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Easing Chemotherapy Discomfort: 6 Natural Approaches for Relief

18 July 2023

Key Points

  • Chemotherapy is a common and effective treatment for many types of cancer. However, it often comes with various side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, hair loss, and more.
  • Conventional interventions for chemotherapy side effects may have limited effectiveness or cause additional side effects.
  • Holistic approaches can help patients manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. They are often used in conjunction with conventional treatments or as a way to reduce the need for prescription medications.
  • Ginger, acupuncture, aromatherapy, and massage therapy are some clinically-backed options for reducing side effects.
  • Medical cannabis is also a popular choice for managing chemotherapy-related side effects. Medical cannabis can be used to reduce nausea and vomiting, increase appetite and weight gain, and reduce pain associated with the disease.

Chemotherapy is a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer, but it often comes with a range of challenging side effects that can significantly impact a patient’s life. From nausea and fatigue to hair loss and neuropathy, these side effects can make the journey through cancer treatment an even more daunting experience.

While conventional medications can help manage some of these symptoms, they may not always provide the desired relief and can sometimes cause additional side effects. As a result, many patients are turning to natural remedies for a gentler, more holistic approach to alleviating chemotherapy aftereffects.

Fortunately, several safe and effective options may help you alleviate your condition while also boosting your immune system. In this blog, we explore the variety of natural remedies that have shown promise in helping patients manage negative effects. We also go through the clinical data supporting these post-treatment remedies.

If you or a loved one is undergoing chemotherapy and experiencing side effects, you may want to consider medical cannabis to help manage pain and discomfort. As the leading medical cannabis clinic in the UK, Lyphe offers innovative, evidence-based interventions for a wide range of conditions, including cancer. To find out more about the benefits of medical cannabis during chemotherapy treatment, contact us today!

Chemotherapy: Definition and Side Effects

Chemotherapy is a widely used and effective treatment for various types of cancer. It involves using powerful drugs to kill or prevent cancer cells from growing and dividing. While chemotherapy can be life-saving, it often comes with a range of resulting effects that can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life.

Before we dive into the natural remedies, we will discuss some common chemotherapy side effects and the current medical options available for managing them.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are among chemotherapy’s most common and distressing aftereffects. To manage these symptoms, healthcare professionals often prescribe antiemetic medications, such as serotonin receptor antagonists, dopamine receptor antagonists, and NK1 receptor antagonists. While these medications can be effective, they may not work for everyone, and some patients may experience additional side effects.

Fatigue

Fatigue is another common outcome that can affect a patient’s daily functioning and overall quality of life. Current therapy options for managing fatigue include exercise, energy conservation techniques, and medications such as stimulants or sleep aids. However, these treatments may not be effective for all patients and may come with their own health implications.

Hair Loss

Chemotherapy-induced hair loss can be a distressing side effect for many patients. While there are no specific medications to prevent hair loss, some patients may opt for scalp cooling or cold cap therapy. Scalp cooling can help reduce hair loss by constricting blood vessels in the scalp and limiting the amount of chemotherapy drugs reaching the hair follicles. This method may not be effective for everyone and can be uncomfortable during treatment.

Mouth Sores

Mouth sores, or oral mucositis, can develop and cause significant pain and discomfort. Current options include oral rinses, topical anaesthetics, and medications to manage pain and inflammation. However, these methods may not provide complete relief, and some patients may require additional interventions.

Neuropathy

Chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy is a common side effect that can cause pain, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet. Treatment options for neuropathy include pain relievers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and non-pharmacological interventions like physical therapy and acupuncture. It is important to highlight that these options may not be effective for all patients and may have their own unintended health reactions.

Six Natural Remedies for Chemotherapy Side Effects

As patients and healthcare professionals search for more holistic and natural remedies to manage chemotherapy side effects, medical cannabis and other alternative therapies have gained significant attention for their potential therapeutic benefits. This section explores natural remedies that can be used after chemotherapy.

1. Medical Cannabis

Derived from the Cannabis sativa plant, medical cannabis contains a variety of active compounds, such as cannabinoids. The substances interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) to regulate various physiological processes.

Among these cannabinoids, the most well-known and researched are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD):

  • THC is the primary psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant. It’s known for its euphoric and analgesic effects, which are often used to treat symptoms of chemotherapy, such as pain and nausea.
  • CBD is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid most often used for its therapeutic benefits. It’s known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and neuroprotective properties.

