Chemotherapy Diet Step 4: Proper Supplements for Healing Boost

If “What shall I eat?” is the first big area of concern for chemo patients, the next must be “What shall I take?” in terms of supplements in the form of vitamins, minerals, and herbs. This is a subject with an enormous amount of confusion and controversy attached to it.

Citing studies that look and sound reputable, some oncologists say that specific vitamins, minerals, and herbal compounds will lessen the effects of chemotherapy or interfere with its work. Other oncologists, referring to research just as well-grounded in good science over many years, tell us that taking food supplements makes no difference during chemotherapy. The new “integrative oncologists” — cancer doctors who include holistic approaches and traditional treatments — say that accessories enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy, help the body heal faster from both cancer and the immune-suppression work of chemo, and extend survival rates.

Supplementation Recommendations

In this book, I’m suggesting a generous round of supplementation. The kind of supplements and the recommended dosage, you’ll see, are “therapeutic” in nature, designed to help push toxins out of the body and repair and fortify the immune system.

Should we not supplement a chemo patient’s diet with vitamins, minerals, and herbs, especially those with high antioxidant values? The invariable direction from most conventional oncologists is to refrain from supplements during chemotherapy treatment. Some, believing supplements are ineffective and therefore harmless, will allow them during treatment — but not on the day chemo is administered.

The argument, and the controversy, is that supplements may produce chemical changes in the body that will interfere in some way with the work of the chemotherapy drugs. At the heart of the debate is whether antioxidants feed the growth of normal cells, cancer cells, or both simultaneously. Antioxidants, you will remember, are nutrients in foods that prevent or slow oxidative damage to our bodies. These nutrients can be extracted from foods and are available in concentrated form as supplements.

Proponents of the no-supplement idea believe that taking them may impede the efforts of chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells. However, advocates of supplements point out that antioxidants are already present in the food that cancer patients eat. Moreover, they call attention to a mounting stack of new research showing that supplements, far from interfering with chemo, increase survival rates, help to reduce tumors and enhance immunity during treatment.

Perhaps the most well-known recent research is that of Keith Block, MD, Medical Director of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment in Evanston, IL. The outcome of his study was published in 2008 in the International Journal of Cancer.

Dr. Block and his team undertook two systematic reviews of the medical literature. They concluded that there is no evidence to support the theory that antioxidant supplements interfere with the therapeutic effects of chemotherapy agents. Furthermore, they found that antioxidants improve treatment outcomes, expand survival times, and increase tumor responses. Thus, antioxidants and chemotherapy are safely recommended for metastatic and palliative care patients.

Michael Lam, M.D., M.P.H., A.B.A.A.M., concurs, telling us, “Fortunately, a large body of evidence is available to show a positive effect of high-dose repeated use of antioxidants in the period before, during, and after conventional cancer therapy.”

Dr. Andrew Weil is more cautious but, in general, supports supplementation during chemotherapy, suggesting that a patient should not take antioxidant supplements on the day before, the day of, and the day after chemotherapy; otherwise, it is okay to take supplements.

Abram Hoffer, M.D., Ph.D., a colleague of Dr. Linus Pauling, the Nobel Laureate who promoted megavitamin therapy for health and longevity, enthusiastically supported using supplements during cancer treatment. In a well-known essay, he cites the work of Dr. Kedar N. Prasad, whose review of seventy-one scientific papers “found no evidence that antioxidants… interfere with the therapeutic effect of chemotherapy and, on the contrary, suggest the hypothesis that it would increase the efficacy.”

Dr. Hoffer mentions the earlier research of Charles B. Simone, M.MS., M.D., who came to the same conclusion. He quotes Dr. Simone, “In a recent study of 50 patients with early-stage breast cancer, I evaluated the treatment side effects of radiation alone, or radiation combined with chemotherapy, while the patients took therapeutic doses of nutrients. Patients were asked to evaluate their response to the treatment in terms of its impact on their quality of life. The study’s results were impressive: more than 90% of both groups noted improvement in their physical symptoms, cognitive ability, performance, sexual function, general well-being, and life satisfaction. Not one subject in either group reported a worsening of symptoms.”

