Naturopathic Cancer Care: Finding Safe Care and Understanding Your Options
Googling “complementary cancer care” brings up hundreds of websites, blogs, articles, and videos all claiming to have the answer, yet often contradicting one another. In a time when you’re already wrestling with a lot of complicated decisions you weren’t expecting to face, this can add to the stress and confusion. To help reduce this, let’s talk about what kind of support your Naturopathic Doctor (ND) can provide and how to find someone who is properly trained to offer safe and effective medical care.
So how exactly can naturopathic medicine help?
Naturopathic cancer care helps bridge the gap between medical oncology and complementary therapies Naturopathic cancer care functions best when it comes alongside medical treatments, so you should never feel like you’re being forced to choose between what your oncologist is suggesting and naturopathic treatment options.
Naturopathic cancer care helps patients tolerate treatments better by reducing side-effects, as well as the risk of complications. It can also speed up healing and recovery, reduce the risk of recurrence, and improve your quality of life as you move through treatment and into recovery.
In an integrative model, naturopathic cancer care can help to educate and support you by creating a treatment plan with the goal of:
Lowering your risk of cancer (prevention)
Preparing you for surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy
Reducing side-effects of of chemotherapy and radiation
Helping you better tolerate cancer treatments
Improving recovery and increasing survival
How will my ND support me?
Your oncology team is working to kill the cancer, and while your ND will include treatments that can also help kill cancer cells, to address this ultimate goal, they will also look at a few other key areas of cancer care:
Inflammation. As with most things in our body, inflammation is good, until it’s out of control.
Inflammation is what promotes healing when we are injured, it’s what acts to kill microbes that have invaded our system, and it’s how our immune system is signaled to take action when needed. However, when inflammation becomes chronic we see increased cell turnover and higher levels of cell damage, both of which increase the risk of cancer development and progression.
Discussing how chronic inflammation has shown up in your body and the best way to reduce this is a fundamental part of your treatment plan. What we eat, how we stay active, what we do to reduce stress, and how best to incorporate anti-inflammatory botanicals and vitamins during treatment all help to reduce inflammation and slow down cancer progression.
Blood Sugar Dysregulation. Research has shown that sugar is the primary energy source for cancer cells. They use twice the amount of glucose that normal, healthy cells use to support their growth. We also know that starving the body of sugar isn’t a cure-all solution as cancer cells are not only active, but adaptable.
Regulating sugar intake is important for long-term management, after all sugar not only feeds cancer cells but promotes inflammation and contributes to obesity (both known risk factors for cancer development and progression). How to address this vital aspect of cancer treatment requires looking closely at how your body is using sugar (insulin regulation), how much sugar you are consuming on a daily basis, and we can prevent those blood sugar spikes (and the crashes that follow).
Hormone Imbalances. Hormones are powerful regulators of how our body functions. They influence everything from how well our immune system works, to how we sleep. They affect our mood, our digestion, our weight...you name it!
The link with cancer is complex but one of the most significant ways hormones influence cancer is through the regulation of cell division. Cancer is, at its core, cell division (multiplication) that has gone out of control. Hormone levels change throughout our lifetime, especially in women. This means there is no one-size-fits-all solution for regulating your hormone levels, but it also means there are a lot of ways to help support this!
As a special note, one hormone that has been shown to have a positive impact on fighting all types of cancer is melatonin. Think of it as one of the “master regulators” of our body. No matter what stage you’re at, expect to discuss this and any other hormonal contributors that are specific to your diagnosis and current state of health.
Immune System Support. A strong, functioning immune system is responsible for constantly assessing your body for cells that are abnormal, and destroying them once found.
Your oncologist is here to target and kill cancer cells and while often effective and important, chemotherapy and radiation provide aggressive and continuous hits to your immune system and reducing its ability to function well. A fully functioning immune system is fundamental to ongoing cancer cell surveillance and destruction, to help prevent a recurrence. So discussing the best way to support your body’s immune system while in treatment and how to strengthen your it once treatment has ended are fundamental.
Treatment options may include intravenous therapies (ex. Vitamin C), injection therapies (ex. Mistletoe), targeted dietary and lifestyle support (ex. Appropriate exercise options, effective dietary adjustments, and healthier oils), and specially chosen vitamin, hormonal, and herbal treatments (ex. Mushrooms, DIM, probiotics, curcumin, EGCG, etc).
How can I find a Naturopathic Doctor who can treat me safely?
Look for an ND who has trained in naturopathic cancer care, as they will be able to provide safe, effective, evidence-informed guidance based on their knowledge of both naturopathic medicine and oncology. Your ND should be able to understand the various treatments used by your medical oncologists and how best to work with them in a collaborative model of care. By following the science behind why some naturopathic therapies can make chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments more effective at killing cancer cells, they are able to advise on which supplements are appropriate and which may prevent your medical treatments from working.
What to look for when choosing an ND:
Someone who can talk with you about your cancer diagnosis, in detail
Someone willing to consult with you briefly, prior your first visit, so you can ensure they are properly equipped to care for you
Someone who prioritizes working collaboratively with your oncology team
Someone who pursues ongoing education and training in naturopathic cancer care (ex. specialized training during their medical training, recent conference attendance, and ongoing continuing education)
Ready to make a change?
Any practitioner unable to address your concerns with compassion and confidence should be avoided. You should always feel empowered, supported, and educated after a visit with your ND. Need more guidance? We can help.
In support of your health,
Dr. Hayhlee Clarence, ND