Many people being treated for cancer are confused when their doctors tell them to stop taking their vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. What should you do?
It is long been tradition, based upon what I call medical myth, for doctors to tell patients to stop taking nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and omega 3 fatty acids) while undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. I understand why it became tradition, but the medical evidence points to the contrary. Not only do nutritional supplements NOT interfere of chemo or radiation therapy, even better, antioxidants appear to actually help kill cancer cells, as well as prevent damage to normal cells by these toxic treatments.
Since chemotherapy and radiation therapy uses oxidative free radical DNA damage to kill cancer cells, doctors felt that antioxidants would only block the damage, making chemo and radiation less effective. That turns out not to be true. For example, radiation therapy puts out such a powerful ionizing beam of damage, to think antioxidants could prevent this DNA death ray from inflicting damage is like saying a paper bag on the train track will slow down the train.
In 2007, the journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine * published a two-part article in the January/February and March/April that concluded, contrary to most doctors’ beliefs, nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) does NOT interfere with chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
This article reviewed 50 human studies involving the use of nutritional supplements during chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Not only were nutritional supplements, such as antioxidants, found not to interfere with cancer therapy, but in 47 of these studies nutritional supplements were associated with protection of normal cells and a reduction of side effects.
During the time I practiced medicine, and over the last 10 years since speaking throughout the world, I have heard how much better people feel if they are taking a full-spectrum vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant regimen during and/or after chemo or radiation therapy. People do not seem to get as sick and tired if they take nutritional supplements at higher levels than a routine daily vitamin. Cancer patients tend to get back to work faster after chemo or radiation therapy; and in many of them do not seem to drop the white blood counts as much as they do without the supplementation.
In the article cited above, 15 studies demonstrated increased survival rates among cancer patients taking nutritional supplements.
So, how and why did it become a medical myth that nutritional supplements interfere with chemo and/or radiation therapy?
In the 2007 article, the researchers stated, “A single, front-page interview in The New York Times in 1997, which was not based on published scientific work, and a single research paper involving mice, along with a press release by its author in 1999, led to the erroneous notion that vitamin C interferes with chemotherapy and radiation in humans. This notion soon applied to all antioxidants as physicians, patients, the media, the American Cancer Society, and scores of websites took the same position without reviewing the scientific evidence.”
Although antioxidants in and of themselves help cause the destruction of cancer cells by turning on mechanisms that result in apoptosis (cellular self destruction), we have additional clues as to why nutritional supplements help enhance the killing of cancer cells with chemo and/or radiation therapy.
The authors of the two-part article explain that cancer cells take in excessive amounts of the nutrients, more so than normal cells due to a loss of regulatory mechanisms of the cancer cells. This loss of regulation by cancer cells decreases the amount of oxidative free radical damage required to damage cancer cell DNA. In other words, the cancer cells become more sensitive to the chemo or radiation therapy; while at the same time the normal cells acquire protective mechanisms.
In General, Consider the Following:
A full-spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals
Fish Oil (2000 to 4000 mg/day)
Grape Seed Extract (400 to 800 mg)
Calcium & Magnesium tablets
Co-Enzyme Q10 (200 to 400 mg)
Additional Antioxidants to Consider:
Turmeric Extract (curcurmin)
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Green Tea Extract
N Acetyl L-Cysteine (a precursor to glutathione)
Olive Extact (100 to 200 mg)
There are many other great antioxidants, but the above will give a general idea of what people can do while undergoing chemo or radiation therapy. However, in my opinion being on the basic foundation of nutritional supplements is critical for everyone, let alone people being exposed to such toxic treatments.
Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Jan-Feb;13(1):22-8.
Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Mar-Apr;13(2):40-7.
Note: Nutritional supplements and antioxidants referred to in this study were typical vitamin/mineral/antioxidant supplements, and did not include herbal treatments or products. The information provided here should not be used to replace the advice of the physician. It is intended to be an aid in discussion with the health care specialist regarding appropriate use of nutritional supplements during cancer treatment.