Dr. Ron Hunninghake, MD, Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. Lucas Tims, ND, FABNO, continue their discussion about the terrain approach to integrative oncology in this bonus episode of the Real Health Podcast. Today’s episode features three of the 10 terrains: epigenetic, metabolic, and environmental impacts on cancer. Dr. Ron and Dr. Lucas explain how genetics are only part of the equation when it comes to treating cancer and caring for the whole person.
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Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Well welcome everyone to the Riordan Clinic Real Health podcast. And I’m your host, Dr. Ron Hunninghake. And today we are continuing our series on Integrative Oncology, a terrain based approach to cancer care. And once again, it’s my pleasure to have Dr. Lucas Tims, our Naturopathic Oncologist up in the Kansas City area, that’s joining us to help us understand a little bit more about what a terrain based approach really is. So welcome to the show again, Dr. Tims.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Thanks Dr. Ron. Yeah, excited to dive into this a little bit more and talk about the terrain 10, or at least the first few components of that today.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Right, we delved into that and I think people, we’ve had some good feedback that people would like to know more about each one. And we will eventually get to an individual podcast for each one of these, but the first group clusters together nicely. And we’ve got a little mnemonic for it, EME. The E stands for epigenetic. M is for metabolic. And E is for environmental. And you and I had discussed a little bit about how this first group reminds us a little bit of a garden, that terrain is a garden, and that these three elements are important in terms of the health of a garden. So let’s just talk a little bit about that, how that would apply to cancer patients, maybe.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Yeah, I always find myself using that analogy. And you’re right, it does fit kind of all the terrain 10. But these three in particular, I think can help patients and caregivers understand sort of that lens that we’re looking at the disease process through, which is that soil and weed analogy. Whether it’s a garden or just a yard of some sorts, the weeds being the cancer, and really our focus instead of controlling the weeds with chemical control or other measures above the surface, it’s more about looking at, what’s creating this environment for these weeds to grow in the first place in the soil, in the terrain of the yard? And this first group you talked about with the epigenetics, the metabolic and the environmental issues, boy, I just feel like this is where a lot of the juicy stuff is that we do with patients. And so I always love to use that analogy, because I think it gets patients seeing the picture that you and I look at the lens through.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Right, and each one of us we’re unique. We have unique genetics. And where the epigenetics comes in is that how we make choices has a lot to do with the quality of the growth of the cells in our body. And so how do you get a handle on each unique patient’s epigenetics? And maybe explain a little bit more to our audience what that means.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Yeah, yeah. I think that it’s important for patients to understand what we’re talking about with epigenetics, and not to get it confused with genetics, which there’s an interplay there, but two different sides of the coin, if you will. We all have this sort of set in stone set of genes and DNA that we inherit from our parents, but not all of those genes are expressed. We have the potential to express many, many, many things in our body. But actually if you think about each one of those genes or the series of codes for the genes as light switches, and Dr. Nasha uses this analogy in her book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. And the genes would be the light switch, and it could be turned either on or off, expressed or not expressed. The epigenetics are these environmental factors that act like the fingers that flip on and off those switches. And so yes, while your genetics are sort of predetermined in terms of the potential of things to happen, what actually plays out in people’s lives in terms of health disease and otherwise, depends on the environmental fingers and which genes are being turned on or off.
