People love to be helpful. Mention that you have been diagnosed with cancer, and you can potentially receive hundreds of ideas from well-meaning friends and loved ones. However, how do you know if a suggested vitamin, herb or supplement is safe to combine with your prescribed cancer treatment?
You might be fortunate to have an oncologist who is well versed in using supplements, but it is not commonly the case. Nevertheless, it is always advised that you let your oncologist know what you are taking, which includes vitamins, herbs and supplements.
Supplements have the potential to work synergistically with your treatment and reduce side effects, but they also have the potential to cause harm. Here are some possible ways that supplements can interact with your cancer treatment…
Example: Say your friend recommends an energy supplement for you after chemotherapy because you feel so exhausted. You are taking Taxol which is metabolized through the CYP3A4 pathway. This supplement has licorice which inhibits the CYP3A4 pathway. The combination of the two together could make the chemotherapy more toxic.
If your white blood cell count (CBC) is below 2.5 or if your absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is below 1.0, these beneficial bacteria may go rogue without the healthy checkpoints in your immune system working properly and cause a systemic infection in your body. It doesn’t happen all the time, but there have been over 200 case reports of this happening.
Second, there is some early research coming out that taking probiotics may decrease the effectiveness of certain immunotherapies, but taking prebiotics (thought of as the food that feeds the bacteria) may be helpful. You can get prebiotics naturally in your diet by eating foods higher in fiber.
For example, melatonin is a well-known antioxidant that has been shown in meta-analyses to be beneficial for certain tumor types when combined with chemotherapy and radiation, but this is not true of every antioxidant.
If you choose to integrate supplements into your care, it is recommended you let your oncologist know what you are taking and work with a professional who is knowledgeable in drug-supplement interactions and who knows how to evaluate the evidence so you can make an informed decision.
I have worked alongside oncologists and people undergoing cancer treatment for over 13 years helping people safely navigate these decisions, and I’m here for my clients to help them evaluate supplements when a friend or loved one suggests something new.
It's 6:30 in the morning. I peek out my bedroom window and a chicken pops its head up to gaze at me. I am awake and giddy with ideas for the day. Where should I start - baking sweet potatoes, weeding the garden, writing in my journal? I let my English Shepherd out and warm air tumbles toward me. I settle on starting with my outdoor work before it becomes too hot.
This year, I decided to let most of the gardening go. When most people were pouring over seed catalogs in the winter and early spring, I was preparing to have major surgery and training my new employee Lindsay. Now, I return to the overgrown asparagus bed and begin pulling a wheelbarrow-full of overgrown plants. I slowly break apart a stubborn patch of grass from the roots with my garden trowel. The ground is hard, and I tear away one small bit of root at a time.
In time, I empty my wheelbarrow, and head over to the old piglet hut. I pause to allow our ducks Iris and Hilly to parade their newly hatched 19 ducklings to the old piglet wallow for the morning. Life on the farm is filled with moments like these, where you are invited to pause, marvel, and observe instead of constantly just barreling through life. It is the fertilizer for a life well lived.
It has been many months since piglets have lived at this farm. The hut is filled with a finely ground dust of manure, straw, and dirt - perfect for a garden bed. I am slowly amending my garden beds and preparing them once again for the year to come. I carefully navigate my wheelbarrow around the volunteer curcubits coming up in the yard, which our pigs inadvertently planted. I scoop up the precious garden gold and haul it over to the garlic bed.
Next, I settle down with my journal and a cuppa on the porch. Most days, my cuppa is a good cup of tea, but today I whiz up a fresh peach with dark leafy greens and some ice. The complexities of my inner world seem to settle themselves out on the lines of my journal, and I feel more at peace.
Today, I spend most of my time in and out of the kitchen preparing food for the week to come. It shouldn't take this long but I allow it to become a meandering task doing a little here and a little there. I enjoy the aroma of toasty millet, make a rather basic pot of beans (forgetting salt & seasoning all together), whip up a batch of veggie soup, and put up turkey meat from the lovely bird we raised here on the farm. As I gather herbs for the quinoa salad, I find a few hidden blackberries left to eat that have reached perfection.
