L-Theanine, the Magic of Green Tea

by Alicia Snow

I was reading an article in the New York Times a couple of years ago and was surprised by the title of an article which read, “Scientists prove that green tea is good for you.“ The irony here is that for thousands of years, green tea has been lauded by the eastern cultures, whose medical systems are at least 23 centuries in the making. They have known about the beneficial effects of tea drinking since before western culture had a medical system with which to validate their findings. That being said, the beneficial effects of L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, are manyfold and this is now an ‘evidence-based’ assertion.

Green tea (Camellia sinensis), which is the second most consumed beverage in the world, contains a considerable amount of theanine (1.0%–2.5%) in the dry weight of the leaves (Adhikary & Mandal, 2017). We know that green tea keeps us awake without giving us the jitters, and we know that it is an antioxidant and therefore counteracts free radicals. But did you know that the l-theanine found in green tea also has significant effects on anxiety and attention span?

Theanine is a bioactive amide amino acid, which has been known to have influential effects on multiple diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, hypertension, stress relief, tumor suppression and liver injury by reducing serum amyloid-alpha, an inflammatory marker (Akhikary & Mandal, 2017). But even more remarkable is what we are learning about its effects on the mind.

In a series of studies on the brain, l-theanine has been found to increase serotonin and dopamine activity, to improve sleep and memory, and to induce relaxation through enhancement of alpha wave activity in the brain (Akhikary & Mandal, 2017; Hidese et al., 2017; Higashiyama et al., 2011). Alpha waves are one of five types of waves within the brain. They are found to be active in meditative states and are associated with a restful mental state, sleep and creativity. In a study published in Acta Neuropsychiatrica in 2017 researchers found that “l-theanine induces an increase in occipital and parietal alpha activity in human participants” (Hidese et al, 2017). They go on to say,

The anti-anxiety features of l-theanine are achieved through enhanced alpha electric band generation in the occipital and parietal regions of brain and increased synthesis of y-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The supportive mechanism behind such activity revealed that enhanced GABA levels help increase levels of brain’s dopamine and serotonin levels that ultimately result in general feelings of calm and well being. . . .unlike other conventional anti-anxiety treatments, l-theanine did not result in increased drowsiness, slowed reflexes, or impaired concentration. (Hidese et al, 2017).

Beyond the effects of calming and quieting the brain, l-theanine has also been found to increase concentration, information processing and attention span, particularly when taken in conjunction with caffeine, as within a cup of green tea (Higashiyama et al, 2011). 

It is important to note that the studies demonstrate greater efficacy at improving anxiety levels, attention span and improving mood in subjects who demonstrated high anxiety. Less profound results were seen in people with mild anxiety. Furthermore, l-theanine has been shown to lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and therefore should be used cautiously by people taking blood pressure medications or by those who are susceptible to low blood pressure.

Dosing is recommended at 200 mg daily for people with moderate to high anxiety. According to Higashiyama et al, “The tested dose of l-theanine was confirmed as 200 mg for enhanced performance in visual attention task, and reaction time response, among the subjects with higher anxiety propensity symptoms”(Higashiyama et al, 2011). This is an amount much higher than can be obtained within a cup, or even several cups of green tea. Enter the natural supplement. Capsules of l-theanine at the 200 mg daily dose are available at Emerson Ecologics, and here at the pharmacy at Camden Whole Health. Ask your holistic practitioner about the use of l-theanine if you meet the parameters described here, or enjoy your next cup of green tea knowing that it is providing a nurturing nudge to your alpha waves, increasing your attention span, lowering your anxiety and increasing your creativity! Enjoy.

If you would like the advice or attention of a holistic practitioner, I am currently accepting new patients. Check out my website at aliciasnownp.com for more information about my practice.


Adhikary R., & Mandal, V. (2017). L-theanine: a potenital multifaceted natural bioactive amide as
health supplement. DOI10.1016/j.apjtb.2017.08.005

Hidese, S., et al. (2016). Effects of chronic l-theanine administration in patients with major
depressive disorder: an open-label study. DOI: 10.1017/neu.2016.33

Higashiyama, A. et al. (2011). Effects of L-theanine on attention and reaction time response.
DOI: 10.1016/j.jff.2011.03.009

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Tips To Find Inner Peace

It is currently more challenging than ever to maintain a healthy state of mind. With the increase in stress all around us it’s more important than ever to pay attention to our inner state of being. In order to combat this constant barrage of external stressors we have to make it a conscious priority to find some inner peace. Since September is Suicide Prevention month we thought it appropriate to share some tips that might help you do just that – find some inner peace . . .

Let Go of What You Can’t Control
Don’t spend time worrying about things that you can’t control. While an individual can make a difference in their own circle there are other things that you just can’t change. Concern yourself only with the things you can change, and let the rest go.

Meditation is a powerful tool for calming the mind and spirit. Daily meditation can help you relieve stress and anxiety which are enemies of inner peace. Meditating can give you a much-needed break from the world and put challenges in perspective. There’s no better time to start a practice than today! Hay House is offering a free 7-day meditation challenge this month. Click here for more info.

Get Back to Nature
Your daily struggles are real, but appreciating your surroundings can help put things in perspective. Let the sights, smells, and sounds of nature envelop you.

Try a Technology Fast
While devices and social media are great for staying in touch, they can also wreak havoc on your inner peace. Now more than ever, it’s time to take a break!

Simplify Your Life
Think about how much of the chaos of your daily life is put upon you by outside sources (like current events). Simplifying your life can clear the way to inner peace, and ultimately it boils down to choices and priorities. What can you let go of?

