Complementary Therapies

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Few events are more life altering than a cancer diagnosis, yet as many survivors have discovered, medical science is making great strides in developing new, more effective treatments. There is also a growing awareness that complementary therapies can not only enhance conventional cancer treatments, but can help prevent recurrence as well.

"In recommending complementary therapies, we are trying to push the odds as much as possible in the patient's favor," says naturopathic physician Dan Labriola, N.D. One way this is accomplished is through a dietary program that includes a lot of healthy foods, vitamin and mineral supplements, and antioxidants.

Dr. Labriola says that a coordinated, alternative, food-and-supplement treatment plan, when integrated with conventional medical treatments, offers patients a wide range of benefits. Such a treatment plan can:

  • Keep you as strong and as healthy as possible during and after your regular medical treatment. "We address not just the cancer, but problems with absorption, digestion, elimination, headaches and insomnia — as well as other cancer-related problems — to help you lead as normal a life as possible and continue to take part in your normal activities of daily living," says Dr. Labriola. "The goal is to help you retain function and maintain your life."
  • Safely and effectively incorporate nutritional and other complementary therapies that have been shown to positively affect health, while ensuring that the vitamins and supplements you take don't interfere with conventional medical treatments. "A lot of nutrients are critically important if your body is going to function well, yet with cancer you may need to manage your nutrition differently so it doesn't interfere with your cancer treatments," says Dr. Labriola.
  • Support your nutritional needs and strengthen your system to help your body fight cancer and other diseases — and potentially prevent any future health problems, including a recurrence of the cancer. "We look very carefully at what we can do to help your body fight cancer and to keep your immune system functioning as efficiently as possible," Dr. Labriola says. "Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants can all help."

The overall objective of using healthy foods, vitamins, minerals and supplements as part of an integrated care plan is straightforward: To help you start every day as healthy and as strong as possible.

At the same time, Dr. Labriola stresses that every cancer patient/survivor is different, and will have different nutritional needs. With this in mind, he says it's important to talk to your physician before taking nutritional supplements — especially if you are still undergoing treatment, when even an over-the-counter vitamin pill can cause problems for some people.

Dr. Labriola recommends ongoing, open and direct communication with all of your primary-care and specialty physicians to ensure a safe program of nutrition therapy, one that is tailored to your unique physiology and needs and does not conflict with any other care plan.

The potential for a negative interaction between, say, chemotherapy and a specific nutrient is why Dr. Labriola hesitates to suggest specific vitamins or supplements, other than to say that survivors who are out of treatment — and out of treatment is the key — would be smart to take a DV (designated value) multi-vitamin that contains 100 percent of most vitamins and minerals.

"If you are still in treatment, you must be more careful and talk to your physician about any supplements you want to take."

The bottom line, explains Dr. Labriola, is that survivors who have finished their cancer treatments, as well as survivors about to have surgery or who are being treated with radiation or chemotherapy, are finding that a properly designed nutrition plan helps them stay as strong and as healthy as possible, while avoiding the unwanted interactions that can compromise safety and delay healing.

Naturopathic physician Dan Labriola, N.D., founded Northwest Natural Health in 1985. He currently serves as the director of the clinic and is a consultant to a number of area hospitals, including Swedish Medical Center. He specializes in the appropriate use of alternative medicine and complementary therapies for patients involved in conventional medical treatments.