...and I let myself rest and work slowly in the kitchen, an indulgent pleasure fit for a weekend.
My sweet farm dog, Gilly and I make it out to the side porch for a "spa session" while the storms roll in for the afternoon. This girl has been collecting all kinds of seed heads in her fur, so I sit and comb her out. She's a rough and tumble farm dog. She's also my heart dog and always by my side every moment she can get. When I do video consults, she's not allowed in the room so she sits right outside the door waiting. The spray from the storms start to blow over her coat and we head inside.
As the sky darkens with storms, I think I'll make myself a cup of tea and watercolor to the sound of music and thunder rumbling. This is how I unwind on the farm. Nothing out of the ordinary, yet all very extraordinary at the same time. Oh happy day!
I was surprised to find myself in the position of needing surgery this past winter. I had tried several, non-surgical approaches, but slowly I came to realize that surgery would be my best option. I can sincerely say that this has been one of the most powerful healing journeys I have ever walked because of the opportunity to fully lean into an integrative approach.
First and foremost, I am grateful for the amazing technology and expertise that even allowed me to have access to surgery. It’s quite a miracle when you consider what surgery looked like even just 100 years ago.
While essential in this case, cutting out the disease was only part of the healing process. I could have left it at that, but I would have missed out on the richness of growing as a person and probably would have healed more slowly. I spent a lot of time examining what my body was trying to tell me. The answer led me through my family history, my personal history, and sitting with Divine Love. I sat with what it meant to be female through the many layers of our culture. I sorted through all the stuff I had been emotionally holding onto and decided a lot of it wasn’t mine to hold. And, I got a lot of practice resting and receiving help from others. Wise and loving women guided me through this journey.
I lost a sacred part of my body and the rhythms that went with it, so I worked with an artist to honor that part of me and process the loss. This piece of art is helping me heal and still honors the cycles in my life as I adjust to this new normal.
I’ll admit that going through the experience of the conventional medical system as a patient feels daunting to me. I feel rushed to say everything succinctly in my appointments. I have a lot of seemingly peculiar questions for them from a different paradigm. Most importantly, I’m giving up control and trusting them with my life. I needed help to find and use my voice effectively in these situations. I also used a book called “Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster.” It is an evidence-based, mind-body approach, and the techniques really helped me to be calm and at deep peace as I prepared for surgery.
This process has taught me that no one system has all the answers for healing, and I get the most benefit when I integrate them all together. For example, my skin tore during the surgery. I made a calendula preparation and used it to help heal the tear. Upon application, it immediately felt better. While conventional medicine has pain relievers I could take, I can’t think of a medication that would heal and soothe the tissue like calendula would. I’ll be working with gifted practitioners in the months to come to help reduce scar tissue and rebuild physical integrity in my body. I have been making sure I have the nutrition I need to heal well, such as increasing my protein intake and drinking lots of homemade, farm-raised bone broth.
With so much preparation, I feel I might have been trying to bring some sense of control to the situation. In the end, one of the greatest “gifts” was a side effect of the surgery I hadn’t planned or prepared for. It taught me to literally let go and to accept not being in control.
I sit in wonder and amazement in how my body is healing. It is simply miraculous. I don’t quite have all my stamina back, but I feel quite good otherwise. I am doing my best to honor the concept of convalescence and rest. My body will continue to heal and rebuild for the months to come, and I am here sorting through the deeper lessons this process is teaching me.
Although surgery would not have been my first choice, I’m grateful for what I am learning and see it benefiting the people I continue to serve.
With the current situation in the U.S. it is more important now than ever to make sure we are doing our best to keep ourselves and our families safe. That means we need to be aware that not all cleaning products are effective in killing the virus. The CDC offers some great tips and guidelines to help us make sure we are choosing the proper disinfectants.
