Naturopathic Medicine and Cancer with Dr. Jessyca Franco Chavez
Dr. Jessyca Franco Chavez, founder of The Healing House in Espanola, NM, is a Naturopathic Doctor. She also owns a plant based pharmacy (TigerLily and Co. Apothecary), health retreat house (The Gathering House), medical apparel boutique (Scrub Fashions), and wild + organic whole food medicine cafe (Morning Glory). When I received yesterday’s powerful interview on Kayla Funk’s journey with cancer, I knew we needed to find someone who could talk in depth about the supportive therapies Naturopathic Medicine can provide. And Dr. Jessyca does just that, so let’s dive in.
Can you explain what Naturopathic Medicine is? Where Eastern therapy and ancient wisdom meets Western medicine, Naturopathic physicians aim to find a balance between nature AND science. Or, in other words, we combine nature (through many things like nutrition, botanical treatment, hydrotherapy, and halo therapy) with scientific studies and technology to understand all paradigms of medicine. This creates a primary care setting in which we utilize the body’s natural ability to heal itself.
“Our bodies, given the right environment, always want to live in homeostasis.”
What made you decide to go into this field? My background is diverse, so I decided to go into this particular field because it spoke to me through academia and ancient wisdom. My father’s side of the family came from the traditional Western educational setting, all professionals, mostly focused in the allopathic care model (doctors of pharmacy and dentistry). My mother’s side, on the other hand, were traditional healers and my grandmother, in particular, was a medicine woman. She concocted drinks with herbs, made remedies to help with ailments, and people would frequent her home day and night so that she could heal and pray over them. My hispanic and Native American heritage, along with my love for arts, science, and learning really complimented my upbringing as well as my choice of Naturopathic Medicine.
How does your practice differ from that of Western Medicine clinic? And what is a typical appointment like? First, I give a 15 minute free consultation to any of my potential patients, which allows us to “interview” each other and see if we’re a good fit. I don’t want to waste either of our time or resources trying to accomplish a long term goal because Naturopathic Medicine is very comprehensive, and I want to make sure that how I do things falls inline with what they are willing to do. During this time, I also remind potential patients that it may take just as much time to try and reverse a disease as it was developed, so patience is a must. While I do not claim to cure any diseases, our bodies — given the right environment — always want to live in homeostasis, so people that move forward typically start to see signs of a more stable immune system and balanced health.
Next, the initial appointment ranges from 1.5-2 hours long so that I can truly get to know the individual and understand their history and lifestyle. We go over all of their new patient paperwork, labs, and imaging, and I ask any questions that I may have in regard to their medical history or particular diagnoses. I also have them rate their most concerning health items and relay what their expectations are for me. I then tailor a comprehensive treatment plan and if needed, implore the help of another physician, healthcare provider, or wellness specialist for comprehensive care.
How can Naturopathic Medicine be helpful for those with cancer? Naturopathic doctors provide supportive therapies with an integrative approach when combined with conventional treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation. I help prepare patients for what lies ahead, help to reduce side effects, and stabilize symptoms through things like nutritional and dietary support, environmental medicine (the interaction between humans and their environment), lifestyle medicine (a branch of medicine dealing with research, prevention, and treatment of disorders caused by lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical inactivity, and chronic stress), and evidence-informed supplements that are safe and effective to use when combined with conventional oncology treatments. Here’s a closer look at what we do:
We focus on the mind-body connection first, so that each patient can have a healthy perspective on how to frame themselves around the disease. Some cancer patients feel as though they may “become” their diagnosis, so a healthy mind-body connection can truly make a difference between how someone overcomes, or at least accepts and walks through their diagnosis, regardless of the outcome. Lifestyle counseling, stress reduction techniques, mantras, or expressive arts are some key components that can help with this.
To help with weight management (due to “cachexia,” which is a weakening and wasting of the body due to chronic illness), we provide counseling and doctor approved guidance on nutritional therapies specific to oncology patients.
To help manage side effects of cancer treatment, we may consider: herbal and botanical preparations (such as extracts and teas), vitamins and mineral combinations, dietary supplements, and amino acids. It’s important to note that any new regimen should be explored with every individual’s healthcare provider before beginning any suggested or researched therapy.
Body movement is always helpful. To get the lymphatic fluid moving and increase circulation for oxygen, gentle body movement therapies, massage, lymphatic drainage, and dry brushing may be utilized.
We sometimes suggest constitutional hydrotherapy, which is a soothing water-based method that stimulates the body’s vital force and immune system. This can either be done through hot and cold wraps that are placed over the body and used with electrotherapy devices, or alternate temperature bathing or showering.
Finally, acupuncture can help deal with the effects of nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, hot flashes, pain, and insomnia, to name a few.
I really enjoy being part of the patient care team and personalize all treatment plans so that it reaches the person on an individual basis, keeping their goals and experiences in mind along the way.
