Topical Melatonin cream for breast radiation dermatitis

Many women who have breast-conserving surgery for breast cancer go on to have radiation treatment. One of the most common side effects of this radiation is dermatitis, causing pain, itchiness, discomfort, and blisters. A study has found that topical melatonin may prevent and reduce the severity of this dermatitis.

The goal of radiation after breast cancer surgery is to reduce the rate of local recurrence, as well as reducing the risk of death from breast cancer. But radiation dermatitis can have serious effects on quality of life and treatment compliance. Thus finding an effective treatment is important in cancer care.

One such treatment being investigated is the use of melatonin as an emulsion in a topical cream. I’ve written several blog posts about melatonin before and it’s impact on circadian rhythm, anti-cancer effects, digestive effects and more. But using it topically applied to the skin is a more recent development.

Animal and in vitro studies have shown that melatonin reduces the oxidative damage caused by radiation. And now we have a study that shows its impact in women.

Study Design

The study looked at 47 female breast cancer patients with a median age of 55 who had early stage breast cancer, stages 0-2.

The women were randomized into two groups. The melatonin group received melatonin as an emulsion in a cream, applied to the breast. The other group received a placebo cream with the same constituents as the test group, just no melatonin.

For all women, the cream was applied twice daily over the treated breast, but not within 2 hours prior to radiation.

Both groups received whole breast radiation, 5 days a week for 5 weeks.

Statistically significant results

image of skin cream from CALMERme.com

Those who were treated with melatonin had less dermatitis than the placebo group – 59% occurrence in the melatonin group compared to 90% in the placebo group

 

image of skin cream from CALMERme.com

The severity of dermatitis was less in the melatonin group compared to the placebo group

Conclusions

While the study is relatively small, the results tie in with the in vitro and animal studies and show promise for a hard-to-treat side effect that can have a considerable impact on women.

Further applications

Other studies have investigated the protective effects of melatonin on the inflammatory effects of radiation. They have shown positive effects using melatonin in REDUCING:

  • mucositis after gastrointestinal radiation;
  • radiation associated pneumonitis after chest area radiation;
  • enteritis associated with abdominal and pelvic radiation; and
  • radiation myelopathy after spinal cord radiotherapy.

Take home message

Yes, the study summarized here was only small. But along with the evidence for other protective effects against radiation side effects, this use of melatonin warrants further examination. Indeed, melatonin creams are currently readily available and are being used successfully by practitioners. However, caution is necessary regarding the timing of application in relation to radiation treatment. Talk to your healthcare practitioner if you are want to explore this further.

Melatonin for prevention of Breast Radiation Dermatitis: A Phase II, Prospective, Double-Blind Randomized Trial. Ben-David MA, et al. IMAJ.2016;18:188-192

 Ruth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Cancer Patients: The Effects of Light and Dark on Physiology

Changes in our physiology during light and dark | Is artificial light disrupting our rhythm?Let’s look today at what effects changes in light and dark cycle (our circadian rhythm) have on our body. Is messing with this natural cycle affecting our health?
Our physiology is organized to change with time. The daily changes that happen are very important for our health and wellness. For example, we need rest and sleep in order to heal and restore.

Light and absence of light, detected by the eye, is the major cue used by the body to discriminate day from night and to create our circadian rhythm. If this rhythm is disrupted, many parts of our physiology can be affected.

Take a look at the infographic below which shows some of the physiological factors that vary from the light of day to the dark of night.

From the above, we can see that many different systems in our bodies have a rhythm. This temporal organization of our physiology is critical for our health.
Disruption of our circadian rhythm has been linked to many disease processes, including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disease, intestinal dysbiosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer.

In the past, we had predictable periods of daily light and dark, driven by the sun rising and setting. These set our circadian rhythms. When it was daylight, the physiology on the left-hand side of the infographic applied and when it was dark, that on the right-hand side applied.

The electric light bulb
But then the electric light bulb was invented.  This has significantly impacted our light and dark cycle, drastically reducing the dark part.  The part when our body is healing.
Our boundaries of light and dark are now blurred. The sun goes down and we turn on the lights. Instead of natural light-dark cycles, we now use lights to illuminate us for 4 or more extra hours. Our biological processes are consequently not as synchronized as they used to be. This means hormones, gene expression, immune function, mood, metabolism, our gut microbiota may all be affected.

Light:dark time importance
Light and dark are the key. It’s not just asleep and awake. It is those triggers that shift us from one stage to the other and having a rhythm that the body can be entrained towards.  Our nighttime physiology is our dark physiology not just sleep physiology. The dark transitions us. Things begin to change as the light disappears.

Time to go back to the light of fires and candles? 
Obviously, we don’t want to give up the convenience of our electric lights and stop using light emitting electronic devices like televisions, computers, iPhones etc at night. None of this huddling around the fire or candles to read our paper. But if this light is affecting our health is there something we can do? I’ll explore some options next week.
In the meantime, pay attention to how many hours you use lights in the house after it is dark outside. How bright are your lights at home? How close to bedtime do you watch TV or use computer/phone screens? If you get up in the night to go to the bathroom, do you switch the light on?
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Sleep tight.

 Ruth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

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Photo source: Imgur.com

 

Health Benefits Of Giving A Laughter Box

A Laughter Box | The perfect gift for someone who is ill

Today, I want to focus on just one gift that is a lovely idea for someone who is ill. Whether it is a family member or friend, whether they have cancer or some other chronic illness, or maybe it’s someone who finds the holidays especially hard, why not consider putting together a laughter box for them…  

So what is a laughter box?

A laughter box is a bit like a toy box. You find a ‘happy’ looking box of any size, and basically you fill it up with things that are fun and amusing and make you laugh. The idea is that you then give it to someone and when they are having a bad day or going for treatment, they can dip into the box and chose something that will lift their spirits.

Laughter is the best medicine

We’ve all heard the phrase that laughter is the best medicine – but is there really any  truth to it? Yes, it turns out that studies have shown the following health benefits of laughing:

  • Physical benefits of laughter
    • Boosts immunity
    • Lowers stress hormones
    • Decreases pain by triggering the release of endorphins
    • Relaxes your muscles
    • Enhances oxygen uptake
    • Stimulates heart and lungs
    • Balances blood pressure
  • Social benefits of laughter
    • Strengthens relationships
    • Attracts others to us
    • Enhances teamwork
    • Helps diffuse conflict
    • Promotes group bonding
  • Mental benefits of laughter
    • Adds joy and zest to life
    • Eases anxiety and fear
    • Relieves stress and tension
    • Improves mood
    • Enhances resilience
    • Improves sense of wellbeing
    • Improves sleep and relaxation

Looks like it’s something we should all be making time for! We all need a prescription for laughter.

Laughter box contents

What you put in the laughter box is totally up to you – and depends on what makes you laugh and what you think will make the recipient laugh. Here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Books.
  • DVDs/movies – see my previous blog post on the benefits of movies.
  • Photos of you both having fun/laughing. Put it in a nice frame for them to display.
  • Magazines.
  • Cut out cartoons from newspapers that make you giggle.
  • Mementos of happy times – these can be little folded notes where you write about a memory, or something you held onto that reminds you of a certain day or activity.
  • Your (or their) favorite bar of chocolate/snack.
  • A voucher/ticket to a fun activity/event you can both go to together.
  • A morning at a laughter yoga class together. (Yes, there really is such a thing.)
  • A silly toy or gift.
  • Your favorite jokes.

The box is never done – you can keep adding things to it, once you’ve given it to your friend.

Other ideas

The laughter box often works well when you do it with a group of friends. For example, if you are all friends with someone going through cancer treatment over the holiday period, you could each put in a few items. Your friend will feel the love and laughter from you all. And if they are home and not feeling like doing much, they can dip in the box and find a cartoon that brings a chuckle, or watch a silly movie and laugh.

The laughter box gift idea works at any time of the year. Laughter is good year round!

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

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Protein Powder Ideas For Lunch & Dinner During Cancer Treatment

Here are some protein powder ideas for lunch and dinner, following on from last week ‘s suggestions for breakfast. It doesn’t just have to be a shake or smoothie.

As I discussed in Beyond Smoothie 1 – Protein powder for breakfasts, there are times when we need to use protein powder in our diets due to difficulties with eating or getting adequate nourishment during cancer treatments. But it can get monotonous and boring to just have smoothies or shakes. And sometimes we want something warming and more comforting rather than a cold drink. But there are other ways to use the powder.

Protein benefits on blood glucose levels
Remember that adding protein to a high carbohydrate meal/food can also help with blood glucose levels. For example, with the mashed potato idea shown below, the protein powder addition may well reduce glucose levels after eating it. Similarly for baked goods. Instead of just having flour and fat – add some protein. Protein powder can really help in balancing blood sugar.

So here are some suggestions on how to use powders in other ways that can be part of lunch or dinner.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

5 Ways To Support Our Bodies For Self Healing

Healthy self = Heal thy self | Supporting our bodies for self-healing
Our bodies are designed to heal themselves. They have many self-healing capacities, so let’s look at how we can support these to reveal our healthy self. Healthy self = Heal thy self!

Imagine cutting your finger

Here’s a scenario to consider. You are chopping some food, and you cut your finger. If you take care of it, cleaning it immediately and keeping it clean after the bleeding stops, the cut will heal itself in a few days. If it’s really bad, you might need some additional support like stitches, but it will still heal and will just take a little longer.

If you don’t support that healing, you’ll get into trouble. For example, if you rub dirt into that fresh-cut instead of cleaning it, the healing will be delayed. We need to support the body, and then its natural healing capacity can work.

But what if you cut that same finger every day? That constant damage and injury will mean that your body can’t heal itself. It will try, but that constant insult will prohibit healing.

1. Diet as a repeated injury
The same applies to chronic illnesses, rather than physical injuries. Just like the scenario of cutting your finger every day and it not being able to heal, if we “injure” our body every day by the way we eat and live, then we aren’t giving the body the support it needs to heal itself.

A diet without adequate nutrients is damaging to our whole body every day. Every day that we don’t eat well or sleep well, we are depleting our bodies. We aren’t providing an environment in which our body can heal itself.

Consider eating food that is inflammatory to you every day. It’s just like cutting your finger every day – more damage is occurring, and there is no chance for healing. And this damage relates to much more than just inflammation in our digestive system. If we aren’t getting the nutrients we need every day, this can affect all of the biochemical reactions going on in our bodies. Those nutrients – and the lack of them – affect all the systems of our bodies.

Eating a diet that is lacking nutrients is like injuring yourself every day. Instead, we need to support the body.

2. Medications as a ‘band-aid’
We might be tempted to try some medications to cover up the symptoms of an illness and make us feel better, at least temporarily, but frequently they don’t support self-healing because they have side effects too.

Let’s say that you have the symptoms of a cold – a slightly high temperature, and just not feeling great. So you reach for Tylenol or Aspirin every few hours. By reducing your temperature, the medication might make you feel better for a short while. However, the medicine has also interfered with the natural healing process, because your body was using that high temperature as a means to get rid of the virus. What might have been better would have been to relax, drink plenty of fluids, take a warm Epsom salts bath, and have an early night.

3. Active, not passive
Taking medications or over-the-counter pills requires very little effort on our part – we are quite passive – just popping our pills. But as the title of this blog post says, for a healthy self, we need to heal ourselves. That is an active process. We need to feel empowered to provide a favorable environment for the body. That means DESS – diet, exercise, sleep, and stress reduction, along with love, good relationships, and spirituality. When we put these things in place, then we are no longer cutting our finger every day, and the body can start to heal.

4. Inflammation is the language of discontent with our environment
We know that most chronic illnesses have inflammation at the root of them. This inflammation in our bodies – wherever it might appear – is the body trying to tell us that our environment is not conducive to self healing. It’s like a warning light coming on in our car. If that warning light comes on, we take the car to the garage to get it checked. When we have inflammation or symptoms somewhere in our body, how often do we either do nothing or just pop a pill? What we should do instead is…think that we aren’t providing what the body needs to heal. Think that there is something wrong with our environment. Think about what our body and our environment need instead of what we are providing…

Sometimes, it might be necessary to work with someone to figure this out. It might be that you need some tests to determine that, for example, you are deficient in Vitamin A, or that your hormones are out of balance. A natural health care provider (such as a nutritionist, lifestyle medicine practitioner, naturopath) might be able to help you find out what is out of balance in your environment. Is too much stress making those hormones out of balance? Is a polymorphism creating that vitamin A deficiency? They can then educate you in what seems to be going on. That knowledge can be very empowering.

5. Be empowered
When you understand the workings of the body, and what might be lacking in the body’s environment, then you can make changes and see improvement. Then you are ready to heal thy self. You take an active role and work to rebalance your hormones or eat foods containing vitamin A.

So if you are ill, take some time to look at what might be out of balance in your environment. Is something lacking, is something in excess? It could be nutrition, sleep, stress, difficult relationships – these can all prevent our body from healing itself. We need that good environment. Nurture yourself and be at least as good to your body as you are to your car when its engine light comes on! Take action. Don’t be passive. Let the body do what it is designed to do – heal itself.

Of course, I’m not suggesting we should never use pharmaceuticals. In some instances, especially acute illnesses, they are very important. Yet even if we do use pharmaceuticals, we should still check to see if they deplete the body of certain nutrients/vitamins/minerals, and continue to work to support our self-healing.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Tests To Help With Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions

When you’ve just received a diagnosis of breast cancer, you are faced with many different treatment options. Your mind is in a whirl with fear, confusion, and disbelief. While none of these feelings help decision making, there are some tests that can help: Oncotype DX and Mammaprint. 

These tests are genomic tests that analyze the activity of specific genes in the breast tumor. They can help you determine if your risk of breast cancer coming back is high or low, which can help you in making a decision about whether to have chemotherapy, radiation, or other therapies to reduce risk after surgery.

There are two main types of tests – Oncotype DX and Mammaprint.

Oncotype Dx has two tests for breast cancer – one for Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS) – Oncotype DX DCIS and one for invasive breast cancer – Oncotype DX.  Mammaprint has one test for invasive breast cancer. Let’s look at these in greater detail.

What are genomic tests?

Genomic tests look at specific genes in your individual tumor and try to determine what is driving its growth. This is different from genetic tests which look at your inherited risk or predisposition for cancer. Genomic tests provide information that can help tailor your treatment plan to you as an individual. They are a type of personalized medicine. This is really important, because not all breast cancers are the same and, in fact, some breast cancers might have more in common with a prostate cancer than they do with another type of breast cancer. One size treatment definitely does not fit all.

Oncotype DX DCIS

Image showing the incidence of DCIS from blog on CALMERme.comThis test is only for people diagnosed with DCIS or, as it is often called, “stage zero” breast cancer. In addition to general information such as tumor size, margins, and grade, Oncotype DX DCIS helps determine the likelihood of DCIS recurring or invasive breast cancer occurring within the next 10 years.

It examines a sample of the tumor tissue that has already been removed during the lumpectomy for DCIS. By looking at the expression of 21 different genes in the tumor, it provides a DCIS score of between 0-100. The lower the score, the lower the risk of recurrence. Two scores are given, one to determine the risk of recurrence of DCIS and another for the risk of occurrence of an invasive breast cancer.

Knowing the DCIS score can help you decide whether to have radiation treatment  following the lumpectomy. If your risk of recurrence is low, then maybe you can spare yourself further treatment and the possible side effects that go with it.

To be eligible for Oncotype DX DCIS, you need to have recently been diagnosed with DCIS and had lumpectomy surgery. The decision should be made in discussion with your doctor/oncologist.

In the US, insurance might cover the cost of this test; the testing company will help you determine if this is the case and provide information to your insurers, as necessary. In the UK, these tests can be conducted under the NHS or privately.

Many oncologists are now familiar with these tests for invasive breast cancer; sadly, the Oncotype DX DCIS test does not appear to be known by all oncologists, so it’s good for you to be proactive and start the discussion. Here is a link to the validation work done on the test that you can forward to your oncologist, and further links are given at the bottom of this post:

Clinical validation of oncotype DX DCIS

I definitely think it is worth having a discussion with your oncologist, sharing the references as necessary, and if you don’t get anywhere with the oncologist, talk to your family doctor or surgeon.

Oncotype DX and Mammaprint

Both Oncotype DX and Mammaprint are genomic tests suitable for early stage invasive breast cancer. They both predict the benefit of chemotherapy or other types of treatment, as well as the likelihood of 10 year recurrence.

They are similar tests but have some differences, as outlined below:

Comparison of oncotype DX and mammaprint for invasive breast cancer

Looking at this table can help determine if you are eligible for either of these tests.

As with Oncotype DX DCIS, some insurance companies in the US will pay for these tests whereas some don’t include them in coverage. Both testing companies offer financial assistance or guidance, so it’s worth calling them to discuss if you are interested and want to check coverage. In the UK, these tests can be conducted under the NHS or privately.

These tests are important because some of the cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, can have many side effects and are hard to get through. If there is little to no benefit in these treatments for you as an individual, then these genomic tests give you the confidence to not have a treatment that has greater potential for risk than for benefit.

Obviously the decision of further treatment is based on more than just these results. It involves detailed discussion with your oncologist, but also personal consideration of what you want and how you feel. Remember, you can take your time over treatment decisions. You might feel rushed, but take adequate time until you feel comfortable that you are making the right personal decision. These tests can go a long way in giving you confidence in your decision, but it is still a personal choice that needs to be right for you as an individual based on your mind and spirit, as well as your body.

Here are links to each of these three tests for more information

Patient information on Oncotype DX DCIS

Oncologist information on Oncotype DX DCIS

Patient information on Oncotype DX

Oncologist information on Oncotype DX

Patient information on Mammaprint

Oncologist information on Mammaprint

Let me know if you’ve had any of these tests and how they helped you.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

How to Make Stevia Extract to Reduce Your Sugar Intake

how-to-make-stevia-extractI’ve shied away from stevia in the past, because I hate its aftertaste. But, if you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, it is probably your best option of sweetener to use. So how can we make it more palatable? Today I’ll show you how to make your own stevia extract that doesn’t have a horrid aftertaste.

Years ago, I went to a cooking class on gluten-free and sugar-free baking. It was the worst cooking class I have ever attended – for various reasons! It was a demonstration, and the foods that were prepared were very high in refined carbohydrates (albeit gluten free ones) and fats. But no sugar – they used stevia instead. When we got to taste the dishes – I hated them all! I think that was the first time I had ever had stevia – and that aftertaste just wouldn’t go away.

But today, after some investigation, I am a little more tolerant of stevia. You can reduce or avoid its aftertaste,which makes stevia a good option to help you transition to avoiding sugar and other artificial sweeteners.

Stevia comes from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, and is usually found as a powder or a liquid extract. The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycoside – which has 150 times the sweetness of sugar. Stevia does not affect blood glucose levels, and some studies show it may help improve insulin sensitivity.

What I have found is that the bitter aftertaste is apparent when too high a concentration of stevia is used. Even though recipes with stevia call for just a few drops – if the extract or powder is really concentrated, that can still be too much. So taking it easy is the way to go.

To make stevia powder, collect stevia leaves and dry them, then finely chop them in a blender. The dried leaf powder can be used as is, in certain recipes – but they won’t dissolve, so don’t try them in your coffee!

There are many different ways to prepare an extract, with variables including:

  • using fresh leaves or dried leaves

    I use fresh leaves that I grow myself. They are easy to grow, and the plant regrows every year. The ideal time to harvest the leaves is around August – when the flowers start to appear but before the flowers start dying. If you leave it too late, you are more likely to get bitterness. If you can’t get fresh leaves, you can buy the dried leaves and use them instead.

  • with alcohol or  without alcohol

    I use alcohol – vodka – for my extract, because it extracts the sweetness well, and quickly. Any recipe calls for only a few drops of extract, which means there is negligible alcohol in the final product.

  • duration of the extraction time

    I extract for a relatively short period because, again, I find that the sweetness comes through quickly, and there is more likely to be an aftertaste if you leave the leaves in the alcohol for a longer period.

  • concentrating the extract by heating

    I choose not to heat the extract and reduce it as I don’t want it to be highly concentrated. By leaving the extract as it is, the amount you put into a recipe is more controllable. Yes, maybe I’ll use 6 drops instead of 2, but I can taste it as I go along and adjust the sweetness to how I want it.

Obviously, you can adjust these to your own taste. Here’s the recipe. I hope you’ll give it a try. If you live near me and want some leaves – just let me know.H

Homemade stevia extract:

Ingredients

  • Fresh stevia leaves
  • Unflavored vodka
  • (you can vary the amount as you wish – for proportions, see the recipe).

Instructions

  1. Wash the stevia leaves
  2. Roughly tear the leaves into a couple of pieces and place them in a clean jar. I filled the jar with leaves – but they weren’t compressed down.
  3. Add enough vodka to cover the leaves. For my jar, this was about half full as the liquid compresses the leaves.
  4. Seal and shake the jar.
  5. Leave for 8-12 hours. Taste the liquid to see if it is sweet enough.
  6. Strain the liquid into a bottle and discard the leaves.
  7. Keep the bottle in the dark, or use a brown colored bottle. Having a dropper helps, as only a few drop are needed to sweeten foods.
Recipe Type: Sugar-free, gluten free, vegan, paleo, sugar substitute

Notes:

If you prefer a more concentrated extract, you can gently simmer the extract to boil off some of the alcohol.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Learn How Breast Cancer Patients Benefit From Forest Bathing

forest-bathing-for-breast-cancer-patients

Try forest bathing to support your immune system

In 1982, the Forest Agency of Japan first proposed that ‘forest bathing,’ was good for your health. No, forest bathing is not dragging a bathtub into the woods and having a soak – although that does sound good! Rather it is visiting a forest or wood for relaxation, and gentle recreation, and breathing in the volatile substances from the trees. When did you last forest bathe?

Since 1982, forest bathing (aka ‘forest therapy’ and ‘Shinrin yoku’) has become a cornerstone of preventive health and healing in Japanese medicine. Many research studies, mainly from Japan and South Korea, have looked at how forest bathing creates positive effects. One of the key benefits is that it is seen to improve our immune function by increasing the number and activity of natural killer cells.

Natural Killer Cells

Natural killer (NK) cells are a type of white blood cells that provide a rapid response to viral-infected cells and cancer cells. These immune cells don’t rely on antibodies so are able to produce a much faster immune reaction than other immune cells. They have a tumor immunosurveillance role, directly killing tumor cells. Take a look at this brief video which shows you how they work:

Natural killer cells are therefore of prime importance to destroying cancer cells in our body. Thus we can see that using lifestyle approaches like forest bathing to improve our natural killer cell activity can help in both prevention of cancer – by killing those rogue tumor cells formed everyday – and in the prevention of metastasis of tumors.

Phytoncides

One of the factors that has been identified as causing these immune improvements is our breathing-in of phytoncides – the natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, such as a-pinen and limonene. The levels of phytoncide in the air seem to correlate with the improvements in immune functioning. If we look back in history, these health effects were recognized then; in the 1800s, many tuberculosis clinics were set up in pine forests. Patients’ outcomes were reported as them having a “forest cure.”

