Dr. Christian Gonzalez was on track to be a dentist. Then, personal tragedy struck out of nowhere and completely changed the course of his life and career, leading him to become one of the most prominent faces in the field of naturopathic oncology. After spending several years working alongside conventional doctors to integrate natural cancer treatment with more traditional interventions, he now works as an educator, podcast host, and co-founder of the integrative health company The Swell Score. Read on to learn Dr. Gonzalez’s story, what he sees as the main challenges and opportunities for naturopathic oncology, the most effective methods of treating cancer naturally, and much more.
The Personal Tragedy That Led to Naturopathic Oncology
Dr. Gonzalez was on track to be a dentist and had just completed his first semester of dental school when his world got turned upside down. Just as he was about to come home for the holidays, his mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. During his three weeks home over winter break, he accompanied her to her doctor’s visits, and started to notice a huge disconnect between traditional cancer therapies and lifestyle-related components of treatment. His mother’s doctors didn’t seem to consider nutrition or other lifestyle elements at all, and the guidance she got from her nutritionists seemed skewed.
“These nutritionists are following protocols that a lot of the time are sponsored by these big companies,” says Dr. Gonzalez. “So my mom went home with a whole box of Boost and Ensure.These are super sugary and calorically-dense, which is great to help cancer patients who are losing weight, but at the expense of getting good calories you’re getting a really crappy, super inflammatory, high-sugar, super processed product.”
Dr. Gonzalez had no nutritional training at the time, but he intuitively knew that the products, treatment, and advice his mother was being given was not the best it could be. Over the next year, she got sicker and sicker and eventually passed away. This was the turning point for his career. “It really drove me to go into oncology,” he says. “I wanted to understand how we can bridge the gap, and do better by these patients.”
He saw that conventional oncology was essentially doing two things: symptom management and aggressive treatments like chemo and radiation. While these approaches can cure people of serious cancers in the short-term, the cancers often come back more aggressively than before; but perhaps more importantly, Dr. Gonzalez points out, this approach completely ignores the concept of cancer prevention. “There’s a major gap in cancer care,” he says. “We’re not looking at the preventative aspect, first and foremost. How are we empowering people in their 20s, in their 30s, in their 40s, to prevent cancer?”
He observed that doctors weren’t empowering people who were cancer-free to remain so, nor were they using evidence-based natural cancer treatment to address root causes in people who did develop cancer. “Those interventions aren’t in their tool belt,” he says. “Nor is it with the nutritionist, nor is it with anyone else.” He decided to switch career tracks from dentistry to naturopathic oncology so that he could be the person with those missing tools.
Why Lifestyle Changes Are the Best Natural Cancer Treatment
Dr. Gonzalez is quick to point out that the naturopathic oncology he practices is not an alternative to conventional oncology. Rather, it’s a complementary or integrative practice, one that helps support people going through cancer treatments so that they have better outcomes. “Chemotherapy will beat you up. Radiation will beat you up. Surgery will beat you up. Most people get these in the span of six months,” he says. “The patients who choose to work with naturopathic oncology go through all three of those treatments much, much better — I’m talking about day and night.”
This part of naturopathic oncology is really important: the evidence-based protocols that help people who are going through aggressive cancer treatments to reduce inflammation and nausea, gain strength and energy, and more so that they can emerge from these treatments stronger. But, in Dr. Gonzalez’s view, the more vital components of his field center around prevention and root cause treatment.
“After cancer is cured, why don’t we go, ‘Hey, why don’t we now look into why the cancer came? Why did it grow? Why are there weeds growing in this soil? Let’s fix the soil rather than just going, ‘Look, we got rid of the weeds, it’s fine,’” he says.
Dr. Gonzalez sees this aspect of naturopathic oncology as particularly important given the skyrocketing rates of cancer, with experts predicting that by 2050 there will be one in three women, and one in two men with cancer. This increase, he says, comes from our modern lifestyles: over a third of Americans are diabetic or prediabetic, chronic stress is a national crisis, our homes are filled with hormone-disrupting chemicals, and more.
While cancer can certainly run in families, he dismisses the idea that cancer is entirely based on the randomness of genetics as not only false but also incredibly disempowering. “We have genetic predispositions,” he says. “But that genetic predisposition is only about 10% of cancer. So if your mom had cancer, you’re about 10% more likely to get it.” The other 90%? That’s entirely made up of things that we can control.
