Stephaney Allinson BHMA, MNIMH, MCPP,
Medical Herbalist

Disclaimer: I am an Herbalist not a GP, if you think there is a possibility that you might have cancer then you need to go to your doctor to get checked. I am also not claiming to treat cancer.

Cancer can be very scary, the sheer thought of it can bring anxiety attacks on in some people. But every person is different, as is every cancer and cancer has a much higher survival rate than it used to, even 5 years ago. The treatment however can have some truly awful side effects which can make the treatment a miserable experience. There are things that you can do for yourself that will help during the process. The first thing I am going to say is once you have received your diagnosis then go and see an herbalist as we are fantastic at helping with the side effects of mainstream cancer treatment. But then I would say that, I am an Herbalist after all!

Green Smoothie Fasting : This is specific to the day before and the day of the chemo treatment. (And the day after if you can manage it.) Drink plenty of water and herbal teas without sugar or honey in them. Also use some version of a Nutribullet because you want to make a smoothie not a juice of the green vegetables. Anything green you can get, which depends on the season too, but things like:

  • broccoli
  • bok choy
  • kale
  • spinach
  • cleavers
  • sorrel
  • young dandelion leaves
  • green peppers
  • cucumber
  • green cabbage
  • young nettle leaves
  • water cress
  • endive
  • collard greens
  • mustard greens
  • mesclun
  • escarole
  • Swiss chard

You can if you want add a clove of garlic or sprinkle some turmeric in it too. Do this at least 4 times a day, there is no upper limit, the only limit you have is the amount of stuff you have to make into a smoothie. When you go for your treatment take with you about 100ml of fruit juice; orange, apple or pineapple work well and a banana. You can take a different piece of fruit if you prefer but pick one with the highest sugar content you can. While you are in the waiting room about 20-30 minutes before your treatment eat the fruit and drink the juice. The reason that you do this is because cancer feeds on sugar so your diet is massively important. (More on that later.) But, because your diet feeds on sugar if you fast the day before and the day of your chemo you are also starving the cancer. The idea is that with the cancer going hungry and you having the fruit and juice before your chemo treatment, the cancer vacuums up the sugars and the chemo along with it as the cancer is not paying as much attention because it is hungry. So, more chemo than would otherwise ends up inside the cancer cells. This is positive for two different reasons; 1) obviously, the more chemo in the cancer cells the better but 2) this means there is less free floating chemo affecting your healthy cells, so you suffer less side effects. (They don't disappear but they can be reduced.)

Supplements etc: You will find all kinds of information all over the internet telling you that this or that vitamin cured cancer, or this superfood or that very expensive herb from the Amazonian rainforest because the tribe in that area has never had cancer, etc, etc. Most of this is complete tosh. But it is very easy for frightened people to jump on this kind of thing because anything that helps right? Well, yes and no. There are things that can help but they have to be the right things. I advise very few supplements etc when people are going through cancer treatment. But what I do advise is a liquid multivitamin because so much more nutrition than what can be derived from food is required when going through cancer treatment. (You are being actively poisoned after all.) Even if you ate for 8 hours every day there still wouldn't be enough nutrition getting in. And specifically liquid multivitamin due to the absorbency issue, fluids are removed from the digestive system very early on in the process so you get more of the contents compared to taking a multivitamin tablet as these are digested much further along the alimentary canal. Omega-3 (capsules or liquid) I think is very important for everybody all the time but that importance is increased a hundredfold when going through cancer treatment. Cancer is now considered to be an inflammatory condition, cancer treatment is very definitely inflammatory and omega-3 is very good for reducing inappropriate inflammation. Which can have a massive effect on how you feel throughout the treatments mentally too. Turmeric is another really, really good thing to take. Increasing your intake through food should be something everyone does regardless and there is a post on my Facebook page and a blog post about making something called healthy fudge which has a lot of turmeric in it along with some other spices, which is a good way to take it. But when going through cancer treatment that need is increased exponentially. Turmeric is amazing, there is so much research available now and a lot of it is free access. One of the things I find most interesting about turmeric is that it is specific for nerve inflammation. This means that it is indicated for ME, (amongst many, many other health conditions,) anyway, before I go off on a tangent, because cancer is an inflammatory condition and turmeric is brilliant for modulating the inflammatory response, this is a very good thing to take. I am a bit mean I must admit, although I start low at 1/2 tsp a day I do increase the amount my patients take up to 3 tblsp powder per day. Evening Primrose Oil (EPO)/Starflower Oil is the other supplement I recommend. Mostly for (but not limited to) women because it can really help with hormone balancing and it is very good for skin too. Periods often get disrupted with cancer treatment and skin can really suffer, so this helps with both. (Also, I don't subscribe to the opinion that any oestrogen is a terrible thing if you have a hormone positive cancer. The rest of your body does exist and needs to function as best as it possibly can precisely because you have cancer, it annoys me that once people get diagnosed they get treated like everything they do can only effect the cancer and the rest of the body is completely ignored.)

Diet: I have noticed that different people get told different things about this and those things can vary massively. Just to let you know DIET IS VERY IMPORTANT. As much as you possibly can:

  • Remove processed foods
  • Remove all wheat
  • Remove all dairy
  • Remove all foods high in carbohydrates
  • Reduce meat intake and remove all red meat
  • Reduce alcohol
  • Increase fruit and vegetable intake
  • Increase protein intake from non-meat sources (beans and pulses, lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, eggs, rice)
  • Drink lots of water and herbal teas
  • Any meat or milk should be organic as much as possible
  • Have at least one smoothie a day consisting of whatever fruit and vegetables you have on hand

Realistically this is actually a lifestyle change. I can't prove it but I do think that a contributory factor in sometimes the cancer coming back is because as soon as people are cleared they go back to their high stress, poor sleep, not as good as it could be diet, lives they had previous to the diagnosis. Which was a massive factor in them getting cancer in the first place. I am not saying that if you change your lifestyle you will never get cancer again (or in the first place) but it will reduce your chances.

But, at the same time as trying to stick to the list above, and this is also really important, if you can only eat one thing, eat that one thing. Eating is more important than not eating something just because it is 'bad'. Smoothies are brilliant for this because they are really easy on your system and are packed full of nutrients.They are usually pretty varied too as they will consist of whatever you have on hand.

Diet can also be helpful with reducing symptoms too with things such as ginger for nausea (works just as well for nausea in general rather an pregnancy specific) garlic is really good, especially as antibiotics can be given on an almost prophylactic basis while going through cancer treatment due to the immune system can sometimes be severely compromised. Taking garlic at the onset of something can sometimes stop it before it starts. If you are prone to picking up bugs then elderberry can be helpful, especially if you combine it with garlic. If your skin breaks out or is irritated and itchy then putting some porridge oats in a sock or the foot of a pair of tights and putting that in the bath can really help. So can putting a few drops of lavender or peppermint essential oils on the oats before putting them in the bath. Sage can help with the hot flushes and night sweats, rosemary can help with 'cancer brain', chamomile can help with both nausea and acid indigestion.

Herbal treatment, especially in conjunction with cancer treatment can be really helpful. Also, an herbalist can support you after the treatment to get back to normal quicker and help with any of the long term effects the treatment can leave you with. There are lots of lovely herbalists about, you can find your nearest in the registries of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy (CPP) and Association of Master Herbalists (AMH) as well as many who may just advertise locally. I am also available to take on new patients should you wish to book in with me.