A recent review in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that supplement use is widespread among cancer patients and longer-term survivors and that most don’t discuss their supplement use with their doctors. In fact, in different studies 64 to 81 percent of respondents reported using vitamin or mineral supplements (1).
Having an opportunity to disclose these adjunctive therapies to someone who understands their pros and cons, not only gives the oncology team an insight into what needs to be altered, but gives the patient security in knowing that their oncology team has all the facts to all of the treatment options and understands them as well.
Some herbal medicines may interact with treatments from your doctor, including cancer drugs or radiotherapy. A review published by the American Journal of Clinical Oncology found that some common herbal remedies, such as garlic, ginkgo, echinacea, ginseng, kava and St John’s wort, can interact with cancer treatments (2).
Some herbal treatments may affect the way drugs are broken down by the body, or the way drugs are carried around the body. For example, information published by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) suggests that St John’s wort can speed up the time that the body takes to get rid of the anti cancer treatment, imatinib (Glivec) by 44%. This could potentially mean that the treatment is less effective at fighting cancer. Some herbal medicines may increase the effect of cancer drugs, meaning that one could be over treated (2)
Other examples include Asian ginseng and bilberry – they can interfere with some drugs and may increase the risk of bleeding after surgery. Some herbs can make the skin more sensitive to light and one should not take them during a course of radiotherapy. We need more research into how herbal treatments interact with cancer treatments (2).
While deficiencies in vitamins and minerals is common with cancer, it is imperative that you not only know what medications and therapies you are receiving and their interactions but common intestinal issues such as leaky gut and dysbiosis will limit the absorption of any supplements you are taking and may lead to more systemic inflammation and worsening of your issues.
Finding out how your system is functioning, what deficiencies there are and interactions with current therapies is the key to an effective supplementation program as well as an effective diet program. You are what you absorb, not what you eat!
1. 1. Velicer CM, Ulrich CM. Vitamin and mineral supplement use among US adults after cancer diagnosis: A systematic review. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2008;26(4):665-73.