Naturopathic and Integrative Oncology – Helpful or Harmful?


Natural Herbs used in Naturopathic Oncology
What is integrative and naturopathic oncology?

According to an article by the Society of Integrative Oncology, the definition of integrative oncology is:

“Integrative oncology is a patient-centered, evidence-informed field of cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, natural products, and/or lifestyle modifications from different traditions alongside conventional cancer treatments. Integrative oncology aims to optimize health, quality of life, and clinical outcomes across the cancer care continuum and to empower people to prevent cancer and become active participants before, during, and beyond cancer treatment.” (J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2017 Nov 1;2017(52). doi: 10.1093/jncimonographs/lgx012.)

Understanding Naturopathic Oncology

Many patients have questions about combining natural therapies with cancer treatment. What are the options to safely integrate herbs, therapeutic diets and nutritional supplements with their conventional care?

Possible Questions:

  1. Is green tea safe to take while on chemotherapy?
  2. Does all sugar feed cancer?
  3. What foods will benefit me the most?
  4. I have completed conventional treatment, what next?

A Naturopathic Oncologist, who is a licensed practitioner and trained in the safe and evidence-based use of natural medicine in cancer care, can answer these questions. Because natural therapies can have side effects and interfere with conventional treatments, it is vital to apply cancer care safely. Some herbs and nutrients, for example, can have negative interactions with chemotherapy and are best avoided during that time.

Naturopathic Doctors’ Credentials

Maryland licenses Naturopathic medicine and those who specialize in cancer have additional training, designated as Fellows of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (FABNO). You can find a FABNO-designated naturopathic doctor in your area at The Bodhi Clinic.

How Can A Naturopathic Oncologist Help?

Naturopathic oncology applies the science of naturopathic medicine to the field of cancer care and treatment.Naturopathic oncologists use diet and lifestyle interventions, herbs, nutritional medicine, homeopathy, detoxification and counseling to cancer treatment

 The use of natural therapies is helpful at any stage of the cancer process. These therapies help reduce risk factors, prevent recurrence, increase healing from surgery and reduce side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Studies show that diet and lifestyle interventions , as well as certain nutritional supplements, can benefit patients with cancer. These therapies help to strengthen the immune system, boost energy levels, ease digestion, promote sleep and improve well-being.

OncANP, the largest umbrella group of Naturopathic Oncologists, states that Naturopathic Doctors who receive training in integrative cancer care help support those diagnosed with cancer before, during and after treatment. They can provide,

“evidence-informed guidance on safe and effective use of natural and supportive therapies, when combined with conventional treatment. Combining naturopathic and conventional medicine, supports the pursuit of best possible outcomes for patients. Goals are to improve quality of life, manage of side effects, help with speed recovery, prevent recurrence, and provide education for a healthy lifestyle.”

Symptoms and Treatment

Patients can experience these symptoms while going through cancer treatment

  • fatigue
  • pain
  • mucositis
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea and/or constipation
  • dermatitis and peripheral neuropathy

Examples of treatments that can help

  1. Fish oil can stabilize lean body cell mass lost during weight loss
  2. Ginger, as a capsule, tea or essential oil (topical use) may help ease nausea
  3. Studies show turmeric and green tea have some anti-cancer properties

Natural therapies can be key to support your recovery and reduce the risk of recurrence after you have completed conventional treatment. Research has shown the importance of diet and lifestyle in cancer prevention. And it doesn’t matter how informed you are. You should seek expert advice on the best choices for your health. Lastly, consult with us (Drs. Porter and Benczkowski) at The Bodhi Clinic. We are both trained as naturopathic oncologists. We can communicate with your cancer team to ensure you have fully-integrated treatment that best serves you.

Elise Benczkowski, ND, FABNO

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