Try Energy Healing
Many Energy healing tools are designed to help you release trapped emotional energies. During difficult times, a little help from a trained practitioner can certainly help you calm and restore inner balance. And Camden Whole Health offers a variety of practitioners that can help. View them here.

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What Exactly is Prana, Qi, Chi, Life Force Energy?

by Paula Apro, Eden Energy Medicine & Emotion Code™ Practitioner, Pranic Healer

Prana, Life Force Energy, Qi, and Chi are all ancient terms for the same thing. What these terms describe is pure ENERGY. It’s the energy that makes up who and what you are. All matter in the universe is fundamentally made up of – ENERGY!!!

Have you ever thought about what the difference is between a living and dead person? Both people have a body, a set of organs, and billions of cells. What differentiates them is an ‘unseen’ force . . . the Prana, Qi, Chi, or Life force energy that gives the living person the awareness and consciousness to experience living. This is the one important element missing from the corpse.

Seems like it’s pretty important this life force energy, yet few doctors acknowledge, address it, or try to work with it. We are made up of so much more than just the physical body that modern medicine concentrates on. Do you know that your thoughts and feelings are nothing but energy waves that can actually be measured using various instruments? Did you know that the energy created from these thoughts and feelings can get stuck in your energy field and cause blockages and disruptions in the flow of your energy, which in turn leads to illness, disease, and depression? This all might sound scary, but the best and most fascinating news is that energy can easily be manipulated and transformed.

Transforming Energy

Science explains that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but can be transformed from one form to another. Think about what this could mean to you. If you can understand how to work with energy, it can help transform all the negative results in your life into positive results – sickness into well-being, lack into abundance, stress into peace of mind, and failing relationships into healthy, strong bonds.

Energy Medicine is all about transforming energy – the energy within us (our chakras), the energy that surrounds our bodies (our aura), and even the energy in our environment. By learning about energy, we become more conscious about its ubiquitous presence in everything around us. We all have experienced the difference between feeling “good vibes” versus “bad vibes” without any knowledge of Energy Medicine whatsoever. It is undeniable that we can all sense energy at some level.

So can you imagine being able to fundamentally change your life force energy to improve your health and happiness without the use of drugs, surgery, or expensive therapies? Energy Medicine focuses on removing energetic blocks so that your body can do what it naturally wants to do – move itself into balance so that it can heal. Imagine how much happier your body would be with this gentle approach to healing rather than using chemical reactions to force it into compliance.

Please consider learning more about powerful energy medicine techniques that you can start applying today to improve every aspect of your health and happiness. You can start by watching a free 20-minute lesson by Paula Apro, Certified Eden Energy Medicine Practitioner and Pranic healer.

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Cancer Care: Conventional, Complementary, Alternative?

Dr. Barbara MacDonald has twenty-years-experience as a licensed naturopathic physician working in the field of complementary cancer care.  She treats patients using a combination of naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, CranioSacral therapy and Qi Gong describing herself as comfortable in both conventional, research-based sciences and the most esoteric healing arts.  She practices in Camden, Maine and is the author of The Breast Cancer Companion: A Complementary Care Manual (3rd ed. 2016).  Dr. MacDonald was invited to share how she counsels cancer patients faced with the dilemma of choosing to combine or replace conventional treatment with natural medicine.  These are her opinions, to date, and are not intended as medical advice.  She is open to learning from those with different experiences even if they kindly disagree with her.  “By having integrity with oneself, we make choices that are aligned with our higher purpose.”

Putting things in context

In 2017, there were approximately 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer[i].  In the last decade, it is estimated that between 40-90% of them utilized some form of complementary alternative medicine (CAM).[ii],[iii],[iv]  This is a significant increase from the 90’s when it was estimated that only 18% of cancer patients used CAM.[v]  The term CAM is broad and includes many therapies (massage, acupuncture, etc.), natural products (vitamins, minerals, herbs, nutraceuticals) and practices (meditation, yoga, etc.) that are either added to conventional treatment (complementary or integrative) or done in lieu of them (alternative).

Some cancer patients use CAM during treatment but most afterward.[vi]  One concern about relying on research studies is that one person’s CAM is doing breathing exercises while another’s is following a comprehensive integrative protocol.  The category of CAM that represents the greatest number of users was those who reported having taken “natural products and herbs.”  Even though 17% of cancer patients used this type of CAM[vii] those who simply took Echinacea to prevent a cold were lumped in with those who had comprehensive integrative treatment plan prescribed by a licensed CAM healthcare provider.  Because the term CAM is so broad, the reliance on research studies to determine its success and failures is flawed.  Not all CAM is the same.

There is a decent body of evidence regarding the safety of herbal and nutraceutical medicines and their interactions with surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and oral medication.  I feel confident that licensed naturopathic physicians and many of our medical colleagues trained in functional and integrative medicine are versed in guiding patients to avoid things that may be unsafe and encourage them to complement their allopathic treatments with natural therapies that may improve their experience and clinical outcomes.  This is very different than patients taking products they read about online without sufficient training to know how to determine quality, safety or optimal dosing.

What is less known is if natural medicine can replace some or all conventional medical treatment for cancer.  Our patients, especially those who are ‘naturally minded,’ rightly ask us if we can offer them a natural-only cure.  There are holistic practitioners who I would characterize as perhaps radical and certainly the most risk-tolerant among us, comfortably answer that question with a yes.  I, and most of the naturopathic oncology colleagues I consulted for this article, rarely do.  I generally discourage the alternative-medicine-only option around 85% of the time.

