Chemotherapy and Side Effects
Chemotherapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer, it targets cells that grow and divide quickly, as cancer cells do but at the same time it kills some fast-growing healthy cells , like those of the skin, hair, intestines, and bone marrow. That’s what causes some of the side effects from the treatment.
The common side effects of chemo include immunodeficiency, anemia, fatigue & vomiting, nausea, hair loss, weakness and pain. As a result, many patients suffer from a consequential decrease in their quality of life and emotional challenges such as stress, anxiety and depression.
From Alternative to Integrative
Natural remedies and treatments have been categorized for many years as “Alternative Medicine” and are often eyed skeptically by conventional health care.
However, in recent years the natural approach has been adopted widely by major cancer medical centers as part of their Integrative programs and their treatment offering.
Treating chemo side effects naturally is a common practice these days and it is backed by strong scientific evidence, based on hundreds of studies that validate the benefits of natural approaches not only in reducing side effects but also in improving the chemo’s effectiveness.
These are the 5 pillars when it comes to fighting chemo side effects naturally:
According to studies over 80% of cancer patients use herbal supplements, making it the most common natural remedy for fighting chemo side effects.
However most of those herbs and dietary supplements have not been studied together with chemotherapy and therefore could potentially interfere with the treatment and reduce its effectiveness or even cause drug interaction.
Protectival , a herbal formula made of 14 plants, is one of the few exceptions and probably the most researched natural supplement tested with chemotherapy for safety and effectiveness.
Backed by 15 years of scientific research including clinical trials in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, studies showed that 82% of the patients who took Protectival didn’t show a decrease in white and red blood cells, and 85% felt an improvement in their symptoms including pain, nausea, fatigue, weakness and bowel functions.
Other supplements with strong evidence of working are CBD which is used for pain , Ginger which is used for nausea and Astragalus (one of the ingredients in Protectival) which stimulates immunity and has an anti anemic effect.
Among the different complementary therapies, acupuncture stands out in the amount of research and studies done on its benefits in reducing chemo side effect symptoms.
Acupuncture is part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been used for over 2000 year. Putting very thin needles into the skin activates and stimulates the body’s own self-healing mechanism.
Acupuncture can help in managing many of the chemo’s side effects including pain, nausea & vomiting, fatigue, anxiety, hot flashes, depression and insomnia.
Other therapies that can be used are massage and aromatherapy to ease pain and manage emotional related side effects such as stress and anxiety.
Backed by hundreds of studies, exercise has been proven to enhance cancer treatment effectiveness and reduce some of the common side-effects, leading to an improved quality of life for patients.
People who perform aerobic exercise or resistance training during treatment have been found to tolerate the prescribed dose and number of cycles of chemotherapy better, showing a significant improvement in some of the most common chemo side effects including fatigue, anxiety, stress and sleep problems.
During a chemotherapy cycle, patients will experience good days, where they feel like they can function as normal, and bad days, where it is a struggle just to get out of bed.
The exercise plan should be adjusted accordingly, aiming to maintain as much physical fitness as possible but without getting to a point where the patients feels wiped out.
Exercise can include walks, swimming, bicycle riding, Pilates, or light weights. It should start slowly with the aim to reach at least 30 minutes of exercise a day on most days of the week.
Cancer treatments can be hard on the body but the toll they take on the emotions is no less serious.
It is a combination of psychological and medical factors. On one hand, patients face stress, fears and worries during chemotherapy treatments. On the other hand, they have to deal with the emotional impact of physical symptoms, like nausea and fatigue.
Most people have to learn to manage and reduce feelings like fear, anxiety, and depression at some point during their journey. That’s where mind-body practice comes in.
Mind-Body practice during chemo can include meditation, breathing & relaxation techniques, guided imagery & visualization, as well as practice that combines mindfulness and physical exercise such as Yoga, Tai chi & Qigong.
A healthy diet is an important part of the cancer treatment. Eating the right kinds of foods before, during, and after chemo can help tolerating the treatment-related side effects, keeping up strength and energy and promote faster recovery.
Eating well during chemotherapy treatment can be a challenge. Chemotherapy can affect both appetite and flavor preference. In addition, there are many other symptoms that may affect the patients ability to keep well-nourished such as fatigue, bowel changes (diarrhea or constipation), mouth sores and nausea.
While diet should be personalized according to health condition and symptoms,
some of the building blocks of a healthy diet during chemo include eating small portions throughout the day, drinking a lot, including fresh juices, and eating a well balanced diet with lots of plant foods. Greasy, spicy and processed food should be avoided as much as possible.
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