The factors that can cause a cancer to develop are many, encompassing stress, diet, inflammation, toxic burden, exercise habits, smoking, and more. Because of this, there’s not a magic bullet for natural cancer treatment and prevention, as Dr. Gonzalez had initially hoped. “When I came into residency I was like, ‘Oh, everyone just needs to eat more vegetables. Of course the standard American diet was going to cause cancer,” he says. “Then I learned that it was just a huge pie with many different elements.”
Of the many different naturopathic interventions that can be used for preventing and treating cancer naturally, he singles out five as the most effective and important:
- Balance your hormones. Dr. Gonzalez recommends taking a hormone test (he says the DUTCH Test is the best, which you can learn more about from our interview with Dr. Carrie Jones), which aren’t often used in conventional medicine, to find out if any of your hormones are out of whack. For women with hormone-related cancer, he recommends taking these tests on a regular basis, at least every six months. “I’ve seen the power of exclusively naturopathic interventions to fully balance hormones in women with breast cancer or ovarian cancer,” he says.
- Reduce your toxic burden. He says it’s important to do a complete audit of the exposures in your home, or anywhere else you spend a significant amount of time, and then take steps to optimize your air quality and eliminate toxins. “There’s fragrances, things we’re breathing in all day, off-gassing in things like our couches, our rugs, our beds,” he says. “Then you tell this to someone who has cancer, and they go, ‘What, do you mean my couch gave me cancer?’ It’s not necessarily that, but chronically dropping drips into a bucket over time, five years, 10 years. This exposure is disrupting the very things that are protecting you from cancer.”
- Audit your nutrition. Ask yourself if you’re eating nutritionally dense foods that are serving your body, and identify any staples of your diet that are not serving your body — or even actively harming it. Take note of instances where you could swap an inflammatory, processed food item for a whole-foods-based alternative that serves the same function (for instance, in Dr. Gonzalez’s example from above, swapping a Boost or Ensure for an equally calorically dense, less sugary, unprocessed item like a bowl of lentils or whole grains with a healthy fat).
- Assess your gut health. “If you’re not absorbing any of those nutritious foods, then what are we doing? What are we working for?” says Dr. Gonzalez, underscoring the fact that if your gut health is off, none of the other healthy changes you make will have much of an impact. Learn how to assess and improve your gut health naturally in our free gut health guide.
- Take care of your mental health. Dr. Gonzalez explains that you can be doing all the right things to address your physical health, but no natural cancer treatment can work if you’re still holding onto trauma, trapped emotions, or chronic stress. All of these unaddressed mental health issues have an effect on your body, often leading to increased inflammation and reduced immune function. “I’ve had patients who were doing all the right things,” he says. “But it wasn’t until the point where they forgave someone from their past that they needed to — that’s what opened up the floodgates. The mind-body aspect cannot be understated.”
Dr. Gonzalez thinks of these five interventions as not only effective means of natural cancer treatment and prevention, but also important and simple practices for everyone. “These are quick interventions, you can do this over months,” he says. “Two, three months you’re already in the best place you’ve ever been in your life, whether or not you had cancer.”
What Conventional Oncology Needs to Understand About Treating Cancer Naturally
Dr. Gonzalez’s work has shown him the effectiveness of natural cancer treatment in conjunction with conventional therapies, as well as the importance of treating cancer naturally by addressing root causes. This is encouraging. However, he says that naturopathic oncology and oncology in general has a long way to go.
“We are far from a cancer cure. We’re not near it because we’re not working from the correct paradigm,” he says. He explains that the current paradigm in oncology is to identify tumors and then get rid of them as quickly as possible. In order to find a real cure for cancer, oncologists will need to take the time to understand why the body developed the tumor in the first place, rather than villainizing the cancerous part of the body and removing it by any means necessary. “When we understand how to work with the body, that’s when we’ll find a cure,” he says.
Dr. Gonzalez understands that aggressive treatments like chemo, radiation, and surgery play an important role in saving lives, and advises that anyone diagnosed with cancer work with a conventional oncologist. However, he underscores that conventional oncology has a very single-minded focus, and that using naturopathic oncology alongside it can fill in the gaps and lead to better outcomes.