Only recently have outcome studies compared the use of alternative medicines to allopathic.  In a case-control, retrospective study published in August, 2017 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, it was found that those who did alternative-treatment-methods-only were more than twice as likely to die compared to those who chose conventional treatments.[viii]  Conducted at Yale University School of Medicine, 281 cases were identified where patients with colon, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers responded that they had chosen “other-unproven cancer treatments” instead of allopathic medicine.  Their outcomes were compared to those with similar cancers, stages, etc.  In one article about this study they stated “Overall, 78% of people having conventional treatment for cancer survived at least five years, compared to only 55% of people having alternative treatment alone. The difference was biggest for breast cancer, where people who chose alternative therapies were more than five times as likely to die within five years as those who chose conventional treatments.”[ix]  This is concerning.  Yet again, the study doesn’t discern between those who had a comprehensive, practitioner prescribed treatment plan from those who directed their own care.  The patients could have taken one capsules of curcumin or they could have engaged in a long-term, individualized, holistic approach including diet, fitness, meditation, acupuncture, hyperbaric, intravenous medicine, herbal therapy, etc.  Not all CAM is the same and well-designed alternative medicine studies are non-existent. It is also fair to mention that conventional treatment is not curative for most advanced cancers and that its primary benefit in these cancers is in extending disease-free survival. Thus, it is conceivable that someone with advanced cancer who does not want to risk the toxicity of conventional treatments would opt for an alternative approach.

In 1997, I graduated with a 4-year doctoral degree in naturopathic medicine and in 2003, a master’s degree in Classical Chinese medicine.  I then had the privilege of practicing for thirteen years mentored by women’s natural health expert, Dr. Tori Hudson and Chinese herbalist Dr. Menge Kou.  In the early years, I believed that by eating well, taking natural medicines and addressing mental, emotional and energetic imbalances, one could cure their cancer.  I believed in the theory that our body, restored to balance, would recognize unhealthy mutations and direct the immune system to do what it knows to do – stop cancer cells from replicating and bring them back from the ‘dark side’ to being productive members of the community of cells working toward the greater good within each of us.

I still believe this in theory.  I was raised by a now-retired osteopathic physician, who instilled in me a belief in the healing power of our inner physician.  However, through my own failures and those of my most respected colleagues, I have learned that theory isn’t enough.  The practice of knowing which combination of natural therapeutics, lifestyle changes and mental-emotional shifts to recommend for each person’s unique situation, at a pace to turn the tides of cancer has, so far, been like using a sailboat to chase a speed boat.  I have met individuals who had all the factors in alignment to achieve this.  Unfortunately, they are not the norm.  They are the miracles.  I say this not to squelch the faith of those who believe that natural-only can work.  I realize that, for some, it will, and I have the deepest respect for patient choice.  I, and my dedicated colleagues have, however, attended too many funerals held in honor of beloved patients who were clinging to the faith that the natural-only option would save them while denying potentially life-prolonging and quality of life-improving conventional medical treatments.  Therapies, that might have even given the natural options more time to work.  On the other hand, the opposite is equally true – patients have suffered, and some have died due to side effects from conventional cancer treatments.  It is all about timing and balance.

I am however, very confident in the use of well-designed complementary or integrative approaches that pair the best of both worlds.  These would include properly timed, natural medicines used in therapeutic dosages along with individually chosen diet therapies, mental-emotional healing, stress management and energetic balancing to work in tandem toward a cure with carefully chosen and safely dosed conventional allopathic procedures and medicines.  The success at facilitating remission is with this integrative approach is, in my observations, higher under the care of our medical colleagues who use methods that reach beyond what is possible in our country today.  In Europe, some oncologists are individualizing treatments using a host of conventional and natural methods combined.  Most of these methods are not, however, yet approved by the FDA to be used in this country.

After all these years, I am not confident in the success rates among those who forgo all forms of conventional medicine.  What I feel deflated by is that we do not yet have reproducible natural treatment protocols to offer as an alternative to conventional medical treatment.  This is due, in part, to the limitations placed on medical and naturopathic physicians in our county.  We don’t have a body of research that proves our methods work as an alternative to the conventional standard of care, nor do we know when to use which form of natural medicine instead of conventional care.  Reading about those who claim to have better success than the MD-only options, I react with a blend of healthy skepticism and hope.  I realize I may be scorned by my own people here.  Colleagues who may have a patient or perhaps several, who, under their care, found a cure or extension of life with a natural-only approach.  I pray that you succeed, and can reliably reproduce those outcomes in other patients, but to date, this is where I believe we are.  Without repeatable and trainable methods, we are left to advise patients to find the balance between conventional and natural. Perhaps the burgeoning science of immunotherapy is what we’ve been waiting for – using the healing power of our own immune system with help from sophisticated science, and yes, the capitalist driven machine of conventional medicine, to bring about a much-needed cure for cancer that works with our body’s wisdom.  I could get on board with that.  But, then again, I was raised by folks who believe in unicorns and I won’t give up looking for the holistic approach that works.

I am proud of the state of my profession’s offerings in complementary treatment during conventional cancer therapies.  I strongly recommend that patients seek this form of care and wish patients had more access to holistic care at their cancer clinics.  But, while we are getting closer every year to the alternative, natural-only options that we desperately want to provide, I encourage patients to think carefully before embarking on that journey.

