Cancer and Dietary Supplements -

Cancer and Dietary Supplements:

Dietary supplements are also called nutritional supplements. You might need to have dietary supplements if you have low levels of particular nutrients. For example, hormone therapy (often used for breast and prostate cancer) can weaken your bones. So your doctor might prescribe calcium and Vitamin D supplements. Or the cancer might stop you from easily absorbing nutrients from your food, so your doctor might prescribe a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement as well. Many people with cancer use dietary supplements to help fight their cancer or make them feel better. Most people use supplements alongside their conventional cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy, however you need to be extremely cautious if you are planning to take supplements and please do so under the supervision of your healthcare provider.

Few supplements that might help:

  1. Curcumin: Turmeric, a curry spice, has anti-inflammatory properties and contains an antioxidant called curcumin. Curcumin is thought to have antioxidant properties, which means it may decrease swelling and inflammation. It’s being explored as a cancer treatment in part because inflammation appears to play a role in cancer. At this time, there isn’t enough evidence to recommend curcumin for preventing or treating cancer, but research is ongoing.

Please be cautious when taking a curcumin supplement if you have the issue of your blood being too thin, as it acts as a blood thinning agent. Talk to your healthcare professional regarding the same.

  1. Vitamin D: Vitamin D is a vitamin your body needs to keep your bones healthy. Your bones need calcium to stay strong and your body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. This is why it’s important to get Vitamin D. You can get Vitamin D from some foods like egg yolks and fish. Your body can also make some Vitamin D when you’re exposed to sunlight.

Vitamin D has now been convincingly shown both in vitro and in preclinical animal models to alter the differentiation, proliferation and apoptosis of cancer cells. Whether Vitamin D prevents cancer in humans or limits cancer progression, remains as an open question. If you don’t get enough Vitamin D, your healthcare provider may recommend you take Vitamin D supplements or take a multivitamin that has Vitamin D.

Vitamin D acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. According to NCI, in studies of cancer cells and of tumors in mice, Vitamin D has been found to have several activities that might slow or prevent the development of cancer, including promoting cellular differentiation, decreasing cancer cell growth, stimulating cell death (apoptosis) and reducing tumor blood vessel formation (angiogenesis).

Please do get your Vitamin D levels checked before taking the supplement. Talk to your healthcare professional.

  1. Omega-3: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are considered immuno nutrients and are commonly used in the nutritional therapy of cancer patients due to their ample biological effects. They participate in the resolution of inflammation and have anti-inflammatory effects.

Avoid taking this supplement when you are on a medication called warfarin. Elevated INR has been reported when taken with fish oil supplements (2 g/day). INR decreases after reducing supplement intake.

  1. Ashwagandha supplement- is the traditional indian medicine which has been in use since ancient times. It’s used for stress relief and to improve general health. It can help you relax and reduce swelling. The berries, leaves and roots are employed in formulations to relieve stress, fatigue and pain and to treat skin diseases, diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis and epilepsy.

According to ASCO, In addition, microarray analysis revealed that Ashwagandha repressed proinflammatory gene expression, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-1β, IL-8, heat shock protein 70, and STAT2, and induced p38/MAPK-kinase expression in a prostate cancer cell line. The root extracts were shown to exert cytotoxic effects in lung, colon, central nervous system and breast cancer cell lines.  Withaferin A, an active constituent, demonstrated anticancer effects in leukemia cells as well as in estrogen receptor–positive and estrogen receptor–negative breast cancer cells, via inducing apoptosis and decreasing tumor size.

Side effects of using ashwagandha may include:

  • Nausea (feeling like you’re going to throw up)
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach irritation
  • Diarrhea (loose or watery stool)
  1. Mushroom blend- Mushrooms are part of the fungus family and there are hundreds of different species. They have been a part of traditional chinese medicine for centuries and are used to treat illness. They are also known as medicinal mushrooms.

A large variety of mushrooms have been utilized traditionally in many different cultures for the maintenance of health, as well as in the prevention and treatment of diseases through their immunomodulatory and antineoplastic (anti-cancer) properties.

According to NCBI, more than 100 medicinal functions are produced by mushrooms and fungi and the key medicinal uses are antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, antiallergic, immunomodulating, cardiovascular protector, anticholesterolemic, antiviral, antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal, detoxification and hepatoprotective effects. They also protect against tumor development and inflammatory processes. Numerous molecules synthesized by macrofungi are known to be bioactive, and these bioactive compounds found in fruit bodies, cultured mycelium and cultured broth are polysaccharides, proteins, fats, minerals, glycosides, alkaloids, volatile oils, terpenoids, tocopherols, phenolics, flavonoids, carotenoids, folates, lectins, enzymes, ascorbic and organic acids, in general.

Polysaccharides are the most important for modern medicine and β-glucan is the best known and the most versatile metabolite with a wide spectrum of biological activity.

