Late stage cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence for all patients. There is an abundance of integrative therapies that have always been pushed to the benches by the allopathic mainstream. We don't want people to have to wait until they're at death's door to have access to integrative therapies. We can do so much better. This is what keeps Dr. Nasha Winters up at night. Dr. Winters is a global healthcare authority and best-selling author in integrative cancer care and research. Her passion for integrative medicine started with her own healing journey from chronic disease. In this conversation, she talks about mistletoe therapy and other effective integrative therapies for late stage cancer that most Americans don’t have access to. She also talks about their ongoing project of building a comprehensive metabolic oncology hospital and research institute in the US where the best that standard of care has to offer and the most advanced integrative therapies will be offered. Tune in and learn more!
I have Dr. Nasha Winters. Thank you so much for being with us.
What a joy. You've got such an impressive story. It's so fun to speak with you and your tribe.
Don introduced us. He gave me a little bit of a glimpse into such an amazing individual you are. Tell us a little bit about your health and wellness journey, how you got to where you are, and then all the wonderful things that you've got cooking.
One of the things I noted when we first got on together is I love your brand. There's so much about that. It deeply gives me goosebumps even. It very much resonates with me because I ended up in the space that I'm in. I am a naturopathic oncologist. My specialty is integrative oncology and building bridges between the best that standard of care has to offer and the best that vetted integrative therapies have to offer. My journey didn't start thinking that it would be a fun vocation. I wish. Wouldn't it be nice?
Lifelong, I have had lots of health issues since I was born. When I got sicker in the year 1990 into 1991 years ago now, which is scary to say out loud, but it is what it is, I thought I was dealing with more of my chronic illness, IBS, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Later I learned I had Hashimoto's. Later than that, I learned I had Celiac disease.
I also was dealing with rheumatoid arthritis and all of these things at the ripe age of nineteen. I had multiple injuries. I was a volleyball star. I played in these realms that I should have been in my best physical condition for the type of training I did, but I couldn't catch a break. I was constantly sick or injuring something. There were lots of issues.
By the time I landed in the ER after going in and out of the ER for many months in the summer and fall of 1991, I had a roommate who said, "I'm worried about you. You're gray. Something is wrong." I couldn't take a breath even to walk across the room. I thought I was dealing with massive bloating because I had that all my life. By the time I got to the hospital, I was unconscious.
My pulse ox was down to nothing in the 70s. I had no oxygenation in my tissues. My organs were in failure. My liver and kidney were in failure. For nine months, I had a belly full of malignant fluid in my abdomen. I had that same fluid in my lungs and wrapping around my heart. I also had a bowel blockage. Things had stopped moving. Anytime I put something in, it caused excruciating pain or came back out.
It was at that time that they finally did a proper workup, some imaging, and some blood tests and realized, at least the best they could suspect before a biopsy, I was in late-stage ovarian cancer. It was because of a grapefruit-sized mass on my right ovary, metastasis in my liver, carcinomatosis, which raises all these little implants all over my abdomen, and a lot of nodes inflamed in my pelvis.
It would still take a few weeks to get the full results back from the malignant fluid they pulled out of my belly as well as the tumor biopsy they were able to do at the time when I was in the hospital to give the confirmation of the diagnosis but even by then, they said, "With treatment, there are three months to live," but because my organs were so in dire straits, they said that they were afraid to give me any treatment because they thought it would kill me quicker.
That started my journey years ago. I wasn't expecting to live. I turned twenty at the actual time of the official diagnosis. October 21st, 1991 was the window in which they told me this, but I wanted to understand why. I was pre-Med and I had a curious scientific mind. That was fascinating to me, but I also had an inkling that it had something to do with my environment, both the nature and nurture component, some of the mental or emotional components, and even some of the toxicant exposures.
