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The Harmful Effects of Chemotherapy to the Body

A new study has found out that chemotherapy has adverse effects to a person’s brain and cognitive abilities.

Chemotherapy is one of the medically proven treatment options for cancer. It is basically the process of introducing drugs into the body to kill and prevent the growth of cancer cells. The primary objective of subjecting a cancer patient to chemotherapy is to cure him completely and kill every single cancer cell in his body. Different methods of chemotherapy have been devised through the years. The process can be complemented with other therapies like surgery, and radiotherapy, or the person’s gradual and regulated exposure to ionized radiation.

Chemotherapy works by interfering with the disorderly process of cancer cell reproduction. Unlike useful cells in the body, cancer cells can grow out of proportion and occupy more and more space as the disease develops. Chemotherapy drugs are introduced directly into the bloodstream in order to launch an attack to the cancer cells. The process impairs a cancer cell’s ability to divide or to reproduce through mitosis. It also inhibits the growth and multiplication of cancer cells by targeting their food source and the other materials they need to grow. Specialized chemotherapy drugs may also inhibit the growth of blood vessels that supplies blood to the cancer tumors.

Disadvantages and Side Effects of Chemotherapy

The drugs used in chemotherapy are toxic and they have proven adverse effects to the body. Supplementary therapies like radiotherapy, though painless, can cause soft tissue to swell and the skin to develop red rashes. Chemotherapy drugs have far worse side effects. Though they have been formulated to only attack cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs have the inevitable tendency to also attack non-cancer cells.

  • Patients undergoing chemotherapy may develop neutropenia, or significantly low levels of white blood cell count.  White blood cells (WBC) play an important role in the immune system, and if its numbers decreases, this will render the patient more susceptible to infection.
  • The patient’s platelet count may also drastically fall after chemotherapy. Platelets are responsible for the blood’s natural ability to clot and platelet deficiency may lead to hemorrhagic bleeding or excessive external bleeding.
  • The other known and common side effects of chemotherapy include vomiting and nausea after a session; alopecia or hair loss; ototoxity or long-term hearing loss due to platinum agents; anemia; inflammation of the mucous membrane; and appetite loss. The procedure has also been observed to cause damage to the brain.

Harmful Effects of Chemotherapy to the Brain

Cancer patients who have undergone chemotherapy treatment have been observed to experience impaired cognitive functions. This has been recognized to be the most alarming side effect of chemotherapy. A recent study conducted by the Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center of Indiana University has put emphasis on the effects of chemotherapy to a patient’s cognitive functions, which is also referred to as “chemobrain”. The researchers observed the changes in brain tissues in breast cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy treatment.  The results of the study were published on the October issue of the Breast Cancer Research and Treatment journal.

Director of the Indiana University Center for Neuroimaging (and also one of the researchers), Andrew Saykin, said that the analysis suggested an anatomic basis for common complaints of patients undergoing chemotherapy concerning impaired cognitive abilities. Executive skills like memory, fast mental processing and multi-tasking are greatly affected to a point of noticeable degrees. The team studied MRI scans of the brains of breast cancer patients before and after chemotherapy, as well as those of healthy control subjects to give them a reliable basis of comparison. The procedure was repeated a month and a year after the completion of their chemotherapy treatment.

The researchers observed a decrease in gray matter in prominent areas of the brain causing cognitive dysfunction. But the patients’ gray matter density eventually improved after a year of their last chemotherapy. Dr. Saykin said that though the effects were mild in most patients, it was highly observable in some to a point where they became incapable of going back to work. The rest were still able to perform multifunctional tasks but with a certain degree of difficulty.

The study was dedicated to observing the effects of chemotherapy to the cognitive functions of 12 female breast cancer patients with the participation of 18 breast-cancer free women and is being replicated for further study by the IU Simon Cancer Center.

The Natural Alternative to Chemotherapy: The Naturopathic Approach

Despite the many technological and medical advancement in the treatment of cancer, it remains to be one of the leading cause of death in the world. Chemotherapy, believed as the only effective treatment for cancer, increases a cancer patient’s mortality rate to a small percentage and also creates unpleasant side-effects which can further jeopardize the patient’s health.

The addition of naturopathic treatment to conventional cancer treatments can improve and accelerate the patient’s recovery while at the same time alleviating the side-effects of the drugs used in the procedure. Naturopathic treatment is very sensitive to a patient’s needs and it needs to be specialized according to his specific condition. This is the reason why professional advice from a naturopathic doctor is needed before starting out on any naturopathic treatment.

Good nutrition is one of the best prevention methods a person can use against cancer. But nutrition is also used by naturopathic science in the treatment of cancer. Together with the appropriate physical activities, nutrition can be used to change the course of cancer, stop progression and prevent reoccurrence. The principle of naturopathy in the treatment of cancer stands on the fact that certain dietary behavior can give cancer a favorable environment for it grow and develop.

Through lifestyle intervention, naturopathy can be effective in curing cancer –  by targeting their sources of food thereby starving cancer cells;  by enhancing the immune system; and by giving the body it’s much needed nutrients in order to survive clinical treatments, reduce side effects and help it recover. Beside the prescription of strict diet plan, naturopathic doctors may also recommend the intake of dietary supplements like fractionated citrus pectin, glutamine and eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA.

Natural Methods to Alleviate the Side Effects of Chemotherapy

The following methods can be done in order to counteract the side effects of chemotherapy:

For Nausea and Vomiting

The use of caraway seeds, fennel tea and ginger is advised. Caraway seeds made into a tea concoction can be taken after the procedure.  Another option is to drink fennel tea, which is said to exert its effect on the stomach, making it more relaxed thereby preventing nausea.  Also, the use of freshly-sliced ginger inside your mouth can help a patient deal with nausea and prevent vomiting.

For Alopecia (Hair Loss)

The use of Vitamin E before starting the chemotherapy procedure can help. Also, it is said that the use of ice caps helps slow down the loss of hair.

For Constipation

Increasing fiber intake is naturally advised.  Other options would be the use of available enzymes such as buckthorn, sena, Epsom salts and probiotics.  However, it is best to consult your physician prior to taking these substances.  Also, refrain from being sedentary.  Try to walk around if your strength permits you to do so.  This will greatly improve your intestines’ peristaltic activity.

For Diarrhea

A very simple way to control it is through dietary modification.  Simply limit the amount of fatty intake present in your food.

For Anemia

The intake of shark oil, beet juice and Vitamin B12 can help.

For Fatigue and Weak Immune System

Herbal supplements like menthe piperita and the extract of African potato or hypoxis rooperi have been noted to be beneficial to the immune system. Other herbal ingredients like schizandra sinesis, viscum album and crataegus oxyacanthoides are known to increase a person’s energy levels and help protect the body from damage caused by the toxins in chemotherapy drugs.


Sources

communications.medicine.iu.edu
alternativemedicine.healthcommunities.com
medicalnewstoday.com
nativeremedies.com
cancure.org

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