August 01, 2019

Understanding the Role of a Naturopathic Doctor in Cancer Care

Having cancer can be a busy affair.  There are many appointments, with a variety of medical professionals who all have a clear purpose.  Oncologists recommend what course of chemo-radiation is best.  Nurses prepare you for, and monitor you during, your treatments. Phlebotomists get your blood work done.  Psychologists help you mentally and emotionally. But where does a Naturopathic Doctor (ND) fit in?

A ND trained in integrative cancer care is a qualified practitioner who can play a crucial role in the lives of patients living with cancer.  They are trained in naturopathic medicine, which is a primary health care profession that emphasizes prevention, optimizing body and mind, and education about the role lifestyle plays in health and disease. 

How Cancer Patients Can Benefit From Working With a Naturopathic Doctor

1) Naturopathic Medicine is a Process, Not a Thing

You didn’t get sick overnight, and no single drug or other supplement will make it better overnight. Having a Naturopathic Doctor by your side means you are starting a journey of healing. Over months or even years, significant improvements can be made, with potentially profound benefits.  With the right lifestyle changes (exercise, smoking cessation, weight loss, etc), dietary additions (green tea, cruciferous vegetables, fiber, etc), and working over time to improve digestion, sleep, and stress, you can expect to have laid a strong foundation to improve your odds of survival.  While we as humans are tempted by a quick fix, the process of working with a Naturopathic Doctor well versed in cancer prevention will be much more beneficial.

2) NDs can put together an Integrative Treatment Plan

Many people I speak with are bombarded with information about what supplements they should take, about different clinical trials being offered, or about other cancer clinics around the world they should visit to get the best results.  Alternatively, many people are desperate to have a conversation about what diet and lifestyle factors can help fight cancer, but they cannot find any knowledgeable practitioners to provide such advice. It can be extremely overwhelming, which makes it difficult to make decisions.

Helping you make decisions is part of my job. There is great value in having a doctor who can evaluate the risks and benefits of both conventional and traditional medicine, and put together a plan that will aim to optimize outcomes, so you can make decisions about your health that will leave you feeling confident and happy.  Plus, a big part of an integrative treatment plan includes diet therapy, mind-body therapies, and carefully selected evidence-based complementary medicines, such as various herbs or IV therapies, that can maintain your quality of life, treat cancer and prevent recurrence.

3) NDs are the only Medical Professionals trained in using Supplements and Herbs

A recent statistic indicates around 80% of cancer patients either use, or are interested in using, supplements and herbal medicines as a part of a wholistic approach to their health. It is unfortunate that other medical professionals get little to no training about supplements or herbal based medicines.  While they may be familiar with products, familiarity does not mean they are knowledgeable about how these natural products work in the body, or how they might interact with other prescription medications.  Besides medical courses such as physiology and immunology, a substantial portion of an NDs training is to study how plants, vitamins and minerals work in the body, and therefore we can provide evidence-based advice about how to safely and effectively use these products.

4)  NDs stress the Healing Power of Nature

A common complaint heard from patients is that they feel there is little advice about how to keep their body strong and robust during cancer treatments.  Our body has a natural and innate way of healing itself, and NDs provide education and support around how to help your body stay in a healthy state.  We facilitate this process by providing advice around diet and lifestyle strategies that can augment the body’s innate capacity to heal. One of the most influential systems is the immune system, and many therapies can maintain a robust immune system, which can have a direct impact on fighting cancer.

5) NDs stress Whole Person Medicine

We know that you are not “breast cancer” or “lung cancer”.  You are a wife, husband, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend, neighbour, co-worker and volunteer.  You have a history full of unique life experiences, and dreams of adventures in the future.  You are part of a community and network of people, and these other dimensions play a critical role in human health.  NDs acknowledge this and incorporate these aspects into treatment plans where they can, which might include encouraging friends and family to join appointments for support if necessary.

6) NDs stress the Importance of Diet

The majority of people I meet are desperate to have an informed discussion with their doctors about what to eat to prevent disease, or help their bodies to heal.  The best practitioner to receive dietary advice from is a Naturopathic Doctor, especially when it comes to treating cancer.  Diet can reduce inflammation, and specific foods, such as garlic, have been shown to directly inhibit cancer cell growth.  NDs can teach you how to incorporate a nutrition-packed, cancer-fighting diet into your lifestyle, that also is personalized enough to account for your own personal likes and dislikes. We are also knowledgeable about ketogenic diets and fasting as a way to target cancer cells.

7) NDs value the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Private healthcare allows more time being spent discussing what really matters to patients.  NDs have more time to listen to you, with our full attention.  Just the act of being able to tell your story has profound therapeutic potential. Research has shown that patients do better long term when they have a close relationship with their doctor.  Because appointment times are much longer than typical doctor appointments, there is greater ability to form a therapeutic relationship that can foster health, healing, and well-being.

The above article highlights key areas where an integrative Naturopathic Doctor shines.  I believe that these areas are not adequately addressed in cancer care, and I also believe that they are absolutely necessary aspects of high quality health care.

~ Dr. Jessa

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