In this article I’ll be discussing Vitamin C and the four top cancer herbal medicines. I will run out of room if I try to cover all the nutritional supplements suitable for a person with cancer, so let us focus on Vitamin C and four specific herbs for cancer therapy. In Part 4 of this cancer series I’d like to conclude with an article on nutrients which include lycopene, indole-3-carbinol, Folic acid, OPCs, and more.
Vitamin C and Cancer
For many years it was thought that a person only required 20mg of vitamin C each day, in order to prevent scurvy. Government agencies still maintain that 60mg of vitamin C per day is enough. The fact is that most of us do not get enough vitamin C in our daily diet. Where does vitamin C come from primarily? from fresh vegetables and fruits, in their raw, fresh and un-processed state. This is why we have so little vitamin C left in our diet; the emphasis today is convenience, processed foods, and the reality for many is that they consume a nutrient depleted diet.
Treating cancer with vitamin C has been a controversial issue since Linus Pauling, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist, began to recommend it back in the 1970’s. I can still remember reading his book when I was a naturopathic student; called ‘Vitamin C and the Common Cold’. Pauling worked with a Scottish surgeon, Dr. Ewan Cameron, and decided to investigate the possibility that vitamin C might favourably help patients who already have cancer. This was the second book by Pauling, and also well worth reading even today, called ‘Cancer and Vitamin C’. Whilst vitamin C does not ‘cure’ cancer, it certainly prolongs the life of a cancer patient by a long shot. Vitamin C appears to provide various levels of protection against cancer, but it doesn’t only affect the immune system. Vitamin C has such a broad range of action in the body, that I recommended this vitamin daily for all, whether they have cancer or not. Research shows that white blood cells (WBCs) taken from cancer patents have much less vitamin C than do WBCs from healthy people. WBCs, the immune system’s primary fighting force, contain high levels of vitamin C. Vitamin C favourably affects the immune system, which must be functioning well to combat cancer.
I still meet people regularly who take vitamin C for granted, and believe that there is enough in their multivitamin pill they take each day. Well, if you are not even taking that multivitamin pill daily, the 60 milligrams you take daily on average in you diet will not even cover adequately the 200mg you require every day for the healthy function of your body. For optimal health, try between 2000 – 4000 mg per day.
Vitamin C is best taken daily long term, it is low cost, readily available and non toxic. To gain the most cancer protective effects from vitamin C, it needs to be taken every day. It only lasts 4 hours in the blood, so taking it a few times a day makes more sense than only 1 tablet of 500mg per day. Buy good quality vitamin C powder, a 500 gram tub, and ask for a buffered vitamin C, which is gentle on your tummy. Ensure it is 100% free from any sugars, colours and flavourings. Start on a level teaspoon twice daily in good quality water; take before breakfast and before dinner, and build up to three to four times daily. You will find it easier if you experiment and have this powder in some vegetable or fruit juice.
In an international journal entitled Urology, a study revealed in 2003 that vitamin C helps to prevent prostate cancer and inhibits the further growth and division of existing prostate cancer cells. If we look at what effect vitamin C had on breast cancer patients in the Pauling study, we find survival times of more than 487 days versus 52 days of patients not taking any vitamin C. This is quite incredible, when you consider that all of these patients were diagnosed as ‘terminal’. However, this study tells us very little about using vitamin C to treat early-stage disease, or to take it in reasonable amounts daily to prevent cancer. If vitamin C can do this with cancer, imagine what it can do in terms of prevention and boosting your immunity in general! Dr Linus Pauling’s recommended optimal daily consumption: 2,500 – 10,000 mg per day.
Intravenous Vitamin C
Intravenous administration of vitamin C may well prolong the life span of cancer patients and help to reduce the pain in cancer patients. This is important information for the cancer patient, I have known many patients over the years who have come to rely on morphine for pain control, and all the side-effects it brings – particularly the constipation. Both IV and oral doses of Vitamin C has been shown to minimize the toxic side-effects of chemotherapy, may assist in halting the further spread of cancer, and may also assist in the production of fibroplasia (a type of tissue that creates an obstacle to the further spread of cancer).
The most amazing acute recovery of glandular fever I have ever seen was when a 16 year old patient received a large dose of intravenous Vitamin C. The infusion took twenty minutes, and ten minutes after receiving a 20 gram (20,000mg) dose, she was essentially a normal 16yr old girl! After three infusions over the following week, it wasn’t long before she was back at school and functioning normally. In glandular fever, vitamin C gets used up very quickly in the body. A person with acute glandular fever may require doses of beyond 100, 000 mg (that’s right – 100 grams) per day to provoke loose bowel motions!
