Prevention and Treatment with Functional Medicine for Cancer Patients
SummaryYou may have heard that cancer is among the leading causes of death in the United States. And the numbers are pretty sobering; experts estimate nearly two million new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer-related deaths in 2022. Despite these seemingly dire figures, humans are quite a hardy bunch capable of overcoming adversities, so we shouldn’t lose hope. There are ways to prevent this disease and treatment options to help manage the symptoms. Functional medicine is among such options.
- Author Name: Stan Clark
You may have heard that cancer is among the leading causes of death in the United States. And the numbers are pretty sobering; experts estimate nearly two million new cancer cases and 609,360 cancer-related deaths in 2022.
Despite these seemingly dire figures, humans are quite a hardy bunch capable of overcoming adversities, so we shouldn’t lose hope. There are ways to prevent this disease and treatment options to help manage the symptoms.
Functional medicine is among such options.
What are the different ways functional medicine can help prevent and treat cancer? Can functional medicine’s potential to help manage a person’s diet, stress, and toxin levels help with cancer? Can integrative oncology and concepts like epigenetics, biological aging, and nutrient-responsive genes help with cancer treatment?
This article discusses how functional medicine can help with cancer prevention and treatment. It explores how this approach can help cancer patients manage their diet, stress, and toxin levels.
This write-up also discusses how integrative oncology, as part of functional medicine, can help treat cancer.
How Can the Functional Medicine Approach Help With Cancer Prevention and Treatment?
Functional medicine can be considered an alternative approach to cancer prevention and treatment through complementary therapies like diet, stress management, and integrative medicine.
Aside from conventional methods like chemotherapy or surgery, these alternative ways offer patients and practitioners other options to help manage cancer, including rare ones like mesothelioma and its stages.
So, what are some of the approaches in functional medicine that can help with cancer treatment and prevention? Read on to know more.
Promoting a Nutritious Diet
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that many lifestyle risk factors like alcoholism, being overweight, eating a fruit- and vegetable-deficient diet, smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity make up 30% to 40% of a person’s cancer burden.
Of course, those in the know won’t just mention the risk factors without recommending what to do to minimize or prevent those risks. One of those recommendations is maintaining a healthful diet.
The Harvard School of Public Health tells us to eat foods rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans. The school says that there’s evidence that eating whole grains can help protect against colorectal cancer.
But that’s not all. Harvard says eating foods rich in dietary fiber can help protect against diseases that increase cancer risk.
“But what about fast food?” you might ask. It can be challenging to resist a quick bite of these convenient foods, especially when you’re busy and can’t spare much time to whip up healthier alternatives.
But we’ve heard stories of how many Americans—a staggering 71%—have become overweight or obese, thanks partly to fast food. And what’s concerning is that these foods claim more lives prematurely than cigarette smoking.
Harvard recommends limiting your fast food intake, so you’re not entirely pulling the plug on eating these foods. But remember that they’re primarily high in starches, sugars, and unhealthy fats. These ingredients can cause you to become overweight or obese, a risk factor for many cancers.
Managing the Body’s Stress Levels
Have you missed the bus seconds after you reached the bus stop or got stuck in traffic when you’re in a hurry to get to the airport? A bit stressful, right?
Even the little things like dropping your sandwich butter-side first on the floor can ruin your day.
Stress is a part of life. Even celebrities, politicians, athletes, and people you look up to experience stress.
But chronic stress from anxiety, depression, adversity, or loneliness can lead to cancer development.
Excessive sweating may also be caused by chronic stress. While sweating doesn't directly cause cancer, prolonged stress can raise the risk of developing certain diseases.
Chronic stress can also affect your body’s inflammatory response and immune function. Your body’s long-term inflammatory response and declining immune capabilities can contribute to the transformation of normal cells into cancer cells.
That’s why stress management is essential not only for healthy people but for cancer patients as well.