Decision Making –

If you are among those recently diagnosed with cancer, your thoughts and feelings, questions and concerns, your left brain, your right, your logic and your intuition matter.  While this will affect those who love you, it is your experience, no one else’s.  You get to call the shots even if it might not feel that way.

The rest of this article is intended to help you navigate cancer treatment decisions if you are considering the addition of natural medicine along with conventional medical treatment or instead of it.  That defines the difference between complementary (a.k.a. integrative) vs. alternative medicine.  Even though you are likely mentally and emotionally overwhelmed by your recent diagnosis and conventional treatment options, the goal is to feel confident about the forms of natural medicines their dosage, timing and sources you choose.  So, how do you find confidence in your plan when you are new at this and the stakes are high?

Finding answers to the following questions, may help you organize your thoughts.

  • First, how much time do you have to make an informed decision?
  • Second, what choices do you have- both conventional and natural?
  • Third, if you choose a complementary or alternative path, where will you get the expertise you need to guide you?
  • Fourth, if you choose a complementary path, what type of natural medicine is best for you?
  • Fifth, if you are leaning toward an alternative path, what should you be thinking about?
  • Lastly, how can you comfortably work within the conventional medical system even if you choose CAM?

First, how much time do I have before I have to do something?

After a diagnosis of cancer, the conventional treatment ‘system’ efficiently whisks patients into a well-meaning river of action that requires that you trust, not in yourself, but in the experience of others.  For many, this may be your first time having to use conventional medicine.  Patients are often paddled along by supportive loved-ones who fear losing them.  Many patients, however, especially those who think of themselves as ‘natural,’ are compelled to swim against the establishment current as fast as they can or at least tread water a while.

I advise you to take your time making your treatment choices.  While waiting too long may be a risk, only in dire cases can a recently diagnosed person not wait a few weeks to feel ‘right’ about their treatment decisions.  If you are not sure, ask the surgeon or oncologist, “how many days or weeks do you think I have to safely make an informed decision about your recommendations?”

With that in mind, the next step is to organize the decisions that must be made now, and the ones that can wait a while.  As the Tao de Jing advises: there are times to move forward, times to pause and times to retreat.

How do you know how much time you have to pause or retreat and try natural methods?  This depends on the type of cancer, stage, location, how aggressive it is, and how successful conventional treatments are at leading to remission or cure.  These criteria are also the same ones that may lead you to choose the amount of conventional medicine you find necessary.  An oncologist can help you answer these questions and give you some insight into what you are facing.  Often the surgeon is the first person you will meet, however.  You are encouraged to consider speaking to an oncologist (doctor who specializes in cancer) before deciding on surgery, if there is time to do so.  This conversation is especially important these days as new forms of cancer treatment and clinical trials may offer pre-surgical options that were not available even a few years ago.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion from a surgeon or oncologist at an unaffiliated hospital too.

To get the most out of your oncology visit, you may want to ask the difficult questions such as:

  • How common is this form of cancer?
  • Is my situation quite typical of those with this form of cancer or are there factors that make my situation unique?
  • How aggressive is this form of cancer?
  • Help me understand what stage it is.
  • If untreated, will the tumor soon inhibit organ function?
  • What are the five and ten-year survival rates for people who have been studied with this specific type of cancer using your suggested treatment method?
  • If I did no conventional treatment at all, how long do you think I’d have to live?
  • If I only do part of what you recommend, how does that affect long-term survival outcomes?
  • Be honest, if you were me, and you were in my exact shoes, would you do the treatment that you are recommending to me?
  • If you were discussing my case with other physicians, what would you describe as my biggest challenge?

Knowing what’s next is also dependent on knowing yourself.  Are you a person who needs to list all the pro’s and con’s?  Are you one to listen to your gut?  Do you usually play it safe and do what doctors recommend?  Do you run screaming at the thought of doing anything an allopathic doctor recommends?  Think about how you have successfully thought your way through other challenging decisions and start there.  Also, be honest with yourself about when your blinders might be on.  Don’t confuse wishful or magical thinking for truly discerned inner wisdom.

In some cases, having a conventional treatment now, while debating the other decisions, is necessary.  A few examples include: a) there is a narrow window of time that surgery is an option b) a tumor is invading an essential organ that can’t function without its removal c) starting chemotherapy before other treatments is advised to shrink a large tumor d) the cancer is so aggressive and rapidly replicating that no form of natural medicine could possibly outpace it.

For example, if a patient has been told that they have an aggressive cancer (for example small -cell lung cancer) that has been diagnosed after a biopsy, and it is currently operable, my advice would be to have the surgery ASAP and then consider natural options later because they are lucky to have found it at an operable stage.  However, if a person was diagnosed with a common small, stage I breast cancer which has good outcomes with conventional treatment, but she is riddled with anxiety having never even taken antibiotics in her life, perhaps she can pause for a week or so while gathering information.  Lastly, and most challenging, perhaps, is the person told that they have six months to live with metastatic cancer.  Some might choose to fight with all forms of medicine, others to pause a while to decide and some to do nothing and enjoy the time they have without enduring side effects of treatment in what is likely their last months of life.  In that case, it is more about how you make decisions because whether natural or conventional or a mix, no one can promise a cure, but some find one.

What are my choices?

The next step is formulating the right questions which means knowing your options.