A normal person in good health only needs to take between 4 – 15 grams, (4000 – 15,000 milligrams) in order to reach the level their bowel will tolerate. Try it yourself, and find what your level of bowel tolerance is when you are healthy. You will be surprised how this changes if you have hay fever or asthma, 15 – 50 grams are required until bowel tolerance is reached, with burns, wounds or surgery you will find that anywhere between 25 – 150 grams is required to provoke a bowel response, with a mild cold you may need from 30 – 60 grams per 24 hrs until your bowel tolerance is reached, with a severe cold: 60 – 100 grams, and with a bad case of influenza, it can be an amazing 100 – 150 grams of vitamin C, and with viral pneumonia a whopping 150 – 200 grams of vitamin C are required until you get diarrhoea! It has been estimated with cancer anywhere between 15 to 100 grams in a 24 hour period are required to stimulate the bowels. What does all this tell you? – it tells you that when you are sick acutely or chronically – your requirements for vitamin C increase accordingly. In the absence of IV vitamin C, I ask all cancer patients to take between 6 – 12 grams of vitamin C every day, every 4 – 6 hours, depending on their individual requirements. The only common side effect, diarrhoea; can be controlled by simply lowering the dose. For a difference, try mixing your vitamin C powder in with fruit or vegetable juices.
You can well imagine, trying to get a huge dose of vitamin C into the body, without stimulating the bowel – you need to accomplish this by way of an intravenous solution. This way you bypass the digestive system and place vitamin C exactly where it does the most good: in the bloodstream.
Are you still convinced that there is enough vitamin C in your multivitamin pill? You need vitamin C in good amounts daily, period. Try it orally for 3 months every day, twice daily, and tell me that you did not benefit at all, and I simply won’t believe you!
It is sad fact that the least toxic and most cost effective cancer treatments available in this country such as vitamin C are still considered ‘alternative’, or ‘unproven’ (read: unprofitable) yet the most expensive and toxic options are still offered as first line treatment. Possible links between large doses of vitamin C and kidney stones have been suggested; but in the absence of a person’s history of kidney stones, vitamin C appears to be relatively safe. Avoid the chewable tablet forms of vitamin C; some of these tablets contain sugar. And if you’re considering taking high dose vitamin C, it’s particularly important to talk with a health-care professional, preferably someone well-versed in vitamin C supplementation such as your naturopath or nutrition orientated doctor.
Herbal Medicines and Cancer
A 2004 survey published in the British Journal of Cancer of more than 300 cancer patients found more than half took herbal medicines or a nutritional supplement. The survey also revealed that fewer than half those taking natural medicine had discussed this with the doctor! Cancer patients need reassurance, and need to avoid judgements and criticism of their health care choices. I have had
With cancer, there is a tendency for many people to believe that all natural medicines are harmless, whilst the general medical consensus is that it is very wrong to mix any natural medicines with conventional chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. I feel that both of these views are equally incorrect. The problem today, even with increasing interest in natural medicine, is that doctors just don’t have the expert knowledge (or time) required to deal with potential risks when patients are mixing conventional treatment with alternative medicine. The same holds true with many natural medicine providers, who lack sufficient training in pharmaceutical drug based medicine to understand the interplay between chemotherapy drugs the cancer patient has been placed on, and the herbs or supplements they are recommending for this same person. For these reasons, I feel that it is important to share some of my own personal findings and clinical experiences in the herbal treatment of cancer. The following “fab four” herbs are what I believe to be some of the best in our business in the treatment of cancer.
Please bear in mind that all herbs contain active substances that can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or pharmaceutical medications. For these reasons, herbs should be taken with care, particularly with cancer, and then preferably under the supervision of a practitioner knowledgeable in the field of herbal medicine. What I do for cancer patients is to make up a blend of the following ‘fab four’, depending on the individual requirements. I only purchase the best quality, and prefer liquid herbs to tablets or capsules.
1. Cat’s Claw – The Immune Enhancer
Beginning in the 1970s and continuing through today, studies conducted at research facilities in Peru, and around the world suggest that Cats Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) may be quite beneficial in the treatment of cancer. Cat’s claw may well be helpful in reducing the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy associated with cancer treatments.
Caution: Cat’s claw should not be combined with hormonal drugs, insulin, blood thinners like warfarin, or vaccines.
Uses: Get the real McCoy first. Start low and build up. This is a potent herb for some, you will need to experiment to see if you can tolerate it. Not the best tasting herb.