I support the side that advances the new science, indicating that applying supplements in chemotherapy treatment is beneficial.

Supplement Summary

A simple, comprehensive multivitamin and mineral may be enough to maintain well-being for a person already enjoying good health, eating an excellent diet of a variety of whole foods, and living a low-stress lifestyle. However, a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments needs much more to help deal with the original disorder and the conventional chemical remedies used to address it.

Here they are, from A to Z. My recommended dosage per day is [in brackets]. Where more than one per day is indicated, try to take the additional capsules or tablets at different times throughout the day. These are all recommended dosages for adults; quantities should be halved for children, or check with the leading health care provider. Remember that unless specified, supplements get into the body faster and better when taken with food.

  • Alpha Lipoic Acid—200 mg [3]
  •  Biotin—5000 mcg [2]
  •  CoQ10—100 mg [2]
  •  Multi-Vitamin and Mineral—[1]
  •  Niacin (Vitamin B3)—1000 mg, flush-free [2]
  •  Omega 3/Fish Oil—1000 mg [1]
  •  Panax Ginseng—500 mg [3]
  •  Pancreatin 8x [1] + 4x [4]
  •  Selenium—200 mcg [1]
  •  Spirulina—500 mg [4]
  •  Vitamin B Complex—50 mg [2]
  •  Vitamin C—1000 mg [3] or more, depending on bowel tolerance
  •  Vitamin D3—5000 IU [1]
  •  Vitamin E—400 IU [2]
  •  Zinc—50 mg [2]

Annotated Supplement List

Alpha Lipoic Acid—Alpha lipoic acid is an antioxidant made by the body and found in every cell. Other antioxidants work only in water (such as vitamin C) or fatty tissues (such as E). However, alpha lipoic acid is fat- and water-soluble, which means it can work throughout the body. Antioxidants are used up as they attack free radicals, but research shows that alpha lipoic acid may help regenerate these other antioxidants and make them active again.

  • Biotin—Biotin, a super metabolizer, quickly processes carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Especially good for sluggish systems brought on by some of the side effects of chemo, such as fatigue and constipation.
  • CoQ10—A highly effective antioxidant that boosts the immune system and protects heart function.
  • Multivitamin and Mineral—A comprehensive multivitamin and mineral as a general supplemental support. This is especially important given the ups and downs of appetite during chemo.
  • Niacin (Vitamin B3)—Flush-free niacin is a potent antioxidant and detoxifier, involved in over 50 metabolic processes that turn carbohydrates into energy.
  • Omega 3/Fish Oil—Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid that is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps with nervous system function. D.H.A., an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oils, has been shown to reduce the size of tumors and enhance the positive effects of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin while limiting its harmful side effects.
  • Panax Ginseng—A highly effective stimulant, especially for mental activity and a general tonic. Specifically, ginseng can help to lessen the effects of “chemo brain,” improving thinking and memory functions.
  • Pancreatin—A group of enzymes that break down protein, thus helping to eradicate cancer.
  • Selenium—Selenium works with the body’s natural antioxidant, glutathione. It also works in tandem with Vitamin E to protect the outer walls of cells.
  • Spirulina—Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in warm, watery, and highly alkaline environments. It comes in powdered form and also in capsules and tablets. Spirulina is essentially chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants, a potent detoxifier and immune system booster.
  • Vitamin B Complex—The B vitamins (except B1 thiamine, which can speed cell division) are essential to help with stress and keep energy up.
  • Vitamin C—Vitamin C is water-soluble, which means that it is not stored in the body and passes through rather quickly. It comes as powder, crystals, or capsules—an excellent antioxidant.
  • Vitamin D3—This can slow cancer cell growth and boost immunity.
  • Vitamin E—Studies have shown that this vital antioxidant can thwart the growth of cancer cells while simultaneously boosting immunity.
  • Zinc—Zinc, an antioxidant mineral, helps build and repair cells and tissues and enhances immunity (which is why we take zinc at the first sign of a cold).

