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Fiber – The Unexpected Ally in Breast Cancer Recovery

A recent article in the Washington Post Health & Science section explored the wonders of dietary fibre in an article called ‘Fiber has surprising anti-aging benefits, but most people don’t eat enough of it’ The article discussed how ‘…Fiber gets well-deserved credit for keeping the digestive system in good working order — but it does plenty more. In fact, it’s a major player in so many of your body’s systems that getting enough can actually help keep you youthful. Older people who ate fiber-rich diets were 80 percent more likely to live longer and stay healthier than those who didn’t, according to a recent study in the Journals of Gerontology’

But what is fiber and why does it matter?vegetables

Before we jump in there, let me answer the perennial questions that arise when we, as pelvic rehab clinicians, talk about fiber…’Is it in our scope of practice to talk about food?!’ I think it is fundamental that if we are placing ourselves as experts in bladder and bowel dysfunction, that we also remember that we can’t focus on problems at one end of ‘the tube’ without thinking about what happens at the other end. Furthermore, let me quote the APTA RC 12-15: The Role of the Physical Therapist in Diet and Nutrition. (June 2015): “as diet and nutrition are key components of primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention of many conditions managed by physical therapists, it is the role of the physical therapist to evaluate for and provide information on diet and nutritional issues to patient, clients, and the community within the scope of physical therapist practice. This includes appropriate referrals to nutrition and dietary medical professionals when the required advice and education lie outside the education level of the physical therapist’’

Fiber plays a huge role in so many of the health issues that we as clinicians face daily – constipation is regarded as a scourge of a modern sedentary society, perhaps over-reliant on processed convenience food – this is borne out when we gaze upon the rows of constipation remedies and laxatives in our pharmacies and supermarkets.

Let's take a look at the effects of fiber on breast cancer recovery – what does the research say?

There is growing interest and evidence to suggest that making different food choices can help control symptoms of breast cancer treatment and improve recovery markers – avoiding food with added sugar, hydrating well and focusing primarily on plant based food. Fiber is of course beneficial for bowel health, but may also have added benefits for heart health, managing insulin resistance, preventing excess weight gain and actually helping the body to excrete excess estrogen, which is often a driver for hormonally sensitive cancers. Fiber may be Insoluble (whole grains, vegetables) or Soluble (oats, rice, beans, fruit) but both are essential and variety is best.

In their paper ‘Diets and Hormonal levels in Post menopausal women with or without Breast Cancer’ Aubertin – Leheudre et al (2011) stated that ‘…Women eating a vegetarian diet may have lower breast cancer because of improved elimination of excess estrogen’, but even prior to that, in ‘Estrogen excretion patterns and plasma levels in vegetarian and omnivorous women.’ Golden et al (1982) concluded that ‘…that vegetarian women have an increased fecal output, which leads to increased fecal excretion of estrogen and a decreased plasma concentration of estrogen.’

Fiber may also be beneficial in the management of colorectal cancer, which is on the rise in younger women and men. A recent report by the World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research found that eating 90 grams of fiber-rich whole grains daily could lower colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent…and the side effects? A happier healthy digestive system, improved cardiovascular health and a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

Your mother was right – eat your vegetables!

For more information on colorectal function and dysfunction, take Pelvic Floor Level 2A or for a deeper dive on the role of nutrition and pelvic health, why not take Megan Pribyl’s excellent course, Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist? Physical Therapy Treatment for the Breast Oncology Patient is also an excellent opportunity to learn about chemotherapy, radiation and pharmaceutical side effects of breast cancer treatment, as well as expected outcomes in order for the therapist to determine appropriate therapeutic parameters.


https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/fiber-has-surprising-anti-aging-benefits-but-most-people-dont-eat-enough-of-it/2018/04/27/c5ffd8c0-4706-11e8-827e-190efaf1f1ee_story.html?fbclid=IwAR0b-9VFUOCyUOgwe2BqV7-ahqwGzWs9rNpd1mscT75KNOGqnHm4ooFAu74&utm_term=.4d2784974ddc
Estrogen excretion patterns and plasma levels in vegetarian and omnivorous women. Goldin BR, Adlercreutz H, Gorbach SL, Warram JH, Dwyer JT, Swenson L, Woods MN. N Engl J Med. 1982 Dec 16;307(25):1542-7.
Diets and hormonal levels in postmenopausal women with or without breast cancer. Aubertin-Leheudre M1, Hämäläinen E, Adlercreutz H. Nutr Cancer. 2011;63(4):514-24. doi: 10.1080/01635581.2011.538487.

