You will be told rather quickly by the medical establishment that dietary supplements have "no place" alongside chemotherapy or other existing medical cancer treatment. This is incorrect information, and I urge you to do your own research.
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Dietary Supplements Are Important To Help Prevent And Support Cancer
Welcome to Part 4, the final of my series on cancer. I am very impressed with how many patients I see are treating their cancer with the successful combination of natural medicines and oncology. I have heard many positive and inspiring stories, and seen cancer patients with improving health, all benefiting from natural medicines.
Let’s focus on specific supplements for cancer, and why I recommend them.
One thing I’d like to mention right at the start in terms of cancer and natural medicines is to please be careful about fads and “instant promise of a cure” herb or supplements. Be particularly cautious with internet websites, many websites are primarily aimed at marketing a product or service, nothing more and nothing less. No science here, just profit driven. I have given up counting how many cancer patients come into my office with various ‘research articles’ on herbs from the rainforest, minerals, lotions and potions all derived from the internet, some making totally outrageous claims. Some people actually believe this hype and part with lots of money to purchase products with little or no scientific validation. Buyer beware, when I typed in ‘cancer cure’ into Google, and wow, I got over 39 million results!
The second point I’d like to raise is this: dietary supplements and herbals medicines do not “cure” you of cancer, nor “cure” you of any other chronic illness. They help support the normal processes of your body, they assist normal physiological functioning and help to optimise your wellbeing. This may bring about an amazing improvement in health, but we are not talking about a “cure”. Please read my disclaimer before going any further.
Are Supplements Really Necessary?
The pharmaceutical industry would like you to believe that dietary supplements are a complete waste of time. We now know that dietary supplements are not only necessary, they are in fact critical for the prevention of chronic illness like cancer. A response published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by four well-known nutrition researchers takes strident issue with an editorial published in the same journal that multivitamins are not useful. The authors of the first paper “ignored decades of nutrition research and diet monitoring of the U.S. population to reach this misleading conclusion,” the researchers wrote.
Whilst I do buy the theory that many fresh foods today are lower in vitamins and minerals than they were years ago, I also believe that some supplement manufacturers take this to extreme and will try to make you believe that all commercial fruits & vegetables today are ‘stripped’ of any goodness, and that you must take supplements all the time in order to survive and thrive. I’m sorry, this is incorrect, a diet laden with dozens of nutritional supplements will never replace a diet rich in organically grown produce. Supplements are just that, they are only meant to supplement your diet; and when carefully balanced, they can turn a very good diet into a superb diet.
However, there is one thing they cannot do: turn a poor diet into a healthy and nutritious one. And you really can’t expect much balance or value with any cancer therapy if you eat take-away, drink any alcohol, have any coffee/tea, and have very little water and expect supplements to actually work! Stop, don’t waste your money.
A supermarket convenience diet is no basis for any cancer patient, and not even the very best nutritional supplements will make much difference here. Please improve your diet and lifestyle FIRST, then invest in the best quality products you can afford, and get some professional help to ‘fine-tune’ your cancer nutritional prescription with an experienced & qualified practitioner. This makes plain common sense to me, you save money, you take a lot less supplements, and you are much more likely to get a more targeted response.
Organically Grown Fruits and Vegetables are Best
All the top cancer research experts are finding that whole foods rich in nutrients and other compounds, especially a variety of whole grains and organically grown vegetables & fruits, are the best defence against cancer in terms of prevention as well as treatment. Ask your practitioner for advice and information for you to find out which foods contain the vitamins, minerals and fiber you need and learn how you can get adequate amounts of these foods in your diet. Fresh foods contain so much more than just vitamins and minerals and fibre, they contain many valuable enzymes, various unknown phytonutrients, and the pure living, or ‘vital’ force of the plant.
