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Can Natural or Alternative Therapies Help Manage Multiple Myeloma Symptoms?

Posted on July 13, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Jennifer Shuman

Multiple myeloma is a blood cancer of plasma cells. Treatments for myeloma involve medical approaches such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other types of drug therapy. These therapies have been thoroughly tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), meaning that the treatments have been proven effective at killing cancer cells.

However, drug treatments often come with side effects. Some people living with multiple myeloma decide to pursue a more integrated approach to treatment to manage symptoms and side effects. Complementary or integrative medicine is the use of alternative or natural therapies along with modern medical treatment options. In an integrative medical approach, complementary therapies do not replace modern medicine but rather support treatment and overall health. This is different from alternative medicine, which may or may not follow the accepted medical approaches to disease.

Complementary therapies can sometimes help people manage the symptoms of multiple myeloma, reduce side effects from treatment, and decrease overall stress. The addition of complementary therapies to a treatment plan can help people feel more supported physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Complementary therapies include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Acupressure
  • Exercise
  • Changes in diet or dietary supplements
  • Yoga
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Meditation

Modern medicine and alternative therapy health care providers strongly recommend talking with your oncologist before beginning any complementary therapies. There are many alternative treatments out there, some of which may not be effective or may not be safe for your situation.

Acupuncture and Acupressure: Relieving Symptoms From Treatment

Acupuncture is the use of needles to prick the skin or tissues. Acupressure is the use of pressure on certain parts of the body. Acupuncture and acupressure are used to relieve pain and can also improve other conditions. For example, nausea is a common side effect of chemotherapy. Studies have shown that acupuncture can potentially reduce or eliminate nausea and vomiting associated with myeloma treatment. As with any treatment, the effectiveness of acupuncture and acupressure will likely vary from person to person.

Exercise: Improving Bone Health and Overall Health

Over time, myeloma cells can build up in the bone marrow, which puts people living with multiple myeloma at an increased risk for bone pain, fractures, and degradation. The added risk makes regular exercise even more important for people who have myeloma.

However, treatments for multiple myeloma can often lead to periods of inactivity that can cause muscle wasting, pain, and decreased flexibility. Even after treatment, many people are nervous to exercise, feel too tired, or don’t exercise for other reasons. This lack of exercise can create a negative feedback loop, increasing the pain and discomfort associated with movement and leading to decreased mobility.

But research on the effects of regular light aerobic exercise (such as walking or sessions on a stationary bike) has shown beneficial therapeutic effects. In one study, continual exercise resulted in increased strength in the lower body, a higher quality of life according to participants, and an increased likelihood to continue exercising. Some findings also reported a benefit for body composition and blood pressure. Regular aerobic exercise is especially recommended for people undergoing complicated procedures (such as hematopoietic stem cell transplants) as a part of treatment.

Exercise experts and oncologists have partnered together to create specific exercise plans for people living with multiple myeloma that may be helpful. Talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Balanced Nutrition: Building Strength and Easing Side Effects

Proper nourishment during treatment is essential for overall health. Nutritional support can help people living with multiple myeloma maintain or reach a healthy body weight, build strength, fight infection, and manage side effects of cancer treatment. Nutritional therapy can be beneficial for people experiencing nausea, vomiting, constipation, or gastrointestinal problems after cancer treatments. Eating a balanced diet is especially important for people who experience loss of taste or a decreased desire to eat during treatment. A healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, protein, nuts, and seeds.

Dietary supplements may be an integrated part of treatment for some people. For example, vitamin D and calcium can help build bone strength. Dietary supplements may also help manage side effects of treatment, such as chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN). CIPN can cause a loss of feeling or dexterity in the peripheral limbs, such as the fingers and feet. CIPN does not have an FDA-approved treatment, but studies have shown that vitamin E, L-glutamine, goshajinkigan, and omega-3 supplements may lower the risk of developing CIPN. Herbal supplements, such as ginger, can decrease nausea from treatment.

Some people with multiple myeloma partner with a professional dietician to ensure they get the nutrients they need during treatment. If you choose to work with a dietician, ask if they have experience working with people with cancer. Dieticians and oncologists can work together to create the best balanced diet for your situation, so talk with your team.

Yoga, Massage Therapy, and Meditation: Relieving Mental and Physical Stress

People living with cancer often report feeling physical and emotional distress related to their diagnosis or treatment. Most complementary therapies are noninvasive and often relaxing. A regular practice of self-appreciation and self-awareness, as with yoga, massage therapy, or meditation, can be beneficial for people living with multiple myeloma.

Studies have shown that yoga helps improve mental health during cancer treatment. For some study participants, yoga also helped improve physical symptoms associated with cancer and treatment. Participants who did yoga reported an increased quality of life. Research supports that regular yoga practice can help improve the quality of sleep and relieve fatigue. Meditation and massage may have similar benefits in relaxation and pain relief.

Ongoing Studies of Complementary Therapies

Clinical trials to study the safety and effectiveness of different complementary therapies are ongoing. Participants in these clinical trials undergo cancer treatments and may or may not receive a complementary treatment. These studies allow researchers to determine the safety, benefits, and effectiveness of complementary therapies. They are essential to improve our understanding of how natural therapies can be used to provide the best overall treatment to people living with multiple myeloma. Many major university medical centers have departments of integrative therapy.

Can Natural Therapies Replace Medical Care?

It’s generally agreed that alternative therapies should only be used with modern medical approaches in an integrated approach. Well-designed and peer-reviewed research studies show that people who decide not to use modern medicine and treat themselves with alternative medicines alone have a higher risk of death and a lower overall survival rate.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people living with multiple myeloma and their loved ones. On MyMyelomaTeam, more than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with multiple myeloma.

Are you living with multiple myeloma? Have you found complementary therapies that help you feel supported? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on MyMyelomaTeam.

Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Jennifer Shuman is a graduate student at Vanderbilt University pursuing her Ph.D. in pathology, microbiology, and immunology. Learn more about her here.

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