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Supplements during Chemo

catherine58's picture
catherine58
Posts: 92
Joined: Feb 2007

I wonder what people feel about taking supplements during chemo?

Ever since I came out of hospital I have been taking an ever expanding range of supplements - some of them taken on the advice of an oncology nurse turned medical journalist, some I've read or heard about elsewhere. They include: Selenium, Vitamins A, C and E, Vitamin B complex, Aloe Vera, Maitake, Lycopene, Curcumin (turmeric), Kelp, Acidopholus, Flax Seed Oil, Evening Primrose Oil, mineral complex (Calcium, Magnesium & Zinc), a herbal supplement for chemo support obtained from my acupuncturist, AOR Zymes (pancreatic enzyme), Co-Enzyme Q10 (recommended for sore mouth) and am considering adding Alpha Lipoic Acid.

I have no idea whether the supplements have anything to do with it, but I bounced back very quickly after surgery and have tolerated the first cycle of chemo reasonably well (only lingering problem being a sore mouth).

My oncologist is of the old school, thinks they are at best expensive urine, and recommends taking nothing more than a multivitamin (if that). On the other hand, the nurse who gives me the infusion (who has 20yrs experience) advises keeping on with them. I've searched (a bit) on the internet, and haven't come across any reports of interactions with Folfox (or indeed any chemo agent) but I'm still a bit anxious.

I wonder what other people have done? Is there any bonafide research which suggests that antioxidants can interfere with the actions of chemotherapy? Or (as the manufacturers and complementary health writers suggest) can they really work in synergy with the chemo and lessen the side effects?

Thanks in advance for your help!

Catherine

lfondots63's picture
lfondots63
Posts: 822
Joined: Jan 2006

Hi Catherine,

You will find two sides of the fence here. My first onc (I got rid of him) told me not to take any supplements. I asked him why since most of what I was taking could be found in the foods we eat. Should I stop eating the foods too??? I think that the one thing the supplements you listed do is help your nutrition so you can fight the disease. Chemo does such a number on your body that I believe (not everyone's belief) that anything I can do to help me through this I will try. If your nurse gave you this advice I would say stick with it. My chemo nurse was very helpful. And also I'm under the impression that most "old school" docs don't have enough background in nutrition to give you good advice. Not their forte?
On another note, are you using Biotene mouthwash for the mouth sores? This helped me and also the dry mouth from chemo and yucky taste in my mouth. Good luck.

Lisa F.

Betsydoglover's picture
Betsydoglover
Posts: 1256
Joined: Jul 2005

Hi Catherine -

I honestly don't know what the truth is. Most MD's have minimal nutritional knowledge. But, as far as I can tell, most "complementary" types are also selling the supplements they proclaim are helpful. Optimistically you could say that they just want you to purchase high quality supplements. On the other hand..............

So, it is very difficult to decide what is really good information.

In a way I am lucky, my 6 cycles of chemo were spread over "just" 4.5 months, and by the time I got serious about supplement research, I was already NED and felt like I shouldn't rock the boat at that time - if taking a lot of antioxidants is rocking the boat (and I have no idea if it is). Now I take supplements (although I am not always religious about it) and I hope these are a legitimate part of staving off a recurrence.

Take care, and so glad you are doing well,
Betsy

jams67's picture
jams67
Posts: 927
Joined: May 2006

My onc told me to stop taking vitamins during chemo because we were trying to kill cells and did not want to build them up. She added what she wanted me to have during the infusion mix of vile stuff. Since she was in the top 10 TX oncs, I choose to listen to her advice. I didn't want to rock the boat and don't know if I could have delt with any other chemicals, vitamins, or any other additions to my body at the time. I am now taking them again.
Jo Ann

Limey's picture
Limey
Posts: 447
Joined: Mar 2004

my onc is of the same opinion that the supps are not that beneficial. I totally disagree. I have gone the gammett from many many supliments down to about 8 diferent per day. i believe it is more abou the quality of the suppliment and making sure your supporting your immune system. Chemo for me has been rough this round but i do believe much better since i am keeping the correct minerals in my body.
just one school of thought.
Limey

hopefulone
Posts: 1048
Joined: Jan 2007

I asked my husband's oncologist about vitamins, and she was really non committal. I mentioned that I had read/heard that vitamin B was helpful for neuropathy. She said she didn't think it would hurt to take a B complex vitamin, but not to overdo it . She did mention that there was some study on vitamins that showed SOME people actually fared worse taking vitamins and supplements. So, unfortunately, it leaves us to our own devices pretty much and our own research. It Shouldn't have to be this complicated or mysterious, should it? One would think that many studies would have been done on this subject and information would be readily available from the medical experts , but again that appears not to be the case. I'm very interested in the responses to your question. Thanks for posing it. Good luck and God Bless.

scouty's picture
scouty
Posts: 1976
Joined: Apr 2004

Catherine,

Good for you!!!!! At first glance I see nothing that you are taking that could or would negatively impact chemo but I am not an expert in the chemo/nutritional nuances. I am very fortunate that my oncologist was extremely supportive of the things I did while on chemo (lots of B vitamins, minerals, mushrooms etc). I think they are the main reason why I never missed a treatment due to low blood counts. Check out astragulas for the immune system when you have a chance, I really believe in it.