Functional medicine approaches you can consider for stress management include:
- Acupuncture: Simply put, acupuncture involves inserting tiny needles into your skin to help relieve discomforts like back pain, headaches, and menstrual cramps.
Traditional Chinese medicine considers acupuncture as a technique to balance your life force or energy, known as chi (or qi), flowing through pathways throughout your body.
Whether you believe that concept or not, many Western practitioners still use acupuncture to manage pain and help stimulate nerves and muscles.
- Massage: If you’re feeling down and anxious or overloaded with stress, a massage may help with these conditions.
Even Mayo Clinic agrees that massages can help lower anxiety and stress levels, improve relaxation and mood, and increase self-confidence.
- Meditation: Occasionally, your mind may be flooded with anxiety-inducing thoughts that make it hard to concentrate, causing stress. Meditation can help you focus your attention and eliminate the noise in your mind.
Through meditation, you can gain a sense of calm, balance, and peace that can benefit your overall health and emotional well-being. Meditation also helps you relax and cope with stress by refocusing your attention on calming thoughts and helping you stay centered to maintain inner peace.
- Yoga or tai chi: If you prefer doing physical poses, controlled breathing, relaxation, and meditation rolled into one activity, consider yoga for stress management.
Yoga has varying forms, styles, and intensities depending on your skill. For example, hatha yoga is a standard style with slow, easy movements that can fit well with beginners.
On the other hand, tai chi consists of gentle stretches and physical exercises. There are usually no pauses between movements, so your body is constantly in motion.
You can call tai chi meditation in motion since its practitioners say that it promotes serenity through slow, gentle movements. Although tai chi has more than 100 possible movements, they all have rhythmic patterns that coordinate with your breathing to help you achieve calmness.
Using Integrative Oncology
Traditional cancer treatments usually involve highly invasive procedures. For instance, surgery involves cutting through skin and tissue to remove tumors, while chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
Meanwhile, integrative oncology uses science-based complementary and natural therapies as an alternative to traditional methods for treating cancer.
Doctors can prescribe integrative oncology to help optimize tumor therapy, alleviate side effects, and improve a cancer patient’s well-being and quality of life. Examples of integrative oncology include:
- Amygdalin: Found in apricot kernels and other plant varieties, amygdalin, also called vitamin B17, has anticancer properties and is often administered intravenously.
- Vitamin C infusion: There is no solid evidence that vitamin C can help cure cancer. But researchers say that intravenously administering vitamin C has a different effect from taking it in pill form, suggesting a potential use for cancer treatment.
So far, preliminary studies suggest a potential benefit to combining conventional cancer treatments with high-dose intravenous vitamin C administration.
- Dendritic cell (DC) vaccine therapy: Studies show that DC-based antitumor vaccines may be a safe therapeutic approach for cancer immunotherapy. DCs can help boost your antitumor immunity and your body’s immune system, making the body strong enough to fight cancer cells.
Functional medicine may have a certain level of effectiveness in fighting cancer. But don’t completely discount unconventional cancer treatment just yet. After all, one of the benefits of functional medicine is that it gives you more choices on how you want to deal with cancer.
You can consider epigenetics, the study of how the environment can affect how genes work, as a way to understand your DNA’s connection to particular cancers.
By studying how certain environmental factors can cause your genes to mutate, you can be more prepared to deal with potential symptoms. BRCA (breast cancer gene), for instance, exists in all women, but its mutation can cause breast or ovarian cancer.
Another field to consider is biological aging. This concept requires an understanding of epigenetics and deals with regulating specific gene functions that can help promote tumor suppression and slow the aging process.
Nutrient-responsive genes are also another area to study in functional medicine. Genes have different responses to nutrients that your body receives. By understanding how these genes respond to those nutrients, we can discover how specific nutrients can help manage diseases like cancer.
Always consult your doctor before considering the functional medicine approach. They can recommend what works best, given your condition or type of cancer.
If you want to know more about cancer prevention and treatment, contact the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at 1-800-422-6237 or email NCIinfo@nih.gov.