In Asia, there are more than 100 types of mushrooms used to treat cancer. Some of the more common ones are:

  • Ganoderma lucidum (reishi)
  • Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor (turkey tail)
  • Lentinus edodes (shiitake) and
  • Grifola frondosa (maitake)

In view of the current situation, the research of bioactive components in edible wild and cultivated mushrooms is yet deficient. There are numerous potential characteristics and old and novel properties, provided by mushrooms with nutraceutical and health benefits, which deserve further investigations.

Make sure to speak with your oncologist first before taking any supplements.

  1. Melatonin- Melatonin is a hormone your body makes to grow and develop. It also controls your cycle of being asleep and awake. People who are undergoing cancer treatment end up losing their sleep sometimes which inturn can cause other issues, like fatigue, lack of concentration during the day etc.  This is the go to supplement when you have those sleepless nights.

According to MSKCC, Clinical trials evaluating melatonin as a monotherapy or in combination with other agents and in patients with solid tumors suggest improvements in quality of life and survival time, but melatonin did not improve appetite, weight, or quality of life in cancer patients with cachexia. In studies of postmenopausal breast cancer survivors, short-term supplementation did not influence estradiol levels but improved sleep quality. Data also suggest that melatonin may help reduce incidence of chemotherapy side effects including thrombocytopenia, asthenia and neurotoxicity; cognitive function, sleep quality and depressive symptoms; minimize radiotherapy-induced reduction in blood cell count; and protect against radiation-induced genotoxicity.

Melatonin is used to:

  • Treat insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Treat side effects of chemotherapy such as low platelet counts, weakness and depression
  • Keep blood counts from getting low due to radiotherapy
  • Treat migraines

Side effects of using melatonin may include:

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Bad dreams
  • Confusion or altered mental state
  • Fast heart rate
  • Flushing or getting red in the face
  • Itching
  • Stomach cramps
  • Low body temperature
  1. Probiotic supplement- Is the consumption of live bacteria in the form of a supplement. Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria and have been linked to a wide range of health benefits.

Cancer treatment affects not only the harmful cells in our body but also the healthy cells including the beneficial gut bacteria. This can cause various digestive issues and disturb the integrity of our gastrointestinal tract. Therefore this is another supplement which might prove beneficial especially in terms of your gut health. Few benefits to mention are:

  • Probiotics help balance the friendly bacteria in our digestive system.
  • It can help prevent and treat treatment related diarrhea.
  • Because there is a strong relation between gut and mind, it can also help in managing issues related to anxiety or depression.
  • Boost our immune system.
  1. Ginseng- Ginseng is the root of plants in the genus Panax, such as Korean ginseng, South China ginseng and American ginseng, typically characterized by the presence of ginsenosides and gintonin.

Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common side effects of cancer and its treatment. It usually comes on suddenly, is not a result of activity or exertion and mostly is not relieved by rest or sleep.

According to NCBI, ginseng is generally viewed as an “adaptogen,” a substance that can help restore balance to the body by bringing it back to a point of homeostasis. There are two major species of ginseng, Asian (Panax ginseng) and American (Panax quinquefolius). Both have a common mixture of active ingredients, the most important being ginsenosides. Between species of ginseng, there are varying amounts, strengths and varieties of ginsenosides. Ginsenosides are the main pharmacologically active ingredients responsible for the four major actions of ginseng: vasorelaxation, antioxidation, anti-inflammation and anticancer effect.

Do not take ginseng if you are taking warfarin or other blood thinners: American ginseng may interfere with the action of the anticoagulant.

According to MSKCC, breast cancer patients should use this product with caution as American ginseng may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells.

Please make sure you discuss this with your doctor before starting on the supplement.

Note: The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA)  do not regulate dietary supplements as strictly as they regulate medications and do not routinely monitor them for quality, consistency or safety. This means that it’s essential that people purchase dietary supplements from reputable manufacturers and make sure that they are organic or from a pure source.

It’s important to also note that the scientific evidence for many of these supplements is limited or inconsistent. Also, dietary supplements cannot replace standard cancer therapies. Talk to your healthcare professional or an oncologist before taking any dietary supplements especially if you are undergoing any kind of cancer treatment, as few of the dietary supplements might have the tendency to interact with the drugs or treatment. Moreover, the type of dietary supplement and the dosage would depend from person to person and case to case.


Tags: Cancer and dietary supplements, Curcumin, turmeric, anti-inflammatory, blood thinning agent, vitamin D, differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis, Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs),  Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), warfarin, ashwagandha, depression, ginseng, melatonin, mushroom blend, probiotic, Ganoderma lucidum (reishi), Trametes versicolor or Coriolus versicolor (turkey tail), Lentinus edodes (shiitake) and , Grifola frondosa (maitake), sleep wake cycle, Digestive System, treatment related diarrhea, depression, Boost our immune system, Ginseng, Panax, Korean ginseng, South China ginseng,  American ginseng, ginsenosides and gintonin, Cancer-related fatigue, cancer