Dr. Lucas Tims: And now, there is some hereditary effect on epigenetics. If your grandparents were Ashkenazi Jews and went through the Holocaust and were exposed to a lot of trauma, we see that lineage, there’s a lot of cancer genes that were turned on. And they do have things like the Braca gene that’s overexpressed compared to the normal population and a few others. But again, just because you may inherit that gene being turned on because of your ancestors, there’s still things you can do in your lifetime to turn it back off or to counteract that effect. And so the key concept is that the epigenetics are controllable and modifiable. And this is where we look at changes to diet, changes to patient’s exposure to certain chemicals or medications, rewiring maybe the fallout from past traumas they’ve been involved in. And that’s where a lot of that work gets done is to try to mitigate any of those epigenetic switches that have been unfortunately turned on and led to a cancer process.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Right, and that leads right on into the second of the three, which is metabolic. And metabolic has to do with how you choose to eat, how you sleep, choices that you have in terms of your lifestyle. And so this is very important. For example, we have an epidemic of the metabolic syndrome where people are getting too much refined carbohydrates. They’re putting on weight. Their insulin levels are going up. They’re developing blood pressure and a number of other consequences that we call the metabolic syndrome. And this is directly or indirectly related to choices patients are making, not only in what they eat, but how they exercise, how much sun they get.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: So metabolism is a composite of all the choices that we’re making in our lives. And sometimes we make good choices and sometimes not so good. But these choices then evoke the genetic responses, the epigenetics.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Right.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: So you could have the same genes, but I always use the example of twins, identical twins. They have the same genes, but if one of the twins takes really bad care of themselves, they’re going to start looking different than their twin even though they have the same genes, because the genes are being expressed differently in that person because their bad choices. And by the same token, good choices are more likely to help you maintain better health.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Yeah, yeah. The name of Dr. Nasha’s book is The Metabolic Approach to Cancer. And so it really is a key foundational piece of what’s going on with the terrain and does have a huge implication on whether those epigenetic switches get turned on or off. And going back to the yard or the garden analogy, if you put too much fertilizer on the garden or yard, what happens? It burns everything up.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Exactly.
Dr. Lucas Tims: And then you leave a weak area for weeds inevitably to fill in the gaps. And conversely, if you’re not giving the soil the right nutrients, not enough of the right nutrients, that can also have a weakening effect on the soil and create more of an opportunity for weeds to grow.
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Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Hopefully our audience is catching the idea that conventional oncology is more tumor centric. What are we going to do to get rid of or treat the tumor? This terrain based approach is a lot about the individual that has the cancer, the person with the cancer, who is now faced with a huge challenge in their life. And rather than feeling helpless, this approach basically empowers that patient to take a deeper look at what they can do to take better care of themselves. And then with the Riordan Integrative Oncology Program, we’re there to work with them in that empowerment process so that they can not only feel better about what they’re doing, but have evidence based interventions that are more like fertilizer in the garden to help grow the health of the individual.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Right, and the right balance of the fertilizer and nutrients and all that, which we are able to customize for each patient based on our testing, based on our workup. Because I tell patients all the time, if we line up 10 people with their exact same diagnosis, same demographics and everything, and we do our testing with them, all 10 of them are going to look different, even though they all have the same stage and type of breast cancer or colon cancer. From the traditional side, from the tumor centric side, they would all get treated the exact same. But on our end, we’re going to treat each one of those individuals differently.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Yeah, and I’ve often told patients like, we have a call in time and they’ll say, “Now, what do you do to help me? I’ve got cancer. What do you do?” And I say, “Well, we do a kind of soil testing.” I even use that term. Our oncology profile, oh my gosh, there’s got to be a hundred different nutrient tests and functional type tests that help us understand the biochemistry of that patient with cancer. And as Dr. Riordan used to say, “What’s the most important nutrients for anyone that’s sick?” It’s the ones you’re lowest in. And if you’re just picking out some of your favorite nutrients and doing a couple tests here and a couple tests there, you might miss two, three, or four really important nutrients that are not often thought about as important. And yet in that individual, if you fill in those gaps, the strength of their team is improved. Their ability to withstand illness and to outgrow their illness in better health, that is enhanced by those key findings.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Yeah, no doubt. The testing’s so important for us, which is why that’s our first step with all of our patients. And also, in addition to all the nutrient testing that we do and the biomarkers, we test people for over 55 different environmental carcinogens. Which leads us into our third category here to talk about yeah which is environmental toxins and chemical toxicities that we oftentimes find in our patients. And this is, for me, this is such a big miss from medicine, the medical model that we have right now. Is we have these agencies like the IRC that has identified and classified known carcinogens in our environment, carcinogen meaning these chemicals directly cause cancer.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Yeah.
Dr. Lucas Tims: But we don’t test people for any of these.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Well, we do.