I suspected for a long time a lot of dietary issues because of my digestive history. I knew there were a lot of components, and I didn't think that there was one thing. I thought, "If I'm going to die, I want to understand how I got to this place." That has been my journey ever since. I've been still doing that for myself for all these decades with now the absolute privilege of doing that with tens of thousands of other patients. I no longer work directly with patients. Instead, I train their physicians. I consult with the doctor about their patients. I teach them the methodologies that I use to save my tush, help thousands of other patients do the same, and built out a robust training program.
We have 160 physicians from 16 countries as well as 300 patient advocates from 16 countries. We're building a fabulous network that continues to grow exponentially. We do two cohorts a year in both of those. We're also collecting data into a robust data platform, which is becoming an expert clinical decision-making tool for physicians but also a front-facing side for patients for self-empowerment, awareness, and understanding the why of their journey and where they need to go next.
Finally, we're building a nonprofit. It's a one-and-only first-of-its-kind in-the-world residential integrative oncology hospital and research institute in your lovely state in Southeast Arizona, South of Tucson near Nogales, on a 1,200-acre giant regenerative eco-agriculture farm. It's a big undertaking, but I've had a couple of decades to be thinking about it, and here we are.
We haven't had a chance to talk about this ahead of time, but my mother is currently going through stage-four ovarian cancer, stage-two breast, and stage-two colon in London.
That's all three individual brands spanking new, not related.
She's had about three months to live for almost five years. We have gone through a number of different things. Interestingly enough, I took her down to Mexico because we have been going to a very well-known clinic in the United States. They feel specific about the course of treatment. She can't take any more chemo. She has been through so many. She has done radiation and many surgeries.
It has been interesting and eye-opening running through the things like chelation therapies, Ozone IVs, stem cells, and natural cancer-killing T-cells. You don't have to touch on this if it's too uncomfortable, but how much of what you're doing in terms of integrative oncology is allowed in the US? How much do you have to dance around and potentially work with others right outside the border? I don't know any other way to say it.
You're saying it perfectly. I'm very comfortable talking about it because what the condition you're describing has done in our culture in the United States is it made us feel like we have to choose either standard of care or an alternative. You either fall under a particular therapeutic intervention that is FDA-approved and insurance covered or you don't. You have to find the means to get the therapies needed to possibly save your life.
It puts us in this terrible place because if you choose one or the other, you're going to have naysayers, deniers, and haters on both sides of the camp. Both of them are going to think you're crazy. One is going to say, "Standard of care is always bad. Ignore it. Don't ever do chemo. Don't ever do surgery or radiation." The other side is like, "There's nothing to this. Which medicine? These are charlatans who want to take your money. There's no evidence." Both are wrong. We shouldn't have to make a choice.
We should be able to take the best vetted integrative therapies with good evidence-informed data that have been utilized in other parts of the world that are part of the general medical system and part of the approach to care there. We should be looking at the standard of care from a more individualized precision-based way that can be done with way less toxicity and, in particular, dosing and methodology that allows the patient to push back cancer while supporting their healthy terrain and body. That should be the standard of care. What I'm describing should be what everybody gets all the time.
I have a good example of this. In the United States, we completed phase-one clinical trials. If you don't know, there are three major phases to clinical trials for you and your audiences. The first phase is safety. That's all they're looking at, "Does this therapy kill you?" They're not looking at, "How long is it going to keep you alive?" They're looking at, "Is it safe enough for you to take?" That's a phase-one trial, which doesn't tell us anything about how this medicine works.
A phase-two clinical trial is, "What is the proper dose to achieve safety? How much can we give you until we take you past the threshold of safety that may have a clinical impact?" In phase three, we start to look at overall and progression-free survival rates. We start to look at its therapeutic application. I try to explain to patients that we need these clinical trials, but with how they're structured, I do not want to donate my body to science until it's into phase three.
If I've got some time on the clock, I'm not going to jump in to give somebody a safety profile. That's not going to save my life typically. Those things can happen and we need those, but we can also be doing our research better. That's for another conversation here in a moment. Here's an example. In the United States, a therapy has been used consistently in the same method and approach since 1917.