  • Should I follow the conventionally advised course of treatment only? (A: Conventional Medical Only Option)
  • Should I follow only part of it? (B: Individualized Medical Option)
  • Should I follow part or all of it and add natural medicine to it? (C: Conventional and Complementary Medicine Option = Integrative Option)
  • Should I do the course of advised medical treatment and then try to prevent recurrence with natural medicine? (D: Conventional Then Natural Medicine Option)
  • Should I forgo conventional advice and do only natural medicine? (E: Alternative Medicine Option)

If you choose C, D or E, then there are even more questions to answer.  If I do any natural therapies, which ones do I choose?  Do I stay local or travel to a comprehensive integrative cancer clinic or a natural only one in the U.S. or abroad?  Do I work with a licensed naturopathic oncologist, licensed ND with cancer treatment experience, a holistic DO/MD, other natural practitioner or create my own treatment plan from my online reading?

As you are likely gathering from this long list of important questions, you could spend years trying to figure these things out. Chances are you are mentally and emotionally doe-eyed by now and are feeling pressured by others and are rightly confused and overwhelmed.  While you may have more time than you were led to believe to make treatment decisions, don’t let your need to have all the answers right now get in your way of taking one wise action step.

Who are reliable experts in complementary and alternative medicine?

Without a licensed Naturopathic physician in most oncology clinics, it is up to the individual to find a well-trained, licensed, natural medicine provider with extensive cancer care experience whose practice philosophy is up your alley.

My recommendation is to choose a licensed naturopathic physician/doctor (ND), including a naturopathic oncologist (a naturopathic physicians with board certification in naturopathic oncology).  Unlike unlicensed naturopaths with an on-line certificate, a licensed ND is trained in four-year graduate level naturopathic medical schools.  We are primary care physicians in many states and specialists in others and are not licensed in some.  Licensed NDs are uniquely trained in both conventional science-based medicine and the art and science of healing by treating the whole person, using the healing power of nature and avoiding the obstacles to a cure. We all must pass national basic science and clinical licensing exams that include competency in pharmaceutical and naturopathic medicines.  In many states we have DEA licenses and prescriptive rights similar to MDs and DOs where even intravenous vitamins and botanicals are administered.  In other states the drug formulary is limited or nonexistent.  Most are members of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians (OncANP.org).  A licensed naturopath who focuses their practice in oncology is not bound by a standard of care like medical oncologists are.  While the OncANP has recently developed Principals of Care to guide the safe, comprehensive delivery of care, there are no protocols that we must follow.  This is great for individualized care, but it also puts the onus on patients to discern which ND is the best fit for them.

Just like you might consider getting more than one medical oncologist or surgeon opinion, I recommend that you interview a few licensed ND’s before choosing one to guide you.  Some of us are more classical in our approach and use ‘nature-cure’ methods while others use a more science-based approach or both.  Many offer a free 15-minute meet-and-greet visit to see if you are compatible.  Good questions to ask would be how much of your practice is oncology?  How long have you practiced?  What forms of natural medicine do you most often use?  What are your opinions about complementary vs. alternative medicine?  What are your opinions about conventional allopathic treatments?  How do you avoid giving things that might negatively interact with conventional therapies?

Some licensed naturopathic physicians have taken a special board exam to become a fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (FABNO).  They are referred to as naturopathic oncologists. They are the perfect choice for a person who prefers an evidence-based approach. You can find a list of FABNO’s at http://fabno.org/membership.html.

There are osteopathic and medical doctors with training in complementary cancer care who learned from integrative or functional medicine courses.  Some have cancer clinics that offer simply relaxation techniques.  Others direct comprehensive clinics offering everything from intravenous vitamins to hyperthermia and hyperbaric medicine.  There is now board certification in integrative medicine, so look for MDs and DOs who have this. Also, many allopathic physicians practicing integrative oncology are members of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO at integrativeonc.org.)

Finally, there are cancer clinics that patients travel to for treatment.  It is vital to discern sham clinics from those with well-trained oncologists who had to leave the U.S. to provide a combination of conventional and natural treatments without waiting for FDA approval.  The only resource that I am aware of when considering foreign clinics is Ralph Moss, PhD’s Cancerdecisions.com.  Many providers and CAM clinics around the world provide often life-saving methods.  While others advertise much more than they deliver at great financial expense to people who are most vulnerable with little time to research whom to trust.  So, my next piece of advice is to thoroughly consider who you will work with to guide your CAM plan.

Fourth, if you choose a complementary path, what type of natural medicine is best for you?

Once you have decided what conventional therapies you will or will not choose to do and you have decided to take a complementary or integrative route and found a practitioner you trust, next you need to decide which natural therapies are best for you.  This is often based on your personal situation and the prescribing CAM physician.  In most therapeutic settings, you will likely be offered complementary treatment plans that help you avoid side effects and optimize conventional treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, oral medications and immunotherapy.  In some cases, if the cancer you are working to heal from is aggressive or later stage, you may be adding natural therapies that have independent anti-cancer benefits.

CAM or Integrative medicines include so many things that this article cannot cover them all.  A new book may shed more light on this subject, however: Outside the Box Cancer Therapies by Stengler & Anderson (Hay House Publishing, 2018).  Some therapies that are reputable include combinations of botanical medicine from various traditions or standardized extracts of single plants such as curcumin, artemisinin, berberine and mushroom extracts.  Vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, homeopathic remedies are often included.  There are treatments that holistic practitioners may offer such as acupuncture, mind-body therapies or you may be referred to classes in meditation, yoga, Qi Gong or invited to join a fitness program for those with cancer such as the YMCA’s free Livestrong program.  Most practitioners will likely discuss what you eat, drink, your fitness and stress management regimens.  Some, with additional training might recommend intravenous vitamins, amino acids and a few are trained in administering IV botanicals.  Low dose medicinal cannabis may treat side effects while higher dosages, with an aim to treat cancer, need the guidance of an experienced practitioner.  In addition, European therapies are coming to the United States such as mistletoe injections, hyperthermia and hyperbaric.  I encourage you avoid doing therapies that are recommended online until you have found a practitioner with expertise to help you discriminate the ones that have merit from those that will cost you hundreds of dollars a month and do you no good at all.

