SEATTLE — Feb. 5, 2002 — Is there a safe, effective alternative to anti-estrogen drugs for preventing breast cancer among women at high risk of the disease? For example, could a combination of herbs, diet and lifestyle changes, used regularly in naturopathic medicine, sufficiently lower levels of circulating estrogen — a known risk factor for breast cancer — and thus minimize a woman's chances of developing the disease?
In an effort to answer such questions, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is supporting the research of the first naturopathic physician to do postdoctoral work at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Heather Greenlee, N.D., a naturopathic physician and research fellow in Fred Hutchinson's Public Health Sciences Division, is the recent recipient of a three-year postdoctoral training grant from the NCCAM, a recently established branch of the National Institutes of Health.
"In clinical practice, naturopaths use combinations of dietary changes, botanical medicines, nutritional supplements and lifestyle modifications to regulate hormone levels. We know many of these interventions can have potent biologic effects on different hormonal pathways in the body. While researchers have focused on some of the individual therapies, no one has investigated the effects on estrogen metabolism of the multidimensional approach used routinely by naturopathic physicians," she said.
Greenlee cautions that her NIH-funded work is very preliminary. "Before we can study the effects of naturopathic treatments on estrogen metabolism in women at high risk for breast cancer, we need to understand how these substances and behavioral changes affect women in the general population. In addition, we need to conduct feasibility studies to see how best to design the research and answer these questions. There is a great deal of scientific debate about how best to study components of complementary and alternative medicine."
Mentoring the project is Johanna Lampe, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist and associate member of Fred Hutchinson's Public Health Sciences Division, a division dedicated to understanding the causes of cancer as well as ways to prevent it.
"Despite widespread use of natural products, such as herbal and nutritional supplements, scientific inquiry into complementary and alternative treatments such as these is a relatively new area of research," Lampe said. "There is lots of work to be done to evaluate the safety and efficacy of these products, as well as understand their biologic actions. It is exciting to have the opportunity to work with Heather to establish some of the methodologies to address research questions in this area."
Greenlee received her doctorate in naturopathy from Bastyr University in Kenmore, Wash., internationally recognized as a pioneer in the study of natural healing and the nation's leading university in natural-health sciences. She continues to see patients at the Bastyr Center for Natural Health, where she is a clinical-research fellow.
"This award demonstrates the deepening commitment by the federal government to enhance the research capabilities of naturopathic physicians," said Joseph Chu, M.D., vice president of academics and research at Bastyr University. "We're pleased to see the NIH support this important work and this very deserving Bastyr graduate."
Prior to her enrollment at Bastyr, Greenlee worked as a research assistant at both the Hutchinson Center and the University of Washington, where she is pursuing a master's degree in public health in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine as part of her NIH-funded training.
According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, naturopathic medicine blends natural therapies with current medical and scientific advances in the study of health and human systems, covering all aspects of family health, from prenatal to geriatric care.
Naturopathic medicine concentrates on whole-patient wellness, emphasizing prevention and self-care. It attempts to find the underlying cause of the patient's condition rather than focusing on treating the symptoms. It employs a highly personalized and comprehensive approach to diagnosis and treatment, the goal of which is to stimulate the inherent healing capacity within the patient through a variety of natural approaches ranging from clinical nutrition and botanical (plant-based) medicines to hydrotherapy (the use of water) and physical medicine.
Naturopathic physicians are licensed as primary-care physicians in the state of Washington. They cooperate with all other branches of medical science and, when appropriate, refer patients to other practitioners for diagnosis or treatment.
To arrange an interview with Dr, Greenlee, contact Kristen Woodward, Fred Hutchinson Media Relations, (206) 667-5095.
For more information about naturopathic medicine or other forms of complementary therapy, contact Mercedes Lawry, Bastyr University Media Relations, (425) 602-3107 or visit www.bastyr.edu
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Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home of two Nobel Prize laureates, is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Fred Hutchinson receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health than any other independent U.S. research center. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. Fred Hutchinson, in collaboration with its clinical and research partners, the University of Washington Academic Medical Center and Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center, is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Pacific Northwest and is one of 38 nationwide. For more information, visit the center's Web site at www.fhcrc.org.