A Q&A with local authors Dr. Nasha Winters, ND, FABNO, L.Ac Founder and CEO of Optimal Terrain Consulting and Jess Higgins Kelley, MNT Founder and CEO of Remission Nutrition.
What made you two decide to write a book (The Metabolic Approach to Cancer: Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet, and Nontoxic Bio-Individualized Therapies) and who do you think should read it?
Nasha: The book idea was birthed one night over a delicious meal at Jess’s house after being prodded by patients, who had attended our cancer retreats, to write a cookbook. However, the amount of time we spent debunking food myths and educating clients and colleagues on therapeutic diets showed a gap that needed to be filled first. Luckily, we switched gears to how we have adulterated the food and our planet over the past 150 years and how that has directly impacted our health and well-being. Since we signed our contract with Chelsea Green Publishing, at least a dozen cookbooks on low carbohydrate/ketogenic diets for cancer have hit the market. Those authors appreciate what we are sharing in our book because it compels folks to buy and use their cookbooks and have a deeper understanding as to why we need to be thinking and eating differently.
Jess: Anyone looking to prevent or help manage their cancer – or any chronic illness for that matter – with nutrition should read this book.
The title of your book is “The Metabolic Approach To Cancer”. Can you explain what you mean by a Metabolic Approach?
Nasha: This is about what is the best and most efficient fuel source(s) for our cells in which to function, repair, and heal. When we have healthy metabolism of our powerhouses, the mitochondria, we are more resistant to all diseases. Faulty mitochondria lead to faulty DNA and a welcome mat for many chronic illnesses.
What makes this book different than other books out there about diet and cancer?
Jess: We take nutrition to the next level. With over 200 referenced studies and papers, we demonstrate the power of nutrition to impact a cancering terrain. We focus on the ketogenic diet and other metabolic approaches like fasting, but what sets ours apart is a deep focus on food quality, phytonutrients, and a biorhythmic approach to diet and lifestyle.
How new is this approach to cancer treatment, and what success have you seen thus far?
Nasha: This is not a new concept. In fact, it has been well understood and articulated since the 1920s under Otto Warburg’s research. However, the research world took another path once Watson and Crick of DNA fame took us down another rabbit hole – expecting to find a single gene, single cause, and single cure approach. That has not happened though that paradigm still dominates oncology research.
Warburg suggested that if we simply lower the intake of glucose (and all things that convert to glucose when ingested), we impose a ripple effect in the body that favors better outcomes.
Many conventional therapies today will simply not work or be less effective if the tissues are bathed in glucose. Cancer cells are less sensitive to radiation when glucose and insulin are high. When ketones are the primary fuel source and sugars are low, we see greater response to and fewer side effects of many therapies, including radiation. The same is true for chemotherapy.
Years of co-managing patients with other doctors around the country has solicited feedback that my patients looked and felt better, are able to keep on track with treatments, need less, if any, of the co-administered medications, experience less side effects, have better response to treatment, longer progression-free survival, overall longer survival, stability of disease, and many with complete response to treatment showing no evidence of disease.
My patients report a much better quality of life. Most of my patients are involved in support groups and can see first hand how their experience differs from their peers who do not adhere to a metabolic or integrative approach to cancer. And, finally, the labs do not lie. I never ‘guess’ what is going on and always follow patients with appropriate and ongoing lab testing to monitor their disease, and if necessary, switch gears as their body dictates. I focus on the patient, not the tumor, and I do not treat cancer. I treat the way their body utilizes energy, and I remove obstacles, create awareness, enhance immune function, and lower inflammation.
Let’s dive in to the Terrain TenTM. Describe each of the ten elements and how they relate to the cancer process.
Nasha: I liken this concept to a tree. The canopy is the epigenetics, that inborn blueprint we received from our parents, grandparents, and beyond, that we have the ability to express or not express any hiccups depending on how we think, feel, and feed them into reality.
The soil is the microbiome in which that tree develops and draws its nourishment. If you aren’t offering good nutrition to that tree, the canopy suffers and expresses dis-ease.
