Creating a Healing Environment
Some exposures are beneficial to health and wellness. These include nature, clean air and water, bright light in the morning and darkness at night.
However, a wide range of chemical and physical agents—both natural and human-generated—may damage our DNA and impact our health in many ways. As BCCT founder and author Michael Lerner has stated, it’s hard to be healthy on a sick planet. These exposures include air pollution, many chemicals, and several forms of radiation.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean it’s too late to remove harmful substances and exposures from your surroundings. In fact, your body’s natural abilities to replenish and heal will be enhanced by removing exposures that have these effects:
- Continually provoking your immune system
- Disrupting your hormone functioning
- Increasing your stress response
- Interfering with sleep
- Contributing to symptoms
Increasing health-promoting exposures will further promote your body’s optimal functioning.
On this page we highlight some exposures that may be in your life and also under your influence. At the end of the page, we provide links to pages with more in-depth information. Creating a (more) healing environment for yourself is a step you can take to promote your healing and wellness.
- Less anxiety, pain, and agitation among critically ill adults with nature-base sounds in a review of RCTs4
- Lower anxiety after time in a forest (whether following the forest bathing model or not), compared to time in urban settings or indoors, in a review of small to mid-sized controlled trials5
- Benefits to anxiety with forest bathing in a systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses rated with moderate and low confidence6
- Lower anxiety levels among adults suffering from pre-hypertension or hypertension in a review of intervention studies7
- Lower anxiety scores among young adults, and especially among overweight people and women, in a review of two small RCTs8
The Japanese practice of "forest bathing" involves mindful immersion in a forested setting to take in all the sensory stimuli.
Nature and Your Body Terrain
Reviews, meta-analyses and other studies have found that forests and other natural environments have the following beneficial effects on human health:9
- Increase the likelihood of reporting good health or high well-being
- Increase immune function (human natural killer, or NK, activity, the number of NK cells) and the intracellular levels of anticancer proteins
- Reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormones
- Increase the activity of parasympathetic nerves and reduce the activity of sympathetic nerves
- Increase the levels of serum adiponectin which regulate glucose levels and dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate, important in sex hormone production
- Lower scores on the Profile of Mood States (POMS) test for anxiety, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion, and higher scores for vigor10
Some ways to increase your exposure to nature:
- To regular outings for shopping or other errands, add a half-hour stop for a walk in a park, at a beach, in a wooded area, on a prairie or in whatever natural areas are near you. Engaging in physical activity in nature is likely to increase the health benefits.
- Join or create a group who will participate in regular outdoor activity together.
- Move regular activities outside when appropriate:
- Visiting friends or family, whether in person or by phone or computer
- Laundry (think “clothesline”)
- Playing with children
- Create or increase time in a garden. Don’t have a yard? Consider volunteering to help at a local park, community garden or playground.
- Get a dog, which will spur you to be outside frequently. Consider volunteering to walk dogs at a local animal shelter if you don’t want to own one.
- If you’re fortunate enough to live close to shopping, your work, school, place of worship or other destinations, walk instead of driving some trips. If a bus or public transit is available and causes you to walk or wait in a natural area, use these sometimes instead of driving.
- If weather seems unfavorable for outdoor activities, investigate whether more protective or suitable clothing could extend your outdoor season.
- Learn about the trees, animals, flowers, insects, snakes, birds and other natural neighbors in your area. The more you know about them, the more engaged you will be and the less likely to be injured or fearful.
- If you can’t get outside, bring some nature indoors: plants and animals such as fish, birds and other pets can bring connection to the natural world to you. Even photos of natural settings provide some benefit, although of course being in nature is preferred.
Even views of nature can be beneficial for those unable to get outside, as a small study found with surgery patients in a hospital. Patients assigned to rooms with windows looking out on a natural scene had shorter postoperative hospital stays, received fewer negative evaluative comments in nurses' notes, and took fewer potent analgesics than matched patients in similar rooms with windows facing a brick building wall.12
Clean Food, Water and Air
Consuming food, water and air uncontaminated with the chemicals listed below—or with lead, arsenic, mercury or other metals—is important for giving your body the materials it needs to fight infection and heal.
Some ways to increase your exposure to clean food, water and air:
- Purchase organically grown food when you can. Not only will you be consuming fewer pesticide residues, but you’ll be helping to keep runoff chemicals from our water supplies.
- Avoid eating processed, charred and well-done meats, which are associated with higher risks of cancer.
- If you know or suspect that your home water supply is contaminated, use a water filter (see below).