Think of your cancer diet as your nutritional foundation, a bit like the concrete slab they poured when they built your new house. Did you notice how much time the builders spent on preparation of the building site, taking precise measurements, and ultimately constructing that slab? Everything built on top of the slab is entirely dependent on what supports it underneath. Your diet is your nutritional foundation, if it is suspect, then the whole lot may come down on you one day, and you may develop one of the ‘diseases of modern civilisation’ like cancer, diabetes or heart disease. Take my advice, have a critical look at your nutritional foundation. Can you make it better? Of course you can, you can always make improvements. If you do have cancer and find yourself relying on too many supplements, check with your naturopath or nutritional orientated doctor about your diet.
Tips I give cancer patients regarding supplementation:
Take a nutritional supplement generally with meals, unless otherwise directed. All supplements can taken with a little water for best results. If you are taking several supplements with a meal, spread them out so you are taking a few at the beginning, during and at the end of the meal.
Herbs are best taken 5 – 10 minutes before meals, I recommend a 5 or 7ml dose neat on the tongue, then rinse the mouth a few minutes later with water and swallow. Shake the bottle well.
If you have been prescribed a prescription medicine by your doctor, always follow the prescribed course of medication, do not stop your prescribed medicines unless directed to do so by your medical practitioner. Remember: supplements are NOT substitutes for prescription medicines.
It is preferable not to take pharmaceutical medicines at the same time as nutritional supplements or herbs. Try to take them at different meal times, or at least 4 hrs apart.
Sick of all those pills? Try opening the contents of capsules, and mixing them in a smoothie. Sometimes your practitioner can get you a powder instead of a pill, just ask.
Too many horse-sized tablets? Try using a tablet cutter (pharmacy) or just a plain mortar & pestle to reduce tablets to powder. The powder can be simply mixed into foods and drinks.
You may find that as you start to take your supplements or herbs, that the dosage may need adjusting to suit your individual requirements. Are you going to start a new product soon?, then my advice to you: If you suspect an adverse reaction to any of the supplements or herbs, stop them for two days and then recommence them at a quarter to half the dosage they were recommended. Then try slowly increasing them to the full dosage that is recommended over the next 3 days.
Are you having chemotherapy and are taking nutritional supplements or herbs? Be aware of any interactions which may occur.
Are you really drinking enough water? You will find that by drinking between 6 to 8 glasses per day, you will obtain the most benefit out of your supplements and herbs.
Please remember, supplements are not the only thing you require, you need to have balance. Without adequate rest, a healthy diet, ample water, and plenty of sleep and regular exercise, you cannot hope to achieve your optimal level of health and wellbeing.
Dietary Supplements For Cancer Patients
There are some companies which manufacture formulas which are specifically designed as nutritional support for the oncology patient. They contain higher amounts of specific nutrients which have been found to be of benefit to cancer therapy. For example, Vitamin D has been shown to have anti-metastatic and anti-proliferation effects and Vitamin A is very important in supporting normal and healthy cell division. I have listed below some of the key nutrients found in good cancer nutrition formulas.
Caution with copper, iron and manganese
You will need to be careful with cancer and supplements, and avoid certain minerals which may be detrimental in cancer: copper and iron are potentially pro-oxidants (they may accelerate free radical damage, as opposed to anti-oxidants) and are angiogenic (may potentially allow tumours to develop new blood vessels). A small amount of copper (about 1 part copper to 15 parts zinc) is necessary however, to balance zinc levels or you will end up with a copper deficiency. Boron enhances the function of copper, and is steroidogenic (helps to increase production of steroid hormones like testosterone) and manganese is a trace element which may be difficult to clear in those with a compromised liver function.
Nutrients which decrease potential toxicity from oncology
These supplements appear to be the best ones in terms of decreasing potential toxicity from medical oncology treatments:
Vitamins A, C, D and E, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Omega 3, Selenium, Lipoic Acid, Pancreatic Enzymes, Bromelain and Zinc.
