ACAM Convention 2002
The American College for the Advancement of Medicine (ACAM) is an organization dedicated to combining the best of mainstream and alternative therapies. Through its conferences and special workshops, ACAM educates physicians about innovative approaches to the prevention and treatment of diseases.
The 2002 ACAM Spring conference in Fort Lauderdale on May 17-19, 2002 reflected a growing awareness of the mechanisms involved in chronic inflammation, brain cell damage, atherosclerosis, osteoporosis and a host of other aging-related degenerative disorders. As scientists gain a greater understanding of the aging process, the resources available to protect our health keeps growing. This article summarizes the highlights of the year 2002 ACAM Spring Conference.
Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez: pancreatic enzymes and autonomic balancing help fight cancer
The work of Nicholas Gonzalez, M.D., an alternative physician known mainly for his use of pancreatic enzymes as a crucial part of holistic cancer therapy, stems from the discoveries of a turn-of-the-century Scottish embryologist, John Beard. Beard observed similarities between tumors and the placenta. He also discovered that the placenta stops growing precisely when the fetal pancreas begins to secrete digestive enzymes. "Cancer is no longer a problem for the embryologist," Beard announced, putting forth the idea that proteolytic (protein-digesting) pancreatic enzymes are the body's chief defense against cancer.
Beard died in 1923, and his ideas were practically forgotten. In 1965, however, a researcher at St. Joseph Hospital in Arizona discovered that oral pancreatin completely prevented pancreatic cancer in mice carrying Bittner's virus. Meanwhile, control mice showed a 100% incidence of cancer. Mice receiving 2% pancreatin in their diet showed a 2.6 times increase in antibody production.
Gonzalez became interested in the use of pancreatic enzymes against cancer in 1981, while still in medical school at Cornell. He learned of the work of William Donald Kelley, a Texas dentist, who further developed the regimen proposed by Beard. Gonzalez was especially impressed by the fact that one of Kelley's patients was alive 10 years after being diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer with metastases to the liver. Such survival was unheard of in conventional medicine. Gonzalez developed the Beard-Kelley regimen even further, and established an alternative practice in New York-an act of great courage.
Needless to say, he has been denounced by "quack-busters." He would seem like an easy target-the very fact that his mentor was a dentist rather than an M.D. is bound to arouse skepticism. What is different about Gonzalez is that his success in treating cancer, especially pancreatic cancer, regarded as a death sentence, has made the FDA and the National Cancer Institute take notice.
Pancreatic cancer is so deadly that most patients treated with conventional treatments die within months. Only a quarter survive for one year. Only 10% live for two years. In a recent study using gemcitabine, not a single patient survived longer than 19 months, Gonzalez pointed out. But in a pilot study, 81% of Gonzalez's stage IV pancreatic cancer patients were still alive at the end of the first year, 45% after two years, and 36% after three years. Two of the patients have now lived longer than four years. In fact, outside of the study, Gonzalez has seen some of his pancreatic cancer patients survive for more than five years. Consequently, a controlled clinical trial is now being conducted at the Columbia Medical Center in New York to compare the effectiveness of his holistic regimen with that of the drug gemcitabine. Forty-five patients have been assigned to the holistic/enzyme treatment, and 45 to chemotherapy. Because pancreatic cancer is so lethal, results become apparent quickly, and the number of subjects in each group can be relatively small.
Dr. Gonzalez is being taken seriously at last. In fact, he sees a tremendous change in attitude on the part of agencies such as the FDA, National Cancer Institute, and National Institutes of Health. "There's change in the air," Gonzalez said; the FDA was interested and cooperative.
Unlike his predecessors, who relied on intravenous injections of pancreatic enzymes, Gonzalez uses an oral pancreatic extract. He explained that a Russian study found that pancreatic enzymes are not destroyed by stomach acid. In fact, he does not believe in enteric coating, since it produces unreliable absorption. His most interesting discovery, however, is that a less purified extract produces better results, suggesting that "other pancreatic products probably synergize with trypsin and chymotrypsin."
He isn't sure how the extract works. There are probably several mechanisms. The enzymes and cofactors probably enhance immune function, and inhibit the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis) that feed the growing tumor. One of the mechanisms may be a direct attack on cancer cells: "pancreatic enzymes dissolve the cell membranes and the cancer cells spill their guts," as Gonzalez put it. He acknowledges that much is still not known, and that his is not the only way to treat cancer. Not once did he make the claim of "having the cure for cancer." He captivated the audience by stating, "I am a moderately good technician." He also readily admits that not all his patients survive. Some simply come too late. Some fail to comply with the rigorous program.