Fifth, if you are leaning toward an alternative path, what should you be thinking about?

“Do I go against everything I believe about living a healthy life and do what these doctors, who don’t even know me, tell me are my only choices: surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation?”   Many patients have shared this inner struggle with their naturopath.  It makes sense to most of us and it is likely how we’d feel in your shoes (and many ND’s have been cancer patients as well.)  You might be thinking, I’ll eat even healthier, do cleansing and detoxification, take herbs and mushroom extracts, medical marijuana, cottage cheese and flax seeds. Maybe even do hyperbaric and IV-vitamins, supplements, acupuncture and herbal medicines or the other dozens of possible natural therapies.

How can you discern between fear of conventional treatment and your inner-wisdom that says I know this isn’t right for me?  Is now the time to do what feels right and forgo convention?  Each situation is unique.  Consider the risks and the benefits of both, what you know about yourself, perhaps get the opinions of experts in natural medicine for your personal situation and then ask yourself: “Will I ever be willing to do any form of conventional medicine?”  Often patients want to try natural medicine first, saving chemotherapy or surgery if that fails.  And, that brings up the important point that you need to keep yourself informed of when your current efforts are working and when they are not. Conventional imaging and, in some cases, tumor markers are the only reliable means to determine if treatments are working. Don’t be fooled by claims by alternative practitioners that things are getting better based on alternative diagnostics without confirmatory imaging (or validated tumor markers in those situations where imaging is not applicable, such as leukemia or myeloma). My experience tells me that most often, if you said you’d ever be willing, and it is logical to those who know the details of your case, do the conventional medicine sooner rather than later.  It is an issue of timing.  If you knew you’d have the perfect combination of natural factors for that sailboat to catch up to the speedboat, you’d do it.  But, if you have a form of cancer that ‘can’t wait’ to try natural-only methods, you will likely be encouraged to compromise your health-related beliefs in the short term, undergo a medical treatment your dread, and follow that up with the best of natural medicine.

If you do use complementary natural medicine during conventional medical cancer treatment, it is strongly advised that you a) use a licensed naturopathic physician or other integrative doctor who has expertise in the type of CAM you are choosing b) inform your oncologist about what you are taking c) use high quality products that can provide a certificate of analysis proving that they are tested for purity and contamination d) take therapeutic doses of well-researched natural medicines instead of a smattering of a lot of things you read about online e) make sure that you and your natural practitioner are watching out for negative interactions with other medications or conditions f) if you are using alternative methods, choose a treatment facility or practitioner that is well-vetted by an objective source such as cancerdecisions.com to avoid shams.


In conclusion, nearly 1.1 million Americans will use complementary and/or alternative medicine during or after going through conventional medical cancer treatment.  We don’t know how many patients choose to forgo these allopathic treatments and instead seek natural cures.  The types of complementary natural medicine chosen during conventional cancer treatment vary greatly from taking a yoga class to travelling to comprehensive integrative cancer clinics in Europe or Mexico.  While the body of research on the safety of complementary cancer care is growing rapidly, there are little data on success and failure rates of alternative protocols.  This dearth of research leaves patients who are instinctively drawn to natural medicine to create their own plan of action with insufficient confidence in either system.  Some gather all their financial resources to go abroad to be treated by those with excellent training in both conventional and alternatives.  Some find the cure they were hoping for.  For some, the timing, training or resources have failed them.  Those without financial resources or who are more comfortable being treated near home, may seek guidance from local licensed holistic health providers with enough experience in oncology to give them great advice.

It is my belief that we, as practitioners of natural medicine, are obliged to counsel cancer patients in an individualized manner based on their goals, the type and stage of their cancer, the success rates of conventional therapies and potential conventional clinical trials for which they may meet the criteria.  We owe patients the truth about our current limitations balanced with the hopes of our powerful medicines and proper counsel to help them make an informed decision about when, how much, and what type of natural medicines create a plan that they will feel confident in.

There is a time to move forward, a time to pause and a time to retreat.  Knowing oneself and being educated in your choices will help you to know what is next for you.  In the long run, this is your experience to direct in any way that you feel is right for you.  If you aren’t sure what to do next, take one step and perhaps you will discover more options than you could see before.  This is an incredible time in the field of oncology.  While I wish no one had cancer, I have more hope than I ever did before – in both conventional and natural treatments used hand-in-hand.

What Could Be Next?

My wish list includes a survey of natural oncology practitioners to identify who has had success and with what methods.  Next, a case conference to share experiences combined with roundtable discussions. Finally, a privately or institutionally funded not-for-profit research institute to explore the possibilities of both alternative and complementary natural approaches dedicated to individualized cancer treatment and transparency.

Dr. Barb MacDonald, ND, LAc can be reached by emailing drbarbmacdonald@yahoo.com.


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[i] American Cancer Society online: Cancer Facts and Figures.  https://www.cancer.org/research/cancer-facts-statistics/all-cancer-facts-figures/cancer-facts-figures-2017.html.  Accessed 12/29/17.

