Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Turning Off Breast Cancer & Healing Smoothies: Book Reviews

When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, I freaked out.  I thought it was an inevitable early death sentence for both her and I.  Even before then, cancer was always something I feared.  When I heard the news, it was like my almost phobia was being realized.  I experienced extreme anxiety, as well as anger and resentment.  "Why my mother?" "Why me?" I kept wondering.  Feeling a complete loss of control, I decided to research causes and risk factors to see if there was anything my mom could do to increase her chance of survival and what I could do to reduce my chances of getting breast cancer.  Unfortunately, what I found was that so many things had been linked with breast cancer (some which are definite correlates, others which are urban legends), that I ended up hysterical, feeling like the entire world was toxic and basically breast cancer was almost an inevitability for me, and, actually, for almost every woman on the planet.  I made a number of significant lifestyle changes (cut down on alcohol consumption, eliminated red meat) and started trying to eat things that were supposedly good for prevention.  I was obsessed, and stressed, and miserable.  One day while I tried to gag down a smoothie (remember, I hate smoothies!) full of gritty flax seeds, disgusting greens powder, and a host of other stuff, I realized I'd gone too far.  My efforts to extend my life were taking out all the joy of my life.  I knew I had to find balance.  I still try to limit alcohol and rarely eat red meat, but I have made a conscious effort not to think about it too much.  I eat and extremely healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, sleep well, have never smoked, and exercise a lot.  Those are the most important things you can do in terms of preventing disease and premature death, and I can do all those things while loving every minute and mouthful I take in.

So I was a bit nervous to review nutritionist, Daniella Chace's book Turning Off Breast Cancer. Would this book just re-ignite my fears and create anxiety? Well, the short answer is yes. But after taking a deep breath, I was able to reflect on a lot of what's in the book and take it with a grain of salt.  Her general recommendations are sound: eat unprocessed foods, sleep enough, exercise, maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol, don't smoke, etc...geez, sounds a lot like what I already do!  Some of her advice, however, is a little far reaching. 

Chace has a huge reference section in the back, so she has clearly researched a lot, and used mostly credible, peer reviewed data, but she makes the leap, that many health experts caution against: since an isolated micronutrient kills cancer cells in a laboratory petrie dish, we can assume that taking supplements will prevent or treat cancer in the human body. 

Some things are a bit ridiculous, like insisting on a vegan diet.  She talks a lot about the growth hormones in dairy, but we don't add them to dairy in Canada, so if you are here, you need not worry about that.  Also, while I agree that there is some pretty compelling evidence about the risks of saturated fat and red meat related to cancer, I don't see why moderate amounts of eggs, poultry and fish are not allowed.

More frightening is the discussion of environmental toxins.  The link between many of these compounds and cancer is still unknown, and often avoidance is difficult or even impossible, which will just create a great deal of anxiety for people.  I'm not saying don't avoid this stuff if you can, but I also don't think people should drive themselves crazy and feel like they have to live inside a bubble.  It also pisses me off that she recommends chelation therapy to remove heavy toxins from your body, since this practice is discredited by most doctors, and can, in fact, be very dangerous.

Now, I do strongly believe that we can influence our personal health through our own action, and this has been backed up by the recent discovery of epigenetics, which Chace discusses.

Epigenetics is how lifestyle (nutrition, exposure to toxins, etc.) and experience can affect gene expression (infographic is from her website:

But we also know that cancer, and even breast cancer, is many different diseases (she discusses the different types and customizes her recommendations accordingly), and often times they occur randomly, and seemingly just due to 'bad luck'. To believe otherwise just becomes a blame-the-victim exercise.

Also, like so many health experts, Chace's perspective is very elitest.  Health is determined to a very large degree, based on socioeconomic status.  Disadvantaged groups usually have poorer health and poorer health care.  Her recommendations assume you have lots of resources for fresh, organic food, expensive supplements and alternative treatments.

In her accompanying book, Healing Smoothies, Chace provides a zillion recipes for smoothies, based on her cancer prevention and recovery principles.

What I like is that there is no added sweetener in any of these (although if you are used to sweet smoothies you may have to add xylitol or stevia), and she suggests using frozen cubes of green tea instead of plain ice cubes, which I think is very clever.  What I don't like is that they all sound a bit too similar...even the 'protein smoothies' use just 2 tbsp. of protein powder, which is the same as all the other smoothies.  But I will admit my biases, that, as I mentioned, I hate smoothies (I prefer to chew my food), and that I rarely use recipes for anything, and certainly don't feel like I need them for smoothies.  But I know most people feel differently. 

I do think smoothies are probably a great option for people going through cancer treatment who may be experiencing nausea and have a loss of appetite.  In fact, my good friend who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last year is a big fan of smoothies so I am going to give her this recipe book because I think she'll love it.

So do I recommend this book? I do think people who are healing from breast cancer or at risk may benefit from this book. But just make sure you remember that eating certain foods and taking certain supplements are no guarantee.  I think making higher level lifestyle changes like I mentioned before are more important (quit smoking, exercise, limit alcohol, etc.). Also, be sure to speak with your physician first before taking any supplements, even natural ones!

Disclosure: The publisher sent me these books, but all opinions on this blog are my own.

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