Five ways to thrive after breast cancer

Mary, age 52, visited my clinic to ask about ways to prevent a recurrence of her breast cancer.

She had been diagnosed one year previously and had been told that she was cancer free. Recently on an Air Canada flight she had seen the documentary by the National Film Board of Canada called Pink Ribbon Inc which started her on her own search for ways she could be preventing a recurrence.

Mary knew that only a very small percentage of money raised goes to breast cancer prevention and finding out underlying causes of breast cancer but she had not heard of the book Five to Thrive by Dr. Lise Alschuler N.D and Karolyn Gazella both of whom have had breast cancer. Their first message is that a person can have cancer and be healthy if they use the tools they need to replace the fear of a daunting disease with vital living.

I explained that Dr. Alschuler and Karolyn outline in their book the ways that most  naturopathic physicians view their cancer patients but in a concise and scientific way. Mary was surprised to learn about the mouse study that showed that nutrition can change the expression of genes. Most people feel that there is nothing they can do to lower their chances of getting cancer and this is not the case.

Along with the five pathways of the body that can be optimized are five keys for changing behavior. When people visit naturopathic doctors they are ready to change their behavior towards their health. As a naturopathic physician, I encourage people not to have an all or nothing attitude but to celebrate small victories that can lead to larger ones. To not dwell on setbacks and to have a plan to follow long term. I also encourage patients to keep a gratitude journal as a first step in positive thinking.

The naturopathic treatment plan revolves around the five key pathways in the body that support healthy gene expression. Mary interrupted me and said “but I thought only 5% of breast cancers are caused by the BRCA gene mutation?” She is right but what we are talking about are the other 95% of breast cancers caused by damage to the single nucleotides of genes called SNP’s that make people susceptible to cancer. These can be mutations of genes that help the body detoxify environmental pollutants or that help breakdown estrogens.

The five key pathways of the body that help change the expression of gene mutations or epigenomics are: immune, inflammation, hormones, insulin resistance and digestion/detoxification.

The immune system is composed of trillions of specialized cells to identify and destroy damaged cells including cancer cells. For instance herbs that help to raise Natural Killer (NK) cell activity in the body will support the immune system of cancer patients.

Prolonged inflammation creates tissue chaos and damage that favors cancer development. This process can be measured using inflammatory markers in the blood. It can also be modified using naturopathic therapies such as an anti-inflammatory diet and supplementing with high activity antioxidants.

Hormones are powerful messengers that often serve as growth signals for cells so controlling hormones such as cortisol or 4 hydroxyestrogen is important in controlling inflammation and preventing breast cancer.

Insulin resistance makes cells less susceptible to the normal metabolism of insulin and can stimulate cancer cells to grow. This resistance can be measured with IGF1 in the blood and reversing it is possible with diet, nutrition and exercise.

Digestion/Detoxification pathways provide us with critical nutrients and helps us rid our system of toxic cancer causing substances. This is the hallmark of naturopathic medicine which promotes up-regulation of the detoxification pathways in the liver and supports optimal digestion. For example taking probiotics regularly has been linked to cancer prevention.

The joy of naturopathic medicine is that many key remedies used in cancer treatment as well as prevention support all of these pathways at once! These include my “Foundation of Health” remedies: vitamin D, probiotics and essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in fish oils.

Mary was very keen on the “Five to Thrive” program and she was also very interested in the Pink and Green Ribbon grassroots organization that supports research into the cause and prevention of breast cancer. She was excited to hear about the run/walk that takes place in Canmore, Alberta every year to support them.


Dr. Ingrid Pincott, naturopathic physician, has been practicing since 1985 and can be reached at 250-286-3655 or

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