Supplementing diets with natural supplements is routinely done (as a natural remedy for cancer), but random use of natural foods/supplements by cancer patients taking cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs with horrible side-effects should be avoided. Some natural supplements and key active ingredients from natural foods could interfere with the efficacy of the chemotherapy or further worsen the side-effects due to herb-drug interactions.
A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing event associated with heightened anxiety and fear of impending suffering amongst the patient and their loved ones. In this era of information overload, there is a frenzied search for understanding cancer, what it is, how it occurs, how it is treated, what else the patient can do to tackle the disease and improve their odds of success. In this phase there is a very focused attempt to implement diet and lifestyle modifications and random natural supplements/foods that are known to have anti-cancer properties (as an alternative therapy for cancer or natural remedy for cancer) while also being treated clinically with chemotherapy.
Natural supplements, vitamins, minerals, we all know are beneficial for us and believe that they can do no harm. There are natural foods like strawberries or kale that are rich in antioxidants; some spices such as cinnamon and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties; but what does that even mean? Normally it’s not important to know why these supplements, foods and spices are good for us but for cancer patients who are taking cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs with horrible side-effects, the random use of natural supplements/foods should be avoided since some of them could interfere with the efficacy of chemo or further exacerbate the chemo side-effects due to herb-drug interactions.
Therefore, before going behind the science of how exactly natural products/foods complement or interfere with chemo drugs, it is imperative to first understand how chemo drugs work on treating cancer. Cancer is essentially a mass of uncontrolled cell growth in which the ‘abnormal’ cells that rapidly keep dividing soon start taking over and replacing the body’s healthy cells. The DNA is a key component of the cell that contains all the instructions for the genes and cellular processes, that is altered (mutated) in cancer, causing malfunction of all the inherent built-in safeguard mechanisms within the cells to prevent the uncontrolled growth. There are many different classes of chemotherapy drugs with distinct mechanisms of action, but most of them attempt to alter the DNA of the cancer cells in some shape or form in order to stop their growth and cause cell death. For example, alkylating agents will attempt to permanently damage the DNA so that the cells cannot reproduce, anti-metabolites substitute blocks of DNA and RNA and damage the cell during the replication stage, and anti-tumor antibiotics function by literally going into the cells and changing the DNA so that it stops its uncontrolled growth.
How do Natural Supplements/Foods Complement Chemotherapy?
Natural supplements/foods have active ingredients that have specific mechanisms of action that can interact with chemo drugs and cell DNA in multiple different ways, and can either enhance or exacerbate the chemo effect (herb-drug interactions). The three ways in which the right natural supplements/foods can complement the specific chemotherapy in the context of the specific cancer type is by:
- Keeping the chemo drug in the cell for a longer duration by blocking its export out of the cell, thus enhancing its efficacy;
- Preventing repair of the chemo induced DNA damage in the cell and facilitating cell death; and
- By inhibiting other chemo resistance pathways to prolong response and prevent relapse. Additionally, a large percentage of chemotherapy drugs in use today are derived from plant-based actives and therefore natural supplements when chosen scientifically and judiciously can greatly benefit and complement chemotherapy.
Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.