CDC Recommended Hand Sanitizers
The CDC recommends that any alcohol-based disinfectant be at least 70 percent alcohol. Make sure to follow the instructions on the package to ensure that you are using it properly in order to kill the bacteria and viruses on your hands. If you are making your own hand sanitizer, make sure you are absolutely doing the math correctly to get the correct alcohol percentage; please don’t go by just any recipe you find on the internet.
The truth of the matter is that any soap will work to aid in prevention. While some soaps contain additional antibacterial ingredients, it does not make them any more effective against the virus. What does matter is the process of how you wash your hands. It is the physical act of lathering, rinsing, and washing for at least 20 seconds that helps to rapidly reduce the number of bacteria and viruses on your hands.
The CDC recommends disinfecting high-touch surfaces daily in common household areas. These areas include tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks, and other areas. The CDC states that most EPA registered disinfectants will work against the virus. Lysol, Clorox, and hydrogen peroxide products, along with the off-name brands are among the many products that are approved for use against the virus. For those who are looking for a more natural cleaning solution, Nixall disinfectant is a great recommendation, but don’t mix it up with Nixall cleaner. Suggested use for it to be effective against the virus is to spray it on the surface undiluted and let it sit for at least 10 minutes before wiping it down. You can easily check to see if your product is EPA approved against the COVID-19 virus by following this link and typing in the EPA registered code located on your product.
Please be cautious when using disinfectants and follow the instructions for use. Use proper ventilation and gloves where necessary; avoid contact with your eyes or mucus membranes. Do not use disinfectants internally or externally on your body.
While making your own household cleaners and disinfectants can be a great way to avoid harmful chemicals for you and your family, caution is advised in using them against the virus because there is not enough evidence to prove that they are in fact effective enough to kill the virus. Essential oils and vinegar products are not included in the EPA approved list, so be aware of that when using them.
I've been getting a lot of questions lately about "What can I take for this?" and I've been seeing a lot of information circulating on the internet on this topic. In case you are wondering, I want to take a moment to share my thoughts...
Foremost, we do NOT have the results of any scientific trials on natural products showing what works and doesn't work for COVID-19 at this time. This is a new/novel virus. Viruses are pieces of changing genetic information, and what may be effective against one virus will not be effective against another viruses. Just because something has anti-viral action against herpes or flu, it does not mean that it will have anti-viral action against COVID-19. Please exercise caution when companies are trying to sell you natural products with claims that they fight COVID-19. Such claims are NOT validated at this time.
So, what can you do? True to naturopathic principles, I believe prevention is the best medicine.
First, the most important measure to take is to follow good public health policy and stay informed.
Second, take measures to care for your health and your immune system. This always begins with a foundation of good sleep, a healthy diet, managing your stress, and avoiding smoking.
Third, please be very careful using over-the-counter supplements or medicines. More is not always better. While zinc can help support the immune system, you can also overdose on it. Be aware that just because something is natural that it is not automatically safe to use. Several supplements can interact with medications and pre-existing health conditions, so check with a qualified professional before adding new supplements on your own. Make sure they are right for you.
Fourth, if you suffer with allergies, now is the time to take care of your respiratory health. If your doctor has prescribed medicine for your allergies, use it. Naturopathic care also offers several options for people to support respiratory health as well.
Finally, you may consider trying some immune balancing supplements in addition to,
NOT in place of public health and good lifestyle practices. Be aware-these immune supplements can interact with several medications, pre-existing health conditions (such as autoimmune disease), and potentially may have adverse effects, especially at high doses. For my clients, I'm happy to discuss the safety of these items at your next consult.
Learn a home hydrotherapy technique to help relief sinus congestion.
If you find yourself constantly wired and stressed, consider trying this home version of constitutional hydrotherapy to help restore your health.
Applying castor oil topically can provide relief for pain, lymphatic congestion, constipation, gas & bloating, scarring, fibrocystic tissue and support liver health. This video explains how to use castor oil packs safely. This is a technique I commonly recommend in my naturopathic healthcare practice, and it is a service you can experience at my naturopathic retreats in Seymour.