We have found that patients, who undergo chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy whilst taking a good antioxidant product, appear to handle the treatment better than those who don’t. They have less nausea, more energy, better sleep and have a more upbeat mood. This tells me that the combined treatment is probably more effective as well.
Specific Nutrients for Cancer
Vitamin A may suppress the further growth of the (already established) tumors involved in various types of cancer, safe dosage is generally around 10,000iu daily. Dosages of 50,000 IU/day for 18 months have caused toxicity in only some adults, and generally alcoholics, elderly individuals, and patients with severe liver disease have increased susceptibility to vitamin A toxicity.
The most important B vitamins for the cancer patient are B1, B2, B3, B5 and especially B6 and Folate. Folate is particularly important; Folic Acid ensures correct formation of DNA, and DNA damage in the cell is one of the underlying mechanisms for the initiation and promotion of cancer. Do not use Folic Acid at the same time as Methotrexate therapy.
Beta-Carotene, Alpha-Carotene and Lycopene are the most well known.
Carotenoids are a family of almost 1000 naturally-occurring yellow, red and orange pigments found in fruit and vegetables. They are always present in plant tissues, and are protective for the plant for harsh conditions especially. Carotenoid uptake is actually greater in cooked forms than the uptake of raw carotenoid-containing foods. So, eat plenty of cooked carrots, spinach, kale, kumara, parsley, watercress, tomatoes, capsicum, in fact – any highly coloured fruit and vegetables. Carotenoids are also best absorbed with a little fat in a meal.
Chopping, pureeing, and cooking carotenoid-containing vegetables in oil generally increases the bioavailability of carotenoids. Ensure you also supplement with a mixed carotene, anywhere from 20 – 40,000 IU daily is a good daily dose. Do you smoke and take Beta Carotene supplements? Two randomised controlled trials in smokers and former asbestos workers found that supplementation with 20-30 mg/day of beta-carotene for 4-6 years was associated with significant (16-28%) increases in the risk of lung cancer compared to placebo.
Vitamin E enhances some chemotherapeutic agents and biological response on tumor cells, while protecting normal cells against some of their adverse effects. Vitamin E alone or in combination with Vitamin C and A can be a very useful as an adjunct to standard chemotherapy by increasing tumor response and by decreasing some of the toxicities to normal cells. This vitamin may also protect against the toxic side effects of radiation therapy and may increase the effectiveness of radiation.
I would recommend up to 1000 IU per day when you have chemo/radiotherapy.
Just about every Hair Analysis we complete confirms what we commonly find in the clinic: selenium deficiency. No wonder 1 in 10 women get breast cancer in NZ, research in the 1980’s revealed that selenium was up to 75% protective of breast cancer, up to 58% protective of colon cancer, and that by taking 200mcg daily of Selenium, a male has up to 63% less chance of developing prostate cancer.
Selenium may reduce the risk of developing many forms of cancer by activating several aspects of your immune system; your body incorporates this critical mineral into cancer cells, as a means of actually counteracting cancer. You need this one, it is critical. And the dosage? relax, apparently in Japan, the average daily dietary intake of Selenium is 600 micrograms per day. This must be some indication that selenium is not as toxic as previously thought. I know some patients who have taken 500 mcg per day with no adverse effects for many years. For cancer prevention, take 200 – 350mcg per day. To treat? I would recommend about 500 mcg per day in divided doses. The best form to take? Try Selenium selenate, Selenomethionine, or Selenium picolinate.
This trace element, when deficient in the diet, has been linked to increasing chances of developing several cancers, notably stomach, breast and esophageal. Molybdenum activates several enzymes in the body, and has a pronounced effect on the liver’s function. I find Molybdenum levels quite low with many people living in Hawke’s Bay, and like Selenium, it will quite low throughout NZ. Eat more lentils, green peas and cauliflower, all rich sources of moly.