- Use glass containers to store water or food (mason jars work well). Food and water stored in plastic is at risk of contamination from chemicals in the plastic.
- Ventilate indoor spaces where you spend a lot of time.
- Use a HEPA filter in your home or work environment if sources of contaminants listed below are present.
Light in the correct color spectrum and at the right time of day is beneficial to health and healing. Our natural rhythms of hormones promote healthy cycles of wakefulness and sleep throughout the day, and light influences these hormone and sleep cycles. Preliminary research shows that bright light therapy in the morning can improve sleep in people with cancer.13
Bright daytime light may also lead to better mood: Women with mild to moderate depressive symptoms reported significantly better scores in all five measures of depression in a small randomized trial. An intervention combining a brisk 20-minute outdoor walk, increased light exposure throughout the day and a vitamin regimen had high adherence for eight weeks. The goal of the walk was to increase target heart rate of 60% of maximum, and the supplements included vitamins B1, B6, B2, B9, D, and selenium.14
However, the wrong type of light or at the wrong time of day might be a problem.
Early research indicates that artificial light at night, and especially blue-spectrum light from electronic screens and some energy-efficient bulbs, may contribute to the incidence of chronic disease, including cancer. Blue light may also be associated with obesity, which is a risk factor for cancer.15
Some ways to align your exposure to light with your natural cycles:
- Curb bright light in the evening and increase bright light exposure in the morning.16
- Allow a 30-minute or longer transition from screen time to bed time. Engage in other activities that don’t involve looking at an electronic screen and that can allow your melatonin levels to rise and prepare you for sleep.
- If you work at night and must sleep during daylight, make your bedroom as dark as possible. Ideally, you should not be able to see across the room, even after your eyes adjust to the dark.
- If you use a night light, a red or amber bulb will be less disruptive than a white one.
- The next time you purchase a computer or mobile device, look for one labeled “low blue light” or look for an app such as f.lux that can switch a computer screen to a low-blue spectrum in the evening.
- Consider using an LED circadian light bulb, especially in the places you occupy the last 30 minutes before going to bed. Some bulbs come with two settings:
- Nighttime amber, no blue light
- White daytime light
Outdoor air pollution comes to mind when many people think of air pollution, and without a doubt the volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and other air toxicants from vehicles, industry, burning and mining create an unhealthy environment. However, indoor air in many buildings is also likely to contain toxics in harmful concentrations.
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Reduce the use of products that off-gas toxic chemicals into your home:
- Air fresheners
- Dryer sheets
- Plastic items, especially vinyl products
- Cleaning products containing chlorine, ammonia or solvents
- Limit indoor smoke and particulates:
- Eliminate smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products, as well as vaping in indoor spaces, including your car.22
- Limit burning of candles, and especially candles with leaded wicks.
- Use an exhaust fan when cooking, especially with foods and methods that produce smoke.
- Use an air filter and maintain a clean chimney if you heat with a wood stove.
- Avoid high-traffic areas and times; being in a closed car does not reduce concentrations of toxic substances and may even increase them.
- Ventilate your home and office whenever possible, especially if you install carpeting, use a laser printer or engage in activities involving soldering, paint or furniture finishes, glues, solvents or other irritating products. Simply opening a couple of windows is a great start.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA has been removed in recent years from many baby products due to safety concerns—concerns that also relate to hormone-affected cancers. BPA—and replacement chemicals that unfortunately may not be any better—is still added to many plastic products and other everyday items. Some examples:
- Dental sealants and orthodontic products
- CDs and DVDs
- Medical equipment and tubing
- Consumer electronics
- Water bottles and other food and beverage containers
- Lacquers to coat metal products such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes
- Impact-resistant safety equipment, such as sports safety equipment
- Some cash register receipt
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Avoid food and beverages packed in containers containing BPA, including many plastic bottles and steel cans. BPA-free plastic products made with BPA replacements may have similar health effects as BPA.
- Use metal or glass food and beverage storage containers.
- Avoid heating polycarbonate plastic (#7), or indeed any plastic, in a microwave oven, as heating can increase the rate of leaching or degrade the plastic over time. Washing plastic in hot water, such as in a dishwasher, also degrades it.
- Avoid handling cash register receipts.
Flame-retardant chemicals are added to fabrics and upholstery, polyurethane foam cushions and mattresses, and many appliances and electronics. Over time, these chemicals leach from products into dust and into the air, from which they can be inhaled. Chemicals may also adhere to hands and are transferred to food.
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Keep dust levels down by dusting with a damp rag, wet mopping and vacuuming with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to help remove contaminants from your home.
