Getting the daily nutrition we need can be challenging for many reasons (both in and out of our control). Even the most vigilant health enthusiasts can have nutritional gaps in their diets. And when you add a cancer diagnosis to the mix, it’s even more important to identify the missing pieces that can support our overall well-being, recovery and longevity.
That’s where quality supplements come in. The right kinds of supplements are like targeted wellness support, designed to address those gaps and cover the bases so we can thrive.
Supplements are an important part of my own wellness practice, but there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the supplements industry.
- Can you trust the manufacturer?
- Are the ingredients high quality?
- Are all the ingredients plant-based?
- Do they include enough of the active ingredient to actually support your health?
The questions multiply for the cancer patients in our community (myself included!).
- Should cancer patients take immune support supplements?
- Are there any interactions with cancer treatments to be concerned about?
- Can supplements actually help you fight cancer?
She’ll share the risks we need to know about, then detail 5 ways supplements can help cancer patients (and 6 types you should explore).
I’ll let Liz share her brilliance with us now.
Please note that any medical information we share is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Certain health conditions can negatively interact with other medications you may be on. Be sure to consult a medical professional before starting a new regimen.
Can Dietary Supplements Help Fight Cancer?
There’s some controversy around supplements for cancer patients.
After so many years of research and clinical trials, it’s hard to believe there isn’t more of a consensus in the healthcare community regarding supplements and the role they play in immune support for patients.
Opinions still vary widely among doctors with many conventional oncologists discouraging supplements altogether. Their main concern is whether certain supplements will interfere with treatments or radiation. Others are just unsure what to recommend, so they take an ulta-conservative approach.
It’s important to remember that many of these doctors are experts in their particular specialty for a reason—they focus all of their attention on knowing and understanding the disease they treat and, of course, that’s a good thing! Keeping up with the latest developments in the ever-progressing world of cancer is a huge challenge all by itself.
I can understand why it might not be a priority for them to try and sift through all of the latest research from the supplement world. Admittedly, conflicting information does exist and new information from clinical trials is continuously changing what we know about supplements and their role in immune support for cancer patients.
The FDA Doesn’t Regulate Nutritional Supplements
The FDA doesn’t regulate nutritional supplements in the same way it regulates prescription drugs, which is not surprising since the supplements industry is so vast. The FDA will pull a product off the market if it is found to be misbranded or adulterated, but it might be after those contaminants have already harmed someone.
Secondly, some manufacturers make unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of their supplements so consumers don’t always get what they pay for. This may be especially true when wondering whether a supplement can actually help cancer patients.
Dietary Supplements to Avoid Completely
There are certain supplements that cancer patients should avoid altogether.
- Beta Carotene Supplements: High doses of beta carotene supplements may put you at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Once thought to aid in cancer prevention, beta carotene and other vitamins such as Vitamin E can increase your risk of cancer (more specifically stomach, colon, and esophageal cancer). Oddly enough, some studies show that vitamin E can decrease cancer risk in lung cancers.
- St. John’s Wort: This is good example of one supplement that all cancer patients should avoid as it interferes with several common drugs and can produce serious side effects.
- Green Tea: Although not definitive, a study done in 2009 in mice found that green tea may interfere with Velcade, a drug used to treat Multiple Myeloma and Mantle Cell Lymphoma.
Research is sometimes sparse regarding interactions between supplements and some of the newer cancer drugs, making it difficult to evaluate safety. In these cases, the decision to take a supplement or not requires a deep understanding of the mechanism of action of both the drug and the supplement. Sometimes it might also be necessary to weigh the benefits (and quality of life) against potential risk.
It is critical that every patient work with someone they trust to create a supplement regimen tailored specifically for their individual needs as they fight cancer.
These recommendations should take into consideration their particular disease, type of therapy, medications, side effects, stage of cancer, tumor histology, nutritional deficiencies, labs, and overall goals. A well-rounded regimen should include agents that help decrease inflammation, provide immune support, display anti-cancer properties, and address side effects and nutritional deficiencies. Let’s unpack each of those in greater depth now.
