What is my body terrain, and why is it important?
Your body terrain is the state or condition of your body. It includes these factors and more:1Lemole G, Mehta P, McKee D. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.
- Nutritional status
- Health and functioning of all your organs
- Immune function
- Hormone production and balance
- Nervous system function
- Your microbiomethe collection of microbes living on and within your body
- Environmental exposures including bacteria and viruses, chemicals, radiation, noise, and more
Terrain as your garden soil
A few gardening concepts provide a good analogy for your body terrain. Indeed, the word “terrain” means “a stretch of land,” so think of your body as the land—rocks, soil, water, microorganisms, wildlife, and all the ways they interact. Let’s think of cancer as a seed from a thorny or even poisonous weed—not one we want to sprout and grow on our land.
Many weeds survive better in poor soil or land in which the soil chemistry, water, microorganisms, wildlife, nutrients, and such are out of balance. By building a healthy body terrain, you deny a cancerous “weed” in your body the environment that allows it to thrive. You also simultaneously promote health and wellness throughout your body.
Tending your soil means bringing your terrain’s nutrients, chemicals, and microorganisms into balance. We know that if a garden’s soil is healthy, pesticides and chemical fertilizers are less needed—the soil’s healthy balance of microorganisms and biochemistry favors the growth of desired plants and deters weeds from becoming established. The same is true of our body’s garden—a healthy terrain means less likelihood of imbalances or diseases that require chemicals like drugs or invasive medical treatments.
Your dynamic body terrain
Our body terrains change substantially over our lives. Hormone production and balance change dramatically during puberty, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and menopause, but also more slowly as we age. As we age, usually our fitness declines and our metabolism slows. Our microbiome may change significantly based on what we eat, as well as a lifetime of exposures to infections and other environmental agents.
Changes in one terrain factor can interact with other factors. For instance, a change in your nutrition can impact your fitness, your metabolism, the health of your digestive system, your hormone balance, your microbiome, and your ability to respond to infections and environmental exposures.
Terrain factors and cancer
Although cancer is characterized as a disease of genetic mutations, most mutations don’t start as inherited gene mutations. Rather, the mutations develop over time. These mutations are heavily influenced by the biochemical environment of your body terrain.
Some changes turn genes “on” or “off” but don’t change the genes themselves. These are not considered genetic mutations, but are called epigenetic changes. These changes can be passed down through generations, and so in that sense they can be inherited. However, while you cannot change your genes (at least not without a very complicated technological process), you can alter the epigenetic markers of your cancer-related genes.
Within an imbalanced body terrain, cancer-promoter genes are turned on, while cell repair and cancer-suppressor genes are switched off. This altered—and dysfunctional—gene expression changes cell behavior, causing cells to divide too quickly and spread into the surrounding tissue.2Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Thriving after Cancer. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2013. p. 10. Bringing your terrain into balance can turn cancer-promoting genes off and turn cancer-suppressing genes on.
Terrain factors related to cancer
We focus on seven main terrain factors related to cancer:
- Blood sugar imbalance and insulin resistance: The concentration of sugar or glucose in your blood alters your body terrain. Your body has several processes to regulate glucose. When blood sugar regulators, including insulin, aren’t working properly for any reason, problems such as insulin resistance and even diabetes can arise. In addition, your body releases insulin when glucose in the blood needs to be transported into cells. Insulin is accompanied by growth factors during this process. If insulin is helping cancer cells take up glucose, it may also give them too much growth factor—good for the cancer, but bad for your body.
- Hormone balance: The relative actions of your hormones influence all your other body systems. The glands and tissues of your endocrine system secrete hormones that regulate body systems and functions, including your heart function, blood pressure, energy production, stress response, wakefulness, blood sugar, reproductive organ development and function, immunity, calcium uptake, and digestion. With hormones, goals for optimizing your body terrain are balance, rhythm, and equilibrium.
- Immune function: Your body’s processes to fight infection, neutralize harmful substances, or prevent diseases (including cancer) from progressing are a key part of your body terrain. In a state of chronic inflammation, white blood cells may attack nearby healthy tissues and organs and cause disease.
- Inflammation: Your body’s imflammatory response to injury, disease, or irritation of tissues has a huge impact on your body terrain. Acute inflammation is part of normal repair and healing processes. But when tissue doesn’t heal and inflammation becomes chronic, DNA damage can result.
- Oxidation: A chemical reaction involving transfer of electrons, oxidation produces energy for your cells. Excess oxidation produces free radicals (atoms with unpaired electrons) that can harm DNA and other parts of cells. Oxidants are substances or activities that promote oxidation. Oxidants include many toxic environmental exposures. Antioxidants inhibit oxidation, and these include several food components such as tocopherols, ascorbic acid, carotenoids, flavonoids, and amino acids. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between oxidants and antioxidants.
- Unbalanced bleeding and coagulation: Specialized cells and proteins promote clotting of blood, critical to repair wounds. Too much clotting can impair blood flow, while too little clotting can permit harmful bleeding.
- Your microbiome: Trillions of microorganisms live in and on you, many of which are in your gut. Your microbiome influences all your body systems, including the immune, nervous, digestive, and endocrine systems.
Many cancer types have known links with these terrain factors and related conditions:
Body terrain: an enduring concept
The concept of body terrain is not new: Many traditional medical systems teach that to heal disease, the underlying constitution must be returned to balance. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has viewed the body terrain as important for millennia. Ayurvedic medicine uses the body’s constitution (prakriti) and life forces and biologic factors (dosha) as foundations for medical care. But this concept is only recently beginning to gain traction in conventional cancer research.3Lemole G, Mehta P, McKee D. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015. Integrative oncology teaches that tending to the body terrain is essential to healing and wellness as well as curing cancer.
Integrative physician and CancerChoices advisor Keith Block, MD, focuses more specifically on the biochemical terrain—your body’s internal chemical environment and its interaction with living cells—and whether or not that biochemistry is balanced or disrupted. This influences whether the terrain is more or less supportive of, or hospitable to, cancer.4Block KI. Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.
Keep reading about optimizing your body terrain
|1||Lemole G, Mehta P, McKee D. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.|
|2||Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Thriving after Cancer. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2013. p. 10.|
|3||Lemole G, Mehta P, McKee D. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.|
|4||Block KI. Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.|