Reduce Side Effects Naturally—Here's How!

By Heather LaBruna

Chemotherapy is a powerful, lifesaving cancer destroyer. But if you or a loved one has undergone treatment, you know about its potential side effects, including extreme fatigue, sleepless nights, nausea and vomiting. Over the years, researchers have looked at various complementary treatments to help combat such side effects, and while more research is needed, two of the most promising treatments are yoga and acupuncture. Read on to find out whether either—or both—of these therapies may be right for you.

Going with the flow
When it comes to yoga, literally hundreds of forms exist, but one of the most popular is flow yoga. This form synchronizes breathing techniques with a series of poses or movements. The poses blend seamlessly, creating an almost dance-like effect, or "flow."

Benefits: Although yoga is thousands of years old, scientific knowledge of its health benefits is only now coming into focus. In a 2010 study headed by the University of Rochester Medical Center, participants (most of whom had breast cancer) who had completed chemotherapy or radiation and took yoga classes twice a week for a month were more likely to sleep better than those who didn’t engage in yoga. Those who practiced yoga were also taking less medication and reported less fatigue and daytime drowsiness. Other studies have found that yoga can reduce stress, enhance physical well-being and improve overall quality of life during and after treatment.

Before you start: Speak with your doctor before starting any exercise routine. Some of the more demanding yoga poses may increase certain patients’ risk for lymphedema (swelling that occurs most often in the arms or legs) and fractures in those whose cancer has spread to the bone. Your doctor may also be able to recommend a yoga instructor who has experience working with cancer patients; that can lower any potential for risk. 

Sticking it to side effects
Acupuncture, one of the oldest healing disciplines in the world, stimulates nerves, tissue and muscle with needles or other techniques to help maintain or improve health. Why it works isn’t quite clear, although several theories exist. Traditional Chinese medicine maintains that acupuncture can help the body restore its energy balance, or chi (also called qi). Some Western experts believe that its success has more to do with the stimulation’s increasing blood flow and the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

Benefits: According to the National Institutes of Health, acupuncture may be effective at reducing nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy and may also lessen the need for pain medication.

Before you start: Although complications from acupuncture are rare, it’s extremely important to find a trained professional, as pain from improper needle placement, infection or even punctured organs can pose a risk.

Published September 2011

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