“If you’re with someone going through cancer care day in and day out, it’s horrible. They’re throwing up a few times a day. They’re losing weight. They have zero energy to get up. Seeing them as a shell of themselves is very difficult,” he says. “But there are interventions, evidence-based interventions in studies that we see are helpful.”
In Dr. Gonzalez’s ideal future, every oncologist would be equipped with the tools to get to the root cause of why cancer developed and provide lifestyle-based natural cancer treatment alongside conventional therapies. “Every oncologist should be equipped with the tool belt to go, ‘Now that we’ve gotten rid of the tumor, let’s find out why you had cancer. But they don’t know what test to do, they don’t know what to look for,” he says. “Most aren’t trained in environmental medicine, certainly most aren’t trained in the nutrition aspect, certainly most aren’t trained in the mind-body aspect. I’m not villainizing them at all.”
For this paradigm shift to happen, there would need to be a huge overhaul to not only the conventional oncology mindset, but also medical education and training, which Dr. Gonzalez doesn’t see happening anytime soon. This, he says, is why naturopathic oncology is such an important complementary medicine. Today, however, it only accounts for about 1-2% of oncology in the United States, a number that he hopes will grow as more people see the importance of a holistic approach to cancer treatment.
The WellBe Takeaway on Naturopathic Oncology
Naturopathic oncology is an exciting emerging field of medicine that helps address one of the greatest threats to human life. Here’s what to remember about it:
- Cancer rates are skyrocketing in the United States and worldwide. While cancer can run in families, genetics only account for roughly 10% of the factors that contribute to cancer, meaning that we have control over the other 90%.
- Naturopathic oncology is a field of medicine that focuses on preventing and treating cancer naturally through lifestyle-based interventions. It is a complementary medicine, to be used alongside conventional oncological treatments. Conventional oncology often ignores root causes or lifestyle factors, especially nutrition, and naturopathic oncology fills these gaps.
- Naturopathic oncology uses evidence-based interventions to support people going through aggressive treatments like chemo, radiation, and surgery. It focuses on helping people come out of these treatments stronger and healthier, as well as addressing root causes that could have contributed to cancer development in the first place.
- Dr. Gonzalez’s top 5 interventions for preventing and treating cancer naturally are: balance hormones; reduce your toxic burden; audit your nutrition; improve your gut health; and take care of your mental health.
- In order for humans to find a cure for cancer, Dr. Gonzalez says that there must be a complete paradigm shift. Doctors must move away from simply removing tumors, and instead look to root causes so that we can prevent cancer from coming back or showing up in the first place. Until that paradigm shift happens, working with a naturopathic oncologist is often the best option for receiving holistic cancer care.
Have you ever worked with a naturopathic oncologist, or know someone who has? Share your experience in the comments below!
Watch our full interview with Dr. Christian Gonzalez to learn why he hates hearing other doctors tell their patients to go home and “live life” after getting clear scans, his thoughts on immunotherapy, why he’s not a fan of the hashtag #cancersucks, which alternative cancer treatments actually do more harm than good, the rituals he does every day that are the backbone of his wellness, and much more.
- Thun, Michael J et al. “The global burden of cancer: priorities for prevention.” Carcinogenesis vol. 31,1 (2010): 100-10.
- Anand, Preetha et al. “Cancer is a preventable disease that requires major lifestyle changes.” Pharmaceutical research vol. 25,9 (2008): 2097-116.
- Powers, A. et al. “Emotion Dysregulation and Inflammation in African-American Women with Type 2 Diabetes.” Neural Plasticity. 17 Jul 2016.
- Marsden, E et al. “Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians: Principles of Care Guidelines.” Current oncology (Toronto, Ont.) vol. 26,1 (2019): 12-18.
The information contained in this article comes from our interview with Dr. Christian Gonzalez, MD. Dr. Gonzalez is a naturopathic oncologist who earned his Bachelor of Science degree at Rutgers University and his Medical Doctorate at the University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine, and completed his residency at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is the founder of the integrative health company The Swell Score and host of the Podcast Heal Thy Self. Find him on Instagram and learn more about naturopathic oncology at OncAMP.