What is Evidence-Based Natural Medicine?

Posted on Mar 25, 2013 in Introduction to Integrative Oncology

Evidence based medicine uses medical research to guide and inform medical decisions. There is a growing body of research regarding the benefits of natural products and lifestyle choices in both cancer prevention and cancer treatment. Naturopathic oncologists apply this research in their practice of evidence-based naturopathic medicine.

There is a lot of information online regarding natural healthcare options for people with cancer. Some of this is useful and reliable. Some of it is questionable. And some of it can be hard to interpret and use.

When looking at health information, here are some helpful questions to ask:

  • Was the study done with humans, animals, or a test tube (in vitro)? Human studies give the strongest evidence. Animal and in vitro studies can help to generate new ideas to test, but do not prove that a therapy will work in humans. 
  • Was this a study, or someone’s personal story? While personal stories can be inspiring, your own results may vary. Case studies often leave out important information, such as other treatments the person may have gotten, or the subtype of their tumor.
  • For one person to get results, how many people have to take the treatment? And what is the result. This is called the number needed to treat (NNT). An NNT is available if a diagnostic procedure or treatment has been studied in large randomized clinical studies. For example, between 8 and 17 women would need to take Herceptin for a year in order for 1 woman to be breast cancer free for 3 years.  So, the NNT is between 8 and 17. If 11 people with cancer take PSK from coriolus mushroom, 1 more will be alive after 5 years. So, the NNT for coriolus is 11. For more information about the NNTs of oncology tests and treatments, click here (link).
  • How was the natural product dosed? For example, if a medicinal mushroom was injected directly into the tumor in a rat, that doesn’t necessarily mean that eating that mushroom will affect a tumor.
  • How much of the natural product was dosed? Products are usually dosed by body weight. You can then translate this to your weight, and to the number of pills that you would have to take. For example, there are studies showing that L-carnitine can improve cachexia and fatigue in cancer patients. However, the dose used in the study equals 12 pills a day. If you’re already not hungry and losing weight, taking 12 pills daily may not be a good idea.
  • How big was the effect? A chemotherapy that extends life by 2 years may be worthwhile, while one that extends life by 2 weeks may not be.
  • Was this a study of cancer prevention or cancer treatment? Cancer cells do not follow the same rules as normal cells. Sometimes, things that prevent cancer also fight cancer. This is true for exercise and a low-glycemic diet. On the other hand, things that prevent cancer may not help with established cancer, and may even make things worse. Folic acid prevents colon cancer from developing. But, once you have a precancerous polyp, folic acid will accelerate the development of cancer.

I can help you to find the most helpful evidence-based natural therapies for your situation. In a time of information overload, you can have clarity. I can help you choose the most effective approach, so that you can stop searching and get back to living.