[ii] Molassiotis A, Scott JA, Kearney N, et al. Complementary and alternative medicine use in breast cancer patients in Europe. Support Care Cancer. 2006;14(3):260–267.

[iii] Yates JS, Mustian KM, Morrow GR, et al. Prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use in cancer patients during treatment. Support Care Cancer. 2005;13(10):806–811.

[iv] Sikorskii A, Wyatt GK, Siddiqi A, et al. Recruitment and early retention of women with advanced breast cancer in a complementary and alternative medicine trial. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med.

[v] Downer SM, Cody MM, McCluskey P, et al. Pursuit and practice of complementary therapies by cancer patients receiving conventional treatment. BMJ. 1994;309(6947):86–89.

[vi] Perlman, A, Lontok, O, Huhmann, M, et al. Prevalence and Correlates of Postdiagnosis Initiation of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Among Patients at a Comprehensive Cancer Center. Journal of Oncology Practice. January 2013;Vol.9, no.1, p34-41.

[vii] Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin R. Centers for Disease Control. Complementary and alternative medicine use among adults and children: United States, 2007. National Health Statistics Reports. 2008(12):1–24.

[viii] Johnson SB, Park HS, Gross CP, Yu JB. Use of Alternative Medicine for Cancer and Its Impact on Survival. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Published online August 10 2017.

[ix] PubMed Health. Behind the headlines: health news from NHS.  Accessed on 3/11/18 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2017-08-16-alternative-cancer-therapies-may-increase-your-risk-of-death/.



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Winter Wellness Fair 2018

Saturday January 27, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Snow date Sunday January 28

Just in time to support your New Year’s resolutions, Camden Whole Health is hosting its second annual “Winter Wellness Fair” on January 27th from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Health and wellness practitioners will be presenting free 30-minute workshops on a variety of topics.

At 3 pm there will be a screening of the movie, “Magic Pills.” Filmmaker and Homeopath Ananda More, explores multiple media campaigns against homeopathy, propelling her to travel the world and uncover whether homeopathy is truly science-based and effective or a mere placebo that endangers lives.

Visitors can tour the facility and enjoy healthy refreshments while meeting the practitioners.  Doors open at 10:00 a.m. at 91 Elm Street in Camden.

Click below for a downloadable schedule of events for the fair:

Winter Wellness Fair 2018 Schedule

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Get the most out of your visit

One thing that patients seem to love about seeing their naturopathic doctor is the additional face time that they enjoy in each visit. I love to get to know my patients and understand the details of their health challenges. It helps me build the best treatment for each patient, lets the patient know they are cared for and it keeps each visit interesting and alive with true connection. If we can maximize the quality of the time that we have together during our visits, it helps improve care and enrich our lives.

Sometimes, the more mundane aspects of medicine can etch away valuable moments from our time together, so here’s one tip to help get the most out of your face time at your visits: come prepared with an up-to-date medication list. This helps in a few ways:

  1. the work you do ahead of time translates to valuable moments spent with your doctor,
  2. fewer mistakes are made in translation if you can provide a complete list,
  3. keeping your list accurate and current means that interactions between drugs, supplements and herbs will be easier to spot,
  4. listing dosages can help your doc immediately spot efficacy or overdose issues,
  5. listing reasons can help identify unneeded interventions, and
  6. if you have a care team—multiple providers helping you reach your health goals—keeping them all on the same page about your supplements and medications is paramount.

Get the most out of your visit

Here are some tips to help get this valuable information to your doctor and your care team, so that you can get the most out of your visits.

  • Type the list, if possible. This will help eliminate misunderstandings and allow for easy quick comprehension.
  • Keep the list as accurate as possible
  • Include the following items:
    • Name of medication, herb or supplement
    • Form
    • Dose
    • Frequency
    • Reason
    • Prescriber (if you have more than one provider)

We can always go over your medication list during a visit. These suggestions are an opportunity for you to get more out of your visits—more of the life-affirming, caring connection that patients love about seeing their naturopathic doctors.

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Gratitude – why it’s good for your health

Gratitude is a positive emotion, and it’s intuitive that a daily dose of gratitude is a good thing. Throughout human history, humans have developed all kinds of ways of expressing gratitude. We give gifts, pray, say “thank you”, meditate, and many more. It’s one of the social behaviors that keeps things running. Many philosophers and religions have heavily emphasized the importance of gratitude. We even have a whole holiday dedicated to giving thanks!

Gratitude helps us feel better, fosters healthy relationships, and help us feel less depressed. But here is my question – why is it good for us, and how? How does gratitude affect us on a physical level, and how does that translate to better health? Lucky for us, there is some pretty nerdy research on the subject, and I’m here to tell you about what it’s found.

Researchers examined the brain using fMRI machines, which looks at blood flow in the brain. It can tell which areas of the brain are active at different times. Then, the researchers showed participants videos that would elicit feelings of gratitude. Things like people doing great deeds for others, saving their lives and so on. When the participants felt gratitude, a tiny area in the front of the brain (within your prefrontal cortex) was very active. The specific areas are linked with the reward system and moral processes.1,2


Gratitude has often been classified as a moral emotion.3 We see something that someone else does, judge it as good or bad, and thank them accordingly.

The reward centers in the brain were also activated with grateful feelings. Why is this important? The main neurotransmitter involved in this reward system is dopamine. Healthy levels of dopamine help to improve our focus, memory, and ability to think, and decreases our sensations of pain. So, when we experience gratitude, we’re giving our brains and bodies a big boost.4

The reward-seeking parts of our brains are wired to seek out positive rewards again. This means that the more you focus on feelings of gratitude in the present, the more likely you are to notice things to be grateful for in the future. In this case, practice really can make perfect.