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An Accelerant on the Integrative Movement

Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist

There are moments when I pause and realize how far we’ve come in a short period of time, and then others when I’m acutely reminded how far we have yet to go.   Our destination is an integrative health care system which addresses nourishment first and early versus last, not at all, or only when all else fails.  My mission is to support the concept of nourishment first and early though sharing of “Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist” through the Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehab Institute.

After each weekend I teach Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist, I feel affirmed that this class, this information is vital and at times life-changing for practicing clinicians.  And every time I teach, participants share that they take away much more than they expected.  It’s a course that makes accessible complex concepts to entry level participants while offering timely and cutting edge integrative instruction to the advanced clinician eager to incorporate this knowledge into their practice.  Supportive literature is woven throughout the tapestry of the course.

After the most recent live course event, a participant shared with me a letter she received from a patient in 2016 who mentions the lack of nutritional attention during her cancer treatment.  I want to share with you the essence of this letter:

“In October 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer.  The following December I started treatments of radiation and chemotherapy.  I really appreciate all the fine employees who helped me through care and treatments.  Every clinician I came across, whether a doctor, nurse, phlebotomist, radiation and chemo teams, and my PT, were all exceptional in showing care, concern and knowledge. 

However, one area I felt was lacking in was nutrition.  I was frequently offered a standard hospital-issue protein drink.  When offered, I explained that I would not take it due to it containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  I asked if they knew that HFCS was like putting and accelerant on a fire?  I received a smile and a nod of head as to say they understood.

I was also offered soda pop to wash down bad tasting medicines/ liquids I was to take.  I opted to just down the medication without chasing it as I didn’t want to exacerbate my condition.  While taking chemotherapy, I was offered snacks containing HFCS and other non-nutritive so-called foods.

I was also offered limited entree choices, but there were plenty of pies, cakes, jellies, and other non-nutritive foods to choose from.  All Items I would not consider for a cancer diet or even a healthy diet.  I finally took a picture of the menu selection sheet as I thought no one would believe such a thing could happen. 

I received excellent care throughout your system with the exception of nutrition .  I would ask that you take a look at making menus with truly healthy options as well as giving patients options that do not contain ingredients that feed the cancer.”

While this letter addresses an inpatient issue at one regional health system,  it correspondingly brings into focus the irony present in the vast majority of health care settings across the nation from inpatient to outpatient settings:  there is a profound lack of clarity about what it means to be nourished, especially when we are at our most vulnerable.  

I cannot claim “Nutrition Perspectives” will solve our nation-wide problem, however, I am certainly encouraging a movement towards a collective understanding of the imperative fact that food is medicine - powerful medicine - and we must as front-line practitioners harness what this understanding can offer.  Pelvic rehab practitioners are uniquely positioned to process this information and begin immediately sharing it in clinical practice.

Like many providers, this same participant shared with me that upon receipt of this letter two years ago, she struggled to make progress with what and how to offer nutritional information - mainly because of the overwhelming nature of the subject, and also because of the conflicting and oftentimes confusing information traditionally shared with the public.  After attending Nutrition Perspectives, she said “I cannot even begin to describe how much your course has met ALL my hopes for helping clients!….I had struggled to put something together and here it all is -  so unbelievably grateful.”

And that’s what this course is all about - empowering you as you broaden your scope of knowledge in a way that teaches you not facts, but deep understanding.  Once that foundational understanding is laid, this grass-roots effort will progress like putting an accelerant on the integrative movement.  Soon we’ll see the inclusion of nourishment information as first-line practice, and the lives impacted in a positive way will continue to grow.

Please join me at the next opportunity to share in this live experience with other like-minded clinicians.  Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist will be coming to Denver, CO September 15 & 16, 2018!

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"Start By Doing What’s Necessary"

When it comes to discussing nutrition with our clients in pelvic rehab, it is normal to initially feel both uncertain and perhaps a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of delving into this topic. Yet we know that there must be links, some association between nutrition and the many chronic conditions we encounter. Gradually, over the last several years, a cornerstone of my practice with patients in pelvic rehabilitation has become providing nutritional guidance.

I was both humbled and immensely grateful when many of my colleagues and peers attended Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist (NPPR) in Kansas City last March. In the following months, our clinics underwent a significant change in the types of discussions occurring with our patients. By embracing concepts presented in NPPR, a continuous stream of patient stories developed about lives having been touched by this shift. For many, “one small change” made a very big difference or served as the catalyst to many more positive lifestyle changes. Simply placing a high priority on re-thinking health situations through the lens of nourishment has been a very important shift, one that can occur across the spectrum of pelvic rehab practitioners if we choose to answer the call to “do what’s necessary”.