2. Pau D’Arco – Recognised Anti-tumor Action
Pau D’arco (taheebo) contains a substance called lapachol, which is a recognised anti-tumour agent, and was first used by the Inca Indians of South America over 1,000 years ago. This herb is still used today by the descendants of the Inca medicine men, to cure cancer and many other chronic diseases. Pau D’ Arco has been linked to the inhibition of the metastasis of breast cancer. Pau D’ Arco has also been reported to be capable of curing Hodgkin’s disease, according to anecdotal reports. In one trial, a prescription of lapachol (20 to 30mg/kg body weight/day) caused shrinkage of tumours and a reduction in pain for 9 patients with cancer who were participating in a small clinical trial.
Three patients ceased the treatment due to the nausea and vomiting; the other experienced no significant side effects. Three patients did experience complete remissions. One of the few clinical studies on pau d’arco for use as a cancer treatment done in 1980 in South America showed that this herb reduced most of the symptoms, particularly the pain, in people with various types of cancer. When researchers at the National Cancer Institute in America studied Pau D’Arco for use as a cancer treatment, they found that it contained only moderate tum or-inhibiting abilities, but did produce a definite immune response.
Pau D’ Arco also has significant anti-fungal properties and has had several studies confirming its effectiveness for treating candida albicans. I find Pau D’ Arco to be a first rate blood purifying herb, and it can be used for a wide variety of conditions including candida albicans, colds, flu and it has the potential as a topical treatment for fungal skin infections, skin cancers, as well as varicose ulcers.
Caution: Apart from anticoagulant drugs like warfarin or heparin, there are no reports in the scientific literature to suggest that Pau D’Arco interacts with any conventional medications.
: Can play up on the gut, give it a go and adjust the dose according to your nausea, although not as bad as the cat’s claw in this respect. The tea is great,
you can drink this herb as a tea 2x daily, flavour with a little honey.
3. Siberian Ginseng – Main Cancer Support
For patients going through chemo or radiotherapy, Siberian ginseng would be very useful herb to consider indeed. In conventional cancer therapy, the immune defences are weakened and Siberian ginseng offers a better tolerance to such treatments. This herb is known as an ‘adaptogenic’, which means that it increases the body’s resistance to physical, environmental, emotional and biological stressors, promoting normal physiological function. When you go through conventional oncology treatment with your cancer, you can easily become stressed, tired, find it hard to cope and may even have depression. Is it any wonder? If the cancer isn’t already enough to cope with, you feel helpless and want emotional and physical support before, during and after chemo & radiotherapy.
Whilst Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus) has not been proven to have any direct effect on cancer cells, it can increase general resistance and improve side effects resulting from chemotherapy and radiation. In Russia in 1964, a liquid tincture of Siberian ginseng was given to 38 people with similar types of cancer of the mouth an hour before they went through 2 weeks of radiation therapy. They experienced numerous benefits, including better sleep, an improved appetite and even a renewed interest in life, as well as normalisation of blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates. Also, the wounds that resulted from the cancer healed approximately one month before those of the people in a similar group not taking the herb. The researchers concluded that Siberian ginseng can counter the harmful effects of radiation treatment and increase the rate of healing. In 1966, another Russian experiment showed that Siberian ginseng decreased the toxic effects of chemotherapy used to treat breast cancer. NZ Doctors take note!
Uses: This herb is particularly good for those wanting straight oncology treatment, and who want good herbal support. Also a good option if you want to combine therapies. It will help you cope with conventional treatment better than most herbs I know. You can dose higher on this one than the other three herbs we have mentioned. Can take alone, or works well with other herbs.
4. Echinacea – Killer Cell (NK) Activator
Not only is echinacea beneficial in the prevention of infection from viruses and bacteria, it is also beneficial in cancer treatment. Like the other herbs which I have profiled for cancer, no conclusive evidence has been found that using echinacea for long periods of time is detrimental or contraindicated in cancer therapy. A few patients, out of many hundred I have recommended echinacea have reported mild cases of dermatitis, although this is very rare.
Studies have shown that patients with inoperable liver cancer, who were receiving a combination of cyclophosphamide (a toxic chemotherapy drug) and who were treated with echinacea, experienced a dramatic reduction in side effects associated with the chemotherapy, an enhanced quality of life, improved immune functions, and a significant rise in natural killer cell activity. Echinacea may stimulate the production of NK Lymphocytes in leukaemia patients and has even been found to prolong the life span of leukaemia patients. This herb affects the immune system in three unique ways, and according to Kerry Bone, one of the world’s most respected and experienced herbalists, is a good adjunct therapy in cancer.
Uses: As an adjunct, a good herb to help support other cancer herbs – stimulates the immune system, watch out for the ‘tingly mouth’.
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- www.tropilab.com: Article on Pau D’arco Tabebuia serratifolia and cancer
- Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea. Leuttig B, Steinmuller C, Gifford GE, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst 1989;81:669-674.