- Wash your hands before eating or handling food.
- When purchasing new products, look for furniture filled with cotton, polyester, or wool instead of polyurethane foam.
- Reduce dust by having a good ventilation system in your home.
- Cover and seal rips in upholstery that expose polyurethane foam, especially if the foam is loose and crumbling.
- Contact your mattress manufacturer to see whether your mattress is made with polyurethane foam that contains PBDEs. If it does, but you aren't ready to replace your mattress, consider purchasing a tightly woven allergen-barrier mattress casing to reduce the migration of PBDEs into dust.
Pesticides include all products meant to kill, repel or control living organisms: herbicides, insecticides, rodenticides, nematacides, fungicides, and so on. Hundreds of pesticides, in many classes, each have their own toxicological effects. Exposures to certain pesticides are associated with several types of cancers. Besides agricultural use, pesticides are used in huge quantities in many other places:
- Parks and playgrounds
- Golf courses and lawns
- Home gardens
- Inside homes and other buildings
- On our bodies in the form of insect repellents, lice treatments, preservatives in cosmetics and other products
A large prospective study in France found that higher frequency of organic food consumption was associated with a reduced risk of cancer.23
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Make pests unwelcome in your home or office: remove entry points and sources of food and water.
- Check to see if natural or less-toxic remedies are effective against the pests in your home. Many pest control companies now provide green pest control.
- Ask those responsible for maintenance at buildings you spend time in to reduce pesticide use or at least give you advance warning when pesticides are to be applied so that you can avoid the heaviest exposures.
- Remove shoes before entering the home, as shoes pick up pesticides if you walk across treated lawns or playgrounds..
- If you feel you must use chemical pesticides, follow all label safety instructions.
Plastic is so endemic in our world that we use it in all aspects of our lives: clothing, furniture and appliances, building materials, transportation, entertainment, dishes and cookware, and packaging—including food packaging. Unfortunately, many types of plastic are associated with cancer and cancer processes such as hormone disruption and immune-system depression.24
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Take an inventory of all the plastic items in your home and workplace and determine what you might find alternatives for. Focus on those items which involve food or that are exposed to heat, which may promote off-gassing. Some examples of alternatives:
- Ceramic, glass, wood or metal dishes, cookware and storage products
- Fabric shower curtains or glass shower doors
- Wool, cotton, bamboo and hemp clothing and fabrics instead of polyester or nylon. Rayon is better than plastic fibers but not ideal.25
- Do not heat food in plastic containers, using glass or ceramics instead. Washing plastic in hot water, such as in a dishwasher, also degrades it and increases the movement of toxic chemicals into food.
- Reduce the amount of needless plastic you bring into your home, such as plastic grocery bags and superfluous packaging.
Solvents and Alcohol
Solvents are used mainly in cleaning products and processes, although ethanol—consumed in wine, beer and liquor—is also a solvent. Common sources of exposure:
- Dry-cleaned fabrics
- Paints and furniture finishes, plus products used to clean or remove these
- Cosmetics, especially nail polishes and nail polish removers
- Cleaning products, especially de-greasers, vehicle cleaners, glass cleaners and stain removers
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Check cleaning product and cosmetic labels for ingredients that have solvent endings of -ol, -one, -ene or -ane and find alternatives if possible. Some examples of solvents in cleaners:
- If you must use solvent-based cleaners, store products in tightly-closed containers away from your living space if possible. When using these products, open a window or use an exhaust fan.
- Look for cosmetics and personal care products that do not contain solvents.
- Reduce your consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Ionizing radiation is a well-established cause of cancer. By 2006, almost half of the typical American exposure to ionizing radiation had come from medical devices such as x-rays and especially from computed tomography (CT) scans.28 Other sources of ionizing radiation exposures:
- Radon seeping into buildings from the ground and becoming concentrated in indoor spaces
- Cosmic rays, which increase at high elevations (such as when flying)
- Airport security backscatter x-ray machines
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Check your house radon levels and if needed reduce them through improved ventilation or by addressing cracks and gaps that allow seepage into your home.
- Verify that medical exposures to radiation are necessary. If an x-ray will provide adequate information compared to a CT scan, opt for the much lower exposure of an x-ray. If an x-ray is not indicated for a dental or medical diagnosis or procedure, decline to have one done. BCCT is not recommending that necessary medical screening be declined, but that you verify that each exposure to radiation is appropriate and necessary.
- Opt out of screenings with airport backscatter machines.
