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I Did Everything Right...But I Still Got Cancer

Do You feel like you did everything right, but still got sick?  I did!  In this blog I discuss how we need to dig deeper and work to create a healthy terrain in our body where cancer is less likely to develop.  



When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, this is exactly how I felt.  My undergraduate and graduate degrees were in nutrition and exercise physiology and I practiced what I preached.  I was careful with my diet and exercised regularly.  My weight was in the normal range and I ate many vegetables.  So why did I get cancer?  What could I do to decrease my risk of having a recurrence?  What can I do to help my patients decrease their risk of getting cancer?


Looking for answers to these questions sent me on a journey through my medical training and eventually to an education in Functional Medicine.  Functional medicine is a different way of looking at health and disease.  Instead of just naming the disease and then giving the same treatment to everyone with that disease, it looks at the individual systems in a person’s body to look for the underlying root cause.  Functional medicine individualizes treatment, focusing on the patient instead of the disease.  We appreciate the importance of prevention and look at the many interconnections within the body.  Most importantly, functional medicine asks the question… why?


Functional medicine helped me understand that some of the systems in my body were not working as well as I had thought.  I realized that my years of antibiotics as a child influenced my digestive system and therefore my detoxification system.  In addition, I did not handle stress in my life in the healthiest way.  This depleted my immune function.  I started to look at health and disease in a different way.  I began to understand that a person is not healthy one day and sick the next.  The changes in someone’s body that ultimately lead to cancer take many years to develop and are very different for each individual person.


In addition, every woman with breast cancer is not the same, and the causes for an individual person’s cancer are not the same.  There are many different kinds of breast cancer.  We are not just talking about cancer…but cancers.  We are not just talking about breast cancer… but breast cancers.  Even if we take all of the women with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer, they are not all the same.  Each has different causes, a different body environment, and different genetics. Because of this, it is important to treat each individual person differently and rebalance their body so that they do not get a recurrence.  This concept has helped me with my own health and the health of my patients.  In functional medicine, we have begun to look deeper at the various causes that can result in the growth of a cancer.  This way, we can help prevent cancer from occurring and, if it does, help treat people and prevent a recurrence. 


What we have learned is that the environment—or terrain—of the body influences whether or not cells can become invasive cancer.  A healthy terrain will prevent the growth of cancer whereas an unhealthy terrain can feed cancer and cause it to grow.  It is important that we focus on more than just the individual cells in the body, but also on the environment that these cells live in.  Creating a healthy terrain in our body is as simple as removing what is causing the imbalances in our body and replacing what is needed for balance to be restored in our body.



Let’s get started!  What can you do to create a healthy terrain in your body and decrease the risk of cancer?  Here are some of the components that we focus on at The UltraWellness Center.


1.   Eat a whole foods diet that avoids packaged and processed foods as much as possible.

2.  Avoid simple sugars and refined carbohydrates that cause spikes in blood glucose and insulin.

3.  Support your body’s natural detoxification system by eating cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale) every day.

4.  Avoid toxins in the environment such as pesticides, parabens, BPA, and heavy metals (like mercury and lead).  Get a test to see if these toxins may be suppressing your immune function.

5.  Only use antibiotics if necessary and consider adding a probiotic into your regimen. 

7.  Consume a diet rich in phytonutrients.  These can be found in colorful fruits, vegetables, and spices.

8.  Work on managing your stress with methods such as meditation and yoga.


This is just a start.  I talk more about creating a cancer-free terrain my free ebook that you can download at



To Your Health,

Elizabeth Boham, MD


Happy New Year!

For many of us, as we make resolutions for the new year, health and happiness are top priorities! So, my friend and colleague Heidi E Spear, MA, Stress-Reduction Coach, Meditation & Yoga Teacher, and I have pulled together reminders and tips for self-care that you can use on January 1st after the holiday push (and beyond)! 


Our bodies are equipped with the ability to regenerate and heal. In order for our natural healing processes to work, we need to take the time to take care of our body. That means, taking time to sleep and rest, eating a healthy balanced diet, getting daily movement and exercise, connecting with friends and family, and spending time each day to calm down our body.


Some stress-relieving ideas for post-holiday self-care:


    When you wake up in the morning, notice how you feel. Take a few deep breaths to wake up. Then think about the ways that you will support yourself throughout the day - envision how you will create space in between the other to-dos that often seem more urgent.

    Plan to get outside for some quiet time. Whether you take one short walk to the mailbox and back, or take a stroll with someone you love, create time to be peaceful outside. If you need to wait until the children fall asleep, then after that, step outside and take time all by yourself to enjoy the night sky and fresh air.

    Take time to reflect on something you are grateful for. For some of us the holidays are wonderful, for some of us the holidays are challenging, for some of us they are a mixed bag. To let go of stress that might have built up for you, take time to reflect on something you are grateful for. Let yourself really feel the gratitude, and turn the corners of your mouth up into a gentle smile. This is a proven mood-booster.


Also, plan to have nourishing food in the house for you and your family on New Year’s Day. Check out this amazing recipe by Dr Mark Hyman, and serve it with a big salad or sautéed greens.


Around the holidays, we often feel that we do not have enough time for ourselves. This is the best time of the year to refocus our attention on ourselves and our health.


All good wishes!

