I am not a medicine basher. But I am frustrated by the near exclusive focus on new and expensive technologies in medicine over scientifically-proven lifestyle measures that are immediately accessible and inexpensive. This lack of attention to lifestyle permeates my field of cardiology but I was struck by how it appears to be true for cancer therapy also.
I had the opportunity to strike up a conversation on an airplane last week with two prominent researchers in prostate cancer, one a urologist and one a scientist. Both served as department heads at large institutions. Although I do not keep up on all the literature on prostate cancer, so many of my heart patients also deal with this malady that I am familiar with the lifestyle literature.
I brought up a groundbreaking series of peer reviewed trials of lifestyle in early stage prostate cancer led by Dr. Dean Ornish, a cardiologist known for demonstrating heart disease reversal in the Lifestyle Heart Trial. He embarked on studies of his plant based dietary program coupled with walking, stress management and group support in men with prostate cancer and began publishing in 2005 that markers of cancer growth reversed in the group following his program. None of the men following his program went on to need conventional therapies. I was dismayed that my two new academic friends were not aware of any of his papers on prostate cancer, all published in highly visible and esteemed journals.
I then brought up their use of POMI-T, a commercially-available nutraceutical combining extracts of pomegranate, broccoli, green tea and turmeric. This supplement has been studied in the gold standard double-blind randomized clinical trials in prostate cancer patients and demonstrated a favorable effect compared with placebo in regards to disease progression. Although I am aware of urologists and radiation oncologists that recommend it in my area, I was dismayed to learn that these two leading doctors were unaware of this safe preparation.
This week week we read again that nutrition plays a seemingly critical role in cancer dynamics. The Physicians' Health study reported that dairy consumption was linked to higher overall and cancer mortality in men with prostate cancer and that full fat dairy was the strongest association. I wonder how many experts in prostate cancer recommended reducing or eliminating dairy products to their patients this week and I fear it was few.
Lifestyle medicine is coming of age with improved abilities to personalize recommendations to suit patients' genetic and nutritional markers. We must not ignore these low hanging fruits of therapy, in fact low hanging fruits and vegetables of therapy, as they have proven to be powerful, accessible, and without roadblock to widespread implementation. Even if they are not sexy.