Electromagnetic Energy/Non-Ionizing Radiation
Electromagnetic (EM) energy, specifically non-ionizing radiation, comes from both wired and wireless devices. Cell phones and their towers emit radiofrequency radiation (RF) while power lines and appliances emit extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF). Other sources of non-ionizing radiation:
- Ultraviolet radiation from sunshine, tanning beds and to a lesser degree artificial lights (mercury vapor, halogen, fluorescent, and incandescent lights)
- Microwave devices
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Protect your skin from excess sunshine and limit exposures from 10am to 3pm.
- Avoid compact fluorescent bulbs in favor of LED bulbs.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- If you need to use a cordless phone or cell phone, use a headset (wired only) whenever possible and/or use your phone on speakerphone.
- Choose wired Internet (Ethernet cable modems) at home instead of wireless systems and avoid wireless hotspots when you can.
- Position beds, desks and living space away from electrical panels in your home if possible.
- Check about opting out of “smart meter” service with your local utility if it’s being implemented.
Keep a distance from microwave ovens when they are heating. Even though electromagnetic fields penetrate through walls, their energy drops off dramatically with distance.
Turn off lights and electrical devices when not in use.
- Keep conversations on cell phones as short and infrequent as possible; use a land line or send texts instead.
- Do not carry your mobile phone against your body, such as in a bra or pocket. Put it in your purse, your backpack, or another location a few inches or more away from your body.
- Do not call while in vehicles (car, bus, train). If your mobile does not have an external antenna, the radiation levels go up in moving vehicles, as the mobile phone connects new towers along the route.
- Avoid placing mobile calls in places with poor reception, such as cellars or elevators. The cell phone signal and radiation increase with poor reception.
- Use the speaker phone feature when possible, allowing you to hold the phone away from your head. Use wired (not wireless) earphones while talking.
- Do not keep your phone under your pillow while you sleep.
- Keep your mobile phone in airplane mode whenever not in use.
Particulates in air, loud sound and noise, mold, and bacterial or viral pathogens can also affect your health and well-being.
What you can do to reduce exposures:
- Reduce sources of particulates in your home, car and other environments
- Inefficient wood stoves and fireplaces
- Cigarettes, cigars and candles
- Inadequately vented gas stoves, furnaces and space heaters
- Reduce your time in smoky environments if possible.
- Reduce use of loud appliances and machines or use less noisy alternatives:
- Leaf blowers
- Hair dryers
- Turn down the volume or mute unnecessary noise from electronics, toys, televisions and music systems.
- Use ear protection when noise is unavoidable or sounds are very loud.
- Reduce excess moisture in your home. Fix leaks and ventilate damp areas such as bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas. If you see or smell mold, you have a problem you need to address.
- Wash your hands frequently to remove germs.
Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems
- Programs and protocols
- Alschuler Gazella complementary approaches33
- Block program34
- Cohen Jefferies Mix of Six anticancer practices35
- Geffen Seven Levels of Healing36
- Lemole, Mehta McKee protocols37
- MacDonald breast cancer program38
- McKinney protocols39
- Traditional systems
Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and reviewed by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on November 9, 2020.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer: List of Classifications. World Health Organization. Viewed March 29, 2018.
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- Pieters HC, Ayala L et al. Gardening on a psychiatric inpatient unit: cultivating recovery. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing. 2019 Feb;33(1):57-64.
- Thrane SE, Hsieh K et al. Could complementary health approaches improve the symptom experience and outcomes of critically ill adults? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2019 Dec;47:102166.
- Farrow MR, Washburn K. A review of field experiments on the effect of forest bathing on anxiety and heart rate variability. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. 2019 May 16;8:2164956119848654.
- Stier-Jarmer M, Throner V et al. The psychological and physical effects of forests on human health: a systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021 Feb 11;18(4):1770.
- Yau KK, Loke AY. Effects of forest bathing on pre-hypertensive and hypertensive adults: a review of the literature. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 2020 Jun 22;25(1):23.
- Wen Y, Yan Q, Pan Y, Gu X, Liu Y. Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 2019 Dec 1;24(1):70.
- Li Q. [Effect of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on human health: a review of the literature]. [Article in French] Sante Publique. 2019 May 13;S1(HS):135-143; White MP, Alcock I et al. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing. Scientific Reports. 2019;9(1):7730. Published 2019 Jun 13. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-44097-3; Antonelli M, Barbieri G, Donelli D. Effects of forest bathing (shinrin-yoku) on levels of cortisol as a stress biomarker: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Biometeorology. 2019;63(8):1117‐1134; Li Q, Nakadai A et al. Phytoncides (wood essential oils) induce human natural killer cell activity. Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology. 2006;28(2):319‐333.
