Do Herbs, Diet, and Other Approaches Affect Cancer Outcome?

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Surviving cancer is more than just having surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments, says an expert. It also involves giving your body the delicate attention it needs for wellness, such as managing stress, finding social support, maintaining a healthy diet, and more.

Managing their quality of life is important for cancer survivors, which they can do using integrative medicine. This knowledge can help them get their bodies through treatment with fewer symptoms and stay well enough to help treatments work effectively.

“It’s the concept of taking the best standards of care and combining it with whatever exists, where there is evidence of safety and efficacy… But it’s a concept that thinks of all of you, not only the part of you that we see when you’re in an operating room or in an office or in a chemotherapy unit, ”said Dr. Diljeet K. Singh, gynecologist oncologist at Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group in Washington , DC, during a presentation at the 12th Annual Joining Forces Against Hereditary Cancer Conference.

Integrative oncology approaches include dietary interventions, mind, body, or energy-focused medicine and herbal medicine systems or other approaches such as acupuncture.

Dietary approaches to cancer wellness

While trials are still ongoing to evaluate ketogenic diets, early data has shown that there may be some benefits to reducing certain types of tumor growth, Singh said.

The ketogenic diet works by cutting out low-quality carbohydrates and sugar while incorporating more fat and protein into the diet, thereby forcing the body into ketosis – or the constant burning of fat.

“As people start to think about ketogenic diets for the duration of their chemotherapy or even trying to lose weight, it’s difficult to suppress entire subgroups in the long term, besides the fact that there are some things in the ketogenic diet that we know other diets increase cancer risk, ”Singh said.

However, she added, there are also things eliminated by the ketogenic diet that increase the risk of cancer – so it’s still early to know what the real benefit is, unless you have a neural tumor or brain and a healthcare professional with ketogenic experience. diets.

Conversely, one method that has had some success and is worth studying, Singh explained, is fasting.

Fasting can be divided into several categories: water fasting, in which an individual drinks only water or water-based drinks; dry fasting, that is, not eating anything; and restrictive fasting, that is, when only certain foods are restricted.

“The research is not where we want it yet, but there is some evidence that there are certain foods that physiologically mimic fasting,” Singh said. “And at the end of the day, I think these are perhaps the most meaningful or beneficial approaches.

The duration of the fast is again divided into categories: continuous for a defined period (12-24 hours up to several days); intermittent fasting (eating at certain times of the day); and a full day of fasting for one or two days a week.

New data suggests it may improve cancer outcomes, Singh explained. Animal studies have shown reduced toxicity and increased effectiveness of chemotherapy on an empty stomach. It works by depriving normal cells of nutrients, which protects them from chemotherapy as they do not do their regular growth activities, while cancer cells expend energy and are more likely to be attacked.

Studies in humans are still limited and ongoing, however, and it’s important to keep in mind whether the diet is appropriate for certain people. These may be patients with eating disorders, diabetes, low body mass index or who have recently lost weight.

“But ultimately, I think the place where we have the most data is the Mediterranean diet,” Singh pointed out. “And what I see as a one-step advancement, the anti-inflammatory diet, which is basically the Mediterranean diet, adding some important concepts from traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine.”

This diet is based on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, fish and seafood as proteins, but also whole soybeans, cooked Asian mushrooms, healthy herbs and spices.

“The red wine part is a bit difficult, because there is evidence that for women, drinking more than two glasses of red wine per week can increase the risk of breast cancer,” Singh said. “So I would say for women, unfortunately, the best option is to eat grapes and then things like plain dark chocolate, which has really good antioxidants, as well as magnesium and other beneficial compounds. “

Understanding the Benefits of Herbs and Supplements

Many patients want to know if herbs and supplements can provide health benefits that will prevent or work against cancer. However, the idea that they might be better than a pill given by your doctor isn’t entirely true, Singh said.

“Certainly herbs and other supplements when we make them in pharmacological doses, like not an amount you could eat in a healthy way, they can in fact act in many ways like more traditionally prescribed prescriptions for even drugs on the market. free, “she said.” But there is a real reason to be fascinated with herbs and supplements, and that is because they have the potential to improve the quality of health and improve health outcomes. cancer results. “

Consistent epidemiological data showed that people who ate more orange and yellow fruits and vegetables had a reduced cancer rate. Many wondered if this could be attributed to beta-carotene. In clinical trials, researchers looked at whether smokers who received beta-carotene and retinyl palmitate would have a reduced cancer risk. However, it was found to increase their risk of lung cancer.

On the flip side, Singh said, they tested to see if vitamins A or E had any effect. Vitamin A has also been found to increase cancer risk, while vitamin E has no effect.

“How might taking vitamins increase your risk for cancer?” … So there can be a whole lot of reasons. One was that the decision was made to use a synthetic form of vitamin A, which is not actually found in fruits and vegetables, ”Singh explained. “We know what vitamin A, what (its) job is, is to help a cell differentiate into another cell – so the stem cells kind of become a real skin cell. that, well, maybe if we add some activated vitamin A, and there is a precancerous cell, maybe it will be more likely, with the addition of vitamin A, to become lung cancer. .

So, the study may not have been done in the right population because smokers already have precancers in place which were then stimulated to become cancerous when they took vitamin A.

“I call it – and a lot of smart people call it – the problem with reductionism, don’t I? You can’t put a whole apple in a capsule.

There are benefits to eating whole foods in their original form, Singh insisted. For example, drinking orange juice may not help as much as eating an orange, because you remove fiber, add sugar, and slow down the body’s absorption. This is why it is difficult to study the effects of food, because conducting research on integrative approaches means you have to study the whole of someone’s lifestyle and diet.

When thinking about herbs and supplements, Singh explained, the best method is to work with an expert who understands their effects on the body. This is difficult because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not assess the safety of herbs, so they are not as well understood. But your pharmacist and health care provider can help you understand whether certain herbs and supplements may interact with your cancer treatments. In addition, reported cases of complications are extremely rare.

Acupuncture is not a real alternative

Although acupuncture has been around for centuries, Singh said, it is not an alternative to cancer treatment. It has been used to treat symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, fatigue, pain, hot flashes, peripheral neuropathy, and dry mouth from radiation.

However, it is not a replacement for cancer drugs.

A look at stress and cancer

With plenty of evidence showing that stress can both increase your risk for cancer and worsen the impacts of cancer once you have it, Singh stressed that it’s important to work on ways to fight it.

While psychological stressors such as depression, anxiety and isolation can make a patient’s condition worse, some will insist that they feel good “emotionally”. However, it is important to also take into account the physical stress associated with multitasking, driving and continuing with daily life.

“There are all kinds of things that activate our stressed nervous system, activate our adrenaline cortisol pathway,” Singh said. “… and unfortunately this caveman only responds with these inflammatory pathways of adrenaline and cortisol.” And so it is important to turn off this pathway to put our body in a state of healing, where internal inflammatory mediators come into play. ”

There are many ways to do this – patients can do breathing exercises, meditate, use creative means, etc. get enough sleep, ”Singh concluded.

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