Potential Benefits of Medical Cannabis

In this section, we will explore the benefits of medical cannabis in managing chemotherapy side effects and enhancing the well-being of patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Medical Cannabis May Help With Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea and Vomiting (CINV)

Nausea and vomiting are prevalent and challenging side effects experienced during chemotherapy. Medical cannabis, particularly THC, has been shown to be effective in reducing these symptoms by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain’s vomiting centre.

In fact, two synthetic THC-based medications, dronabinol and nabilone, are FDA-approved for treating CINV when conventional antiemetic medications fail.

Furthermore, one review published in Current Neuropharmacology suggests that cannabinoids have proven to be effective in relieving nausea and gastrointestinal distress caused by this cancer treatment. Patients in the reviewed clinical studies smoked cannabis or took it in the form of dronabinol or nabilone.

Medical Cannabis May Reduce Pain Perception

Cancer-related pain can be debilitating, and conventional pain medications may not always provide adequate relief or come with unwanted implications. Medical cannabis, on the other hand, has shown promise in managing various types of pain, including neuropathic pain, which is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Both THC and CBD have demonstrated analgesic properties, with CBD offering the added benefit of being non-psychoactive.

Medical Cannabis Can Stimulate the Appetite

Chemotherapy can often lead to a loss of appetite, exacerbating fatigue and hindering recovery. Medical cannabis, particularly THC, has been known to stimulate appetite, helping patients maintain their nutritional intake during treatment.

Medical Cannabis May Help With Anxiety and Sleep Issues

Anxiety and sleep disturbances are common challenges faced by cancer patients undergoing the treatment. Medical cannabis, especially CBD, has demonstrated anxiolytic and sleep-promoting effects, potentially helping patients cope with the emotional and physical stress of cancer.

While medical cannabis offers promising benefits as a natural remedy for chemotherapy side effects, consulting with a healthcare professional before using it is essential. This will ensure that it is suitable for your specific needs and circumstances and help you determine the appropriate dosage and administration method.

At Lyphe, we understand the importance of providing chemotherapy patients with a comprehensive approach to cancer treatment. Our team of medical professionals has extensive experience in managing chemotherapy-induced side effects. We work with patients to develop a customised treatment plan that addresses both their physical and emotional needs. Book a call today to learn more!

2. Ginger

Ginger has been found to help alleviate chemotherapy aftereffects, particularly CINV. Several studies have demonstrated the potential benefits of managing these symptoms. A review published in Nutrition Reviews suggests that ginger can help reduce the severity of CINV.

In addition to its antiemetic properties, ginger has been suggested to reduce cancer-related fatigue in chemo patients. A randomised placebo trial published in the journal Nutrients suggests that adjuvant ginger supplementation can improve a patient’s quality of life.

3. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the insertion of thin, sterile needles into specific points on the body, known as acupuncture points. The practice is based on the belief that the body’s vital energy, or ‘qi’, flows through meridians or channels, and that stimulating these points can help balance the flow of energy and promote healing.

One clinical study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found that acupuncture post-chemo positively affected patients who suffered from nausea, vomiting, pain, poor sleep quality, and anxiety.

While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind acupuncture’s potential benefits in managing chemotherapy side effects, the existing evidence suggests that it can be a valuable complementary therapy for cancer patients. Patients may better control their side effects, enhance their quality of life, and concentrate on recovery by including acupuncture in their treatment plan.

4. Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is an aromatic herb that has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. Its active ingredient, menthol, is responsible for the herb’s cooling and soothing effects. Research suggests that peppermint may help manage some of the most common side effects, such as CINV.

A 2021 pilot study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine found that peppermint oil significantly reduces the frequency of vomiting, nausea, and retching of cancer patients undergoing chemo. For the five days following chemotherapy administration, the intervention group thrice daily placed a drop of peppermint oil between their top lip and nose. This remedy was given in addition to routine antiemetic treatment.

By the end of the study, participants in the intervention group noted significant improvements in symptoms. The researchers concluded that including peppermint oil in an antiemetic strategy can help patients cope with CINV.

5. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy is the practice of using essential oils extracted from plants for therapeutic purposes. These oils can be used through inhalation, topical application, or massage to induce relaxation, alleviate stress, and enhance overall wellness.

A 2021 systematic review published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine suggests that directly inhaled aromatherapy can help with CINV. The study tested and found the following essential oils to help with post-chemotherapy symptoms:

  • Peppermint
  • Ginger
  • Chamomile
  • Cardamom

Aside from providing CINV relief, aromatherapy has been found to have a positive effect on mood. A 2022 meta-analysis published in General Hospital Psychiatry suggests that aromatherapy can improve the anxiety and depression of cancer patients. However, the researchers noted that more studies are needed to make it a standard post-chemotherapy treatment.