Here are some simple exercises to help you get in the habit of gratitude:

  • Take a brief moment before each meal to appreciate the food in front of you
  • Try to notice the people around you doing nice things – take a moment to yourself to feel grateful for their actions, be sure to say “thank you.”
  • Reflective journaling – make a list of things you’re grateful for.
  • Meditate – take 5 minutes, breathing deeply, and think about one thing you’re grateful for.


  1. Fox GR, Kaplan J, Damasio H, Damasio A. Neural correlates of gratitude. Frontiers in Psychology. 2015;6. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01491.
  2. Zahn R, Moll J, Paiva M, et al. The Neural Basis of Human Social Values: Evidence from Functional MRI. Cerebral Cortex. 2008;19(2):276-283. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhn080.
  3. Vess K, Russell J. Creating a caring culture: Exploring the implications of gratitude in adult education. Adult Education Research Conference. http://newprairiepress.org/aerc/2014/papers/98. Published 2014. Accessed October 31, 2017.
  4. Korb A. The Grateful Brain. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201211/the-grateful-brain. Published November 20, 2012. Accessed October 31, 2017.
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The next superfoods: traditional fermented foods

Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were an inexpensive, yummy superfood? If I could design my own superfood I’d order up something that is tasty, accessible to everyone, full of micronutrients, maybe a little probiotic, and hey, how about some anticancer effects? Well, guess what, lots of traditional fermented foods boast all of these properties.

Recent research has been confirming the health-boosting properties of these often potent, flavorful foods. Various traditional fermented foods have been shown to have anti-tumor, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, anti-oxidant, digestion supporting, immune boosting, probiotic properties. Powerhouses! Various fermented foods have also been researched for their ability to lower cholesterol, provide immune modulation, influence mental health, reduce risk of dental caries, reduce risk of type II diabetes, inhibit harmful bacteria and inhibit unhelpful fungus.

Just a few examples of traditional fermented foods include:

  • Miso
  • Kombucha
  • Kimchi
  • Tempeh
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Natto
  • Pickles
  • Injera
  • Kvass
  • Yogurt
  • Tofu

This is a very short list, considering the hundreds of known traditional fermented foods. You can find a more complete list here.

The next superfoods

Unfortunately, the standard American diet is almost devoid traditional fermented foods, but these superfoods have been a feature of local food communities for thousands of years, on every continent. If you’re lucky enough to have a link to your culinary heritage, get out the old recipe books and see what grandma was fermenting for the family. Chances are it was an important part of keeping the family healthy. For the rest of us, recipes for these traditional fermented foods abound online. Maybe it’s time for a new family tradition?

1 Subramanian Dharaneedharan and Moon-Soo Heo. Korean Traditional Fermented Foods – A Potential Resource of Beneficial Microorganisms and Their Applications. Journal of Life Sci. 2016;26:496.

2 Mokoena MP, Mutanda T, Olaniran AO. Perspectives on the probiotic potential of lactic acid bacteria from African traditional fermented foods and beverages. Food Nutr Res. 2016;60:29630.

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The therapeutic order: what it is, why you should care

First of all, what is the therapeutic order?

Let me tell you. It’s the grouping of therapies into categories from least invasive to most invasive. Less invasive therapies have lower risks and fewer side effects, but take longer to work. More invasive therapies work faster but have higher risks and can have more side effects.

Here’s a brief overview of each category:

  1. Lifestyle interventions that establish the foundations of health (diet, exercise, stress management)
  2. Support the body’s ability to heal itself (homeopathy, reiki, acupuncture, etc.)
  3. Treat the physical body, correcting structural alignment (chiropractic adjustments or massage)
  4. Targeted natural therapies (herbal medicine)
  5. Targeted supplemental therapies (nutritional supplements)
  6. Pharmaceutical medications
  7. Surgery

More severe conditions need a higher level of intervention. Surgery and pharmaceutical medications are essential and life-saving in severe conditions. Ideally, your doctor would start with the lowest possible level based on the severity of your condition. But many people start with pharmaceutical medications or surgery because it’s quicker and easier.

Therapeutic Order

The thing is, you’ll often achieve better results if you start at the beginning of the therapeutic order. Of course, not all conditions will completely go away with lower level interventions. But with a strong foundation, your body will respond better to any treatments – including surgery and pharmaceuticals.

That is why you should care about the therapeutic order.

Imagine two houses that both look similar from the outside. One house has a strong foundation, and is solidly built. The second house has a weaker foundation and some structural issues. Next, imagine a big storm that comes along and damages both houses. The first house, with its strong foundation, could weather the storm with minimal damage. The second house got a lot of damage, and is now in need of major repairs. Both houses need repairs, but the house with the stronger foundation could withstand the storm. The second house needs near-complete renovation.

The foundations of these houses are like the foundations of health. With a strong foundation, you’ll be able to better withstand illness and recover faster with less treatment. And even if you do end up needing strong interventions, you’ll be able to recover more efficiently.

Bodies are great at healing themselves, and they’re constantly working to return us to a state of balance. They know how to heal cuts, how to fight infection, and how to warm us up and cool us down. If everything is working right, we don’t even feel our bodies working to heal.

The advantage of using the therapeutic order is that it allows the body to most of the healing work. This means that we’ll get lasting results with fewer side effects. And that means you’ll get healthier and stay that way.

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