When we think of the word “integrating,” we think of it as complementary or “combining” multiple things. What comes to mind is integrating multiple options in conjunction with other, perhaps main, options.
So when we think of integrative medicine for cancer treatment, we are actually talking about all of the complementary therapies that can be “integrated” into the treatment as a whole. Of course chemotherapy and radiation are the most common treatments for cancer patients, but what else can be combined with and “integrated” into a chemotherapy or radiation treatment?
Julia Saylors, M.D., is a medical oncology and hematology specialist with Charleston Oncology. She is fellowship trained in integrative medicine and brings this approach to her care for her patients.
“Integrative medicine taps into the body’s natural ability to heal,” she explained. “It looks at the whole person and not just the disease itself. Integrative oncology is evidence-based cancer care that utilizes mind and body practices, lifestyle changes and natural supplements in addition to conventional treatment plans.”
Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of an integrative approach for cancer patients, with recommendations tailored to the individual needs of the patient. However, traditional cancer treatments often can produce side effects that suppress a patient’s appetite. Dr. Saylors recommended a plant-based diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy grains and limited high-sugar, processed foods.
“I like to say to eat all of the colors of the rainbow to ensure you are getting vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and a wide variety of nutrients from your food,” she said, adding that dietary supplements may also be helpful.
Dr. Saylors suggested the Mediterranean diet for its anti-inflammatory characteristics. Inflammation can result from certain diets, especially those heavy in processed foods, fried foods and red meats, and cancer is linked to chronic inflammation in the body. Through diet, that inflammation can be reduced.
Some anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Olive oil;
- Leafy greens;
- Fish such as salmon and tuna;
- Fruits such as berries and oranges.
Dr. Saylors said it also is important to have an abundance of good bacteria in the gut; the best way to make this happen is through nutrition. The bacteria in the gut, known as the gut microbiome, begins to develop at birth. Over time, the way the body receives its fuel influences the bacteria that can be helpful and reduce inflammation. She notes that certain cancer treatments depend on healthy gut bacteria to be effective.
Beyond nutrition, an integrative approach to cancer treatment can be used to address many of the symptoms patients with cancer experience, such as poor quality sleep, fatigue and pain.
“Healing the mind, body and spirit is what this is all about,” she said.
She said that prevention is another key aspect of integrative medicine, recommending to keep up with cancer screenings and make lifestyle changes to decrease the risk of developing cancer – such as quitting smoking and wearing sunscreen.
She also mentioned that people should pay attention to the ingredients in the products they use to make sure they do not contain carcinogens.
“Do some research and really look at the products you use around the house and what you put in and on your body,” she warned. “Make sure the products are safe.”
“Diet, exercise and stress reduction are so important,” she added. “It is really just about focusing on that quality-of-life aspect and on living as long as possible. When patients reduce stress and improve their overall lifestyle, it is amazing how much that can change the outcome.”
For more information on integrative cancer therapies and Dr. Saylors, visit www.charlestononcology.com.