Episode 31: Hacking Chemo — How to Feed Your Body, Not Your Cancer
Listen to the podcast here:
Prefer reading? Get the episode transcript here:
About Our Guest:
Martha is a Registered Dietitian in Ontario, Canada, with over 30 years of experience working in many areas of nutrition. She currently works in Long Term Care (nursing homes, gerontology) and has a private practice, Primal RD, promoting a LCHF diet and lifestyle for healthy aging and chronic disease prevention.
And she is a cancer survivor who, after many months of research on “her kind of cancer” (Stage 1C ovarian cancer) discovered that diet could play a big role in supporting her through the chemotherapy she was facing.
Note: This is not a cure for cancer and Martha’s regimen did not prevent her hair from falling out. We are also not giving medical advice here. If you want to learn more about Martha’s protocol, start with her blog and I recommend the book. It contains all of her research as well as recipes and her exact diet for the time during her weeks of chemo.
I’ll let her tell you her story (transcript below or have a listen, it starts about minute 5)
But it starts with a perfectly healthy 58-year-old with not so much as an ache or a single medication.
As do most of when we have a symptom or diagnosis, Martha consulted Dr. Google and Pubmed to learn as much about her kind of cancer and what, if anything, she could do lifestyle wise that might help.
“It turns out that the metabolism of cancer to other cells or cancer tumors is different. The way that they burn fuel is different than healthy cells. And anytime you’re talking about metabolism or fueling your body, then you’re back to nutrition because that’s how we fuel our body.”
“And I knew nothing about this. I mean, I’ve been a dietician for 35 freaking years, and I didn’t know that there was anything that we could do about cancer, and that pissed me off, really.
Why not, you know?”
Cancer is a greedy hog when it comes to glucose uptake from the blood and its exaggerated rate of metabolism has been known for a long time.
Again, why don’t more people hear about this?
Most of what Martha had recommended—and many cancer docs and nurses will as well—is give the chemo patients anything they can keep down to keep their weight up. Usually, it’s a starchy thing like toast or soda, cookies. All the absolute wrong things to feed a cancer patient if they feed on sugar.
Did you know that cancer cells, unlike healthy cells, cannot turn themselves down or off? So healthy cells can upregulate or down regulate their energy needs based on the fuel supply that’s available. If you’re starving or fasting, or even overnight when you’re sleeping, your body cells can quiet themselves down.
Why this matters is that chemo is looking for cancer cells, super active, always “on” and hungry for sugar. If you quiet down the healthy cells there is less chance of them being killed off. The chemo won’t find them.
Martha also realized that the nutritional interventions that keep blood sugar levels low and steady will make it harder for cancer to get what it needs to grow.
Her research brought her to Dr. Valter Longo, who it turns out, is a super interesting guy. Not to mention, he is the Edna M. Jones Professor of Gerontology and Biological Sciences and Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California –Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Los Angeles, one of the leading centers for research on aging and age-related disease. Dr. Longo is also the Director of the Longevity and Cancer Program at the IFOM Institute of Molecular Oncology in Milan, Italy.
I include all of that to show that this isn’t some flake with a theory about sugar and cancer. He has written a few books if you are interested in the nutrition side of boosting your aging better protocols.
But I digress…
Martha told me, “What Dr.Longo proved with his research is that number one, fasting does not negate the effect of chemo in any way, if anything, it potentiates it, it makes it more potent. And secondly, that people experience reduced side effects when they’re fasting because the healthy cells aren’t impacted by the chemo drugs the same way.”
And so, she fasted. And followed a keto diet between sessions.
She explained why people lose their hair, experience mouth sores, nausea, peripheral neuropathy, etc. She did lose her hair. And here’s a little secret—you lose it from everywhere on your body. Eyebrows, eyelashes, privates—it’s all going.
I had no idea.
“What I found with my chemo experience with fasting is that I had almost zero nausea. I never threw up, not once in six treatments. I had minimal in terms of any sort of muscle and joint aches. I had no peripheral neuropathy.”
We delved into Martha’s inner journey, the unexpected reactions of people when you tell them, and changing her perspective about the cancer from “I’m in a battle against this thing to a position of loving her body—including the cancer.
“It’s my own cells, they’re misguided, they’ve gone down the wrong path, but they’re still me. I needed to let them go. I need them to go away. But I couldn’t do it from a position of hate or anger or any of those things.”
Post cancer she has gone back to her low carb lifestyle but not keto specifically. And she believes in ice cream, hand cut French fries, and all the good stuff just infrequently.
On her site you will find links to her course on Udemy on this subject as well as recipes and her blog.
Her site: https://www.marthatettenborn.com
Her book: “Hacking Chemo. Using Ketogenic Diet, Therapeutic Fasting and a Kickass Attitude to Power Through Cancer”