If you live in Germany, Switzerland, or Austria and you have cancer, you have an 85% chance to use that therapy at some point during your standard of care. If you live in the rest of Europe, you have a 65% chance of using that therapy. If you live in Canada, India, or South America, that is in your medical registry. It's a therapy that you can get dispensed from your local pharmacist. It may not be covered by your insurance model, but it's dispensable in your country.
This therapy is also the most studied integrative oncology therapy on the planet. It is mistletoe therapy. Even your head is like, "How do we not know about this therapy?" Maybe this is the first time you are hearing about it, but in the United States in 2014, I spoke at a global international symposium on mistletoe therapy. At that gathering was a whole group of doctors and patient advocates from Johns Hopkins. They were all there because they were interested in starting a safety trial on mistletoe therapy.
Mistletoe therapy is the most studied integrative oncology therapy on the planet.
There are over 2,000 published studies on mistletoe therapy globally. There are 250 of what would be considered RCT very high-quality studies out there in the world, but because they were not done on US soil and because we did not do phase one or phase two, they ignored or disregarded all of the other information. That conversation started in 2014. I helped them rewrite their IRB to apply it as an intravenous application for folks with stage-four solid tumor cancer types. In 2014, these conversations started. That phase one safety trial was completed and got published. Here it is in 2023.
It's ridiculous. We have a book that came out in November 2021 called Mistletoe and the Emerging Future of Integrative Oncology, which goes through the deep history, the deep dive, the references, the mechanism of action, and the scientific validity. It is loaded with the case studies that are out there on this therapy because we thought the average time it takes for a study to get from the bench, which is that phase-one trial, to the bedside to help a patient is seventeen years. We call it the seventeen-year gap. We were hopeful that this phase-one clinical trial might rush things. It's not.
The FDA is now going to make us go through, do phase two, and waste another $1 million and another ten years to go through and say, "We can give them at this dose," when the rest of the world has been using this therapy successfully since 1917. To your point, it's freaking ridiculous. I'm not good at mincing words. We have to go this route when we have what's known as evidence-informed therapies, meaning there are a lot of people using these therapies successfully in other parts of the world. Why do we have to go through the same flaming hoops?
We have patients that are willing, like your mother, to travel out of this country to get access to therapies that are not available in this country. They might be available, but they're underground and very expensive. They're often still not partnered in ways they tend to be in fringe clinics where they're also not bringing in the best standard of care. They're not doing the labs and imaging. They maybe aren't bringing it together with other therapies. You miss out on an opportunity, which is precisely why we're building this hospital and this database.
For things like hyperthermia, for instance, you cannot legally get the proper type of hyperthermia that has a high enough heat to kill your cancer cells in the United States. You have to go beyond. These therapeutic interventions are made in Germany. They're German technologies. Oncotherm and Celsius42 are some of the devices.
Those devices are available in Canada, Mexico, Europe, and Southeast Asia but are illegal in the United States. There are some forms of hyperthermia in this country, but they're different. They are local-regional. They don't do the whole body. They can do a little bit of what we call a scopal immune modulating effect, but they don't directly kill cancer.
This is the place where it's like, "How can we do better?" That's what leads us to these conversations. To your point, there are sadly a lot of therapies that do have efficacy, good data, and not just anecdotal but actual clinical trials, but because it hasn't been done on this soil, we haven't given our stamp of approval. It does not mean it's without merit. It pushes our patients to make a decision of either-or or even to leave the comfort of their home, community, and country to achieve results when all else offered to them in the United States is failing. That's what we're trying to change.
There are a lot of therapies that have efficacy, good data, and actual clinical trials. Just because it hasn't been done on US soil and we haven't given our stamp of approval does not mean it's without merit.
There's a new law that came out a couple of years ago called the Right to Try Act. It is allowing some of these therapeutic interventions now somewhat legally. It's at least no longer labeled as illegal in the United States because when patients have exhausted all that standard of care can offer, there are these compassionate use opportunities both in the standard of care, off-label drugs, and integrative therapies. We don't want people to have to wait until they're at death's door to have access to these things. This is why you and I are trying to educate the masses to know that we can do much better.
