Natural products/supplements when chosen scientifically can benefit and complement chemo responses in specific cancer in many ways including: enhancing the drug-sensitizing pathways, inhibiting the drug-resistance pathways and improving drug bioavailability. Thus, natural products/ dietary supplements can benefit chemo response without increasing toxicity burden in cancer.
Aren’t many drugs plants derived? – According to a 2016 review, from the 1940s to 2014, of the 175 cancer drugs approved in this period, 85 (49%) were either natural products or directly derived from plants (Newman and Cragg, J Nat. Prod., 2016).
With the known side-effects of chemotherapy, cancer patients are always looking for additional ways to improve their well being along with taking the prescribed chemotherapy. There is a renewed interest in the medicinal use of plant derived products as an alternative, safe and non-toxic option along with conventional chemotherapy (a natural remedy for cancer). And despite the fact that there are a large number of experimental and clinical studies of various natural products/ dietary supplements and their wide use in traditional, folk and alternative medicine, there is a general misbelief amongst doctors and physicians of their utility and benefits. The opinions range from complete skepticism and this being unscientific and in the snake-oil category, to their effects being placebo or insignificant to recommend their use.
However, a study analyzed the experimental data for therapeutic efficacy of 650 natural anticancer products compared with 88 approved anti-cancer drugs and found that 25% of the natural products have therapeutic impact similar to the drug potency level and another 33% of the natural products were within 10-fold range of the drug potency level (Qin C et al, PLoS One., 2012). This data indicates that many natural products/supplements with their more diffuse mechanisms of action through multiple targets and pathways had similar therapeutic efficacy to the highly researched and tested anticancer drugs with very specific and targeted mechanisms of action. The approved drugs have high toxicity burden that natural products may not have due to their broader and more diffuse mechanism of action, hence could complement the chemotherapy if chosen scientifically.
How do Natural Products or Dietary supplements benefit Chemo Responses in Cancer?
The top three ways in which the natural products or dietary supplements chosen scientifically could benefit and complement the chemotherapy are:
- By increasing the chemotherapy bioavailability in the cell, at the site of action: Many drugs are transported into and can be actively pumped out of the cell through specific drug transport proteins. Natural products when chosen correctly can help with preventing drug export and increasing drug import into the cancer cell, thereby enabling the chemotherapy to be inside the cancer cell longer, to do its job of killing the cancer cell.
- By increasing the chemotherapy sensitizing pathways: Drugs have very specific mechanisms of action through inhibition or activation of specific enzymes or pathways in the cancer cell network. The rightly chosen natural products can have a complementary effect through their multi-target actions to modulate the multiple regulators, partners and effectors of the primary target of the specific chemotherapy.
- By decreasing the chemotherapy protective or drug resistance pathways: The cancer cell learns to dodge the chemotherapy attack by activating parallel pathways for survival that then prevent the chemotherapy from being effective. Natural products can be selected based on the understanding of the resistance mechanisms of the different chemotherapy to inhibit these pathways and improve the response.
Thus through either complementary actions, anti-counteractive actions or through elevating the intracellular bioavailability of the chemotherapy, scientifically chosen natural products or dietary supplements can help improve chemotherapy responses without increasing toxicity burden in cancer. Random use of any anticancer natural product should be avoided as it can be harmful and could interfere with the 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.