Gonzalez uses an extract of pork pancreas, since the pork pancreas is most like the human pancreas. The extract contains a mix of active enzymes and their precursors such as trypsinogen and chymotrypsinogen. Purified trypsin can cause gastritis, Gonzalez warned.
As for the imported freeze-dried porcine pancreatic extract he prescribes for his cancer patients, he cannot make it commercially available because of FDA restrictions against commercialization while being involved in an ongoing study, Gonzalez explained. He suggested that German-made Wobenzym could be used instead. The dosage varies, and is taken on an empty stomach in divided doses, including in the middle of the night, since Dr. Gonzalez believes in maintaining high blood levels of the enzymes round the clock. The patients also follow an individualized diet and supplement regimen. They take up to 160 pills a day. It does take dedication.
Dr. Gonzalez also places great importance on balancing the autonomic nervous system. Patients who have solid tumors tend to sympathetic dominance, Gonzalez claims. They are chronically geared for the "fight or flight" stress response, with relatively weak parasympathetic "rest and digest" functions. Sympathetic dominance can be assessed using the heart rate variability test, with high variability indicating excessive sympathetic activity; other markers can be used as well. The sympathetic nervous system can also be called excitatory; persons with high sympathetic activity come across as "excitable." Sympathetic-dominant patients tend toward excess acidity and calcium deposits in soft tissue.
The way to balance sympathetic-dominant patients' autonomic nervous system is through an alkalizing diet (lots of fresh vegetables and other potassium-rich foods), alkalizing supplements such as magnesium (Gonzalez emphasizes magnesium rather than calcium in the case of solid tumors), and relaxation and meditation (stress is acidifying). "The most important factor is the patient's state of mind," Gonzalez stated. Relaxation activates the parasympathetic system, decreasing stress-related chemicals, nourishing and detoxifying tissue, improving liver and pancreatic function. The levels of enzymes go up, and acidity decreases.
(Incidentally, the last speaker at the conference, JoAnne Whitaker, expressed the view that all healing takes place in the parasympathetic state of relaxation and regeneration. "For healing to happen, the person has to shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic dominance," Whitaker said. The idea of preventing acidosis with an alkalizing diet, magnesium supplements, and stress reduction has also been gaining ground.)
Dr. Gonzalez is also known for his success with colon, and breast cancer, as well as melanoma. One of his metastatic breast cancer patients is still alive 12 years after beginning the program. By contrast, life expectancy in stage IV breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy and radiation is one to two years. Likewise, one stage IV melanoma patient who was given only six months to live is still alive after 14 years, and is working full-time in his second career.
Breast cancer patients should supplement with magnesium, vitamin K and vitamin D. Magnesium is a natural block against excessive influx of calcium ions into the cells, common when the sympathetic nervous system is overactive. Vitamin D has been documented to lower the risk of breast cancer. In its active form, called D3 or calcitrol, it is a hormone that regulates the absorption of calcium from the intestine into the blood and its deposition into the bone. Vitamin K has been shown to help keep calcium out of soft tissue. Dysfunctional calcium metabolism, and calcium deposition inside soft tissue rather than bone, are associated with aging and various aging-related disorders, including cancer.
Plant-derived enzymes such as bromelain and papain have anti-inflammatory activity, but they do not fight cancer, Gonzalez warned.
Can pancreatin be used for the prevention of cancer? Dr. Gonzalez believes it can. He himself takes enzymes with meals, to decrease the burden on his pancreas and prevent aging-related enzyme deficiency.
Vitamin K helps prevent vascular calcification, improves bone quality
Richard Wood, Ph.D., is a researcher from Tufts University in Boston, where he directs the Mineral Bioavailability Laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging. Dr. Wood presented an overview of the data concerning the newly discovered importance of vitamin K in regulating calcium metabolism and preventing both bone fractures and vascular and other soft-tissue calcification.