To build a hospital that's under a giant Investigation Review Board, which is known as an IRB, to get us proper channels of research for safety, efficacy, and patient-informed consent is what we're building here. It’s so that we can do a lot of these therapies under one roof that is normally not allowed to be done in the United States. To do so in a nonprofit environment where we have funding from research grants, philanthropic donors, scholarships, and a cost-sharing model that allows this to be more accessible to folks that otherwise wouldn't have the resources to do to get this care, which is a lot to unpack.
When is the hospital going to be ready? How far is that?
We have the land donated. We have the plans. Everything is ready. We have our proforma. We have three phases to this. Phase one is getting all the final permits, the engineering, and all of the things so we can put the shovel into the ground. That first phase is $6.5 million. We're now in a capital campaign to raise $6.5 million.
The next two phases we hope to have done within two years beyond that point, which is another $120 million. This is not cheap, but we're building an 80-bed, 250,000-square-foot hospital research institute that has its labs. It has an entire hyperbaric center. It has an entire pediatric integrated pediatric oncology wing. We grow our food here.
It's completely green off the grid. We're hardwired. We're mitigating an EMS. Every detail has been thought out, even up to the mattresses are organic. If you go to a hospital or clinic anywhere, you're going into a toxic cesspool. They are such toxic environments. There are so many infections from hospitals and the venting systems are loaded with aspergillosis, mold, and whatnot. We're going to all the lengths to build a clean, green, and health-giving versus health-taking environment and show people how to live healthily on an unhealthy planet.
When you look at that $127 million overall price tag and when you look at the average cost it is to even remodel a wing at MD Anderson, for example, those are usually upward of $200 million to $500 million projects. Everyone is like, "$127 million is a lot." We're not a spa. We're not a clinic. We're a hospital. We're like, "This is what it takes to build a hospital." We're also doing it in a very responsible way because we're not doing billing for insurance. We eradicate almost 50% of our overhead by not having an insurance billing department.
In the top 10 most financially successful hospitals in the United States, 7 of those 10 are nonprofits. When you look at their numbers, you're like, "How is that?" A nonprofit has certain tax benefits but is also responsible for giving back to their communities. When you look at it, they might be giving back to their communities, but they have such massive overhead to keep the machine going that there's very little left at the end of the day to go back into the communities. We're even revamping the nonprofit model so that the lion's share of our revenue goes back to help other patients get this care and help our community around us in keeping our overhead incredibly low, efficient, and effective.
How in the world did you decide on Southeast Arizona?
A year and a half into my process, when I was suddenly finding myself still alive, I was not expecting that. I didn't try to make that happen. There's a whole other story we could go in there. I started having what I could best describe as downloads, visions, or dreams. I started seeing this place in the desert. I started to understand this and realized that, for me, the desert holds so many metaphors. By the naked eye, you look at the desert. It looks very dark, dead, dry, and inhospitable, but if you give it a tiny bit of resource, it comes alive in the most miraculous way.
I get so enlivened by the tiniest amount of moisture that hits the desert, the smell of chaparral, and the vast, beautiful skies. To me, it's such a metaphor for who we are. That's one piece. The second piece is that only three states in the union have very broad scopes of medical practice. It's Arizona, Nevada, and California. I wanted to live in Nevada. I'm sorry to Nevadans reading this. In California, there's the bureaucracy, the cost of living, and all of the flaming hoops we would have to go through to do this. It would never happen.
Arizona is a bit of a renegade. It's a little bit of a rebel. It's a little bit of the Wild West. There's that. It's also 1 of 7 states that do not go through years of permit processing to build a hospital. My dog could go, "I'm building a hospital." Arizona is one of those places. We also very much needed land, lower costs of land, and lower costs of people to help us run the land. That is something that Arizona also offers.
