Chemotherapy drugs benefit and side
effects - Natural
supplements and herbs to prevent or reduce harm to the body and nausea by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.
Feb 12 2014
Chemotherapy is the use of chemical substances to treat disease. Most people use the term to refer primarily to drugs used to treat cancer.
Patients with terminal cancer who fight to the very end, taking debilitating chemotherapy treatments in the last months of life, often end up dying in intensive care. Although most cancer patients say they’d like to die peacefully and painlessly at home, the study suggests that taking an attitude of fighting up to the last minute could mean an uncomfortable or even miserable death.
Natural supplements and herbal
therapy for nausea and other symptoms
There are several natural supplements and treatments that may be of benefit:
Ginger herb may be useful to reduce chemotherapy induced nausea. The use of ginger herb daily beginning a few days before chemotherapy reduces nausea associated with the drug treatment. Julie Ryan of the University of Rochester in New York reports people who started taking ginger capsules several days before a chemo infusion had fewer and less severe bouts of nausea afterward than others who were given placebo capsules. Ginger has long been promoted for stomach upsets, ranging from motion sickness to morning sickness during pregnancy. The study used purified ginger root extract made by Aphios Corp. of Woburn, Mass. Julie Ryan found that ginger caused no side effects. The dosage used was equivalent to about one gram of the herb per day.
Fish oil counters weight loss in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Forty-six patients with advanced nonsmall cell lung cancer were enrolled and divided into two groups (one group received standard care and the other group received fish oil containing 2.5 g EPA plus DHA daily for one year. Patients in the fish oil group maintained their weight and muscle mass. Supplementation with fish oil increases first-line chemotherapy efficacy in patients with advanced nonsmall cell lung cancer. Cancer. Feb 2011.
IP6 and inositol - Patients with invasive ductal breast cancer where polychemotherapy was indicated were monitored in the period from 2005-2007. Fourteen patients in the same stage of ductal invasive breast cancer were involved in the study, divided in two randomized groups. One group was subjected to take IP6 + Inositol while the other group was taking placebo. Patients receiving chemotherapy, along with IP6 + Inositol did not have cytopenia, drop in leukocyte and platelet counts. Red blood cell counts and tumor markers were unaltered in both groups. However, patients who took IP6 + Inositol had significantly better quality of life and functional status and were able to perform their daily activities. IP6 + Inositol as an adjunctive therapy is valuable help in ameliorating the side effects and preserving quality of life among the patients treated with chemotherapy. J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2010. Efficacy of IP6 + inositol in the treatment of breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy: prospective, randomized, pilot clinical study. Department of Surgery, General Hospital Zadar, Zadar, Croatia.
Milk thistle could be helpful in reducing liver damage from the use such drugs.
Toxicol Ind Health. 2013 Nov 8. Protective effects of onion (Allium cepa) extract against doxorubicin-induced hepatotoxicity in rats.
I am undergoing radiation and taking chemo pills. It is
safe to boil/drink turmeric root?
It's difficult to say since the use of turmeric during cancer treatment has not been tested.
in patients undergoing chemotherapy
There is a condition called "chemo-brain," which effects a large number of cancer patients receiving chemotherapy patients. Patients with this condition suffer from memory loss and have difficulty with focus and concentration. Dr. Gregory W. Konat and colleagues at West Virginia University School of Medicine in Morgantown first gave one group of rats to two drugs commonly used to treat cancer, Adriamycin and Cytoxan. These drugs led to memory problems. However, memory loss was prevented when the researchers gave the rats Acetyl Cysteine, or NAC, injections three times per week during chemotherapy administered four times per week. Some have suggested that antioxidants could theoretically interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Since chemotherapy kills cancer cells, at least in part, by creating oxidative stress, taking antioxidants could weaken the cancer-fighting ability of chemotherapy drugs. A recent analysis of past studies found that antioxidants do not diminish the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Metabolic Brain Disease, September 2008.
Comments: Since it is still not fully clear whether antioxidant treatment influences the effectiveness of cancer drugs during treatment, one option is to begin antioxidant therapy with n-acetylcysteine a week after the last chemotherapy dose.
Q. I began taking acetyl l carnitine about 40 days ago, in hopes that it would help in chemotherapy induced neuropathy and fatigue. It has helped immensely. So much so, that I am hesitant to stop taking it, as your website suggests. Even for a week a month. Can you tell me what might be the problem to continue without a break? I also have been taking the alpha lipoic acid, and I will cut back on that to just a couple of times a week. I am just concerned that I will lose the energy that I have now, and that the pain in my feet will come back, not to mention the wobbliness in walking. I operate a bed and breakfast and need all the help I can get. I am 66 years of age, and have to keep up this business until our property sells, so I am so grateful for having found your website.
A. We often recommend breaks from the use of supplements since long term studies are not available. However, one must balance the benefits versus potential unknown long term risks. There are no easy and simple answers that would apply to everyone.
Drugs used in chemotherapy
There are dozens of common drugs used by oncologists (cancer specialists). Here is a discussion of a few:
5-fluorouracil (5-FU) - In cancer patients, treatment with the probiotic Lactobacillus reduces the frequency of severe diarrhea and abdominal pain that often comes with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-based chemotherapy.
