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Dietary and Herbal Supplements

Posted 10/17/2014

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  A few days ago, I wrote about the frequent use of CAM (complementary/alternative medicine) by cancer patients and survivors. The estimates of how many people use these modalities are varied, but we all know that most people at least think about the possibility. As I have said before, one really important thing is to make sure that your doctor (and any other practitioners whom you are consulting) knows what you are doing. For example, there is concern about anti-oxidants interfering with radiaton therapy, and radiation oncologists ask their patients not to take more than a simple multi-vitamin during active treatment.

  My other personal big concern is people being taken in by advertisements or practitioners who are really out for their money without any evidence of value. At its most extreme, I have known several very ill people who traveled to Mexico or to Germany for services at "special" cancer spas. There, they received all sorts of treatments and diets and cleanses and spent a huge amount of money--for no benefit. Of course, I understand the desperation and the absolute wish to do anything that might help, but I think that we are failing our patients if they don't feel safe enough with us to fully discuss these options--and if they are skeptical that we are indeed doing everything that can be done.

  Back to the more common situations, many people think about special supplements or herbs/vitamins to help treat their cancer. Again, there is no evidence-based research to confirm that these are helpful (and, indeed, a few studies at the NIH have found that certain things, like St John's wort for depression, were useless), but most do no harm. Note the "most". Just because something is "all natural" does not mean that it is safe. So, please talk with your doctor about what you are taking or thinking about taking and, probably, refrain from doing so during active treatment.

  This is a very good summary from ASCO's CancerNet. I give you the start and a link:

Dietary and Herbal Supplements

Key messages:

It's important to be an informed consumer before taking dietary and herbal supplements to treat or prevent cancer.

Talk with your doctor to learn about the safety of any supplements, including any interactions with current cancer treatments and other side effects.
People living with cancer may consider taking dietary and herbal supplements as a way to boost health, improve nutrition, or reduce treatment side effects. It’s important to discuss the possible benefits and risks of specific supplements with your doctor before taking them. There are different types of supplements:

Dietary supplements have one or more dietary ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, herbs, enzymes, amino acids, hormones and more. These can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies, grocery stores, health food stores and over the Internet. They come in many forms, such as pills, capsules, tablets, liquids, creams or powders.

Herbal supplements and botanicals are products that contain plants or ingredients from plants. These too come in several forms, such as tablets, capsules, powders, liquids and tea bags.


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