Overall, zinc is arguably the most important mineral for the immune system. Zinc enhances countless aspects of immune function; as well as having a direct and indirect antiviral effect against many viruses. Many studies have shown the almost 75% of the world’s population are zinc deficient. I recommend about 30 – 50mg per day, and do balance zinc with a tiny amount of copper if you go high dose long-term.
Magnesium inside the cell enhances DNA replication, and magnesium on the cell membrane surface may prevent changes which trigger the carcinogenic process in general. Magnesium deficiency has been implicated in the development of liver and oral (mouth) cancer particularly. I find that most cancer patients benefit in general from a good dose of magnesium because it helps to sedate and relax the body, and stress is thought be one of the primary triggers in cancer. A good dose is about 500mg per day. The absorption of magnesium decreases rapidly when more than 200 mg is consumed at one time – it is therefore advisable to take magnesium supplements in divided doses during the day. This major mineral is probably the one which you pass out in the urine the most under stress. And don’t you think being diagnosed with cancer is stressful enough, and then having to go through chemo and radiotherapy?
Whilst it is true that magnesium needs to be balanced with calcium, many of the therapeutic benefits associated with magnesium are optimised when magnesium is combined with potassium. I commonly prescribe potassium/magnesium supplementation in one capsule, and recommend from 1 to 4 per day, depending on requirements.
Germanium works by attaching itself to molecules of oxygen which are carried into the body to improve cellular oxygenation. The body needs oxygen to keep the immune system functioning properly as oxygen helps rid the body of toxins and poisons. Germanium is rather expensive because the amount found in plants is so minute, and a large number of plants are needed to obtain a small amount of this mineral. At present there is only one factory in Japan that is producing germanium. It is probably best to get this one from your diet: chlorella, Shiitake mushrooms, aloe vera, comfrey, ginseng, onions and garlic.
Breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer have all been linked to a deficiency of iodine. The low rate of breast cancer in Japan has been associated with the high consumption of iodine from seaweed products. Iodine is thought to stimulate the conversion of (breast cancer-causing) 16-hydroxyestrone to the non-cancerous form, estriol. It is interesting just how many breast cancer patients come back with a low iodine in their hair samples. This was known as far back as 1976. Are you concerned about breast cancer? I’d recommend that you check out if you are deficient in iodine or not, if so, take about 80 – 120mcg daily.
Other useful supplements worthy of mention
Indole-3-Carbinol, Green tea extract (at least containing 80% polyphenols), L-Carnitine and Laetrile (B17).
Block, G. Vitamin C and cancer prevention: the epidemiologic evidence. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 53(1 Supplement):270S-282S, 1991.
Cameron, E., et al. Supplemental ascorbate in the supportive treatment of cancer. Re-evaluation of prolongation of survival times in terminal human cancer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 75(9):4538-4542, 1978.
Wald, N., et al. Low serum-vitamin-A and subsequent risk of cancer. Preliminary results of a prospective study. Lancet. 2(8199):813-815, 1980.
Blondell, J. M. The anticarcinogenic effect of magnesium. Medical Hypotheses. 6(8):863-871, 1980.
Kumar, B., et al. D-alpha-tocopheryl succinate (vitamin E) enhances radiation-induced chromosomal damage levels in human cancer cells, but reduces it in normal cells. J Am Coll Nutr. 339-343, 2002.
Stadel, B. V. Dietary iodine and risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer. Lancet. 1(7965):890-891, 1976.
Casciari, J. J., et al. Cytotoxicity of ascorbate, lipoic acid, and other antioxidants in hollow fibre in vitro tumours. British Journal of Cancer. 84:1544-1550, 2001.
Murray, Michael T. The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: the essential guide for improving your health naturally. Prima Publishing, Rocklin, California, USA. 1996:70.
Cancer and Natural Medicine: A Textbook of Basic Science and Clinical Research by John Boik, 1995, publ. by Oregon Medical Press, 315 10 Ave. North, Princeton, Minn. 55371, USA. Phone and fax (612) 389-0768