Natural Medicine and Chemotherapy Side Effects

Preparing for Chemotherapy

Many of the deficiencies and side effects created by chemotherapy can be avoided and counteracted with a little forethought and preparation. Fortifying your body as much as possible in the weeks or, if possible, months prior to beginning therapy may increase your ability to deal with some of the more uncomfortable side effects. Preparing for your therapy also gives you more control over the therapeutic process, and this can alleviate much of the anxiety and emotional stress often generated by cancer treatment.

Here are 3 things you can do to prepare for chemotherapy:

Prepare Emotionally for Chemotherapy

First, confront and understand any fears you may have about "chemotherapy sickness". In fact, many people experience very little discomfort and are able to continue work and family activities with little disruption. Anxiety often disrupts patients' lives more than the actual treatment. Anxiety and stress also may make it more difficult to recover.

Remember to relax. Many people rush around before treatment begins, exhausting themselves, trying to prepare everything and everyone, anticipating that they will be too sick to do anything during treatment. Let friends and family pick up the slack. This is your special time to focus on yourself and your healing.

Get Plenty of Sleep during Chemotherapy

Make sure you are getting enough sleep. Anticipation, worry, and fear can interfere with sleep, making it difficult to fall or stay asleep. There are several non-toxic herbal and homeopathic sleep aids, as well as nutritional supplements, that can help relieve insomnia.

Non-toxic, herbal sleep aids:

  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis): standardized extract 0.8% valerenic acid; 150–300mg
  • Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata): standardized extract 2.6% flavinoids; 300–450mg
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia): 1 tsp dried herb in 1-cup hot water; drink in the evening to calm the nervous system
  • Kava (Piper methysticum): 50mg standardized extract to reduce anxiety that may inhibit the ability to fall asleep

Homeopathic sleep aids:
There are several over-the-counter formulas, which may promote a restful night sleep when used as directed, including:

  • "Calms Forte" by Hyland Homeopathics
  • "Calm Formula" by Boericke
  • "Insomnia Formula" by Hyland Homeopathics

Nutrient supplements that can aid sleep:
The following supplements also may be taken:

  • 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): 100–300mg with fruit juice or other carbohydrate (e.g. crackers, soy milk); this amino acid precursor to seritonin supports seritonin production in the brain and may improve sleep
  • Magnesium citrate: 250mg
  • Flax seed oil: 1 Tbs daily; this essential fatty acid tonifies (strengthens and supports) the nervous system

Take Care of Your Gastrointestinal Health during Chemotherapy

Clear up any chronic intestinal candida or parasite infection. Chronic gastrointestinal problems can severely impact overall health and affect recovery from chemotherapy.

Consult a naturopathic physician or holistic medical doctor to treat chronic gastrointestinal problems. The following nutritional supplements can help build and protect gastrointestinal tissues and enable the body's nutrients stores to rebound from the toxic chemotherapies:

  • Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum): This herb may help protect the liver from toxins associated with chemotherapy, improving nausea, lack of appetite, fatigue, and flu-like achiness; 250 mg standardized extract, 3 times a day.
  • Glutamine: This is an amino acid that is the preferred fuel for the upper gastrointestinal tissues. It helps prevent stomatitis (inflammation of the stomach) an can significantly reduce nausea associated with chemotherapy; 500mg, 3 times a day.
  • Vitamin K: Most forms of vitamin K are derived from bacteria in the intestines. The intestinal bacteria balance is severely disrupted during chemotherapy treatment, and vitamin K deficiencies can create problems with blood clotting and bruising; 500–1000mcg, daily.
  • Antioxidants: Taking an ACES (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and selenium) antioxidant supplement just prior to and during therapy may decrease the toxicity of chemotherapy and increase its effectiveness; (Vitamin A: 25,000 IU daily; Vitamin C: 1000 mg 3x a day with meals; Vitamin E: 400 IU 1–2x a day; selenium: 200 mcg daily).
  • Whole foods diet : Increase your nutrient foundation base by focusing your diet on fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and low fat proteins (e.g., fish, white meat poultry, soy).
  • Increase Fiber: Flax seed meal has several beneficial properties that can support your digestive system before, during, and after your chemotherapy treatment. It is a mucilaginous fiber, meaning it turns into a soothing protective gel in your digestive tract and, because it is high in Omega 3 oils, can help reduce inflammation along the way. It is also a phytoestrogenic herb that has a mildly adaptagenic effect (inhibits when there is hormone excess, and stimulates when there is a deficiency) at your hormone receptors. This will not impact you negatively if you don't need hormonal support but can work like soy products if estrogen production (too much or too little) is a medical issue for you.
  • Build up protein: A daily smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit (blueberries, strawberries, etc.), protein powder, and flax meal is a good source of fiber and protein and fruit-derived bioflavinoids; 15–22 gm protein powder per serving.
  • Drink plenty of fresh, pure water: 2–3 liters daily.
  • Regular exercise: Under the supervision of a physician, to increase energy and vitality, and improve circulation and waste product removal.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 15 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 13 Oct 2011