For many cancer patients, finding ways to manage the side effects of chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatments is a great challenge.
Most patients do not want to take more drugs and are looking for safe, health promoting solutions from Natural Medicine.
Maintaining quality of life and a sense of control over one’s experience and daily life is vital to traversing such difficult terrain.
Chemotherapy side effects may last months after treatment has been completed. When cancer patients and cancer survivors come to my clinic, I want them to know that we have a big tool box of safe and natural remedies including herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, acupuncture as well as meditation instruction, with which to treat side effects without interfering with treatment.
We also discuss restorative and nutritious healing foods. When we use nature’s remedies, we find that we can use a few nutritional supplements, specific botanicals and acupuncture to address a wide variety of side effects very safely and effectively.
Let’s look at a few of the most common side effects and how we manage them with natural medicine:
Many chemotherapy agents cause the lining of the mouth and digestive tract to slough off and become raw and tender. Even in use in hospital settings today is L-Glutamine, an amino acid that helps repair the lining. With mouth sores I recommend a gargle and for all patients I recommend oral capsules or powder mixed into water or juice.
Diarrhea may also be caused by a disruption of the normal healthy ecology of the intestines due to many chemotherapy drugs and steroids such as prednisone which is often given with chemotherapy.
Taking a high quality probiotic, a source of acidophilus and other healthy bacteria that normally inhabit the digestive tract, will help restore normal ecology and normal function. Having a normal healthy bacterial flora in the intestines is actually part of your immune system and hormone metabolism!
With diarrhea it is important to replace fluids and electrolytes. A nice warm vegetable broth made from organic vegetables such as kale, spinach, celery, zucchini, parsley, carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes is a good source of electrolytes. In general, patients with diarrhea should avoid raw foods and eat primarily warm, cooked foods.
This is a very common complaint and has many different causes. The primary causes are:
a. Anemia, loss of the production of red blood cells which carry oxygen to the brain and the tissue. This is due to the suppression of the bone marrow by chemotherapy drugs. It is the bone marrow which produces blood cells.
For this type of fatigue, I recommend Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. There are many formulas that support normal bone marrow function. I further recommend Blood Building Soup, made with a soup bone, organic root vegetables, dark green leafy vegetables and either lentils, black beans or organic beef or lamb. Add herbs and spices with known anti-cancer properties, such as tumeric, ginger, oregano, rosemary and garlic. One of the most famous blood nourishing herbs in Chinese Medicine is Dong Quai (Tang Kuei) root which can be made into a tea or taken as an extract.
b. Another toxic side effect of chemotherapy that leads to fatigue as well as nausea and loss of appetite is Liver Toxicity. It is the job of the liver to detoxify chemicals and drugs. During chemotherapy the liver becomes overburdened with this job. Herbal and nutraceutical supplements which support normal liver function cannot be taken while chemotherapy is being administered, but may be taken in between chemotherapy cycles. This must be carefully managed by a knowledgeable herbalist or clinician. Ginger root tea is a traditional remedy for enhancing normal digestive function and normal inflammatory function and may be taken daily. Addition supplements which support normal liver function include Milk Thistle, N-Acetylcysteine and Alpha Lipoic Acid. Alpha Lipoic Acid is also very useful to support the repair of nerves damaged by chemotherapy.
c. Impaired Cellular Energy Production We use chemotherapy drugs to treat cancer because they are toxic to cancer cells, but the drugs are also toxic to normal cells. When exposed to toxic chemotherapy drugs our normal cells lose their ability to produce energy through the mitochondria, the energy engine inside our cells. The energy production pathways are moved forward by B Complex Vitamins and minerals such as zinc, magnesium and manganese. Taking a professional grade, high quality mutlivitamin will supply these micronutrients and support energy production. In addition, CoQ10 is a micronutrient that is a vital part of cell energy production and has been shown to be important in cancer survival. The famous Chinese Herb for supporting vital energy is Ginseng Root which is available as an extract or can be made into a tea. Ginseng root is known as a longevity herb, historically used by the Chinese Emperors throughout history. Another Chinese tonic herb used for centuries to boost energy and modulate the immune system is Cordyceps.
Leading edge physicians such as Dr. Mary Hardy, M.D. of UCLA Simms Mann Integrative Cancer Care Center and Dr. Keith Block, M.D. of the Block Center for Integrative Oncology recommend nutritional and botanical therapies to their patients on a regular basis.
Acupuncture is a powerful healing and restorative therapy for cancer patients and cancer survivors. Acupuncture treatment is used in the management of pain, inflammation, hot flashes, insomnia, immune system modulation, anxiety, dry mouth as well as nausea and vomiting.
Acupuncture therapy is used at many leading edge cancer centers such as the Dana Farber Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Angeles Cancer Institute and The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at UC San Francisco Medical Center. Acupuncture is recognized as a potent therapy for supporting and enhancing quality of life for cancer patients.
Whenever contemplating the use of nutritional or herbal supplements, it is important to consult with your doctor and seek the guidance of a clinician experienced in nutritional and botanical therapies. Every cancer patient needs a team. Oncologists are concerned with disease and the war on cancer. You also need a clinician on your team who specializes in supporting health and healing and the restoration of normal healthy function.