Alternative Cancer Therapies
While some of us prefer conventional methods of treatment for cancer, there are few people who opt for something called alternative cancer therapies in search of a cure. But is using just alternative treatment enough? Do they help? What does the evidence or research say?
Let’s have a look at few of these alternative therapies:
- Alkaline diet.
The basic principle of this diet is that it promotes eating alkaline foods and avoiding acidic ones in nature. Most fruits and vegetables, soybeans and tofu, some nuts, seeds, and legumes are alkaline-promoting foods, so they are allowed to be eaten.
Dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, processed foods, like canned and packaged snacks and convenience foods, fall on the acid side and are not allowed.
To tell you, a pH of 0 is totally acidic, while a pH of 14 is completely alkaline. A pH of 7 is neutral. Those levels vary throughout your body. Our blood is slightly alkaline, with a pH between 7.35 and 7.45. Your stomach is very acidic, with a pH of 3.5 or below, so it can break down food and our urine changes, depending on what you eat. That’s how our body keeps the levels in the blood steady.
The studies finding that cancer cells thrive in an acidic environment were done in a laboratory setting. Our body is very good at maintaining its pH levels, without dietary influence. It would be nearly impossible to alter the cell environment to create a less-acidic environment in our bodies. For example, the stomach is very acidic for proper digestion, so we wouldn’t want it more alkaline. Moreover, it’s not easy to change the pH of our blood with food. You can eat a lot of alkaline food you want, but the pH of the blood would remain the same, unless you have health issues like kidney disease.
Having said that, an alkaline diet does have its own perks. The diet recommends eating more vegetables, fruits and drinking lots of water and cutting back on sugar, alcohol, meat and processed foods. These recommendations are good for our health and might help in decreasing inflammation in our body and removing toxicity.
Is this diet beneficial for cancer patients?
There’s not enough evidence to suggest that cancer cells grow in an acidic environment and there’s no evidence to prove that diet can manipulate the whole body pH, or that it has an impact on cancer.
As mentioned, it might be beneficial in terms of including lots of fruits and veggies and eliminating processed or refined foods. But the claim that it will arrest the cancer growth is something that is not evidence or research based.
To conclude, some say that you can prevent cancer by eating a certain food. But then, someone else will say that eating that same food can increase your risk of cancer. So, which is it? There is no one size fits all! Please contact your personal dietitian/ nutritionist and get a tailor made diet plan for yourself.
- Herbal medicine:
Herbal medicine is the use of herbs, plants, flowers and roots to treat different kinds of ailments. According to www.cancerresearchuk.org herbal medicine aims to restore your body, so that it can protect, regulate and heal itself. It’s a whole body approach. It looks at your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s sometimes called phytomedicine, phytotherapy or botanical medicine.
Manufacturers make many drugs from plants. But herbalists don’t extract plant substances in the way the drug industry does. Herbalists believe that the remedy works due to the delicate chemical balance of the whole plant, or mixtures of plants and not from one active ingredient.
Example, Chinese herbal medicine, this includes-
- Massage therapy
- Herbal remedies
- Traditional breathing and movement exercises called qi gong (pronounced chee goong)
- Movement exercises called tai chi (pronounced tie chee)
Contradictions of using herbal medicine:
These herbal medicines can sometimes interact with the conventional treatment and have the capacity to reduce its efficacy. Therefore please discuss with your oncologist before using any kind of herbal medicine.
You will have to be extra cautious while using these herbal medicines most of the times, the ingredients included in the formulation of the product are not included on the packaging. The amount of the active ingredient may vary. Some might not even contain the bio active ingredient meant to treat a specific problem. Further, these are not approved by FDA and you mostly would never know how and in which facility they manufacture these medicines.
Do these help with cancer treatment?
If taken as a part of integrative therapy, alongside the conventional treatment, it has proven to be very beneficial and is known to reduce the side effects of the cancer treatment therapies. For example, ginger helps in combating nausea caused by chemo, but ginger alone cannot fight cancer. Acupuncture is known to help with cancer fatigue, but can it address the cancer growth alone? The answer to which is no, and there is no evidence that says otherwise.
