“Integrative” is one of those buzz words that is used a lot these days in the discussion of medicine, treatments, and nutrition. But what exactly does it mean? And why is it important? I believe the turn toward an integrative approach to health is a positive one and it will be an even more powerful approach to effect positive health change if we understand what it means.

Integrate: to unify separate things

In the realm of medicine, and integrative approach often refers to combining a conventional or allopathic (treating with drugs, radiation, and surgery) approach with other complimentary therapies, including nutrition.

Ideally, an integrative practitioner will treat not just the disease, but will consider the whole person: the whole body and the soul/spirit.

Such a practitioner should be asking the questions: “How and why did this disease/condition take place in this person’s body.” The answer is usually not straightforward, but a curious practitioner will more likely put on their detective hat, searching for answers.

Integrative Oncology

Before we discuss integretive oncology nutrition, let’s consider integrative oncology. It is becoming easier for cancer patients to access the promising world of integrative oncology.

Some traditional oncologists are recognizing the benefits of complementary therapies and are working with their patients who want to integrate them into their conventional treatments. Some forward-thinking oncologists are themselves promoting and implementing complimentary treatments along with the conventional treatments they prescribe.

One such clinic is Chemothermia, in Istanbul, Turkey, which integrates hyperbaric oxygen, vitamin infusions, and hyperthermia with their standard-of-care drug treatment, for improved outcomes.

Many other cancer patients are under the care of a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), and some which specialize in oncology (FABNO) along with their traditional oncologist. The traditional oncologist primarily focuses on treating the cancer, while the Naturopath focuses on looking for root causes of imbalance and supporting the health of the rest of the body.

Integrative Oncology Nutrition

Nutrition is arguably the most powerful complimentary therapy that a cancer patient can integrate into their care plan. Our relationship with food and its power to heal our bodies–or poison them–is a deep subject, but one well worth diving into and interacting with.

If cancer is a metabolic disease, which many scientists, researchers, and physicians now believe it is, we cannot support the health of our bodies without addressing the food we eat, our nutrition.

An integrative approach to oncology nutrition considers the whole person, focuses on eating whole (vs processed) foods, and always accounts for bio individual considerations, including, but not limited to the type of cancer a person has, current treatment plans, and the need to lose or gain weight.

An integrative oncology diet protocol can even enhance standard-of-care treatment AND diminish negative side effects of that treatment on the rest of the body. Targeted, personalized oncology nutrition is that powerful!

Other Integrative or Complimentary Treatments:

Below are a number of treatments which may be recommended and can be integrated with conventional cancer treatment. It is best to work with a Naturopathic doctor who can recommend an individualized protocol of complimentary treatments.

  • Mistletoe injections or IV, already part of the standard of care in some European countries, mistletoe has been shown to work well with conventional treatments, enhance the immune system, and improve quality of life.
  • Hyberbaric Oxygen Treatment to oxygenate the body and to put oxidative stress on cancer cells
  • High-dose Vitamin C to put oxidative stress on cancer cells
  • Infra-red sauna for detoxification
  • Targeted, therapeutic supplements, some with anti-cancer properties, some for supporting the health of the body
  • Therapies to deal with past trauma and/or stress

Working with your practitioners

With awareness of the power of an integrative approach, a person can pro-actively seek out complementary therapies and treatments of which their conventional doctor may not yet be aware.

To the extent that it is possible, choose a practitioner with the humility and curiosity to explore an integrative approach to treatment and health. Is your practitioner open and curious to your questions and suggestions? 

My husband and I once had an oncologist respond to our inquiries by saying, “You check Google. I go to medical conferences.” We could tell by the look on his face that he was satisfied that he had sufficiently shut us down. I later discovered that some of those medical conferences are recorded online!

Additionally, with the expansion of virtual consults, it is now possible to consult with integrative practitioners who you would otherwise be unable to access.

DIY’ing an Integrative Approach

While many cancer patients are growing in awareness of integrative approaches to treating cancer, it can still be challenging to find an medical practitioner who practices this way.

If we can’t find or access an integrative medical practitioner, we can serve as our own “integrator”. I don’t mean by this, that we should forego consulting a qualified medical practitioner. Not at all.

However, if our practitioner doesn’t practice in an integrative manner, we, with our understanding of not only surgical, drug, and radiological treatments, but also the importance of nutrition and other supportive therapies, can help our practitioners to connect the dots. As a cancer patient, we may be the bridge between our oncologist and other practitioners, advocating for the integration of our overall treatment.

Though this may take some time and effort, it also puts the some of the healing effort back in the hands of the person with cancer. That kind of empowerment is one of the best things a person with cancer can integrate into their care!