5 Ways Supplements Can Help Cancer Patients
How can some dietary supplements help patients with their cancer treatment?
Benefit 1: Reduce Inflammation
Chronic and unresolved inflammation is linked to cancer growth and progression. Plus, chemotherapy and radiation can make inflammation worse. Boswellia, Scutellaria, omega-3 fatty acids from algae oil, curcumin, and alpha lipoic acid can all help cancer patients control inflammation.
Benefit 2: Nutrient Support
Nutritional deficiencies are common among cancer patients due to various side effects such as nausea, pain and loss of appetite. Vitamin D deficiency is found in about 75% of cancer patients and is linked to advanced forms of cancer. Supplementation of vitamins and minerals can improve quality of life, deter weight loss, and help prevent treatment delays.
Zinc, iron, Vitamin C, potassium, CoQ10, magnesium, B vitamins, and Vitamin D supplements often appear at low levels in patients with advanced cancer and should be tested. A high-quality multivitamin may be all you need to get to optimal nutrient levels.
Benefit 3: Anti-Cancer Effects
Although highly debated, real data does exist regarding various compounds and their impact on the cellular pathways that contribute to cancer growth and progression. One good example, Indole 3-carbinol (the same compound found in cruciferous vegetables), is a known regulator of estrogen metabolism and signaling pathways in breast cancer.
Curcumin, resveratrol, quercetin, green tea, and melatonin, among others, have been extensively studied for their modulatory effects that can support your body as you fight cancer.
Curcumin has been studied extensively and found that it can slow tumor growth by stopping cancer cells from multiplying (studied in breast, colon, and prostate cancer).
Some studies show that Omega 3s (eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid more commonly known as DHA) such as those found in fish oil may prevent cancer and heart disease, but that is largely inconclusive. Plus, we usually avoid oily fish in a vegan diet.
Benefit 4: Immune Support
Breakdowns within our very complicated immune system play a big role in cancer initiation and proliferation. Our immune system is constantly working to fight cancer, and experts believe that if we didn’t have this capability, every person would end up with cancer of some form.
Advancements in immunotherapy drugs are significantly improving outcomes in deadly cancers like non-small cell lung cancer, kidney, and some melanomas. Research suggests that immune support supplements like medicinal mushrooms, beta-glucans, Vitamin D, zinc, antioxidants, flavonoids, resveratrol, and fiber may help strengthen several immune pathways.
Benefit 5: Reduce Side Effects
Many of the supplements mentioned above can also be used to reduce side effects like fatigue, brain fog, neuropathy, diarrhea, constipation, insomnia, and general malaise. They can help cancer patients enjoy a higher quality of life while undergoing treatment.
Can Supplements Reduce Cancer Risk?
The best “tool” for cancer prevention is a healthy—and I would argue plant-based—lifestyle. While some supplements provide health benefits, they can’t definitively be touted as tools for cancer prevention (and we established that some are even harmful). Preventing cancer by staying in good health is your best option.
Vitamins and mineral tablets can’t replace a healthy lifestyle. You can lower your cancer risk by eating a healthy plant-based diet full of colorful fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
Yes, Supplements Can Help Cancer Patients
Altogether, the research demonstrates that supplements deserve a place in cancer support. But again, regimens should be customized and carefully monitored by someone with experience.
Never take supplements that claim to “prevent cancer” or “cure cancer” and be skeptical of anecdotal evidence where one or two people make unsubstantiated claims about a product.
Randomized, controlled trials in humans are the most reliable evidence, but even these types of studies can be conducted improperly. Before taking any supplement, you should always review all supplements with your entire medical team to check for safety.
For more ideas to help manage side effects, check out Kris’s Cancer Therapies Toolkit. It’s full of natural remedies to help bring you comfort and relief today.