Boost the odds after cancer by reducing stress and focusing on healing

Reducing stress and making lifestyle changes can yield remarkable results

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      Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a scary experience. Patients are often immediately thrust into aggressive conventional therapies without fully understanding how they work or why they are necessary. We live in a culture where we put the responsibility of our health into someone else’s hands. We are told to trust that they know what is best, and patients are often discouraged from doing their own research.

      They can feel that from the first day of diagnosis, they are put on a conveyor belt and shuffled from one appointment to the next with no other options available. Once the treatments are complete and the patient is declared cancer-free, they’re expected to continue on with their life.

      The reality is that this experience is so stressful for patients that it often leaves them traumatized emotionally and physically. Treatment should not end the moment that someone is given the “all-clear”. That is the time to focus on keeping your immune system strong and changing factors in your lifestyle to reduce the risk of recurrence. Patients need guidance to make these physical and emotional changes. The good news is that a lot can be done and there is substantial research to back these therapies.

      You can help your body fight cancer by reducing stress and focusing your efforts on healing. One of the most comprehensive intervention studies in cancer research, published in Archives of General Psychiatry, evaluated the effects of stress-management techniques such as relaxation on cancer recurrence following removal of a malignant melanoma. Not only did members of the relaxation group experience reduced psychological distress, they also had more active immune systems than those in the control group. A six-year follow-up showed a trend toward greater recurrence and higher mortality rates in the control group compared to the relaxation group.

      The bottom line is that patients who focus on reducing stress and healing have a better prognosis. People also have lower rates of developing cancer in the first place if they follow these practices. Given what we know about the connection between immune function and stress—as reported in the journal Cancer—this is not surprising.

      The aggressive conventional treatments that patients receive often do a good job of killing cancerous cells. The problem is that these same therapies also leave the immune system severely weakened at a time when you need it to be strong. You must have a well-functioning immune system to patrol your tissues and identify abnormal cells before they have an opportunity to manifest as a clinical disease. The first year after being told you’re in remission is the most important time to support your immune system. There are many natural therapies and lifestyle changes that can be done.

      Mistletoe therapy is just one thing that can be used to effectively boost the immune system. Mistletoe has been shown in the journal Cancer Letters to stimulate increases in the number and the activity of several types of white blood cells. Immune-system-enhancing cytokines such as interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumour necrosis factor alpha are released by white blood cells after exposure to mistletoe extracts, according to research by Tibor Hajtó published in Oncology and Cancer Research.

      It is also possible to make simple dietary changes that can significantly reduce inflammation and further support the functioning of the immune system.

      Patients need continued support after they are treated for cancer. They need to be supported mentally and physically in order to further reduce the risk of recurrence. Naturopathic doctors excel at providing this much-needed support to patients and helping them get back on the path to wellness.

      Adam McLeod is a naturopathic doctor with an honours degree in molecular biology. He’s the author of Integrative Cancer Care: The Power of Being Informed. He practises at Yaletown Naturopathic Clinic, where he focuses on integrative oncology.