That part of the state has a lot of socioeconomic depression. We wanted to bring jobs. We're expecting to bring about 1,200 jobs to this region. We want to bring in good jobs. We want to do on-the-job training for med techs, organic farming, solar power and culinary arts. It’s because we will have a culinary school and hospitality because there will be a destination wellness component on the campus that's for-profit, but then there's the nonprofit hospital. Those for-profit entities will also help shore up the financials for the nonprofit. There's a lot there.
Frankly, it's the proximity to the Mexico border. I've worked in clinics. I worked in a clinic in Sedona many years ago where I was working a clinic shift that day when the DEA and the FDA came in with battering rams. You're talking about people pushing around enema bags that are withered, sad, and sick. They come treating us like we were the cartel, for crying out loud, breaking down the door and shutting down the operation even though it was a clinical research environment.
We want to have proximity if, for any reason, any time they get wild hair and attempt to do this. We're pretty good in our legal and our informed consent in the things that we're building here to know that probably won't happen, but if it does, we are setting ourselves up to have a sister campus on the other side that we could have continuity of care to shuttle people right across the border. We have created nice relations with the community in and around Nogales.
Those are things that have been building forever. I went to a naturopathic medical school there. My husband went to Arizona State University. We have a great relationship with U of A, medical schools, academic institutions, and research institutions. In the state of Arizona, MDs can practice homeopathy and acupuncture. Naturopaths can deliver babies and give chemotherapy. Acupuncturists can dispense medications. It's very inclusive. It's a state that lends itself.
We also needed an area where we had easy access to an international airport year-round. It sits at about 3,200 feet. We're at what they call high desert grasslands. It still can get hot in the summer but in the 90s versus the 120s. It has a beautiful year-round growing season. Those are the reasons. I love that you gave me the opportunity to speak about that because it does lend itself to an ideal place to have this type of property.
As someone who was in Durango, Colorado, which I loved, I had a lot of people willing to offer land for years. When you're a cancer patient, you're cold. It's considered a cold disease. Coldness is constricting and very difficult for the body to overcome. That can also wear on you there, so we needed something more temperate but also elevation.
Even though I love my beloved state of Colorado, for most patients dealing with cancer, their red blood cell counts are low because perhaps their standard of care therapies are cancer itself, or they've got issues going with their lungs from their cancer therapies. It's dangerous for them to be at that elevation, especially if they aren't living there and accustomed to it, and they're coming in to visit. We have tried very hard to think about everything. When you've got 30 years to dream about this, you do think about everything.
For someone reading that either themselves or a loved one is going through cancer, do you have a handful of things that you're like, "This is super important to make sure that you're thinking about, doing, calling, researching, or asking more about," or some tips?
First of all, thank you for that too. On my website, DrNasha.com, there's a little freebie handout, which is called 5 Steps. If you're newly diagnosed with a recurrence or progression, you're like, "What do I do now?" The number one point is to breathe. Pause and breathe. This is critical. This is very rare unless you have cancer that's creating a medical emergency. It's obstructing something, necrosing into the vasculature, or eating into a bone, and suddenly, you've got a major break, collapse, or organ involvement. Otherwise, cancer is not a medical emergency, but the diagnosis often is.
By that, I mean it sets off all the alarm bells. No one wants to hear, "I've got the big C." That takes you right into post-traumatic stress disorder. It amps up all the sympathetic nervous system pieces and kicks off all kinds of growth signals. Breathing is critical because you want to try and maintain some homeostasis.
Get yourself into parasympathetic as quickly as possible so you can think clearly and be responsive versus reactive from this point forward. It's these first moments that can make or break your diagnosis and that also often set patients up to, unfortunately, come back and see me again in the future when they have a recurrence because of the way they managed their first rodeo.
Folks had the opportunity to get this download and know these five things. Stop and breathe. Number two, at the time of my diagnosis in 1991, there was no Dr. Google. There was no internet. In some ways, that benefited me because now, the resources are overwhelming. It's information overload. Everyone knows someone who does something and who does something. Suddenly, the paralysis by analysis sets in. The overwhelm, thinking you have to take everything, the reactivity of it all, and the well-meaning but unsolicited advice from everyone will make you want to run and hide.