There is no reliable evidence from human studies that herbal remedies can treat, prevent or cure any type of cancer.
Some clinical trials seem to show that certain Chinese herbs may help people to live longer, might reduce side-effects, and help to prevent cancer from coming back. This is especially when combined with conventional treatment.
Before you take medicine from any herbal practitioner, make sure you ask them these questions:
- Qualification and years of experience.
- If the person has received training for treating and supporting people with cancer.
- Research/ evidence.
- High dose VVitamin C infusion
Vitamin C is a nutrient that is found in food, such as oranges, grapefruit, papaya, peppers, and kale, or in dietary supplements. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps prevent damage to cells caused by free radicals. It also works with enzymes to play a key role in making collagen. Vitamin C is also called L-ascorbic acid or ascorbate.
MSKCC says that the role of vitamin C in cancer prevention is not definitive. Conclusions of a systematic review suggest its safety and another study showed its ability to reduce oxidative stress. Further, high plasma levels of vitamin C were associated with lower gastrointestinal cancer incidence probably due to its protective effects against dietary carcinogenic nitroso compounds
There are conflicting theories against the use of vitamin C supplements during chemotherapy. Preclinical studies found that cancer cells preferentially uptake vitamin C and render some chemotherapy drugs less effective. Also, a major concern surrounding the use of antioxidants such as vitamin C is that they can interfere with the actions of chemotherapy and radiation therapy that rely on the production of reactive oxygen species for their cytotoxic activities. A clinical study, however, showed that ascorbic acid does not reduce the therapeutic effects of paclitaxel and carboplatin.
Another study found an increase in chemotherapy-associated adverse effects with inadequate intake of vitamin C in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Preliminary findings indicate that short-term vitamin C plus E supplementation during radiotherapy had a protective effect against xerostomia in patients with head and neck cancer; a combination of vitamins C, E, and selenium lowered radioiodine-induced oxidative stress in thyroid cancer patients and supplementation may enhance the biological effects of DNA methyltransferase inhibitors in patients with myeloid cancer.
In conclusion, we would suggest not relying on the information you see online on various platforms, but to discuss the pros and cons of the same with your oncologist and then do the needful.
- Medical cannabis and cancer:
The plant Cannabis sativa L. has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries and is the most important source of phytocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of receptors, endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids) and metabolizing enzymes and plays an important role in different physiological and pathological processes.
According to American Cancer Society, different compounds in marijuana have different actions in the human body. For example, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) seems to cause the “high” reported by marijuana users and also can help relieve pain and nausea, inflammation, and can act as an antioxidant. Cannabidiol (CBD) can help treat seizures, can reduce anxiety and paranoia and can counteract the “high” caused by THC.
In cancer patients, cannabinoids have primarily been used as a part of palliative care or as an adjunct to conventional cancer treatment in order to reduce the side effects to alleviate pain, relieve nausea and stimulate appetite, but not as a sole treatment of cancer.
We believe the need for more scientific research on cannabinoids for cancer patients. Discuss with your oncologist about using medical cannabis, its pros and cons before starting the same.
Acupuncture involves putting fine needles into the body at particular points. The needles stay in place for a short time. The practitioner then removes it. Acupuncture first started in traditional East Asian medicine. It became an important part of Chinese medicine about 2000 years ago. But we now know how it works in scientific terms as well.
Ancient Chinese medicine suggests that energy called Qi flows through the body. It moves along channels called meridians. Acupuncture alters this flow to restore or optimise good health.
The most common form of acupuncture involves the placement of solid, sterile, thin, stainless steel needles into various points on the body. Different techniques can be used to stimulate the needles. The 3 key methods used in acupuncture to stimulate the needles include manual stimulation, electrical stimulation and application of heat.
