely cachexic patients. The first three ingredients are sugar in various forms.
Is gluten a problem?
Another big fuel for cancer is insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Gluten directly raises IGF-1 for all of us. It raises blood sugar, NF kappa beta (mother molecule of inflammation) and pokes holes in the gastrointestinal tract leading to a whole array of issues. Dr. Bharat Aggarwal, famed MD Anderson oncology researcher, says, “If we quell inflammation, we cure all the diseases of today.”
How do you get your patients to change their diets?
We lead cancer retreats, where every meal is provided, demonstrated, and recipes are shared. People learn quickly that this food is delicious and makes them feel better. We do blood work at the beginning and end of the retreat and you can literally see the lab values change after four days of altering the diet.
What sort of guidelines do you give patients for eating meat?
We know that iron is another major fuel source for tumors, along with sugar. We do labs to check for ferritin, which is iron storage. If they have high ferritin, then no red meat for a while. (And only if the patient wants to eat red meat, has adequate digestive function to break down and absorb it, and has a quality source of organic, grass-fed and grass finished meat or pastured poultry and/or pork).
Red blood cells, hemoglobin and hematocrit are almost always low in cancer patients and especially low while undergoing treatment. This indicates anemia but rarely iron-deficient anemia. Probably only up to 10 percent of cancer patients are actually iron-deficient. There are 26 different types of anemia. The majority of cancer patients are B-12 deficient, which is often low in people with diets high in Omega 6, which includes most Americans [Ed: Omega 6’s come from grains, grain-fed animals and vegetable oils]. Most patients, within a few months of our treatment, get their ferritin levels perfect, and then they can have moderate amounts of grass-fed red meat if they so choose.
It’s anti-inflammatory, filled with Omega 3s, CLA, Vitamin D3, B12, zinc, vitamins and minerals.
What about fat intake?
I recommend plenty of healthy fats. Coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia oil, nuts, avocados, non-GMO pastured eggs from a local source, ghee, pastured buttered. If you can get raw, organic, local, pastured dairy, that is great. If not, Kalona and Strauss are good brands available at most natural food stores. Only full-fat dairy products, no low-fat. The fat lowers the glycemic index, slows down absorption. Plus many vitamins are fat soluble (A, E, K, D). I had one woman on a feeding tube for cachexia and a partial bowel obstruction who could only manage to eat yogurt. She was at stage IV with ovarian cancer and is doing quite well today.
Low fat, conventionally-raised dairy high in IGF-1 and inflammatory markers are well known to drive metastasis of various cancers. The pastured, organic version actually lowers the IGF-1 thanks to the conjugated linoleic acid content.
Is it unusual to have people with stage IV cancer turn around?
I was at a conference last year and a researcher asked a room of 300 clinicians, “How many of you have had stage IV clients go into remission?” Only three of us raised our hands. I’ve worked with a lot of stage IV people that are now NED [Ed: NED: no evidence of disease] or living well with the disease. I work with a lot of stage III and IV ovarian cancer patients and though we still lose folks to these aggressive cancers, we do see a higher incidence of better quality of life, longer duration of survival, and, for some, overall maintenance of the disease process.
Is there any room for grains or legumes?
Absolutely. If inflammation and blood sugar are stable, there are no food allergies or cross reactivities, or issues digesting lectins, which, for most of us is a problem at least some of the time. If grain were the same as it was prior to World War II, we could probably get by on small amounts. But, we’re inhaling it. Everything’s on a bun. Once my patients get their blood sugar levels down, they can introduce small amounts of beans: black, lentils, mung, adzuki (Note that these are smaller by design as they aren’t as starchy). But I’m talking a quarter cup cooked, no more than a couple times a week. Same with grains: small amounts of quinoa, buckwheat, rice if tolerated. I advise to never go back on gluten. All my patients see and feel the biggest negative impact on their physical and mental well being as well as on their labs after trying to reintroduce gluten. Corn is second worst: pure sugar and mostly GMO these days, which impacts our DNA, hormones and immune function. Great books with more information on grains are Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis and Grain Brain by Dr. Perlmutter.
What about fruits and vegetables?
Avoid the Dirty Dozen [go ediblesouthwestcolorado.com to read about the dirty dozen]. I had a patient get arsenic poisoning from eating tremendous amounts of non-organic spinach that he was putting in his “healthy green smoothie” every morning. If a patient’s blood sugar is stable, they can have unlimited sweet potatoes, winter squash, beets, purple potatoes. I recommend, for everyone, nine cups of veggies per day: 3 cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage), 3 colorful, and 3 leafy greens.
Dr. Terry Wahls’ TED talk, “Minding Your Mitochondria,” inspired this veggie protocol after she cured herself from a serious form of Multiple Sclerosis.
Cooked or raw veggies?
Both. If digestion is weak, just cooked to begin with.
The only fruits my patients can have until their blood sugar is stabilized are small amounts of organic berries and one green apple daily. If you’re on the ketogenic diet, you don’t even get fruit for a period of time. There is no chance of successfully treating brain, liver or pancreatic cancer if you’re eating sugar. Limited amounts of raw honey are okay for some (especially for things like mucositis).
Typically our sugar cravings are dehydration. First, drink water. Next, try some fat and protein, some avocado, grass-fed cheese, walnuts. If someone’s still wanting carbs after ingesting those things, I look at what’s going on emotionally.
Basically, I ask my patients to eat well, sleep well, exercise and manage their stress. If we all did this, I’d be out of a job.
(Dr. Nasha Winters is on staff at Namaste Health Center
in Durango, CO)