A Special Case: Enzyme Therapy

More about pancreatin and proteolytic enzymes in general: Enzymes are proteins that help us digest our food and act as catalysts for almost every cellular activity in our bodies. The pancreas produces Proteolytic enzymes, which send digestive enzymes to the small intestines.

Proteolytic enzymes, taken on an empty stomach, can break down the walls of cancer cells and allow the immune system to get rid of them quickly. These enzymes, which also digest complete proteins, remove the protein coating on cancer cell walls, leaving the cancer cells defenseless against the immune system.

There is a fascinating history of proteolytic enzyme therapy and cancer healing. It began in 1911 with the work of John Beard, a Scottish embryologist, who connected enzymes and cancer cells and successfully experimented on eliminating cancer in animals and humans with injections of pancreatic juices.

Forty years later, the idea was taken up again by William Donald Kelley, who healed his pancreatic cancer and then proceeded to cure patients with other forms of cancer. From Kelley, we move directly to Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, who is currently practicing enzyme therapy on cancer patients in clinical trials using his specially prepared proteolytic enzymes and metabolic treatment.

Always tell your healthcare provider what you are taking to ensure no undesirable side effects. Chemotherapy patients should check with their doctors about taking angelica, arnica, bogbean, boldo, celery supplements, clove oil, danshen, feverfew, ginkgo, onion supplements, papain, and willow bark, as these might impact some treatments.

My Herbal Formula

I created This herbal formula from my research on immune support during cancer treatment. This powerful blend can speed up healing by combining cleansing with increased stamina and resistant building.

Cell Support Formula

All of these ingredients are to be combined and used in powder form. I am using “parts” to denote a general measuring method. If you use a tablespoon, “one part” would be one tablespoon; if a scoop, then “one part” is one scoop, and so on. The best is to mix them thoroughly in a large mixing bowl.

Dosage: Take two tablespoons three times daily, mixed in a glass of water, spaced throughout the day. Avoid taking it close to bedtime.

Cell Support Formula

Bovalneus1 part
Astragalus2 parts
Bioflavonoids2 parts
Cayenne1/8 part
Goldenseal1/4 part
Magnesium1-1/4 parts
Maitake mushroom2 parts
Reishi mushrooms2 parts
Schizandra berry1 part
Spinach1 part