“Some cancer patients feel as though they may become their diagnosis, so a healthy mind-body connection can truly make a difference between how someone overcomes, or at least accepts and walks through their diagnosis, regardless of the outcome.”
Are there any tips you can share as far as cancer prevention is concerned? I would say the best way to stay healthy is to focus on prevention, which is different for everyone. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you are meeting your basic needs on a daily basis. Consider the following:
Get adequate rest: There is no such thing as “catching up on sleep,” so if you know you must have 7-9 hours of sleep, don’t compromise that. Even if it means saying “no” to a project or outing so that you can give yourself the gift of rest.
Hydrate: I always like to say drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day and add in another 8 ounces of water per glass of caffeine or alcohol you consume that day. Now, I am not promoting the use of these substances, especially in chronic disease cases, but this is the reality for most people needing to stay hydrated appropriately.
Nutrition: Nutrition is key, as you’ve probably heard the saying by Hippocrates: “food is medicine.” This thought really has a large impact on how you can support your health with every food choice you make. In general, it is always best practice to eliminate pre-packaged processed foods that may contain unhealthy additives and chemical flavoring. Eating a balanced diet based on the colors of the rainbow is of the utmost importance, as is opting to cut out processed or store bought meats that contain additives and hormones. We aim to have our oncology patients eat a heavily balanced plant-based diet and would ask to decrease red meat consumption to 2-3 times per month at the very most. When and if eating meat, it should consist of hormone-free, grass-fed wild range options. We focus on healthy fats, proteins, fiber, and low glycemic meals and snacks throughout the day to help manage weight, fatigue, and energy.
Omega 3’s: These are great for their EPA and DHA content. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) may help to reduce inflammation and can be particularly beneficial for reducing the risk of chronic disease states. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) is known for its benefit and research on brain and eye health. EPA and DHA ratios are extremely important if a patient is going to supplement with them, so getting a balanced diet of Omega’s or consulting your doctor for supplemental support is recommended.
Probiotics: I have also found value in probiotic use to rebalance the gut flora, since a majority of individuals live on the Standard American Diet (“SAD”), which is full of fast and processed foods that create a less desirable environment for good bacteria to bad bacteria ratio in our microbiome.
However, not all probiotics are created equal and some individuals are not candidates for high strained probiotics off the bat. Are you at the grocery store and thinking those 50 billion CFU non-refrigerated supplements on the shelf look good? You may want to consider the fact that non-refrigerated brands aren’t as shelf stable. These tiny organisms need to be refrigerated because they are sensitive to heat and moisture. Furthermore, high strained probiotics can cause ranges of gas and bloating discomfort if your GI system is not ready for them. Most patients I see have a very sensitive GI system, so we must monitor and “titrate” (aka continuing to monitor and either decrease or increase the dosing). We first begin at very low CFU (colony forming units) and opt for a probiotic single strain. We can add in the multi-layered strains later, especially since some strains are histamine inducing and can wreak havoc on a sensitive immune system.
“Many studies report safe use of natural therapies in humans with positive outcomes for improved quality of life, side effects management, treatment response, and survival.”
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about Naturopathic Medicine, both in general and for cancer support? Naturopathic Medical Doctors go to an accredited 4 year medical school that focuses on natural health care in an academic based setting, with two sets of boards (year 2 and 4) that provide board licensing. We study the basic medical sciences that all allopathic schools teach, including minor surgery, pharmacology and diagnosis. What we do not do that differentiates us from Western medical doctors is general anesthesia and general surgery in a hospital setting, as well as the required 2-8 year residencies after graduation. That said, some naturopathic students do specialize and seek out naturopathic residency programs offered throughout the United States.
We are considered primary care providers in the states we are licensed in and also implement and study naturopathic combined modalities during these four years, which may include: traditional chinese medicine, acupuncture, physical medicine, nutrition and lifestyle medicine, botanical medicine, energy medicine, environmental medicine, mind-body medicine, and homeopathy.
As far as Integrative Oncology or Naturopathic Oncology is concerned, Naturopathic Doctors that are a part of The Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP) focus on cancer care to provide the highest quality human data for clinical decision making. The OncANP states, “Research in integrative oncology is substantial and ever-growing. Largely, it is guided by single intervention randomized controlled trials (rCTs) … many studies report safe use of natural therapies in humans with positive outcomes for improved quality of life, side effects management, treatment response, and survival.”
DR. JESSYCA’S RESOURCES
Websites: MindBodyGreen and Environmental Working Group for the latest research and news on natural health, overall well-being, and sustainable products. Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for the latest research on cancer health in conventional medicine. The Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians for latest in Naturopathic Oncology Research.
Disclosure: The Healing House, Dr. Franco-Chavez and its practitioners are not compensated to provide this opinion on products, services, websites or other various topics included in this discussion. This is our honest opinion, findings, beliefs or experiences on products / services, and does not represent a recommendation of any type. Consult your physician before any change to your therapy / regimen is initiated.