- Park BJ, Tsunetsugu Y, Kasetani T, Kagawa T, Miyazaki Y. The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan. Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine. 2010;15(1):18‐26.
- Robinson JM, Mills JG, Breed MF. Walking ecosystems in microbiome-inspired green infrastructure: an ecological perspective on enhancing personal and planetary health. Challenges. 2018;9(2):40; Nielsen CC, Gascon M et al. Natural environments in the urban context and gut microbiota in infants. Environment International. 2020 Sep;142:105881.
- Ulrich RS. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science. 1984;224(4647):420‐421.
- Wu LM, Amidi A et al. The effect of systematic light exposure on sleep in a mixed group of fatigued cancer survivors. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. 2018 Jan 15;14(1):31-39.
- Brown MA, Goldstein-Shirley J, Robinson J, Casey S. The effects of a multi-modal intervention trial of light, exercise, and vitamins on women's mood. Women Health. 2001;34(3):93-112.
- Harvard Health Letter. Blue light has a dark side. Harvard Health Publications. September 2, 2015. Viewed March 29, 2018.
- Leproult R, Colecchia EF, L'Hermite-Balériaux M, Van Cauter E. Transition from dim to bright light in the morning induces an immediate elevation of cortisol levels. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2001 Jan;86(1):151-7; Nesbitt AD. Delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. Journal of Thoracic Disease. 2018 Jan;10(Suppl 1):S103-S111.
- Weichenthal S, Olaniyan T et al. Within-city spatial variations in ambient ultrafine particle concentrations and incident brain tumors in adults. Epidemiology. 2019 Nov 6.
- Goldberg MS, Villeneuve PJ et al. Associations between incident breast cancer and ambient concentrations of nitrogen dioxide from a national land use regression model in the Canadian National Breast Screening Study. Environment International. 2019 Dec;133(Pt B):105182.
- Wang N, Mengersen K et al. Short-term association between ambient air pollution and lung cancer mortality. Environmental Research. 2019 Dec;179(Pt A):108748.
- Turner MC, Krewski D et al. Ambient air pollution and cancer mortality in the Cancer Prevention Study II. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2017 Aug 21;125(8):087013.
- Deng H, Eckel SP et al. Particulate matter air pollution and liver cancer survival. International Journal of Cancer. 2017 Aug 15;141(4):744-749.
- Fernández E, Ballbè M et al. Particulate matter from electronic cigarettes and conventional cigarettes: a systematic review and observational study.Current Environmental Health Reports. 2015 Dec;2(4):423-9.
- Baudry J, Assmann KE et al. Association of frequency of organic food consumption with cancer risk: findings from the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort Study. JAMA Intern Med. 2018 Dec 1;178(12):1597-1606.
- Rustagi N, Pradhan SK, Singh R. Public health impact of plastics: an overview. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2011 Sep;15(3):100-3.
- Plastic Is Rubbish. Regenerated Fibres Fabrics. Viewed March 29, 2018.
- Eberle CE, Sandler DP, Taylor KW, White AJ. Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in a large US population of black and white women. International Journal of Cancer. 2019 Dec 3.
- Zhang Y, Birmann BM et al. Personal use of permanent hair dyes and cancer risk and mortality in US women: prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2020;370:m2942.
- Laffall LD, Kripke ML. Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now. President’s Cancer Panel. 2010.
- Warille AA, Altun G et al. Skeptical approaches concerning the effect of exposure to electromagnetic fields on brain hormones and enzyme activities. Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure. 2017 Oct-Dec;5(4):177-184.
- Lewczuk B, Redlarski G et al. Influence of electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields on the circadian system: current stage of knowledge. BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:169459.
- Halgamuge MN. Critical time delay of the pineal melatonin rhythm in humans due to weak electromagnetic exposure. Indian Journal of Biochemistry Biophysics. 2013 Aug;50(4):259-65.
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- Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010; Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Thriving after Cancer: A Five-Step Integrative Plan to Reduce the Risk of Recurrence and Build Lifelong Health. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2013.
- Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.
- Cohen L, Jefferies A. Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. New York: Viking. 2018.
- Geffen J. The Journey Through Cancer: An Oncologist's Seven-Level Program for Healing and Transforming the Whole Person. New York, New York: Three Rivers Press. 2006.
- 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.
- MacDonald B. The Breast Cancer Companion: A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition. 2016.
- McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2016.
This article has been taken from Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies.