In the past few years, cancer has become one of the most commonly diagnosed diseases. A little more than 1 in 3 people are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. There are a few different treatment options for treating the disease, and the most common are chemotherapy and surgery. In most cases, the combination of the two or either one saves the patient's life as the cancerous growth is kept under control. However, all forms of cancer treatment have side effects that may last a lifetime, making the lives of recovering patients difficult. Limited studies suggest that certain natural remedies and herbs can help cope with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Here we will discuss one such herb- Astragalus Membranaceus.
Side effects of cancer treatments:
Before discussing the herb, let us briefly look at some of the common cancer treatment side-effects. Chemotherapy, with the help of powerful anti-cancer drugs, kills fast-growing cells to control cancerous growth and the spread of the disease. However, in the process, the drugs also affect healthy cells, as well. The nondiscriminating cell-killings causes side effects in cancer patients.
Here are some of the common side effects of cancer treatment:
- Weakened immune system
Chemotherapy affects the healthy immune cells along with the cancerous ones. As such, the immune system of the patient is weakened, and they are vulnerable to infections that last longer than usual. With sufficient dietary restrictions and hygienic practices, patients can prevent getting any infections.
- Can bruise and bleed easily
Many patients undergoing chemotherapy are easily bruised and can bleed profusely at the smallest of wounds. Necessary precautions need to be taken to avoid accidents like wearing gloves and handling tools carefully.
- Hair loss
Due to the powerful drugs used in chemotherapy, hair follicles may be damaged, causing brittle hair that falls. Any hair growth during the treatment will be thinner and of a different color. However, regrowth is observed once the treatment is over.
- Nausea and vomiting
Nausea is common in patients undergoing chemotherapy either soon after a treatment session or at random. Dietary changes and anti-nausea drugs or herbs can help control vomiting, especially after chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy tends to damage some nerves, causing nerve pain or neuropathy. The most commonly affected areas are hands and feet with tingling and numbness.
- Breathing problems
Some types of cancer affect the lungs and cause breathing troubles in patients. Chemotherapy can also damage the lungs causing respiratory problems. Techniques like breathing deeply and remaining calm can help with breathing.
- Difficulties with digestion
Cancer treatment requires changes in diet, which can cause issues with digestion. Additionally, chemotherapy can damage certain cells that help with digestion. Both can cause constipation and diarrhea in cancer patients. Avoiding foods that irritate the bowel along with adequate hydration can help cope with the problems.
Fatigue is common in most cancer patients. Day to day activities may seem too much for people undergoing cancer treatment. The disease itself can cause anemia when it affects the bone marrow and the production of red blood cells (RBCs). Alternatively, cancer treatments bring in toxins in the body and kill healthy cells while changing the normal protein and hormonal levels, making patients fatigued. Taking up a lesser workload and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help alleviate some of the fatigue.
How does astragalus help?
Astragalus (Huang Qi in Chinese) is a herb that has been used in Chinese medicine for years. It has multiple benefits and is often used in conjunction with herbal supplements in the form of pills or powder. Some of its health benefits include boosting the immune system and possibly alleviating the side effects of chemotherapy. While extensive studies are required to conclude, the herb is believed to help cope with the side effects of cancer treatment, and here is how:
- Boosts immune response
Cancer patients develop a weakened immune system that makes them susceptible to infections. Laboratory studies of astragalus indicate an increase in immune response due to the herb. Studies on animals have shown that the herb can reverse immunosuppression caused by cyclophosphamide. Astragalus can, therefore, help patients fight and prevent infections that a weak immune system can cause. However, further studies are in need to confirm the same.
- Reduces nausea and vomiting
Limited studies with the herb show that astragalus has improved the quality of life of cancer patients by reducing common chemotherapy side effects like nausea and vomiting. The study observed colon cancer patients who took the herb along with chemotherapy and those who didn't. The results show the former to have experienced less nausea and vomiting.
- Helps with cancer-related fatigue
A study conducted on cancer treatment of 20 breast cancer patients used a herbal supplement, containing astragalus and other Chinese herbs, in conjunction with chemotherapy. The results indicated over 70% of women experiencing little to no fatigue or weakness after treatment. However, extensive studies on the herb are required to confirm the herb's ability to reduce cancer-related fatigue.
Side effects of astragalus
Although the herb helps cope with many side effects of cancer treatment, astragalus in higher dosages can affect hormonal levels, severely. This may have adverse effects on hormone-based chemotherapy. Moreover, the herb can act against any immunosuppressive drug prescribed by a doctor. Therefore, patients should always get clinical approval before ingesting the herb.
Cancer treatment can be taxing on a person's body. Certain herbs like astragalus can help patients cope with the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. However, one should be mindful of the dosage and clinical approval before ingesting them.