Health benefits of Forest Bathing

In addition to the benefits of increased NK cells and their activity, bathing ourselves in the forest environment has been shown to also:

  • reduce blood pressure
  • reduce stress
  • improve mood
  • increase energy
  • improve sleep
  • support deeper and clearer intuition
  • decrease adrenaline levels
  • reduce pain
  • ease mental fatigue

Image of the concept of forest bathing – immersing in the forest environment for immune support, from CALMERme.com

Incorporating forest bathing into your life

Trees, sunshine, grass, and wildlife all too frequently take a backseat in our busy city or urban lives.

Think back to the last time you were surrounded by nature – maybe a walk when you noticed the fresh, vibrant green of a new leaf, or an insect, or the color of the bark of a tree, or saw a rabbit hop past. These moments of discovery and fascination are spontaneous and effortless kinds of attention, not like the attention we have to use at work or during most of our day. As we follow our curiosity from the leaf to a flower to a butterfly, we relax in an exploration of nature which gives our attention-driven brain a break. The sounds of nature are also important, for example, the calming sound of water helps to balance our hormones. Forest bathing doesn’t involve going for a strenuous hike in the woods; rather, it has a gentleness and awareness to it – a sensory experience.

So consider giving yourself a break, and find some time this week to be in nature. Let that effortless attention and fascination take over. And if you aren’t up for that, try bringing some nature indoors to you – open the windows, look at the trees, listen to the sound of a waterfall on your computer, put a nature screensaver on your computer screen, watch a nature DVD…. Yes, even looking at a scene of a forest has been found to reduce cortisol levels (stress hormone) 13% compared to looking at an urban scene.

Resources

For more information on forest bathing, take a look at this Shinrin-yoku website and the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy. Many of the research studies are shown on the Association website too. These resources also include information about guides, local walks, and training to become a forest therapist. The walks are short in distance and focus on breathing, relaxing, listening, healing, wandering, and touch.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

Should Cancer Patients Avoid Sugar?

Sugar, Sweeteners and Breast CancerA common question many cancer patients have is whether or not to avoid sugar …so let’s look at the results of an interesting study and see what it suggests.

A natural cancer clinic in Arizona conducted the study. The clinic treats all types of cancer and all stages of cancer, using naturopathic, holistic, and alternative treatments. The clinic conducted a  7-year interventional study of 317 of their patients, all treated at one clinic. Although the patients received different treatments for different durations, based on their individual needs, they were all given just one dietary guideline to follow.

Dietary Advice

The recommendation to all patients in the trial was to avoid consuming sweetened foods. “Sweetened foods” included foods that contain:

  • sugar
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • alcohol
  • sugar alcohols
  • plant nectars

The recommendation included the avoidance of fruit juice, and to limit other refined carbohydrates, specifically flour products. If a participant wanted to use a sweetener, the use of stevia was encouraged.

A wide variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, eggs, dairy, and other animal products was encouraged. Patients were free to continue following any specific diets they were currently on, such as vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, avoiding grains, etc. The single dietary focus was avoidance of sweeteners. Patients were told they could eat anything they like, but avoidance of sweeteners was urged.

The authors’ conclusion was that NOT consuming sweetened foods made a significant difference in patient outcome across all stages and types of cancer in their clinic, by reducing mortality and improving remission rates.

Take Home Message

So yes, this is only one study. And there are a large number of variables. However, considering the potential risk:benefit ratio, it would seem prudent for cancer patients to avoid sugar and sweeteners.

Note that this study focused on sugar/sweeteners and did not ask the participants to exclude fruit from the diet. The information on many websites is confusing on the subject of sugar and cancer, which can result in cancer patients eliminating ALL foods that contain sugar – even beneficial foods such as fruits that contain essential nutrients.

In summary, avoiding foods made with added sugar or sweeteners seems to be a good idea; however, this evidence does not extend to include the need to avoid fruit.

Ruth BaillieRuth Baillie is originally from the UK and now lives most of the year in Northern California. She holds two Master’s degrees, one in Personalized Nutrition (distinction), and another in Health Psychology. She is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Certified Professional Cancer Coach, and Cancer Guide, and has undertaken considerable post-graduate studies in integrative naturopathic oncology. She is the author of “Choices in mind-body medicine for cancer patients in Sonoma County, California” and her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals.

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