Herbs for use during Chemotherapy treatment

Why Natural Therapies?

Natural therapies are those modalities based in nature and used to support the body’s innate healing energy. We can embrace these modalities alongside a chemotherapy regime to reduce side effects and improve outcomes.

Chemotherapy does save lives but can also take lives; these are strong, powerful drugs and also very toxic ones. The decision to use chemotherapy is an empowered one after asking as many questions as you need to, research your type and stage of cancer, asking honest answers from oncologists, including expected outcomes both with and without the treatment, talking to others who have been on this path before you, talk to any health providers with experience working with cancer patients. Sit in contemplation and ask yourself what YOU want to do, there are no right or wrong answers here, this is your body and your choice.

Advice in the modern hospital

In 2018, after two lumpectomies I was diagnosed with stage 1 type 3 HER2 enriched (hormone negative) meaning the cancer was contained yet very aggressive. I opted to do a three-month cycle of chemotherapy (docetaxel and cyclophosphamide) and 12 months of Herceptin ( a targeted drug therapy) The advice I was given? A vague, ‘Oh you don’t need to worry about changing your diet or anything, just eat healthy’ by an unhealthy looking oncology nurse.

“You can drink alcohol but only 1 or 2 glasses at a time” (alcohol is a known risk factor in the development of breast cancer).

Overheard while in the cancer ward “Eat whatever you feel like, if you feel like chips, eat chips”

Frustratingly there is much research and clinical evidence showing that supporting the body nutritionally, herbally, emotionally and spiritually while on chemotherapy, gives better outcomes and reduced side effects.

The choice is yours

This is your body, the only one you have, you are in control. If you choose to take it, take responsibility for your health, hang on tight, it’s a wild, yet rewarding ride particularly when you butt heads with modern medicines fixed ideology.

Basics of Cancer cells vs Normal cells

All cells are naturally driven to divide, replicate and die off within a preprogrammed life span.

Cancer cells divide and replicate but unlike ‘normal’ cells they do not die off. Therefore we see an accumulation of these cells, presenting primarily as a tumour or a lump.

It is these clumps of cells that keep on replicating and not dying that eventually impinge on the bodies natural processes, leading to the malfunctioning of affected organs or body systems.

If not stopped, cancer cells will continue to spread (metastasize) to other organs and body systems making them malfunction too. Until, in the end, our body becomes overridden and struggles to function.

Basics of Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs target cells that grow and divide quickly, ie cancer cells, the earlier the cancerous cells are found generally means the better outcomes However not every cancer cell responds to chemotherapy.

Side effects – as chemotherapy affects not only cancer cells but all fast-growing healthy cells, those cells of the skin, hair, intestines, and bone marrow can be damaged.

This damage to healthy cells creates the majority of side effects, eg hair loss, impaired immunity, digestive upsets. Chemotherapy will overburden detoxification pathways of the liver, kidneys and bowels.

Herbal Medicine can Help

The healing gifts of herbal medicines can be utilised to support the body while on any pharmaceutical medication, including chemotherapy.

Particular herbs will support the organs and body system most affected.

When using blends it is most beneficial to seek a professional herbalist for advice on your individual needs as they will be able to tailor a formula specifically for you.

There are many herbs we can, some of my herbal friends when working with clients will be found below.

Liver, Kidney and Gallbladder Loving Dandelion

Liver

The liver is involved in all physiological processes and the metabolism and detoxification of chemotherapy drugs from the system. The liver is possibly the most vital organ to support as its working super hard!

For the liver, we are after herbs that are bitter, cooling and stimulating to help this precious organ along.

Eg Dandelion, St Marys Thistle, Artichoke, Burdock, Yellow Dock, Barberry

Digestive System

Here we want to nurture the disturbed microbiome and inflamed digestive tract. Mucilage rich herbs soothe inflamed tissue, creating a slimy protective coating.

Demulcents (soothing herbs) marshmallow, slippery elm, comfrey root, plantain, oats

Add to further reduce inflammation with Meadowsweet, Aloe vera, Shatavari

Loss of appetite, weight loss

Herbal bitters given before a meal, 10-30 drops in water swished and swallowed, can stimulate digestive enzymes to improve absorption

eg gentian, wormwood, dandelion, alfalfa

Diarrhea

Herbs to help to tone the tissue and reduce diarhoea eg Bayberry, raspberry leaf, agrimony, shepherds purse, black walnut, plantain.

Immune system

2 weeks after chemo a blood test will be done to see what your white blood cell count it. This is because the white blood cells are affected by the chemo so it gives your oncologist and insight into the effectiveness of your dose of chemo.

If the count is too low they will pull back, if it’s too high they may increase. I don’t suggest using immune-supporting herbs while blood tests are happening. But once the tests are finished (as you won’t get them every cycle) then I suggest supporting your body

Eg Echinacea, Astragalus, Reishi mushroom extract

Kidneys

Kidneys flush out waste products and toxic byproducts of chemotherapy. Supporting the organs we use “Kidney tonics”

Dandelion leaf, Nettle, Parsley, Celery.

Yeast Infections

Use diarrhea herbs alongside antifungal such as p’darco 15 drops in water every 2-3 hours during the day until symptoms subside

Fatigue

Fatigue is a big issue for chemotherapy. Having a clean, wholefood diet, drinking fresh vegetable-based juices and using herbs will make the world of difference. I’ll cover more nutrition and juicing in other blog posts

Herbs to support fatigue include – Withania, (ashwagandha) Rhodiola, Shatavari, Parsley, Siberian or Panax ginseng.

Blends may look something like these

  • Kidney and Liver blend – Dandelion, St Marys Thistle, Nettle
  • Gut building – Shatavari, Marshamllow, Parsley
  • Fatigue and immunity – Astragaulus, Echineace, Withania, Siberian gingseng

Below is a video I made while going through chemotherapy

https://youtu.be/zt0qYte6eP8

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