Anthracyclines are used to treat a variety of cancers, including leukemia, lymphomas, uterine, ovarian and breast cancer.
Cisplatin is used widely to treat different cancers including testicular, germ cell, head and neck, bladder and lung cancer.
Herceptin is used for metastatic breast cancer.
Chemotherapy risk for breast
cancer patients - mental decline
As a treatment for high-risk breast cancer patients, chemotherapy with high-dose cyclophosphamide, thiotepa, and carboplatin is associated with a drop in cognitive performance over time.
I had chemotherapy two and a half years ago -- a
protocol including one of the drugs mentioned in your newsletter. I have 'chemo
brain' (and also a massive worsening of long-standing and previously mild and
very slowly progressive MS). Is there any reason to suppose that n
acetylcysteine NAC might be useful so long after chemotherapy? I understand you
cannot give individual advice, but I would be interested to know your opinion on
NAC's role, if any, in reversing 'chemo brain' rather than merely helping to
It is possible that either n acetyl-cysteine or other brain nutrients such as acetyl-carnitine and other may be useful. Another combination to consider is Mind Power Rx. It is difficult to predict which nutrient or combination formula would be most helpful, but is worth a try. Fish oils may also be of benefit.
I'm wondering what product you would most recommend for the symptoms of "chemo
brain", i.e. mental fog, poor concentration, minor equilibrium / balance
problems, perhaps serotonin deficiency. These symptoms are leading to what seems
like depression, or intense sadness, which wasn't there so much before. Would
5-HTP help or perhaps Mind Power Rx or perhaps both? Is it ok to use them while
There are quite a number of different herbs, supplements, nutrients, amino acids, natural hormones, fatty acids, etc., that have an influence on brain function and it is difficult to know which would be helpful in any one individual since each person has a different cancer, different chemotherapy dosage, and different physiology and neurochemistry. The best way to find out is to try a different supplement for a week or two to see if there is any benefit. 5HTP is often helpful for depression, Mind Power has small amounts of several herbs and brain enhancers.
Chemotherapy causes changes in sensitive areas of the brain, which may partly account for cognitive difficulties reported by patients and referred to as "chemobrain." The nerve cell mechanisms responsible for cognitive impairments related to chemotherapy are not completely understood, say Dr. Masatoshi Inagaki, of the National Cancer Center Hospital East in Chiba, Japan. Among 105 women who participated in a 1-year study, 51 received chemotherapy and 54 did not. Among the 132 women in a 3-year study, 73 received chemotherapy and 59 did not. Women treated with chemotherapy showed changes in a number of brain regions involving in mental functioning. Three years later, however, these differences were no longer apparent. It appears that chemotherapy could have a temporary effect on brain structure. Cancer, January 1, 2007. Mark Noble, a specialist in neural stem cell biology at the University of Rochester, New York, led a research team which tested healthy brain cells with normal clinical doses of chemotherapy drugs carmustine, cisplatin and cytosine arabinoside. The drugs are often used to treat people suffering certain breast cancers, lung cancer, colon cancer, leukemia, brain tumors and some lymphomas. The study found that the drugs were more toxic to neural cells than to the cancer cells they targeted. The drugs killed 70-100 percent of brain cells, while only 40-80 percent of the cancer cells were killed. Tested on animal neural cells, the cells kept dying for six weeks after the chemotherapy treatment was administered, the study found.
Chemotherapy risk - increase in heart
Anthracyclines are used to treat a variety of cancers, including leukemia, lymphomas, uterine, ovarian and breast cancer. They also weaken the hearts of those who are exposed to these drugs during chemotherapy..
Taxol chemotherapy not worth it
2007 - Taxol does not work for the most common form of breast cancer and helps far fewer patients than has been believed. More than 20,000 women each year in the United States alone might be spared the side effects of Taxol chemotherapy drug or similar ones without significantly raising the risk their cancer will return. That would be roughly half of all breast cancer patients who get chemo now. Taxol does not help women whose tumors are HER-2 negative.
Ondansetron for chemotherapy associated nausea
FDA has approved the first generic versions of Zofran (ondansetron) injection and injection premixed. Ondansetron is used to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with initial and repeat courses of cancer chemotherapy and following surgery.
Nurse exposure to chemotherapy
When oncology nurses have skin contact with chemotherapy drugs, it seems to increase the time needed to conceive and to also raise the risk of premature delivery. Even very low (skin exposure can cause an elevated risk of a prolonged time to pregnancy, premature delivery, or a low birth weight, even when gloves are worn during work, according to Dr. Wouter Fransman from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. On average, nurses with skin exposure to chemotherapy drugs took one month longer than unexposed nurses to get pregnant, the authors report. Moreover, nurses exposed to chemotherapy drugs were twice as likely as unexposed nurses to deliver a low birthweight child. Epidemiology, 2007.
Q. My husband has stage four colon cancer he is taking Plavix 75mg, Imdur 30mg, toprol ZL 25mg once daily. He is to start chemotherapy tablets Xeloda. What supplements would you recommend?
A. We can't give individual advice buy you could take a look at the colon cancer page for suggestions. We wish him the best outcome.