Chemotherapy is often the recommended course of treatment for many types of cancer. When the decision to have chemotherapy has been made it is important to realise that you can support yourself with natural medicine to achieve the best outcome possible.

Areas where natural medicine is useful include: minimising side effects particularly gastro-intestinal distress; minimising longer term toxic effects such as neuropathy; supporting the immune system and bone marrow; maintaining weight; supporting your adrenal/stress coping system and supporting your general health and well-being.

Gastrointestinal support: Nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, diarrhea and/or constipation are not uncommon side effects of chemo. Supportive measures that may be of help include: Probiotics – a high dose, multistrain is preferable; Prebiotics – food for the good bugs such as arabinogalactans; Glutamine – an amino acid found in supplement form; Slippery Elm or Psyllium husks for constipation. Herbal medicines available from qualified herbalists can address constipation, nausea, diarrhea and poor appetite. For example high doses of ginger via professional strength herbal extracts have been shown in clinical trials to be effective against nausea and vomiting in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Neuropathy prevention: Neuropathy is one of the treatment limiting toxic drug effects – if it gets bad enough treatment scheduled are delayed or doses of drugs lowered. Prevention or amelioration of neuropathy requires a strong pro-active approach. Relatively high doses of an anti-oxidant Lipoic acid have support in the research literature as does Activated B6, Glutamine, Acetyl L carnitine and a few other nutrients. Herbal medicines are also useful including Black Cohosh, Bacopa, Ginkgo and a few others. Hand/foot syndrome specific to certain drugs also responds to this approach and a different class of herbs that “shore up” micro-capillaries. It is strongly suggested that if you are receiving a drug likely to cause neuropathy that you seek advice from a naturopath/herbalist experienced in this area.

Immune support: Bone marrow suppression and the resultant suppression of immunity is common with many chemo-therapeutics. There are a variety of medicinal mushroom extracts, herbal extracts and nutrients that boost or support immunity: Coriolus versicolor, Withania or Ashwaghanda, Echinacea, Vitamin C, Zinc, Selenium, Molybdenum are some
of these with demonstrated immune boosting capacity.

It is again important that you take professional advice as there are cautions and contraindications to be considered – for example if you have a bone marrow or blood cancer you must use caution in overstimulating the bone marrow and must use immune modulation approaches instead.

Stress/adrenal support: Stress has a multiplicity of negative effects on health and certainly dealing with a diagnosis and treatment of cancer is a stressful situation. High cortisol levels associated with chronic or intense stress are themselves immune suppressing. Poor sleep is often associated with adrenal stress and is also immune suppressing. Luckily there are again a variety of supportive measures available including herbal medicines such as Withania, Rhodiola and Siberian Ginseng for adrenals and California Poppy, Jamaica Dogwood and Zizyphus for sleep.

This is only a brief snapshot of the supportive natural medicines available.

Please seek professional naturopathic/herbalist advice for your particular situation and please ensure your medical specialist is informed of all natural medicines you are taking.

Belle McCaleb

Belle McCaleb is a naturopath, herbalist, counsellor, yoga instructor and Registered Nurse.

Note: The Cancer Care Centre is a support and resource organization and provides information of a general nature. It does not recommend any specific treatments.