You Finished Treatment, Now What? *Part Seven: Nutritional Supplements
Personally, I like food. I really like food and as a naturopathic doctor, I would like to think I could derive all the nourishment I need from the foods I eat.
AND, increasingly, supplements are being studied, either one by one or in combination, to better understand how they impact cells, tissue, organs and people. Many of them show the ability to help make conventional cancer care more effective, to prevent side effects, address side effects that arise and to help prevent recurrence.
There are so many supplements available online, in health food stores, in big box stores and in the kitchen cupboards of many of your friends! I aim to streamline the decision making for my patients and offer relevant recommendations taking into consideration type of cancer diagnosis, approaches taken and ongoing treatments.
That said, no one should take every supplement shown to have an anti-cancer potential. First of all, it’s cost-prohibitive. Secondly, it becomes cumbersome to take let’s say 10 pills, capsules or powders numerous times a day! When I am with a patient, besides appreciating their health history, current medications and health goals, I assess their willingness, capacity and interest in taking nutritional supplements and then gear my prescriptions in such way as to match the person before me.
There are specific supplements for particular diagnoses, and others for symptoms that persist after cancer treatment. These are strictly individualized to the patient and vary widely. What is good for one person is not necessarily good for another. I will not go into such narrowly prescribed supplements in this short post. Rather, I will lay out some of the more broad acting anti-cancer supplements that are evidence-based and readily available. Here’s that list:
- Curcumin derived from the culinary herb tumeric, is at the top of most lists. It has been shown to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer attributes. Curcumin suppresses the initiation, progression, and metastasis of a number of cancers. The mechanism of action seems to relate to both reducing angiogenesis (the creation of new blood vessels which enable cancer cells to thrive) to tumors and to interfere with tumor growth. Patients often ask me if they can get into a therapeutic range by using tumeric in their food. I would say it’s wonderful and tasty to use in cooking, but if you are going for the anti-cancer impact you would want more than is palatable or reasonable. And tumeric’s positive impact is dose-dependent. One or two caps 2–3 times a day is what I often recommend and I encourage patients to find the better quality curcumin on the market.
- Green Tea and its principal constituent, EGCG, have been shown in numerous studies to potentially decrease metastasis both in vitro, in vivo, and in epidemiological studies for some forms of cancer. Please consult with a provider who knows which cancers green tea would be good for. You can drink green tea, but many people do not like it, so it is available in supplement form. Green tea appears to inhibit both tumor invasion and angiogenesis, essential for tumor growth and metastasis.
- Mushrooms and here we mean many different varieties, have been the focus of an enormous amount of research. From a study a few years back, we read “….The mounting evidences from various research groups across the globe, regarding anti-tumor application of mushroom extracts unarguably make it a fast-track research area worth mass attention…” I often prescribe a medical mushroom combination for my patients and also remind them to eat slightly sauteed mushrooms several times a week. Raw they are difficult to access the medicinal qualities due to the chitin layer and overcooked you zap some of the pertinent components.
- Quercetin, a flavonoid found in many fruits and vegetables, has shown an anti-proliferative impact on a number of different cancer cell lines, in vitro and in vivo. It appears to support the process of apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Many people use quercetin for help during allergy season as well. It seems to stabilize mast cells, which release histamine, hence by taking quercetin you can reduce those itchy eyes and watery nose too!
- Melatonin research is burgeoning and gaining more and more research dollars. Melatonin appears to mitigate cancer both at the very beginning of the disease process and during progression. People have long used melatonin to help with insomnia and indeed, when I recommend melatonin in higher dosages, I do suggest patients take it before bed, not first thing in the morning.
There are many other supplements to consider. I strongly recommend you work with a licensed provider who knows the pros and cons of all the various approaches and with someone who especially is knowledgeable about drug/nutrient/supplement interaction. Like all doctors, my guiding tenet is, First, Do No Harm, and patients with cancer or who are now cancer free, want to be sure to find all the benefits from nutritional supplements and as few side effects as possible!
Read here the FAQ series from the Institute of Natural Medicine.
Additional pieces in this series:
- *You Finished Treatment, Now What? Part One: Exercise
- *You Finished Treatment, Now What? Part Two: Nutrition and Eating
- *You Finished Treatment, Now What? Part Three: Intermittent Fasting
- *You Finished Treatment, Now What? Part Four: The Head Game
- *You Finished Treatment, Now What? *Part Five: Botanical Medicine
- *You Finished Treatment, Now What? *Part Six: Off Label Use of Pharmaceuticals