Annotated Cell Support List

  1. Asparagus — Asparagus contains the highest amount of the highly valued antioxidant glutathione. Glutathione protects the body against certain types of cancer, boosts the immune system, and defends against particular viruses. It also helps to fight fatigue, exhaustion, and joint pain.
  2.  Astragalus — This herb helps treat cancer by enhancing the immune system. Astragalus contains polysaccharides, such as selenium, which are active and practical elements that increase T-cells. (T-cells, short for Thymus cells, are white blood cells important in maintaining the body’s immune system and fighting harmful invading substances.) Astragalus also helps protect the cells of cancer patients from more harm caused by the disease, especially from toxins and metals they may be subjected to during treatment. Dr. Oz recommends Astragalus as part of his anti-aging program because of the herb’s adaptogen (a substance that helps the body regenerate after being tired or stressed) properties.
  3.  Bioflavonoids — These chemicals provide a massive dose of antioxidant help to our internal systems. Flavonoids also have a low toxicity level compared to other active plant compounds. They have been called “nature’s biological response modifiers” because they can help us react appropriately to viruses, carcinogens, and allergens by giving a powerful boost to the immune system. Flavonoids exhibit anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer properties because they protect against oxidative and free radical damage caused by pollution and the body’s normal metabolic processes.
  4.  Cayenne — This miracle pepper is nothing short of amazing for its effects on the circulatory system, as it feeds vital elements into the cell structure of capillaries, veins, and arteries and helps adjust blood pressure to normal levels. Cayenne also cleans the streets, helping to rid the body of the “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Cayenne is also great for the stomach and the intestinal tract. It stimulates the peristaltic motion of the intestines and aids in assimilation and elimination. In clinical studies conducted in Japan, England, and the United States, capsaicin, the critical secondary metabolite compound found in cayenne pepper, has been shown to cause cancer cells to undergo “apoptosis”—cell suicide.
  5.  Goldenseal — Goldenseal’s numerous uses are attributed to its antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties. It soothes irritated mucous membranes, aiding the eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Taken at the first signs of respiratory problems, colds, or flu, goldenseal helps prevent further symptoms from developing. It has also been used to help reduce fevers and relieve congestion and excess mucus. Goldenseal cleanses and promotes healthy glandular functions by increasing bile flow and digestive enzymes, regulating healthy liver and spleen functions. It can relieve constipation and may also be used to treat infections of the bladder and intestines. Goldenseal contains calcium, iron, manganese, vitamins A, C, E, B-complex, and other nutrients and minerals. The roots and rhizomes of goldenseal contain many isoquinoline alkaloids, including hydrastine, berberine, canadine, canadaline, and I-hydrastine, as well as traces of essential oil, fatty oil, and resin. It is believed that the high content of these alkaloids gives goldenseal its antibiotic, anti-infective, and immune-stimulating qualities.
  6.  Magnesium is the second most abundant element inside human cells and the fourth most abundant positively charged ion in the human body. Within the body’s cells, it serves more than 300 functions. From relaxing muscle tissue to sharpening brain function, Magnesium is essential for restoring and maintaining health. Bestselling author Daniel Reid tells us, “Magnesium is particularly important as a co-factor in maintaining functional balance in the nervous and endocrine systems, and it’s an indispensable element in all of the body’s natural self-cleansing and detoxification responses. Without sufficient Magnesium, toxic waste and acid residues accumulate in cells and tissues, setting the stage for chronic degenerative conditions, cancer, and rapid aging symptoms.”
  7.  Maitake Mushroom — This mushroom has proven an effective cancer fighter. In laboratory tests, powdered maitake increased the activity of three types of immune cells – macrophages, natural killer (NIK) cells, and T-cells by 140%, 186%, and 160%, respectively. Researchers have found that maitake, combined with the standard chemotherapy drug mitomycin (mutamycin), inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells, even after metastasis. Studies have shown that maitake can induce interferon production, which may affect you if you have a strict interferon prescription. Please consult your practitioner if you are on such an interferon prescription.
  8.  Reishi Mushroom — The water-soluble polysaccharides, beta-glucans, and hetero-beta-glucans are active ingredients in the red reishi mushroom. These polysaccharides boost the immune system, fight tumors, and lower blood pressure. Reishi also contains the ling zhi-8 protein, an immune system booster. Supplementing with reishi is considered to be very safe, but patients undergoing organ transplants or using immunosuppressive drugs should be careful because any immune-modulating substance can interact adversely.
  9.  Schizandra Berry — This “power” berry comes from China—its Chinese name is wu-wei-zi, which means five-taste fruit. Double-blind studies suggest that Schizandra can help those who have hepatitis. The lignans in the berry appear to protect the liver by stimulating cells that produce much-needed antioxidants. Because of its adaptogenic properties, it has been applied next to some herbal medicines, such as ginseng, as a stimulator for the central nervous system, increased brain efficiency, improved reflexes, and an accelerated rate of endurance.
  10.  Spinach — According to Popeye, as we all know, spinach contributes to good health. And new research confirms it. One new category of health-supportive nutrient in spinach is called “glycoglycerolipids.” Glycoglycerolipids are the main fat-related molecules in most plants’ membranes of light-sensitive organs. Recent studies in laboratory animals have shown that glycoglycerolipids from spinach can help protect the lining of the digestive tract from damage—especially damage related to unwanted inflammation. Specific unique anti-cancer carotenoids—epoxy xanthophylls—are plentiful in spinach and almost as effectively absorbed as other carotenoids like beta-carotene and lutein.

A Final Word

Drug companies that produce chemotherapy chemicals put out a list of what is called absolute or relative contraindications—that is, a particular substance should not be taken at the same time a particular chemo drug is taken because of the specific chemical properties of each. Your oncologist will know and tell you about these, but remember to ask.