I have a book I use all the time that is written by 4 doctors explaining supplements and their pros and cons for prevention and treatments of cancer including radiation, surgery, and chemo (when and why to take what). It's like a book on how to compliment the other conventional treatments. The book is "How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine" by Dr. Michael Murray, Dr. Tim Birdsall, Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno and Dr. Paul Reilly.

My Naturopathic Doctor only sold products that could only be sold by licences practiconers. She never sold anything I could get over the internet or from a health food store. The FDA does regulate some of the industry so there are differences in the quality of some products that can not be sold "over the counter". Since there is no way to buy them from a pharmacy, the only way to get some of the really good products is through someone that is licensed by the US government. I'm not sure of your regulations but that is the way it is in the US.

I too found that I learned much more from the nurses then I did my oncologist especially one that had read Patrick Quillan's wonderful book (her mother died of cancer several years before). I read his book while taking chemo and she and I would talk about it. She was a big believer in selenium and all trace minerals we can no longer get from the over produced and heavily fertilized produce we eat.

I wish you the very best and look forward to your updates. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you.

Lisa P.

taraHK
Posts: 1961
Joined: Aug 2003

Interesting question and one which many are dealing with.
For me, I am trying (slowly) to divide supplements into several categories:
1. those which maybe should not be taken while on chemo (can interefere with effectiveness -- or even endanger health).
2. those which have proven effectiveness (some this evidence is hard to come by).
3. those which migh be inadvasible even for non-cancer pts (i.e. wach maximum dose requirements/advice on vitamins.
4. Those which can probably do no harm and may well do good -- and even prolong/save our lives.

I do think it is important to tell our doctors what supplements we are taking (esp while on chemo). That would address category 1. For the others, we may need to do some research and use common sense. And faith, of course -- let's not forget faith.

I'm on chemo, currently taking a mulitvitimin-mineral (over-the counter), Vit B6 for my neuropathy, an amino acid protein drink to boost my immunity, flax seed oil for general health, and a strange chinese herbal soup -- recommended by my oncologist, which has some proven effectiness in improving red blood cell counts.
Good luck to all as we sort through these issues. I love the fact that we are all taking a pro-active attitude on our health and life!
Tara

moniquebar
Posts: 57
Joined: Jun 2006

Hi Catherine,

I found the following link very helpful, in regards to supplements:

http://www.bccancer.bc.ca/PPI/UnconventionalTherapies/naturalhealthproductscancertherapy.htm

Make certain to check out the bar at the left hand side of the page.

alta29's picture
alta29
Posts: 435
Joined: Mar 2005

I have been trying to find thhis info that I read 3 days ago and I cant find it !!!! It says that is was tested that supplements do not interfere with chemo..I will keep on lokking for it and will let you know...

Joy1216's picture
Joy1216
Posts: 293
Joined: Mar 2006

My colon cancer was diagnosed at stage 1, so I had surgery but no chemo. One of the ways I am trying to prevent recurrence is by taking supplements (on the advice of a cancer center nutritionist and a pharmacist with training in nutrition). One year later I am feeling great and my lab work is all within the normal range.

I've done a lot of reading about supplements and some of what I've read really is confusing. I did find a very informative book about a month ago called the Mayo Clinic Guide to Alternative Medicine 2007. This book makes recommendations on many individual herbs, vitamins, minerals, as well as hormones and other compounds. You might want to get hold of this book. At least Mayo Clinic isn't trying to sell you supplements. Let us know what you decide to do.
Joy

JADot's picture
JADot
Posts: 720
Joined: Jan 2006

Hi Catherine,

Just remembered, the Patrick Quillin book talks a lot of supplements during chemo, and he debunked some claims of antioxidant diminishing efficacy of chemo. I have to say that the supporting data he provided was spotty at best, as I suppose there simply isn't enough studies done on drug interactions between supplements and chemo drugs. I worked out my supplements list from Quillin's recommendations, although I credit my healthy WBC/RBC count to organic chicken :-)

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