- Manual Stimulation: Twisting, turning, and pulling the needle up and down after insertion.
- Electrical Stimulation: Sending electrical pulses to the needles at different frequencies and waveforms using a handheld device.
- Heat Stimulation: Traditionally, moxa (a dried herb) is placed on the top of the needles and burned. In modern use, infrared heat sources are used to warm up the needles.
Acupuncture also appears to help with:
- Nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy
- Xerostomia related to radiation therapy
- Hot flashes related to hormone treatment
- Joint pain related to aromatase inhibitor therapy
- Physical pain
Some interesting research has looked at using acupuncture to treat peripheral neuropathy, constipation, loss of appetite, fatigue, insomnia and other sleep disorders, dyspnea (breathing difficulties), anxiety, depression, and leukopenia (low white blood cell count).
Acupuncture is generally safe and gives very few side effects. That is if it is done by a professional and qualified practitioner. The most common side effect is minor bleeding and bruising. This happens in up to 3 in 100 people (3%).
Some people have a temporary short-term increase in pain symptoms. A decrease in pain may follow this.
In conclusion: According to cancer.net, recent medical research in the United States has shown that acupuncture appears to be a safe and effective supplemental treatment for people who experience certain symptoms of cancer. It can also help manage some side effects of treatment, including chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and hormone therapy. But it cannot be used as a sole therapy to treat cancer and there is no evidence that says otherwise.
- Essential oils
Essential oils (EOs) are a concentrated, hydrophobic fraction derived from aromatic plants that contain multiple chemical constituents that may have biologic activity. EOs is used in perfumery, as flavoring agents,and in aromatherapy for their therapeutic or relaxing properties. The chemical composition for an individual EO varies based on growing conditions of the plant and from which part of the plant the fraction was derived.
Some of the most common essential oils used are lavender oil, peppermint oil, bergamot, frankincense, ginger oil etc.
Essential oils exhibit a wide range of bioactivities, especially antimicrobial activity and have long been utilized for treating various human ailments and diseases.
They can be used as tinctures, taken orally, applied topically, used in aromatherapy etc. But there is no research or evidence that suggests that the essential oils can be used to treat cancer solely.
When aromatherapy is used alongside standard cancer treatments to manage treatment side effects, patients often feel less stress and anxiety, which improves their overall quality of life. Certain oils can also aid in pain management. In many cases, aromatherapy is combined with other complementary treatments, such as acupuncture, yoga and massage for symptom management. For a cancer patient, this additional support can be beneficial in their healing.
- Tai chi
Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, focused body movements, meditation and deep breathing. Originally used for self-defense, it’s now practiced as a gentle form of exercise, which has been used as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The relaxed and deliberate movements of Tai chi help develop balance, coordination and flexibility. You move from one position to the next without stopping, so that your body is in constant motion during a Tai chi session. You must focus on breathing and the movements, as tai chi helps focus your mind as a form of meditation.
According to Canadian Cancer Society, Tai chi does not treat the cancer itself. Research suggests that Tai chi can help lower blood pressure, reduce stress, ease pain, stiffness and improve sleep. Small studies have shown that regular Tai chi may help with depression and improve self-esteem. These studies have also suggested that regular practice of Tai chi can improve quality of life.
Very small studies have shown that Tai chi exercises may help women with breast cancer. These exercises may help improve shoulder movements after surgery and temporarily reduce lymphedema.
With regular practice, Tai chi improves flexibility, strength, balance and fitness.
If you are interested in trying any nontraditional therapies, it’s essential to talk to your doctor first. Unfortunately, many of them fail to discuss these queries with their respective oncologists and can end up in the hands of someone who might promise them unrealistic treatments and outcomes. Complementary medicine can be quite useful when used in addition to all physician-prescribed cancer therapies, however, it could prove harmful if someone solely relies on it and replaces the same with other treatments like surgery or other conventional cancer treatment. That is why it’s essential for patients and physicians to engage in thorough and honest conversations about the known risks and benefits of all options.
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