The trunk is the mental/emotional component that connects the tangible to the intangible. It is often the most ignored or downplayed part of our reality, and yet, study after study shows that if you are not mentally at peace and emotionally mature, or have any form of unresolved trauma in your history, your likelihood of contracting a chronic illness is higher and your ability to overcome it is lower. It is imperative to be mindful of any stagnation or deficiencies of the trunk and address it head on.
And, finally, the branches include things like sugar intake—how and what energy source is primarily driving the growth of that tree. Circulation and angiogenesi – under stress and low oxygen, the cancer sends signals to recruit more blood vessels to feed its insatiable hunger. Hormone balance – we are all swimming in an endocrine disrupting soup these days from plastics to hormones in our meat and water sources to body care products. Circadian rhythm and stress response – impacted by our disconnect to the natural rhythms and seasons along with chronic exposure to blue light and screen time that in turn switches our internal clocks driving more cellular and metabolic miscommunication. Inflammation is the driver of all chronic illness today. We used to die of infection. Today, we die of inflammation. Immune function is key to help our cells recognize, respond, and remember correctly any assaults to the immune system and to correct it. Toxic burden is the new way of life today. It is no longer a matter of if you have it, it is a matter of how much, and it takes a concerted effort to regularly “take out the garbage” which is needed daily to keep up with the exposure.
What is the Ketogenic Diet and why has it become increasingly popular over the past few years?
Jess: The ketogenic diet is high fat – approximately 75 percent or more of the diet comes from quality fats. And it is low carbohydrate – around 5 percent – and also low protein, generally 15 to 20 percent or so. The body has the ability to run on two different types of fuel sources, glucose or ketones. When we eat a high fat diet, the body produces ketones instead of glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet, or achieving nutritional ketosis, is also not a new concept. Throughout human evolution, there were always times when food was scarce or only high fat animal foods were available, thus forcing a state of ketosis. Today, when applied clinically, we are seeing great results with neurological disorders including epilepsy and also with cancer. People also feel mentally sharp and lose extra weight when they follow the diet, so it has a general appeal as well.
In addition to the Ketogenic Diet, what other types of integrative therapies do you use when treating patients?
Nasha: I no longer treat patients. I sold my brick-and-mortar practice several years ago and now I consult exclusively with doctors and researchers around the world to help them learn how to do a comprehensive Terrain TenTM assessment and choose the best road map of care for each patient individually.
There are no protocols here. Depending on the Terrain TenTM assessment, personal and family history, toxic exposures, current diagnosis and general state of health, current treatment protocol, and etcetera are what inform what other treatments or more specific nutritional interventions may be warranted.
We must avoid being seduced by the idea of a stand-alone treatment for cancer. Cancer is not a single cause and effect. It is a collection of patterns and insults that damage the mitochondria that lead to DNA damage and out-of-control cell growth. We need to get away from the one target, one treatment ideology as we are dealing with complex terrain imbalances and the aforementioned assessment and therapies offer a multi-target approach that enhances outcomes when combined.
How is your approach to cancer being received by conventional oncologists? Where do you think conventional oncology has gotten it “wrong” when approaching cancer treatment?
Nasha: Frankly, it seems to be more well-received by oncologists and researchers in the academic hospital and university settings, and is still a bit slower to catch on in smaller-town practices. I continue to consult on the Johns Hopkins Mistletoe Trial that began in February of this year along with a few other trials on mistletoe (a cancer fighting plant) around the country. I am also serving as a medical advisor to various biotech companies, patient advocacy programs, and integrative medical centers around the world. I consult with doctors on how to best care for their patients, especially given the lack of time physicians have to keep up with the latest oncology research which is growing exponentially. The terrain versus tumor approach I have been preaching for a quarter of a century is finally taking root and catching the attention of patients, practitioners, and researchers worldwide, truly changing the way we think about and approach the cancering process.
If you had to choose one thing for your health to lower your cancer risk, what would it be?
Nasha: Obviously, change the fuel source for the body, but most importantly, reconnect with self and inner rhythm by getting out into the natural world, finding your joy, practicing gratitude, and fulfilling your life’s purpose.
Jess: Decrease caloric consumption and add more nutrient-dense vegetables. In general, many Americans eat too much of the wrong foods, like sugar, and not enough of the healthy ones, like garlic, mushrooms, and cruciferous vegetables. ϕ