In June, I continued my hands-on naturopathic video series with a discussion on onion poultices. (I must have been so excited that I actually forgot to post this earlier in June.) If you are struggling with earaches, coughs and/or chest congestion, consider trying the humble onion poultice.
You might have noticed that I don't have very long hours for seeing my clients each week. In fact, I accommodate about 24 visit slots in a week. Some doctors see more than 24 patients in a single day! You might be wondering--what does she do with all that extra time?
The first major difference between my consults and regular medical consults is that my visits are longer than the average 15 minutes spent with your medical doctor. Each visit slot lasts for 45 minutes, and new patients are seen over a 90 minute period. This allows me to really listen and put several pieces of the puzzle together instead of seeing you for just one concern.
The second major difference is that I spend about 90 minutes every day researching cases and preparing for visits to come. Sometimes an individual case can take over an hour to prepare. (This can be why I charge a late cancellation fee; I promise it's not to be mean.) I see a wide variety of conditions and evidence-based practices are ever-changing. Because I don't usually see clients for only one concern, it's important I review all the details since our last visit and try to put the whole puzzle together. (I'm quite introverted, so it's easier for me to think and assimilate information when I'm alone, which is another reason I prepare ahead of time).
I recently made several schedule changes at my practice. While I'm still transitioning between the old schedule and the new schedule, I'd like to share what a typical week looks like for me, just in case you want to know what I do when I'm not seeing clients.
Over the weekend, I organize and prepare for the week ahead. I'll get started on case preparation and get records ready for scanning. I might also use this time to work on larger projects or do some continuing education.
On a typical day, I rise with a refreshing or warming drink, prayers, and/or meditation. My dog Gilley dutifully follows me in my home office as I start my workday at 6:30 a.m. preparing cases, unless I have to drive into Springfield early. I travel to Springfield 3-4 days a week, which is a 45 minute commute. Those days are filled with client visits and ownership tasks (i.e. meeting with my business advisor or 2BWell group, supporting the people who work for my business, making major business decisions that guide the direction of my practice, and complying with regulations). Rhonda, my nurse, works with me on Fridays, and I have a lot of support I get from the 2BWell front desk. They are a tremendous help to me in supporting the effectiveness of my practice. To accommodate the diverse schedules of my clients, I try to offer visits as early as 8:30 a.m. and as late as 6 p.m. depending on the day in Springfield. I also try to make sure I take time to eat lunch and move my body (preferably as a walk in the park or in a restorative yoga class).
For 2-3 days a week, I work at my home office in Seymour. I'm super excited to begin offering naturopathic retreats at my home office and farm this spring. Clients can also come for their regular consult on these days, particularly if this location is closer for them. For patients that don't want to make the trip to Seymour, this time can also be spent doing phone or e-consults. Wednesday mornings are spent doing accounting, payroll, and taxes, and I catch up with my charting on Wednesday afternoons (alas, a necessary but not very fun task). I've set aside time to work on educational materials (i.e. videos, workshop handouts, writing) or continuing education each month in Seymour, too.
Something new that I'm trying with this schedule is to set aside 4-5 p.m. every workday to return all my quick messages. (Messages requiring more time and research will need to be scheduled as a consult.) If there are more messages than I can respond to in one day, I will do my best to triage concerns based on who called first and the urgency of the message.
Most days, I can prepare dinner at home, play with my dogs, and/or soak in an Epsom salt bath. I like to end the day wrapped up in a good book or naturopathic article. This time is inspiring for me and brings fresh new ideas into my practice and life, along with sweet little inspirations to dream about.
One day and one afternoon a month, I take off to spend the day in nature and enjoying the benefits of some old-fashioned Nature Cure for myself. I love wading in the Ozark creeks or perched at a table doing some Zentangles. With any luck, I'll end the day cocooned in a wet sheet wrap or with my toes wiggling between the herbs in my foot bath.