Support for Before, During and Post Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy, Part I
Is it safe to take antioxidants and other natural compounds during chemotherapy and radiation? While most oncologists would vehemently say no, actually many nutraceuticals synergistically interact to enhance treatment and diminish the side effects of these treatments. Although radiotherapy and chemo kill cancer cells, they lack specificity; they are unable to distinguish between cancer cells and normal cells. Therefore, these treatments cause significant damage to the body’s healthy tissue- much of which is permanent and can be life-threatening. However, the selective use of nutraceuticals–antioxidants and natural agents found in certain foods and supplements–can enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiation while minimizing damage to normal cells. Nutraceuticals also help to detoxify the body both during and post treatment (Part II), and target the cancer stem cells that not only survive most conventional treatments, but are responsible for recurrent and progressive disease.[i]
I frequently find myself answering the question, “what should I take before, during and post treatment”?
Chemotherapy and radiation produce free radicals that can damage cellular DNA. By damaging DNA, tumor cells die, a process known as apoptosis. Antioxidants protect healthy cells from damage caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy and the lingering free radicals they create. Cancer cells are not able to correct DNA damage as efficiently as normal cells, which is why chemo and radiation are able to kill cancer cells. I find it interesting that there is still so much controversy on this subject. Brilliant researchers such as Dr Keith Block MD, Dr Mitch Gaynor MD, and Dr Brian Lawenda MD have been studying and reporting on this subject for years. Even Big Pharma jumped on the wagon by creating an antioxidant drug by the name of Amifostine, which was touted as the ‘first selective-target and broad spectrum radioprotector”[ii]. I guess it is okay for Big Pharma to cash in but not our farmers. But I digress.
Yes, antioxidants and other natural agents are to be embraced. Blueberries, for example, are strong antioxidants, and pterostilbene, a stilbenoid chemically related to resveratrol and found in blueberries and grapes, helps suppress and repair damage from radiation therapy. Common herbs such as mint, rosemary, and basil help prevent damage from radiation and have many anticancer benefits such as reducing inflammation and killing cancer cells. Ashwagandha reduces oxidative stress load and may help maintain a higher level of energy during treatment. Aloe has beta-carotene combined with lignins that remove radiation from the body. Taken during chemotherapy, graviola helps prevent side-effects such as hair loss, nausea, joint pain, general malaise, and energy loss. Cats claw may help with cell damage caused by chemotherapy and radiation treatment by repairing DNA, and can also help prevent loss of white blood cells and immune cell damage caused by many chemotherapy drugs (a common side effect known as leukopenia). Patients taking cat’s claw in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation also tend to have fewer side effects like hair loss, weight loss, nausea and secondary infections. Plus, cat’s claw can help prevent cells from mutating, and halt the spread of cancer.[iii] Numerous studies have found flaxseed to be protective during and post radiation and has other anticancer benefits.[iv] Quercitin, a bioflavonoid found in apples, red wine and onions, also enhances the radio-sensitivity of tumor cells. The list is endless.
One of the other problems with radiation and chemo is the destruction of the immune system. The immune system, which plays a critical part in keeping a patient cancer free following therapy, can become severely damaged, increasing risk for recurrence or new cancers. Both chlorella and spirulina seem to counteract these effects and rebuild the immune system. Astragalus enhances the immune system during radiation and makes T-cells and natural killer cells work better. Medicinal mushrooms offer considerable support both to the immune system and as part of an overall anti-cancer strategy, and are widely used in Japan and China for immune support for those undergoing chemo and radiation.
Certain supplements also have the ability to sensitize cancer cells to the effects of the treatment thus helping the therapy to work better. Green tea, vitamin C, omega 3’s and curcumin, for example, can help boost the effects of radiation and chemotherapy.[v]
Now, about those stem cells…
Cancer cells that are rapidly dividing are most prone to the toxic effects of drugs. Unfortunately, cancers propagate through the growth of (non-proliferating) cancer stem cells, which are the tumor’s more defended cells that weather the assault of chemotherapy and radiation and not only live to fight another day, but lead to metastasis. While there are no known cancer drugs that target stem cells, Metformin, a diabetes drug, as well as many substances in their natural form can target these cells. [vi] Adding some high-powered foods and supplements that support treatment and target stem cells should be part of all conventional treatment plans. (For recommendations, please read Cancer Stem Cells—Could They be the Key to Metastasis?)
