Physician Stands His Ground In the Fight Against Prostate Cancer
Aug 07, 2017 07:02PM
Miguel Gonzalez, M.D.
Instincts can be powerful, particularly when it comes to making choices about health and longevity. So it was for Miguel Gonzalez, M.D., a Bethlehem-based family practice physician who, nine years ago, was diagnosed with low-grade prostate cancer. Gonzalez’s surgeon wanted to remove the prostate—a typical approach used in traditional medicine—but Gonzalez knew there were better options. Through positive lifestyle changes, he is leading a quality life and also teaching his patients his healing and prevention techniques.
Before Gonzalez considered a career as a physician, he wanted to pursue law and possibly enter politics. He changed his mind halfway through college. “I decided that law was not for me, and I realized that I wasn’t crooked enough to go into politics,” he laughs, “so I decided to do something more serving to humanity.”
After graduating from Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva in 1976, Gonzalez did his residency at Brookdale University Hospital. After his residency, he paid back some government loans by lending his services to a physician’s shortage program, which took him to a small town on the Western end of Puerto Rico. As a New York native, he wasn’t fluent in Spanish, but he found himself serving a Spanish-speaking town.
“When I got to Puerto Rico, my Spanish was not very good because I grew up in New York. I had to immerse myself in the language, which basically allowed me to become bilingual. With a name like Gonzalez, patients come in and just expect you to speak Spanish.” he recalls. That experience taught him lifelong skills that became beneficial in serving Bethlehem’s diverse population.
Gonzalez has been in solo private practice in Bethlehem since . For decades, it was smooth sailing with his business and his personal health, until he reached age 57 and received the prostate cancer diagnosis. “When you hear the ‘C’ word, a little panic sets in,” he says, “then the surgeons don’t help, because they want to get in there and take the prostate A.S.A.P.”
Being a medical professional, Gonzalez knew that prostate cancer is generally a slow growing tumor that doesn’t necessarily have to be removed right away. “There are some tumors which once you diagnose them, it’s over. But with these, you have a good amount of time. With the older male population, if you get these cancers, they say you won’t die of them, you’ll die with them.”
Gonzalez was also concerned about the side effects of most prostate cancer treatments, as well as the possibility of using diapers or being impotent. Knowing that he had at least 10 more years to work and a bucket list of activities to explore, he chose active surveillance, a way of monitoring localized prostate cancer instead of treating it straight away.
He also knew that he had to make some lifestyle changes.
“I became a near-vegetarian,” Gonzalez relates. “The idea is to get away from the animal protein because it’s a big source of omega-6 fatty acid, which is inflammatory. What you want in your diet is to increase the omega-3s, and decrease the omega-6s. Omega-3s are in plants and cold-water fish, like salmon. Flax seed is also an excellent source of omega-3.” Those positive dietary changes helped him shed fat—which stores toxins, thus leading to cancerous cell growth—and drop 40 pounds, returning him to his high school weight of 168 pounds.
“I’ve incorporated into my practice the stuff I had learned in dealing with prostate cancer, and now I teach it to men in similar situations,” Gonzalez says. He emphasizes not just dietary changes, but also boosting the immune system. “Cancer is generally a failure of the immune system. We get cancerous cells in our bodies all the time, but if your immune system is strong, it takes them out of circulation, and you’re cancer free without knowing you even had cancer in the fi rst place,” he explains. “One way to do that is by optimizing a patient’s vitamin D levels.”
Gonzalez also utilizes low-dose naltrexone. Although the drug is typically associated with treating opioid overdoses, Gonzalez says a low dose of about four milligrams of naltrexone— much lower than the 50 milligrams given to overdose patients—can boost a weak immune system, or tamp down an over-active immune system.
Elevated estrogen and insulin resistance are two factors that round out Gonzalez’s approach to prostate cancer treatment and prevention. “Some obese middle-aged men end up with more estrogen than their wives,” he says, “these guys have an enzyme in the fatty tissue called aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. When you see these middle-aged men with man-boobs, that’s because their aromatase level is elevated. Healthy weight is a big factor here; exercise and weight loss frequently are critical to get rid of that gut fat, which ultimately reduces aromatase so you’re no longer converting testosterone to estrogen.”
Insulin is not just a storage hormone for sugar, but also for fat. It is also a growth factor. Gonzalez explains: “When you have elevated insulin levels, if you happen to have a tumor, the tumor is now on steroids. It will grow faster and metastasize earlier. It’s about weight loss, exercise and medication if needed to reduce the insulin levels—that’s our approach to prostate cancer.”
For nine years, Gonzalez has successfully managed his prostate cancer and is still on active surveillance, but he says his quality of life is good, thanks to his physical and mental approaches. “I held my ground, and I was proven right,” he says. While there have been bumps in the road, such as dealing with thoughts of death and mortality, he keeps them compartmentalized and refuses to live life as if he’s dying. He hopes that his attitude also refl ects onto his patients, with whom he’s seen good results using his common sense medical approaches and support.
“With breast cancer in women, you have all the pink ribbons and marathons, but there’s not much support for men dealing with prostate cancer,” he observes. “Men are told to go back into their caves and accept it. It feels good that I have something to offer them. I had to learn this stuff the hard way, but they don’t have to.”
Dr. Miguel Gonzalez is located at 65 E. Elizabeth Ave., Ste. 208, Bethlehem. For more information, call 610-868-4010.
Sheila Julson is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and contributor to Natural Awakenings magazines through the country.