Naturopathic Medicine and Breast Health

Most of us are familiar with medical doctors, but what about naturopathic options?

“Most people don’t know what a naturopath is, because they don’t know that there’s more than just an MD and DO in the United States,” Dr. Pina Giudice, ND, LAc, said as she opened up her presentation for our latest Be Informed Lecture on naturopathic medicine.

Dr. Giudice provided insights into naturopathic medical approaches and how this type of medicine relates to cancer prevention and overall health. Read on for a few highlights or watch the whole lecture here.

Naturopathic medicine considers the patient as a whole.

Naturopathic doctors go through a four year, nationally accredited board examination program.

“It’s just a different philosophy on how the body works. Medical doctors break your body up into systems and parts. Naturopaths look at patients as a unified whole: mind, body, spirit. Even though the beginnings of our medical school training are identical in terms of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and those basic science trainings, we branch off and learn about botanical medicine, nutrient therapies, homeopathy,” she explained.

She said that naturopaths also delve into counseling and psychology. Some naturopaths, like Dr. Giudice, do additional training in acupuncture, chinese medicine, and other elements of Eastern medicine.

Epigenetics play a role in cancer development.

Epigenetics studies how behavior and environment impact the way genes work. Just because you carry a given gene does not mean that gene will be expressed. Things like pollution, smoking, diet, alcohol use, and exercise can all influence how genes—including those that are linked to cancer—are expressed.

As Dr. Giudice put it, “You are not subject to your genetic destiny.”

Mindful eating can help improve your overall health.

“Foods are extremely important…it’s also about our environment, stress factors, how we talk to ourselves, so it is multifactorial, but food does play a huge role,” Dr. Giudice said

She went on to explain how things like phytonutrients in foods can positively influence epigenetics. According to Dr. Giudice, phytonutrients can increase the expression of genes that produce antioxidants and detoxification enzymes, promoting protection against cancer. They can also decrease the expression of genes that promote inflammation and cancer development.

On the other end of the spectrum, things like glycemic load—the burden that the sugar content of a given food places on your body—can have the opposite effect.

She also encouraged patients to be mindful of how they cooked foods. For example, olive oil has many health benefits, however, many of those are erased if the oil is made too hot (i.e. used for frying). She said soups and stews were some of the best ways to consume healthy vegetables.

Exercise is essential to overall health and cancer recovery.

“If you looked at the list of things that exercise does for you, no drug can do for you what exercise does.”

According to Dr. Giudice, studies show that women with breast cancer who exercise regularly have higher self-esteem, less nausea during chemotherapy, better body image, and lower levels of fatigue, depression, and insomnia.

She cited a study where breast cancer survivors took a twenty-four week traditional dance class.

“If women [in the studies] danced for an hour three days a week, they had increased strength, they had increased life satisfaction, and they had a reduction of thirty-five percent for depressive symptoms.”

The mind connection between mind and body can have a powerful impact on treatment and recovery.

Some studies show that cells can change through the process of prayer and guided imagery. In these studies, patients who were asked to visualize cancer cells as weak and disorganized had better outcomes than those who did not engage in guided imagery and prayer.

“The mind is so powerful when it comes to healing,” she explained.

Dr. Giudice said that stress management and community and interpersonal relationships also play a role in immune system function. Patients who have better stress management tools and support systems tend to heal better. She urged patients to learn to manage stress and set boundaries as part of cancer recovery and prevention.

“Understand that your body has an inherent ability to heal—the body’s main goal is always self-preservation and healing, and if you feel that sense of power within you, you are going to change your physiology in the best way possible.”

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