Natural Remedies to Counterbalance and Prevent the Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Written by: Dr Arien van der Merwe MBChB FRSPH MISMA NHA
Herbal Remedies and Micronutrients
Herbal remedies can help relieve side effects of chemotherapy (most common are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fatigue, hair loss, anaemia, lack of energy and despondency or full blown depression), while supporting an immune system shattered by the ravages of chemotherapy, and protecting the body from the toxic effects of anticancer drugs. It’s important to let your doctor know which herbal remedies and natural food supplements you are considering for the management of chemotherapy side effects, so you can avoid potential interactions with your current medications or other treatments. Ensure however, that your doctor is well informed about the latest research around natural medicine and drug interaction.
Ginger, taken as tea (freshly chopped ginger steeped in boiling water, with some mint and honey), in capsule or tincture form (liquid made from steeping the herb in alcohol and water), is effective to relieve nausea.
Blackberry, raspberry and peppermint tea have been helpful in reducing diarrhoea.
Medicinal mushrooms (reishi, maitaki and shiitake, eaten fresh, or in tablet or tincture form), are used during chemotherapy to strengthen the immune system, which is often weakened as the result of anticancer drugs and other treatment.
Milk thistle has protective effects on the liver during chemotherapy treatments. It is taken in the form of capsules, extract or tea.
Siberian ginseng can be used during chemotherapy to treat hormonal imbalances and support the adrenal glands against the stress of the disease and treatment. It is taken in the form of a capsule, extract or tea.
Certain antioxidant supplements, including grape skin and grape seed extract, bioflavonoids, glutathione, carotenes, carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin A, lycopene, vitamin C (often used as injectable in the treatment of cancer), selenium, vitamin E, zinc and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), can be included in a general antioxidant combination to support the immune system and ensure that the environment becomes inhospitable for cancer cells.
Hydrogen Peroxide 35% food grade, taken as super oxygenated water, preceded by pure Magnesium Peroxide oxygen powder. (Refer ‘The One Minute Cure’, written by Madison Cavanaugh)
Ozone therapy might also be supportive of the immune system and mitochondria (power generators) in cells
Therapeutic massage can be highly effective in reducing nausea and vomiting. It can also be used to manage pain, reduce tension, anxiety and stress. Because chemotherapy can increase a patient’s risk of infection, anaemia, skin irritation and/or bruising, the massage therapist should adjust the massage technique and oils used, by being careful around areas that are visibly bruised, red or inflamed.
Reflexology can help relieve certain symptoms such as nausea, pain and constipation. Reflexology is a massage technique in which pressure is applied to specific areas on the foot. Reflexologists believe the condition of the feet mirrors the health of the entire body, and that certain reflex areas in the feet correspond to all glands, organs, systems and parts of the body.
Aromatherapy can be used to improve mood and manage stress. Some essential oils for managing chemotherapy side effects include chamomile, lavender, peppermint, rosemary, sandalwood and tea tree. Aromatherapy is largely based on personal preferences, so while certain scents may improve one person’s mood, they can induce nausea in someone else. Therefore, use aromatherapy with caution and start with mild scents, particularly if you are experiencing nausea as the result of your chemotherapy regimen.
Acupuncture has been proven to be very helpful in managing side effects of chemotherapy while supporting immune system and general, health and sense of wellbeing. The US National Institutes of Health had a consensus conference on acupuncture in 1997 and after an analysis of 11 major research studies, found that it was useful in treating side effects of chemotherapy, including chemotherapy associated nausea and vomiting. It may also be useful for increasing energy, decreasing dry mouth and relieving hormonally induced hot flushes. It is believed to work by releasing endorphins, peptides produced in the brain and nervous system, that reduce pain and promote a sense of wellbeing.
Mind-Body and Relaxation Techniques
Mind-body and relaxation techniques, including touch therapies, mindfulness practice, guided imagery, yoga, tai ‘chi, meditation, visualisation, relaxation exercises, prayer, art and music therapy are integrative therapies that can be used during chemotherapy to promote relaxation, manage stress, reduce pain and relieve tension.
Touch therapies, such as healing and therapeutic touch and Reiki, are methods that can be used to promote relaxation and reduce stress. The practitioner’s hands are placed on the client to direct healing energy from the practitioner to the patient.
Guided imagery can be used to relieve chemotherapy side effects including nausea and vomiting. A therapist can instruct the patient on different images to visualize according to the patient’s condition, such as pulling weeds (cancer cells) form the garden, allowing the healthy plants to grow and flourish. Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that can help patients manage stress and learn to cope with their condition and its side effects.
Hypnotherapy is psychotherapy that emphasises hypnosis. It might involve techniques similar to guided imagery, but a licensed hypnotherapist delivers the therapy to induce deep relaxation.
Physical activity is very important for cancer risk reduction. It helps protect against colon and breast cancer, and possibly endometrial, lung and prostate cancer. Exercise is also essential for maintaining a healthy body weight since obesity is a major risk factor for many cancers. More than 180 epidemiological studies confirm the cancer protective effect of regular moderate exercise such as yoga, dance, swimming and walking.
Yoga uses a combination of deep breathing exercises, meditation and gentle stretching postures to induce relaxation and relieve stress. Deep breathing and gentle stretching relieve tension in the body and improve flexibility, while meditation allows the mind to let go of the fear, worries and stress that often accompany serious illnesses.
Tai ‘chi uses slow movement, meditation, and breathing to improve health and wellbeing. It is an ancient type of Chinese martial art. Tai ‘chi improves energy flow within the body.
Meditation and relaxation exercises involve a specific mental focus and can be used to manage stress and promote relaxation. Learning to shift from stressful high beta brain waves, to calmer alpha and even theta brainwaves, allow health enhancing frequencies to spread throughout the body-mind. Some relaxation techniques involve deep breathing exercises. Landscape therapy is one type of relaxation exercise in which peaceful, relaxing landscapes, are shown to patients using artwork or a slideshow, to induce a sense of calm, peace and relaxation.
Prayer is one of the oldest relaxation exercises involving a specific mental focus and shift to a whole brain state of mind. Prayer and other spiritual practices can help a person achieve a mind-body balance to manage stress and relieve anxiety, allowing a deep connection with their soul or higher self.
Music has the ability to induce a peaceful, relaxed state of mind and can be used to reduce stress and promote relaxation. It can be listening to the music as well as playing it. Music therapists are able to design individual music programs for patients with specific disorders.
Art therapy is the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of individuals. Art therapy can relieve stress by encouraging patients to express their feelings about the cancer and its treatment
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