I frequently find myself answering the question, “what should I take before, during and post treatment? “ Below is a partial list of well-researched natural compounds that offer support when taken before, during and/or post treatment. However, while nutrients and supplements can help prevent or repair some of the damage of chemo and radiation, choosing which supplements is something you definitely need to pursue under the guidance of a well-informed physician or other health care professional. Supplements, like drugs, may have adverse effects when taken together, so again, working with an integrative professional who knows which are appropriate, which work best together, and which work with your current medications is very important. For example, while curcumin can enhance the efficacy of radiotherapy and most chemotherapies, it does interfere with some chemos. There is also some research suggesting that vitamin E in high doses could possibly interfere with radiation’s effectiveness. Biotin may interfere with the absorption of some chemo drugs. That said, here are some suggestions to consider. For more information and brand recommendations, please click here.
Natures Medicine Cabinet (For recommended sources, please visit my Shop page)
- Ashwagandha (stop 2 weeks prior to surgery)
- Berries, especially blueberries (and supplement pterostilbene; pterostilbene should not be taken with Salvestrols)
- Carotenes (food, not supplemental)
- Cats Claw (do not take for two weeks prior to or post-surgery)
- Curcumin (boosts the efficacy of most chemo-therapies but does inhibit some)
- Delphinidin (maquai berries)
- Holy Basil
- Green Vegetables
- Kelp or other Iodine rich foods
- Medicinal Mushrooms
- Milk Thistle
- Mistletoe (Iscador)
- Herbs such as mint, basil, rosemary and thyme
- Omega 3’s
- Probiotics (chemo and radiation are devastating to the inner bacterial environment)
- Red cabbage and other crucifers
- Resveratrol (do not take with Salvestrols)
- Schisandra (do not take with Tamoxifen)
- Vitamins C, D, A and E
- Whey protein
*Those receiving chemotherapy are at high risk of magnesium deficiency as they often suffer from vomiting and diarrhea, which can deplete magnesium levels. Plus, several chemo drugs, such as cisplatin, lower magnesium levels. Given that magnesium is needed for vitamin D synthesis, and vitamin D is critical for the prevention and treatment of cancer, a magnesium deficiency can hinder or prevent healing.
**Selenium enhances the effectiveness of chemo and radiation therapies while reducing the toxicity to normal cells. For example, selenium helps reduce the risk of heart damage from Adriamycin and toxicity to the kidneys and bone marrow suppression induced by Cisplatin. And according to Patrick Quillin, The mineral also helps “enhance the effectiveness of chemo, radiation, and hyperthermia while minimizing damage to the patient’s normal cells; thus making therapy more of a ‘selective toxin”. Radiation increases the risk of lymphedema. Selenium may also reduce your risk of lymphedema, which has been linked to oxidative cell damage.
This information is for educational purposes only, and does not represent medical advice. This information is not intended to treat, cure, prevent or diagnose any diseases or conditions. I encourage you to discuss this information with your integrative oncologist or naturopathic doctor. Supplements are intended to supplement a healthy diet–they are not a replacement, and may contain additional ingredients. It is always advisable to discuss the use of supplements as well as nutritional support with a naturopathic, integrative or functional medical doctor before use, as often supplements may interact positively or negatively with other drugs.
Resources and more information:
https://elynjacobs.com/shop/ (Information and brand recommendations)
~~If you don’t know your options, you don’t have any~~
Elyn Jacobs is a breast cancer survivor, professional cancer strategist, speaker, and the Executive Director for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation. Elyn empowers women to choose the path for treatment that best fits their own individual needs. She is passionate about helping others move forward into a life of health and well-being. Elyn has been featured on CNN Money, Talk About Health, and Breast Cancer Answers and has written for the Pink Paper, Breast Cancer Wellness, Integrative Oncology Essentials, Surviving Beautifully, Body Local and more, and writes the Options for Life column for the Natural Healing-Natural Wellness Magazine. Elyn hosts the Survive and Live Well Radio Show on the Cancer Support Network. She is on the Medical Advisory Board for Beat Cancer.Org and is on the Advisory Board to the Radical Remission Project. Elyn lives in New York with her husband and two young boys. https://elynjacobs.com/about/
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