I understand this place well. In that, we also want you to take a moment to get second or even third opinions from different institutions because if you're asking in the same building, they're all going to tell you the same thing. They're talking to each other every Friday at grand rounds. If you're asking, "I'm going to ask a different doctor in your department," they're going to tell you the same because it's a good old boys club. They're not going to step on each other's toes.
Get your resources elsewhere and also start to conduct your team. Know that your oncologists are experts at the tumor. They are not experts at the terrain. By that, I mean everything else that's wrapped around the tumor. You need someone who understands that and can put the pieces together. You want to be creating. You are the CEO. You want to put together your board of advisors. Your oncologist is your board of advisors. It's your nutritionist, naturopathic doctor, rabbi, priest, or whatever resources come onto your board. You want to put that together.
My methodology is to test and assess before you address and never guess. Jumping into saying, "I'm going to do X, Y, and Z," you need to know. Do X, Y, and Z fit? You're being offered this drug cocktail or this pharmaceutical standard care cocktail, but do you even have the targets to treat with that drug? They're wanting to give you maybe Avastin. Do you have a VEGF or a Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor target for that drug to plug into? If you don't, then that drug is completely a waste.
These are the examples, even down to your alternative care. How does somebody choose when you go to a place like Mexico? How was that treatment chosen for you? One of my biggest pet peeves is protocols. I am not a protocol doctor. I'm a person doctor. I don't treat cancer. I treat people with cancer. I work very hard to understand the terrain in which cancer grew. I know how to support that soil and change the environment because plucking it out of the soil with slash-burn-poison, chemo, radiation, and surgery does not change the soil. It can make it worse and make you more vulnerable to recurrence or progression. Those are the things we do together.
Those five steps buy you a lot of time to realize you've probably had this on board for at least seven years by the time it gets big enough and loud enough to capture your attention. What's a few more days, weeks, or months while you put together your team, gather your information, and do the right testing to know the right approach at the right time at the right dose? It may be a little bit of everything. It may be all standard of care, all alternative care, or a lovely combination of the two, but it needs to be based on you, the N of one. That's what we're designing. That's what we're creating. That's what we expect the standard of care will be someday and what we're actively trying to build.
Thank you. I appreciate that for people that want to find you, Dr.
Have them come. Probably the best place because it gets you to all of my sites, the book, and the handout is called MTIH.org. That stands for Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health. That's the nonprofit hospital piece, but it takes you back to the Dr. Nasha site, the books, and the explanation of what you and I talked about. It gives you the handout for the five steps of where to start. It also gets you into our newsletter and gets you involved in how you can volunteer for this. We're always looking for help. Maybe you have someone you want to have an honorarium or a memorial. You could donate on their behalf to help with patient grants, patient education, or even the physical buildout of this hospital.
We're always looking to build our board of advisors. We're always looking to bring people into our training, like physicians or patient advocates who want to learn these things. There are a lot of different ways in which you can get involved in a big or small way. Every single drop makes a difference. Do not ever underestimate the power of one grain of sand or one drop of water. It's what makes the entire ocean. Let's do it together.
Do not ever underestimate the power of one grain of sand or one drop of water. It's what makes the entire ocean.
Thank you so much, doctor. We appreciate having you on.
Thank you so much, Pamela. What a joy.
Dr. Nasha Winters, ND, FABNO, is a global healthcare authority and best-selling author in integrative cancer care and research consulting with physicians around the world. She has educated hundreds of professionals in the clinical use of mistletoe and has created robust educational programs for both healthcare institutions and the public on incorporating vetted integrative therapies in cancer care to enhance outcomes.
Dr. Winters is currently focused on opening a comprehensive metabolic oncology hospital and research institute in the US where the best that standard of care has to offer and the most advanced integrative therapies will be offered. This facility will be in a residential setting on a gorgeous campus against a backdrop of regenerative farming, EMF mitigation and retreat, as well as state of the art medical technology and data collection and evaluation to improve patient outcomes.