Learning the essence of a topic outside our comfort zone is not easy, yet in present time is necessary for providers trying to grapple with how to wrap our professional minds around what we know in our hearts to be true: the effect of nourishment on health is profound. This brings to mind the resonating wisdom of Francis of Assisi:

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

At this crossroads in our health care system we know that nutrition matters. We must start by doing what’s necessary: acknowledging our role in helping patients along their path to a better life through less pain, ease of movement, normalization of function, and healing. With commitment to our patient’s well-being, we too must commit to investigating the realm of nutrition and rehabilitation. Next, we can strive to do what’s possible. NPPR can serve as a springboard for professionals ready to develop programs incorporating sound nourishment principles in relation to both specific conditions in pelvic rehab and general health and well-being. Finally, we may - in a few short years - realize that suddenly we are doing the impossible; integrating these vital principles as standard care in rehabilitation.

Please join us in White Plains, NY March 31-April 1, 2017 for Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist. Whether you are just beginning to integrate nutrition and its correlates to pelvic rehab or are already well on your way along this path, you will come away with both a strong understanding of how food affects function along with tools you can immediately begin sharing with the clients you serve.

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Curcumin: The Anti-inflammatory Herb

Honestly, I have never noticed Curcumin on any of my patients’ lists of pharmaceuticals or supplements, but I will be certain to look for it now. Curcumin is the fat-soluble molecule that gives turmeric its yellow pigment, and it is best absorbed with the addition of black pepper extract. Patients often complain non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) tear apart their stomachs, so newer studies showing positive results with the use of an herb sound promising, even for pelvic health.

A 2015 study by Kim et al. researched the inhibitory effect of curcumin on benign prostatic hyperplasia induced by testosterone in a rat model. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is common among men and has a negative impact on the urinary tract of older males. Steroid 5-alpha reductase converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and this increases as men age and may have negative effects on the prostate gland. Because of the side effects of conventional drugs (like finasteride) to inhibit steroid 5-alpha reductase, the authors wanted to determine if curcumin could play a protective role in BPH. They divided 8 rats into 4 groups after removal of testicles: 1) normal, 2) BPH testosterone induced subcutaneously, 3) daily curcumin (50mg/kg orally), and 4) daily finasteride (1mg/kg orally). The group receiving curcumin had significantly lower prostate weight and volume than the testosterone induced BPH group, and curcumin decreased the expression of growth factors in prostate tissue. The authors conclude curcumin may be a useful herb in inhibiting the development of BPH with fewer side effects than conventional drugs.

In the urology realm, Cosentino et al.2016 explored the anti-inflammatory effects of a product called Killox®, a supplement with curcumin, resveratrol, N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and zinc. When benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is not treated with drugs, a surgical intervention can be executed called a transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP); or, for bladder cancers, a transurethral resection of the bladder (TURB) can be performed. Either surgery generally requires administration of NSAIDs post-operatively for inflammation, urinary burning, or bladder spasms or to prevent later complications such as urethral stricture or sclerosis of the bladder neck. This open controlled trial involved Killox® tablet administration to 40 TURP patients twice a day for 20 days, to 10 TURB patients twice a day for 10 days and to 30 BPH patients who were not suited for surgical intervention once a day for 60 days. The control group received nothing for 1 week post-surgery, and 52.5% of TURP and 40% of TURB patients required NSAIDs to treat burning and inflammation the following 7 days. None of the Killox® treatment groups had post-operative or late complications except one, and none suffered epigastric pain like those using NSAIDs. The authors concluded Killox® had significant positive anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects on the patients and could be used as a safe alternative to NSAIDs by physicians.

Although “just” an herb, the use of curcumin should be supervised by a healthcare professional who understands proper dosage and any possible contraindications for a particular individual. The curcumin needs to be in a form that can be easily digested and used effectively by the body. Ultimately, it is exciting to learn about an alternative to gut-wrenching NSAIDs, making curcumin a noteworthy anti-inflammatory option for patients.

Nutrition plays an important part in patient wellness and rehabilitation. There are many reasons to consider diet when designing treatment regimens and you can learn all about them in Megan Pribyl's Nutrition Perspectives for the Pelvic Rehab Therapist course. Your next chance to take this course is March 31 - April 1, 2017 in White Plains, NY. Don't miss out!


Kim, S. K., Seok, H., Park, H. J., Jeon, H. S., Kang, S. W., Lee, B.-C., … Chung, J.-H. (2015). Inhibitory effect of curcumin on testosterone induced benign prostatic hyperplasia rat model. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine,15, 380. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12906-015-0825-y
Cosentino, V., Fratter, A., Cosentino M. (2016). Anti-inflammatory effects exerted by Killox®, an innovative formulation of food supplement with curcumin, in urology. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 20: 7, 1390-1398. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27097964#

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