Dr. Lucas Tims: On the mass scale. We do, obviously. But boy, how different would cancer care be if everyone was getting tested for these chemicals which include things like molds, heavy metals, plastics, pesticides, pollutants, again, things that we know are out there in the environment and that are increasing in volume on a daily basis.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Glyphosate, glyphosate’s another one that is …
Dr. Lucas Tims: Glyphosate, huge.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Even if you try to avoid glyphosate, it’s in the water. And so there’s a number of those kinds of things that we are bringing people’s attention to, and then that helps them make better choices. And then we have saunas and other detoxification strategies that can help them get these chelation, can help them get the toxins out of their body. And that’s going to improve their chance of having a better outcome in their cancer care.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Right. Yeah, I tell patients when they say, “Well,” okay, let’s say we found a high level glyphosate or mold toxicity or lead toxicity. And they say, “Well, okay, we’ve identified it. How does this fit into treating my cancer and moving forward?” And I say, “Well, removing these toxins at this point is not going to make the cancer go away that’s already there. But it can help you stop making more cancer, which allows you to stay ahead of it a lot easier, whatever’s there.” And so if you can really address those toxic burdens, it not only kind of shuts down the overproduction of cancer cells, but it also frees up resources from your immune system, decreases the inflammation, allows for other systems in the body to start working more efficiently, too.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Well, I simply tell people we’re just trying to grow their health. The best way to defeat cancer is to have excellent health. And interestingly enough, a lot of our patients as they have been in the process six months, a year, two years, they say, “It’s strange. I came to you with cancer and I was desperate. And now I really honestly think I’m feeling better than I felt in my whole life.” Because of the choices that I’ve made as a result of the testing, the IV vitamin C, the various interventions that we do, we are helping patients grow their health, which is an important compliment to treating the cancer cells.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that’s an important point is that health is not just absence of disease. And I think that a lot of times that’s the mainstream mindset is that, “Well, if we kill the weeds, you’ll be healthy.” That doesn’t quite get you there.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Why did the weeds occur in the first place? If you’re really taking care of your garden, I’m sure our listeners have gardened and weeding is an important part of gardening. Fertilizing is an important part. Choosing the right varietals. This is the epigenetics I was thinking about epigenetics. We all are unique in our varietals, and so we have to pay attention to these details. And I think a lot of doctors just assume, “Okay, patients are going to do the right thing. They’re going to eat healthy food.” But you can’t assume that anymore. We live in too toxic of a world. The types of foods that are out there, they’re not always good. And a lot of people get into food addictions and on and on and on. So we try in a very supportive way, to draw attention to these details that are not being addressed in conventional oncology unless you’ve got a very upbeat oncologist. They don’t have time. They’re busy dealing with the illness itself.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: So I think the integration part of oncology is to help patients figure out what they can do to take better care of themselves. So I think this is a pretty good wrap up of the topic. Any kind of final comments you would like to make, Lucas, about what this has meant to you and how this has helped you and your care of cancer patients?
Dr. Lucas Tims: Well, it’s been massive in terms of the ability to organize and really put together customized plans for patients. When we do our terrain testing, we we very quickly start to understand what are the biggest terrain components for each patient? And then we can put together that, like I said, that customized plan for them to not only … something that’s going to be empowering to them in terms of making the right changes that they know are going to be focused on specific goals and that we can actually re-measure objectively and make sure that they’re moving in the right direction. So I think it’s a massive game changer in terms of how we look at patients, how we evaluate them, and ultimately how we help them work towards their goals of creating real health in their garden.
Dr. Ron Hunninghake: Sounds great. I’m very thrilled with our presentation today, and I hope patients who are listening in, or hopefully people who aren’t even dealing with cancer, even if you yourself do not have cancer, what is it one in two men and one in 2.3 women will get cancer in their lifetime. And certainly we all know people who have cancer. And so this methodology, this perspective in cancer care, I think will enhance outcomes greatly and also just give people that sense of empowerment, because a lot of our cancer patients come in pretty dejected and feeling helpless. They feel like the cancer’s bigger than them, and this is one way that we can help people be bigger than the cancer. So Dr. Lucas Tims, thank you so much for a great presentation, and we’ll see you next time. And we’ll be looking at the next cluster, which is inflammation and angiogenesis. So, thanks again.
Dr. Lucas Tims: Thanks, Dr. Ron.
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