Elizabeth and Heidi

Low T? 5 Steps to Boost Testosterone Naturally By Elizabeth Boham, MD, MS, RD and Mark Hyman, MD

Low T?  5 Steps to Boost Testosterone Naturally

By Elizabeth Boham, MD, MS, RD and Mark Hyman, MD


Low T?  You have seen the ad.  Are you a man who wonders if you have low T or low testosterone levels?  If so, do you wonder if medication is indicated?  Steve* was one such patient, who came to see us with concerns about his testosterone and how he was feeling.  He had heard the pharmaceutical ad on TV and wondered if his testosterone was too low and if he needed to take medication.  Steve was in his late-40s and feeling tired.  He was gaining weight around his mid-section, and he felt that his relationship with his wife was not what it used to be.  He had lost some lean-muscle mass, and he also reported that he had less interest in his daily life activities.   He wondered if all of these symptoms could be attributed to aging, or if there were a way he could he feel better.


Low levels of testosterone are common in men over the age of 45.  Studies have shown that almost 40% of men over the age of 45 have low testosterone levels (less than 300 ng/dl).  Do all of these men need hormone therapy or testosterone to feel better?  At The UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, we practice Functional Medicine.  When using the Functional Medicine approach, we are looking to get to the underlying cause for a patient’s symptoms.  In many situations, and often in cases of low testosterone levels, we start with lifestyle modification.  We do this because often lifestyle modification works better and it does not come with the side effects that medication can have.  You may be amazed to realize how much you can improve your hormone levels and balance, by changing your lifestyle.


When a patient comes to see us, we first get a detailed history and do a physical exam.  Steve, like many men, had gained 40 pounds over the last 15 or so years.  Much of that weight gain was around his belly.  We measured his waist and hip circumference and calculated his waist-to-hip ratio.  This simple test is one of the best ways to figure out your overall level of health and risk for disease.  This is because weight around your belly, or visceral adiposity, is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes as well as a lower level of testosterone in men. 


Steve’s waist-to-hip ratio was 1.1.  Ideally, men want to have a waist-to-hip ratio of less than 0.9.  His testosterone level was officially in the normal range.  But, it was on the lower end of normal.  When we check testosterone in men, we also check their estrogen level.  His estradiol level was at the higher end of normal for a man.  Why does this occur?  Both men and women have an enzyme, called aromatase, in their fat cells.  Aromatase is an enzyme that converts hormones like testosterone into estrogen.  When we gain more fat cells, we will have higher levels of aromatase.  As a result, people with more fat cells in their bodies, have high levels of aromatase and higher levels of estrogen.  The result of these horomone imbalances is that men like Steve do not feel like themselves.



What did we do for Steve and what can you do?


5 Steps to Fix Your Low T!

1.     Get out your tape measure.Midway between you hip bone and bottom of your rib cage, measure your waist circumference.  Keep the tape measure horizontal to the ground.  Record you results.  Then measure the circumference around your hip bones.  Record your results. 


Ideally your Waist / Hip should be <0.9 for men and <0.8 for women. 

Too much weight around your belly has been associated with low testosterone levels in men as well as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.


2.  Change your diet.  What you eat has a tremendous impact on your insulin levels and all of the hormone levels in your body.  A diet high in refined and processed carbohydrates and sugars will result in insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance means that your insulin is not working well and not doing its job of getting your food into your cells so it can be turned into energy.  When you remove sugars, flours and refined carbohydrates from your diet, you can improve your insulin sensitivity.  When your insulin sensitivity improves, you will lose weight from your belly.  For men, their aromatase levels will decrease, and naturally their estrogen levels will decrease and their testosterone levels will increase.   To learn more about how to change your diet and reverse insulin resistance, you can read The Blood Sugar Solution 10 Day Detox Diet


3.  Exercise is your best medicine.  This is true.  Exercise can be more effective than all of the medications we are able to prescribe for improving your health and your hormone balance.  Work to get in exercise most days of the week.  Strength training is very effective for raising a man’s testosterone level and should be a part of your exercise routine at least 2 days per week.  We recommend that our patients try to do at least 40 minutes of exercise most days of the week and include a mixture of aerobic and strength-training exercises.


4.  Boost-up your Omega-3 Levels.  The Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish and flax seed have amazing anti-inflammatory properties.  They can help decrease the activity of aromatase and therefore lower the production of estrogen in men.  In addition, these healthy fats also improve insulin sensitivity.  Reach for 1000mg of DHA + EPA every day.


5.  Add in phytonutrients.  Phytonutrients are components in plant foods that have a host of wonderful effects on your health.  Phytonutrients have also been found to lower aromatase in your body and therefore improve a man’s testosterone levels naturally.  Some phytonutrients for hormone balance include; curcumin, resveratrol, epigallocatechin and lignans.  Add colorful plant foods such as the spice turmeric, red grapes, green tea and ground flax seed into your daily diet to get these phytonutrients.  There are also some supplements that combine these phytonutrients for optimal hormone balance.


Our nutritionists at The UltraWellness Center helped Steve adjust his diet.  We also helped him increase his exercise levels and adjust his supplement regimen to get the necessary nutrients for his hormones to get into better balance.  Almost immediately, Steve was feeling better.  And within a few months he noticed his energy improve, his belly fat start to melt away and his relationship with his wife strengthen.  Steve got his hormones under better balance without needing to go on medication.  Give it a try.  You will be amazed at how well you feel. 


*Patient’s name and identifying characteristics were changed to protect his privacy.