6. Massage Therapy

Massage can help alleviate side effects by promoting relaxation, boosting sleep, and enhancing immune function. It can also help relieve anxiety, pain, fatigue, and nausea experienced by cancer patients. Massage therapy may also prevent chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy and temporarily relieve the discomfort associated with this condition.

Oncology massage therapists are trained to provide highly individualised massage sessions tailored to the needs of cancer patients, offering comfort, encouragement, and support throughout their remedial journey. For example, one study published in Applied Nursing Research found that back massage therapy helped patients with cancer-related fatigue and anxiety.

Conclusion – Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects Naturally

Chemotherapy is a critical component of cancer treatment, but its side effects can significantly impact a patient’s quality of life. Natural remedies such as medical cannabis, acupuncture, and meditation offer a holistic approach to managing these side effects and complement conventional treatments. 

Cancer patients may better manage their side effects by incorporating these natural remedies into their treatment plans. However, it remains crucial to consult a healthcare provider before trying new remedies.

As discussed, one promising natural remedy to consider is medical cannabis. Lyphe, the leading medical cannabis clinic in the UK, offers professional care and services tailored to unique post-chemotherapy needs. To learn more about how we can help you or a loved one in the cancer treatment journey, book an appointment today!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How can I reduce chemotherapy side effects?

To reduce chemo side effects, it may help to eat smaller meals and drink slowly throughout the day. It may also help to counter chemotherapy-induced fatigue with exercise.

Are herbs good for chemotherapy?

Some herbs and supplements may help support your immune system and alleviate side effects during chemotherapy. Astragalus supplements, for example, may help rebuild your immune system after cancer treatment.

What is the fastest way to recover from chemotherapy?

The fastest way to recover from chemotherapy varies for each individual. However, getting plenty of rest is advised as fatigue is a common side effect of chemotherapy.

How do you flush chemo out of your body?

Chemotherapy drugs are eliminated from the body primarily through metabolism and excretion. Importantly, there isn’t a specific method to flush chemotherapy drugs out of your system quickly, as your body naturally processes and eliminates these drugs over time.

How long does it take to fully recover from chemotherapy?

The recovery time from chemotherapy can vary based on the individual. It generally takes about two months of recovery time for every one month of treatment before energy levels return to a baseline.

References

Efe Ertürk, N., & Taşcı, S. (2021). The Effects of Peppermint Oil on Nausea, Vomiting and Retching in Cancer Patients Undergoing Chemotherapy: An Open Label Quasi–Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 56, 102587. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctim.2020.102587

Karagozoglu, S., & Kahve, E. (2013). Effects of back massage on chemotherapy-related fatigue and anxiety: Supportive care and therapeutic touch in cancer nursing. Applied Nursing Research, 26(4), 210-217. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apnr.2013.07.002

Liu, T., Cheng, H., Tian, L., Zhang, Y., Wang, S., & Lin, L. (2022). Aromatherapy with inhalation can effectively improve the anxiety and depression of cancer patients: A meta-analysis. General Hospital Psychiatry, 77, 118-127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.genhosppsych.2022.05.004

Manzanares, J., Julian, M., & Carrascosa, A. (2006). Role of the Cannabinoid System in Pain Control and Therapeutic Implications for the Management of Acute and Chronic Pain Episodes. Current Neuropharmacology, 4(3), 239-257. https://doi.org/10.2174/157015906778019527

Marx, W. M., Teleni, L., McCarthy, A. L., Vitetta, L., McKavanagh, D., Thomson, D., & Isenring, E. (2013). Ginger (Zingiber officinale) and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: A systematic literature review. Nutrition Reviews, 71(4), 245-254. https://doi.org/10.1111/nure.12016

Tas, D., Uncu, D., Sendur, M. A., Koca, N., & ZENGİN, N., (2014). Acupuncture as a complementary treatment for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention , vol.15, no.7, 3139-3144.

Toniolo, J., Delaide, V., & Beloni, P. (2021). Effectiveness of inhaled aromatherapy on chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting: A systematic review. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 27(12), 1058–1069. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2021.0067

Author: Bojan
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Bojan Ambrus, Head of Marketing & Digital Product at Lyphe Group, is a data-driven growth marketing professional with over 15 years of rich experience. His background includes roles such as Head of Marketing at Vaping.com and growth marketing roles in various enterprises, startups, and scale-ups. His expertise in building and positioning businesses is particularly valuable in the cannabis sector, where he navigates its complexities and regulatory challenges. His strategic marketing insights make Bojan a key player in shaping Lyphe Group's marketing and digital product strategies.

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