Until recently, vitamin K has been seen strictly as a pro-clotting factor, Wood pointed out. It regulates prothrombin, Factors VII, IX and X. But it is the newly discovered importance of vitamin K in regulating calcium deposition that makes it one of the key players in anti-aging protocols, especially in view of the fact that we tend to become increasingly deficient in vitamin K as we age. Postmenopausal women show lower levels of carboxylated ostecalcin compared to premenopausal levels, indicating a vitamin K deficiency.
Poor vitamin K status has been found to raise the risk of a heart attack 2.4 times-as much as smoking, Wood pointed out. The most likely reason is that vitamin K helps prevent vascular calcification. Wood explained that vitamin K is a limiting factor in the carboxylation of various bone-regulating proteins that help prevent bone formation in the wrong places, including the middle layer of the arterial wall.
Vitamin K was discovered to be a cofactor in the chemical reaction that adds the carboxyl group (COOH) to glutamate, making it possible for bone-regulating proteins such as osteocalcin to bind calcium. Osteocalcin is produced in the osteoblasts, cells that create new bone. It should be noted, however, that osteocalcin and related proteins have been found not only in bone, but also in soft tissue the brain, pancreas, and lungs. The speaker mentioned that one of the important vitamin K-dependent proteins is the matrix Gla protein, a potent inhibitor of soft-tissue calcification when it is sufficiently carboxylated.
In Japan, vitamin K has been approved for the treatment of osteoporosis, in combination with vitamin D3. Several epidemiological studies have found a significant increase in the risk of fractures associated with vitamin K deficiency. In particular, Wood cited the Framigham Heart Study. Those in the highest quartile of vitamin K intake showed a 65% reduction in hip fractures compared with those in the lowest quartile. In other words, those consuming the most vitamin K had only about a third of the hip fractures of those consuming the least vitamin K.
Wood emphasized, however, that studies have not found any effect of dietary intake of vitamin K on mineral bone density. A study of bone markers in Japanese children has strongly suggested that vitamin K, which increases levels of carboxylated osteocalcin, affects primarily bone quality, which translates into resistance to fracture, rather than mineral density.
Vitamin K intake was also found to be inversely correlated with aortic calcification, an important predictor of heart attack risk. Patients whose aortic calcification was evident in X-ray images had more undercarboxylated osteocalcin, indicating poor vitamin K status. Poor vitamin K status has been found to triple the risk of severe vascular calcification, Wood stated. Deficiency of vitamin K leads to undercarboxylation, and hence inactivity of bone-regulating proteins such as matrix Gla protein, resulting in soft-tissue calcification. And the greater the degree of calcification, the greater the risk of a heart attack.
Warfarin (Coumadin), an anticoagulant, depletes vitamin K and causes severe vascular calcification in rats. Bisphosphonate drugs can prevent this harmful side effect. Coumadin patients cannot take vitamin K supplements and are even told to avoid foods rich in vitamin K.
Though the speaker did not go into the neuroprotective role of vitamin K, it is worth noting that some researchers think that supplementing with vitamin K may help prevent Alzheimer's disease and ward off stroke. This is due to the ability of vitamin K to reduce neuronal damage by protecting the vascular system, guarding against inflammation and blocking excess infiltration of calcium into brain cells. Vitamin K is also involved in regulating important brain enzymes and growth factors. It seems that we are discovering more and more functions of this remarkable anti-aging vitamin.
Vitamin K from supplements is more bioavailable than dietary vitamin K, Wood pointed out. Since vitamin K is fat-soluble, it's a good idea to add olive oil (itself a source of vitamin K) or another healthy fat when you eat dark green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, green cabbage, brussels sprouts or lettuce (even pale lettuce such as iceberg supplies some vitamin K). Green plants supply the form of vitamin K called phylloquinone, or vitamin K-1. Our intestinal bacteria convert K1 to K2, or menaquinone (actually there are several menaquinones), the active hormonal form. Some menaquinone is also found in fermented products such as cheese or natto, a fermented soybean product, and in liver, meat and egg yolk.
As has been jocularly observed, as we age, we turn to stone. We calcify. More accurately, our arteries and organs calcify, while our bones decalcify. Vitamin K is an essential resource against this pathology of aging.
The role of dysregulated calcium metabolism in aging-related degenerative disorders, as well as the corrective role of magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K, is finally beginning to get much-deserved attention. Supplementation with calcium alone is obviously not enough; some think it might even be harmful. It is critical to help the aging body control calcium. Vitamin K is the latest addition to our arsenal.
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