Using Naturopathic Medicine to Combat Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

Over the last 11 years in practice, I see patients seeking assistance with some of the lingering and cumbersome side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  Naturopathic modalities have demonstrated clinical efficacy in helping these patients recover faster. Patients want more than they are offered in the conventional hospital setting with respect to being pro-active and preventing disease recurrence in the survivorship phase. Using the best available evidence, a naturopathic oncologist will design a tailored treatment protocol for each patient based on their needs and goals.

The following is a list of some of the most common side effects experienced by women that have completed chemotherapy/radiotherapy for breast cancer:

-Fatigue

-Neuropathy (tingling and numbness in the hands/feet)

-Hot flashes

-Radiation induced dermatitis

-Joint pain

Treatment of fatigue:

Herbal extracts known as “adapotgens” such as Withania somnifera (Ashwagandha) are especially helpful for post-treatment related fatigue after chemotherapy or radiation.

Commitment to a regular exercise program is especially important given the solid evidence for its role in reducing recurrence.  I will often refer patients to Wellspring’s Cancer Exercise Program if they are looking for a good place to start.

I will always do a detailed assessment of a patient’s diet, making sure of the following and educate accordingly:

1) Adequate caloric intake

2) Adequate protein intake

3) Improve the ratio of omega 3:6 fats (to reduce inflammation)

Treatment of neuropathy:

Many patients have found relief from the following therapies:

Treatment of hot flashes:

A variety of treatments including supplements and physical modalities are very helpful:

  • Bioflavonoids such as hesperidin for tamoxifen induced hot flashes
  • Assess and reduce caffeine intake (caffeine seems to exacerbate hot flashes)
  • Include herbal teas in the diet that have cooling properties such as sage tea
  • Acupuncture

Treatment of radiation induced dermatitis: 

  • Oral curcumin (turmeric extract) has been shown to reduce the incidence of radiation induced dermatitis
  • Soothing topical options include aloe vera gel and calendula compresses (it is important not to use anything topical that contains an oil during radiotherapy treatment)

Treatment of joint pain: 

  • One of the best outcomes in the literature has been reported with glucosamine sulfate.  This can also be combined with MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) for added pain relief.Omega 3 fatty acids and curcumin may also have some benefit as they both have anti-inflammatory properties
  • Low vitamin D levels are associated with more joint pain in users of aromatase inhibitors and should be corrected by supplementation

A common question is: How long will I experience these side effects?

Each patient is unique in their presentation. It also depends on what treatments they have had and how severe their adverse reactions were during treatment.  Some patients may have side effects for months, while others will have them for several weeks. By using the naturopathic modalities listed above, patients can expect a shorter duration of these side effects. Dr. Jill Shainhouse B.Sc, ND, FABNO

*As always, before introducing any type of new treatment or supplements into your medical plan, check with your primary care physician first.


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