Nov 062014
 

A holistic approach to breast cancer  Ginger, chilli and garlic are all used in herbal medicine to support the immune system, boost circulation and reduce inflammation, among other things. Deanne Greenwood is a medical herbalist practicing in Falmouth, Helston and Penzance in Cornwall, and also offering consultations by telephone, Skype and FaceTime.

I’ve been moved to write this blog after recently meeting yet another woman with breast cancer and a distressing tale to tell about the management of her illness.

Chemotherapy

She had just come to the end of a grueling course of chemotherapy, with repeated bouts of nausea and vomiting, and loss of hair and eyebrows. Nobody had talked to her about these side effects pre-treatment… nobody had talked to her husband and children about what might happen and how to cope….

Radiotherapy

She is now about to start radiotherapy, and unsure what to expect this time… She thought perhaps she should have done some research about breast cancer treatment and how to look after herself in between and afterwards, but she just hasn’t felt strong enough, physically and emotionally….

Support during breast cancer treatment and recovery

I’ve heard similar tales from other women with breast cancer who have come to see me in the past 12 months. One had had a mastectomy and been ‘signed off’ post surgery with a cheery “see you in six months’ time for your check up”. Not even any dietary and lifestyle advice provided…

Diet and lifestyle

As this young woman was being discharged, she asked if there was anything she should be doing, and was told to just relax and enjoy herself, do whatever made her feel good. As she pointed out to me, her way of relaxing and enjoying herself could have been going to the pub and getting drunk as a coot every night… Luckily she’s not a big drinker. Nor is she a fan of junk and fast food… but she doesn’t know what the best diet for keeping her healthy is either, or what else she could do that might help prevent a recurrence of this devastating illness.

Herbal medicine and breast cancer

Apart from life-enhancing dietary and lifestyle advice, there is so much more holistic therapies can offer women with breast cancer. Under the care of a qualified and experienced herbal practitioner, herbal medicine can safely be used during treatment for breast cancer and the recovery period, helping to relieve symptoms such as nausea & vomiting, hot flushes, skin rashes, constipation, poor appetite & digestion, insomnia and anxiety. For example:

Ginger

There is good scientific evidence, (including a large study conducted by The National Cancer Institute in the US), that ginger can significantly reduce nausea and vomiting experienced during chemotherapy. (Nausea and vomiting is experienced in about 70% of cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.)

Black cohosh

Another herb, called Black cohosh, has been the subject of a lot of research recently, revealing that it can help reduce the side effects of breast cancer medication such as Tamoxifen, including menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, and reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence. One 11-year retrospective study suggested that Black cohosh was more effective than Tamoxifen at reducing breast cancer recurrence.

Herbs, scientific research and breast cancer

There are many other herbs that have traditionally been used to support the immune (including lymphatic) system and help reduce metastatic spread; optimise liver and bowel function to encourage detoxification and processing of oestrogen (particularly important for ER+ breast cancer); improve digestive function for nutrient absorption, support the nervous system to boost mood and sleep, etc… There is supporting scientific evidence for many of these actions, but for me, traditional use and knowledge of herbal medicine passed down through the ages, plus personal experience of using and working with herbs and people, is more important!

The power of self-healing

Also, just want to say, the body is capable of healing itself (referred to as ‘spontaneous remission’ in conventional medicine!) given the right support and environment. Our bodies produce, and destroy, cancer cells every single day. Sometimes they lose control of this finely tuned process. The operative words here are ‘finely tuned’. Herbal medicine is a gentle and safe way to support the body and nudge it back into self-management mode.

More information about herbal medicine and breast cancer

If you are considering using herbal medicine to help you through breast cancer, please seek professional help from a qualified and insured medical herbalist. To find one in your area, contact the College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy at www.phytotherapists.org, or the National Institute of Medical Herbalists at www.nimh.org.uk. I am happy to provide more information and can be contacted by email at deannegreenwood@me.com.

The Haven breast cancer support

For general holistic advice for women with breast cancer, including emotional/psychological and physical support, I recommend visiting The Haven breast cancer support website at www.thehaven.org.uk

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