Naturopathic treatments are popular with patients as a gentle form of medicine – especially for cancer patients. Dr. Marion Paul is one of the two chief physicians at the Vivantes Breast Center and explains to us in an interview which naturopathic procedures are beneficial in cancer therapy.
Dr. Paul, what do we actually mean by naturopathy or naturopathic procedures?
Naturopathy is understood to mean various natural healing methods that use natural remedies to stimulate the body's self-healing powers. Naturopathy uses everything that acts on the body in a natural way, including exercise, yoga, relaxation techniques such as autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness exercises. In addition, medicinal plants are used, including in the form of essential oils. These methods often have a centuries-old tradition and their effectiveness has been scientifically proven in some cases.
To what extent are natural healing methods useful in the context of cancer therapy?
There are mainly three areas in which we use naturopathic treatments as a supportive measure: To improve the quality of life, to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy or anti-hormonal therapy, and for prevention after cancer.
Why are so many patients interested in naturopathic procedures?
Naturopathy offers our patients the opportunity to become active themselves and not just "let the therapy pass". Cancer patients in particular of course want to leave no stone unturned. Over 90 percent of breast cancer patients also use naturopathic methods.
How can you imagine the effect of naturopathic methods in concrete terms?
At our Breast Center, patients are given lavender compresses the night before surgery, for example; this calms them down and promotes a good night's sleep.
During chemotherapy, we offer relaxation methods such as autogenic training, meditation or mindfulness exercises. Since the oral mucosa and gums are affected by chemotherapy, we instruct our patients in Ayurvedic oil pulling. Exercise in the fresh air, yoga or other sports prevent or weaken chronic fatigue. To preserve the hair we offer a cooling cap. The cold causes the vessels on the scalp to contract, protecting the hair root and preserving most of the hair. These are all methods with the help of which we can reduce the side effects of the treatment and increase the quality of life.
Can cancer be treated by naturopathic methods?
Naturopathy cannot replace effective standard procedures, such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, but it can successfully complement them. Mistletoe therapy, for example, is very widespread in Germany. Many patients report a significantly improved quality of life. A small study from Serbia has even shown a prolonged overall survival. What studies clearly show is the positive preventive effect of regular exercise. It significantly reduces the likelihood of developing breast cancer again.
Does nutrition also play a role?
Absolutely! A healthy, natural and varied diet is definitely beneficial. Nutritional supplements also play a role, but that always depends on the individual case. Our Breast Center is currently working with Professor Michaelsen from the Department of Naturopathy at Immanuel Hospital on a study to find out to what extent a vegan diet or short-term fasting can help reduce the side effects of chemotherapy or even help shrink the tumor.
Are there also harmful side effects or interactions from natural therapies?
Yes, certain substances can weaken or enhance the effects of medications. For example, taking grapefruit juice or St. John's wort can cause some chemotherapy drugs to be deplented more slowly, resulting in too high a concentration of the active ingredient in the blood. Therefore, it is important that patients do not use such procedures on their own, but discuss everything with their doctor. To achieve a beneficial effect, all elements of the therapy must be well coordinated.
How can patients distinguish between reputable and dubious providers of naturopathic procedures?
There are now more and more scientifically proven procedures, also in naturopathy. We discuss with all patients individually how promising a certain method is in their case. Criteria for dubious therapies are often very high costs, that they are advertised as "miracle cures", promise complete healing and are offered as an alternative and not as a supplement to conventional therapy. This is because the procedures cannot replace medical oncological treatment. I would advise every patient to always consult with the treating physician/doctor.