When combined with conventional treatments, practices like yoga and specialized diets can improve patients’ wellbeing
As any cancer patient or survivor will tell you, undergoing treatment is difficult to say the least. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are necessary to combat the disease — but they are also trying, and can take a toll on patients physically and mentally.
Complementary therapies, as a result, are becoming more popular. These approaches add natural elements — from acupuncture to yoga — into the larger treatment plan, helping patients reduce side effects like fatigue and numbness; manage anxiety and depression; and boost strength and their general sense of wellbeing. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) describes complementary therapies as “caring for the whole person — not just the disease or symptom.”
(It’s important to remember that these complementary therapies aren’t intended to replace treatments like chemotherapy; instead, they should be used in tandem).
Below is a look at four complementary therapies, and the positive impact they can have:
Acupuncture is the practice of applying thin needles (or other forms of pressure or heat) to the skin, generally to treat back pain, knee pain, and headaches. But acupuncture can also be used to reduce certain side effects of cancer treatment. “Data suggest that for people undergoing cancer treatment, acupuncture can help to manage nausea and vomiting,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Acupuncture may also help relieve symptoms like hot flashes, headaches, and dry mouth, according to cancer.net.
Common herbal supplements found at the grocery store or local pharmacy are often used by cancer patients. Two examples are turmeric, a spice that can help manage inflammation, and the aloe vera plant, which, when applied as a cream, can sooth minor burns. If you’re interested in learning more about specific herbs and how they might be effective (or negatively interact with other medicines), MSK has a helpful About Herbs database. Any herbal supplements should be discussed with your doctor before you take them.
Eating healthy is always a smart move, whether or not you’re undergoing cancer treatment. It can be especially important, however, if you’re battling cancer. “The food you eat during and after cancer treatment can play an important role in your recovery,” writes MSK. The Center also details several potential diets on their website. Among them: the Mediterranean Diet, which “consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and moderate intake of red wine with meals.” And the Bland Diet, which helps reduce diarrhea, nausea, or changes in taste. “Focus on low-fiber, starchy grains,” MSK explains.
Yoga can provide strength and calmness to anyone. So it’s little surprise that it can also be a useful tool for cancer patients. The breathing, stretching, and meditation involved often have an outsized impact: “Studies in women with breast cancer show that yoga may reduce fatigue and sleep disturbances, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve quality of life,” says the NIH. The experts at MD Anderson Cancer Center agree: “Research has shown that yoga and other types of mind-body practices, incorporated into the standard of care, can help improve patient outcomes, particularly quality of life,” they write. There are a number of yoga courses developed just for cancer patients — and many hospitals run them themselves.
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