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Cancer, chemotherapy, and natural remedies

In Loving Memory of my Brother, Norbert

As part of my co-op placement at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition I was to write an article on a nutrition related topic of my choice. As I was pondering over what to write about, one of my friends said, I should write about natural remedies for cancer patients. She knew how much time I spent researching alternative and complementary cancer treatments when I found out my brother had lymphoma. I thought about it, but it was too soon after my brother’s death, I just wasn’t ready. A couple of days ago someone asked me, what to do to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy, and I felt this was a calling to share some of what I have learnt. It is still painful to write about all this, but I am sure my brother would want me to try and help others by sharing this knowledge.

Before I go into any details on which natural remedies are effective in supporting chemotherapy, there is one thing I would like to share with you. My brother saw two oncologists at two different hospitals. The first one (at Credit Valley, Mississauga) told him he should not take any supplements at all, while the second one (at Princess Margaret, Toronto) told him to go ahead and take supplements. He listened to them. I was unable to make him see what I strongly believe to be true – properly chosen natural remedies can make a difference in your quality of life while on chemotherapy, and improve your chances of survival. Many of them have even been shown to enhance the effects of chemotherapy drugs. How I wish my brother would have seen the second oncologist first! At the time I didn’t understand why someone in his shoes does not try everything offered to him in his fight for his life. Perhaps I understand better now – the system has a way of scaring you into believing that doctors are your only chance.

Cancer has many forms, and it is not my intention to discuss them here, but I encourage everyone to do some research. You have the right to know the other side of the story. The fact is that there is a lot of research supporting the benefits of alternative and complementary therapies. I will try to guide you to the best resources. There is a lot of information out there, and I know it can be overwhelming, but it is worth the effort it takes to do your research. A good place to start is the “Food Matters Cancer Learning Program”. Here you will find information on foods, natural therapies and supplements that can promote healing, in addition to an overview of the causes of cancer. The dangers of chemotherapy and radiation are also discussed, as well as the reasons why most oncologists do not support natural remedies and alternative/complementary therapies. Here is the link:

Food Matters - Learn from the World's Leaders in Nutrition and Natural Healing

If you have already decided to opt for chemotherapy, or have already started it, Dr. Michael Murray’s book How to Prevent and Treat Cancer With Natural Medicine is a must. He gives detailed description of which supplements are the most beneficial in combination with specific chemotherapy drugs, and quotes a lot of research to prove the validity of his statements. Take his dietary recommendations with a grain of salt. I believe in most cases a much stricter diet is necessary for someone with cancer, and your diet should be individualized to your specific needs, unless it is part of a dietary therapy, such as the Gerson therapy.

Some Facts about Chemotherapy

All drugs used in chemotherapy are powerful cellular poisons. Most of them kill cells by preventing them form reproducing. The problem, however, is that cells of the intestinal lining and bone marrow are also prone to being destroyed by chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy drugs cause mutations in the patient’s DNA, these drugs are in and of themselves carcinogenic.

Some of the Most Common Side Effects of Chemotherapy

  • decrease in number of immune cells and blood platelets
  • anaemia
  • digestive problems (nausea, inflammation of the gastric mucosa)
  • hair loss
  • cardiac, renal or other complications

Some Ways You Can Minimize Side Effects

  • Proteolytic (protein dissolving) enzymes (Wobenzyme or Zymactive) increase the production of cancer blocking chemicals (antiproteases), inhibit the formation of blood vessels that supply nutrients to cancer cells (angiogenesis), and help prevent the spreading of cancer to other areas of the body (metastasis). They are also anti-inflammatory.
  • Quercetin has been shown to be the most effective anti-tumor flavonoid.
  • Curcumin (the yellow pigment in turmeric) has been shown to inhibit tumor growth.
  • Maitake mushrooms have immune enhancing properties, and are useful for restoring immune function impaired by chemotherapy drugs.
  • Antioxidants – studies have shown that antioxidants help achieve programmed cell suicide (apoptosis) of cancer cells, and also inhibit the ability of cancer cells to switch on the gene that makes them grow. (Here Michael Murray will recommend a much lower dosage, than the Food Matters Cancer Learning Program.)
  • Fish oil (EPA/DHA) has increased survival rates of cancer patients according to studies, and it also enhances the effectiveness of certain chemotherapy drugs. It helps build cell membranes that can breath well (cancer thrives in an environment devoid of oxygen).
  • L-Glutamine (Glutagenics from Metagenics is the one my brother used, this supplement was one of the most beneficial ones as far as improving his quality of life) Glutamine helps restore the intestinal lining damaged by chemotherapy drugs.
  • Pau d’arco – in addition to having anti-cancer properties, this herb also has antioxidant, antiparasitic, antimicrobial, antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and laxative properties.
  • Green drinks such as wheat grass juice or broccoli sprout juice help alkalize the body, thereby creating an unfavourable environment for cancer cells.
  • Mineral formulas can also be used to alkalize the body.
  • Fiber to aid elimination of toxins.
  • Probiotics help to create a healthy intestinal flora.

Your health care provider may also suggest homeopathic remedies to detoxify the liver, kidneys and the gallbladder. These could be Unda drops or Boiron pellets. Here are some examples of homeopathic remedies:

  • Nux Vomica is helpful for nausea, and also helps drain the liver.
  • Ferrum Phosphoricum is the homeopathic form of iron, which can be taken during chemotherapy (while supplemental iron is not allowed). It will help bring up red blood cell count, which usually falls as a side-effect of chemotherapy.

I hope this gives you an insight into the many natural remedies that can support chemotherapy. I would like to emphasize again, that each person has individual biochemistry, and the help of a naturopathic doctor or nutritionist in choosing the right supplements is essential.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. For your specific needs seek the advise of a qualified health care provider.

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