The American Cancer Society estimates that over 1.4 million Americans will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in 2007. The vast majority will choose to be treated with conventional therapies, such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery or a combination. I often advise patients who are undergoing these treatments and want to reduce their risk of side effects and optimize their outcome. It is gratifying to help these people who are in physical and emotional turmoil. An example is Yolanda, a 62-year-old woman who was diagnosed with a form of lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). A program of nutrition and dietary supplements gave her more energy, promoted bowel regularity and boosted her immunity. Her oncologist was quite surprised with how well she tolerated her chemo treatments and remarked on her quick recovery.
Understanding Chemotherapy And Radiation
Chemotherapy involves the use of one or more drugs to destroy cancer cells. The treatments are given intravenously (IV) through a vein, orally or by injection into a muscle. These medications not only attack cancer cells but also harm healthy cells. This causes a variety of side effects, depending on the chemotherapeutic agents being used and the individual's response.
Examples of short-term side effects include loss of appetite, memory impairment, constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, nausea, mouth sores, easy bruising, fluid retention and pain in muscles, bones, nerves and joints. It also can result in bone marrow suppression, which can lower white and red blood cell counts, causing fatigue and increasing a patient's susceptibility to infection. Long-term side effects can include infertility, chronic fatigue and continued bone marrow suppression. In addition, chemotherapy can result in secondary cancers-for example, a breast cancer patient might develop acute leukemia.
Radiation therapy also kills cancer cells and shrinks tumors. It is mainly used to attack localized cancers as opposed to cancer that has spread. Radiation treatments can be administered externally by a machine, internally through radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells or via radioactive substances that are injected and circulate throughout the body. Side effects can be similar to those caused by chemotherapy, but symptoms such as redness, swelling and a burning sensation often are specific to the region being treated. Burned or reddened skin also can develop at the treated area.
Supplements That Help
The following supplements are recommended for people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. You can take all of them at once—with the exception of the mushrooms listed, which are typically taken one at a time, as directed. Always consult with your oncologist before taking any supplement. Supplements work best in conjunction with a healthful diet and lifestyle.
Toxic by-products are formed by cancer treatments. You can help eliminate these toxins from your body by supporting liver and kidney detoxification.
- Milk thistle is an excellent herb that supports liver detoxification and protects against liver and kidney cell damage. Studies show that it actually helps liver cells regenerate. I recommend a 175-mg to 250-mg capsule of standardized extract (70% to 85% silymarin) taken three times daily. It can also be taken in liquid form. An excellent product is Thisilyn by Nature's Way, available in capsule form at most health-food stores, or you can contact the manufacturer to find a retailer (800-962-8873, www.naturesway. com).
- Chlorella, spirulina, wheatgrass and other "super greens" are nature's great detoxifiers. You can take chlorella by itself—it contains chlorophyll and a host of other detoxifying nutrients. A good choice, SunChlorella A, is available at health-food stores or from Sun Chlorella USA (800-829-2828, www.sunchlorellausa.com) Follow label instructions. KyoGreen Energy by Kyolic is a good formula that contains a mixture of greens. It is available in tablet or powder form. To locate a store or mail-order company, contact Wakunaga (800-421-2998, www.kyolic. соm).
Because cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, have a suppressive effect on the immune system—which makes you more vulnerable to infection—immunity boosting is critical. The following natural therapies can be used to support normal immune function without interfering with treatment
- Coriolus versicolor mushroom extract is routinely used in Japan and China to support the immune function of people with cancer. It also is helpful in reducing the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
A study published in The Lancet examined the effects of coriolus on patients undergoing chemotherapy after surgical removal of stomach cancer. The 262 patients were randomly assigned chemotherapy alone or with coriolus extract. The survival rate of the group using the combination was 73% after five years, while the chemotherapy-only group had a survival rate of 60%. Researchers concluded that coriolus had "a restorative effect in patients who had been immunosuppressed by both recent surgery and subsequent chemotherapy." The recommended dose is 2,000 mg to 3,000 mg daily. The Mushroom Science brand of coriolus duplicates the formula that was used in the study and is available at health-food stores or by contacting Mushroom Science (888-283-6583, www.mush roomscience.com).
- Maitake mushroom extract is one of the most-studied mushroom extracts. Since the 1980s, Hiroaki Nanba, MD, a professor of microbiology at Kobe Pharmaceutical University, Kobe, Japan, has been researching maitake extract. It has been shown to enhance the activity of the body's natural killer cells against cancer cells. In addition, maitake extract has been shown to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. A survey of 671 patients showed that the use of maitake during chemo reduced adverse effects such as hair loss, pain and nausea. Maitake Gold 404 is the form recommended by Dr. Nanba. Typical dosage is 1 mg per two pounds of body weight daily. It is available in capsule or liquid form at health-food stores. For a store locator, consult Natural Factors (800-322-8704, www.natural factors.com). Or you can buy Cellular Essentials NK-5 from Swanson Health Products (800-8244491, www.swansonvitamins.com)-it contains Maitake Gold 404.
Note: Choose either coriolus or maitake based on the type of cancer being treated. Coriolus is a good general choice, especially for people with cancers of the throat, lungs and digestive tract. Maitake is better studied for cancers of the breast, prostate and liver.
- Curcumin is the yellow pigment found in turmeric, a prime ingredient in curry. It has been shown to have anticancer properties and to enhance the effectiveness of some chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin (Platinol). It has no known side effects. The recommended supplement dose is 400 mg twice daily. Many brands are available at health-food stores.
- Whey protein, derived from cow's milk, supplies all the essential amino acids the body needs for repair, including the amino acid glutamine, which prevents mouth sores and strengthens immunity. Take 20 g of whey protein powder twice daily, in water or a shake.
Digestive function often is compromised by cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy and radiation for cancers in the abdominal area. These treatments destroy "friendly" bacteria, which are important for digestion, detoxification and immune function.
- Probiotics contain beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus. Take a daily dose of 10 billion or more active organisms. Good products include DDS Plus by UAS Laboratories (800-422-3371, www. uaslabs.com) and Bio-K Plus by Bio-K Plus International (for a store locator, go to www.biok plus.com or call 800-593-BIOK).
- Ginger helps relieve indigestion, nausea, bloating and diarrhea. Sip ginger tea throughout the day, or take two 300-mg capsules twice daily.
- Homeopathic Nux vomica, derived from the poison nut tree, combats nausea and constipation. Take two pellets of a 30C potency twice daily until symptoms subside, usually within two to three days.