Natural Remedies During or After Chemotherapy and Radiation for Breasts
Side Effects of Radiation and Chemotherapy
Radiation weakens the immune system because it is a carcinogen. Radiation oncologists use a highly focused beam on the tumor to kill cancer cells while trying to minimize the damage to surrounding tissue. Some toxic radiation does extend beyond the tumor site, however, and often causes hair loss, weakness, nausea, and vomiting.
Radiation destroys the ability of antibodies to fight infection and cancer and can damage the thymus gland, which produces cancer-fighting T cells.
The drugs used to destroy the cancer cells left behind after surgery are toxic as well. In most cases, two or more cancer-fighting drugs are used in chemotherapy, because it’s been shown that combination therapy works better than single drugs. Unfortunately, this mixture can make the side effects worse and make it difficult for the body to absorb the nutrients it needs to keep the immune system operating efficiently.
Natural Remedies During or After Chemotherapy and Radiation
One major advantage of taking natural substances either during or after cancer treatments is that they enhance the immune system, protect it against the toxic abuses of radiation and chemotherapy, and help eliminate the toxins from the body. Eating foods that are high in the nutrients discussed below is also recommended, as well as drinking at least eight glasses of filtered water each day.
The suggested natural remedies explained below complement conventional medical therapies and in no way should replace them. Discuss any natural approach you wish to add to your treatment program with your medical team. Homeopathic remedies (see below) may be helpful and should be taken under the supervision of a homeopath or other health care professional knowledgeable in homeopathy.
HOMEOPATHIC REMEDIES FOR RADIATION AND CHEMOTHERAPY EXPOSURE
To relieve radiation side effects:
● Cadmium iodatum:relieves nausea and antidotes radia-tion poisoning
● Cadmium sulphuratum:antidotes radiation poisoning
● Ferrum metallicum:treats anemia
● Ipecac:relieves nausea
● Nux vomica:relieves nausea
To relieve chemotherapy side effects:
● Cadmium sulphuratum:relieves nausea
● Ferrum metallicum:treats anemia
● Hydrastis:relieves stomach distress
● Ipecac:relieves nausea
● Nux vomica:relieves nausea
● Opium:relieves nausea
Chemotherapy typically causes poor absorption of nutrients, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting, all of which can severely compromise an already weakened immune system. Therefore, a daily high-potency multivitamin-mineral supplement is recommended. Several animal and laboratory studies have indicated that vitamins A, C, and E boost the effectiveness of chemotherapy, although no human studies have been done.
If the supplement you choose does not meet the recommended dosages indicated for selected vitamins and minerals outlined in the section below, you will need to supplement those nutrients separately. If you are taking the chemotherapy drug methotrexate, do not take a multiple supplement that contains more than 400 micrograms of folic acid, because it may interfere with the drug’s effectiveness. Some physicians prescribe a special folic acid called leucovorin to help protect against side effects caused by methotrexate.
Researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have investigated the use of this herb as an adjunct to cancer therapy. When taken after a course of chemotherapy, astragalus can help the bone marrow produce white blood cells and boost the immune system. The recommended dosage is two to three 500-milligram capsules three times a day.
Beta-carotene increases the body’s levels of the tumor-fighting proteins called cytokines, as well as cancer-fighting antibodies and natural killer cells. It is a precursor for vitamin A, which means it transforms into a form of vitamin A as the body needs it. Beta-carotene is less toxic than vitamin A and has disease-preventive properties that regular vitamin A does not have.
Take between 15,000 and 30,000 international units of beta-carotene daily (10–20 milligrams). Beta-carotene is available in capsules and tablets and as part of a multivitamin-mineral supplement. Some people develop an orange tinge to their skin if they take more than 50,000 international units daily, but this is harmless and disappears when the dose is lowered.
If you are taking the chemotherapy drug methotrexate, even higher doses of beta-carotene are suggested, because this drug can have a devastating effect on the liver. A daily dose of 50,000 to 75,000 international units (30–50 milligrams) can be taken beginning about 2 weeks before therapy and continuing during therapy.
B Complex Vitamins
The B complex vitamins help raise the number of cancer-fighting white blood cells. Not every B vitamin plays a critical role in fighting cancer, but because all the B vitamins work together, take a B complex and then supplement with additional specific B vitamins if needed.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is often needed in higher amounts because it helps reduce the nausea associated with chemother-apy and radiation. Beginning about 2 weeks before treatment and continuing during treatment, take 50 to 100 milligrams daily or up to 150 milligrams daily for a shorter time if nausea is severe. Up to 300 milligrams may be acceptable in cases of severe nausea and vomiting, but only take this dose if you are under the direct care of a nutritional specialist.
Choline is a coenzyme that is utilized during metabolism. It is produced by the body when vitamin B12, folic acid, and the amino acid methionine work together. As a supplement it can be found in many multivitamin-mineral combinations, or it is found in the supplement lecithin, which is a source of both choline and inositol, a vitamin-like substance. Consider the following guidelines for choline:
● If you take the chemotherapy drug vincristine (Oncovin),
supplement with 1000 milligrams of choline daily in the
form of soy lecithin granules to help the nervous system.
One teaspoon of soy lecithin granules equals approxi-mately 250 milligrams of choline.
● If methotrexate is part of your chemotherapy regimen, take
1000 milligrams of choline beginning 2 weeks before ther-apy and continuing during therapy.
The powerful antioxidant coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) (a catalyst that promotes chemical reactions in the body without being destroyed or damaged by the reactions) occurs naturally in the body. Its value in the fight against cancer was first documented by Dr. Karl Folkers, who in the 1930s discovered that his cancer patients who took the antioxidant lived unexpectedly longer than patients not taking the remedy. Since then, it has been found to protect against chemotherapy-induced cardiac toxicity, which is a very common side effect of the drug doxorubicin (Adriamycin). For this reason, some doctors recommend taking 90 to 120 milligrams daily of CoQ10.
A French clinical trial studied 200 women who were suspected of having breast cancer. A deficiency of CoQ10 was found in the 80 women who were eventually diagnosed with breast cancer as well as in the 120 women who had nonmalignant lesions. These findings suggest CoQ10 may help prevent or fight breast cancer.
Danish researchers administered 90 milligrams of CoQ10 on a daily basis, several other antioxidants, and fatty acids to 32 patients with breast cancer. In six patients the tumors regressed partially. When one of the six patients was then given 390 milligrams of CoQ10 daily for 2 months, the tumor disappeared.
Another patient who had residual tumor after surgery was treated with 300 milligrams of CoQ10 daily for 3 months, and that tumor also disappeared. Although nothing definitive can be derived from these cases, some researchers say they support the belief that CoQ10 fights breast cancer in at least some women.
Suggested doses of CoQ10 for women who have breast cancer are from 90 to 390 milligrams daily. Low doses may reduce pain, increase appetite, and decrease metastases. When 300 to 390 milligrams are given daily, some patients have reported partial or complete remission of their cancer. Coenzyme Q10 is available in tablets, capsules, or oil-based gel capsules. Because CoQ10 is fat soluble, it is better absorbed when taken with fat.
If you don’t use the gel capsules, take the capsules or tablets with a bit of fatty food, such as avocado.
Coenzyme Q10 rarely causes side effects. At very high doses (600 milligrams or higher), heartburn, headache, fatigue, diarrhea, and involuntary movements may occur.
If you have breast cancer, include the supplement cysteine in your recovery plan. Look for cysteine in the form of N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) capsules. Take 1800 milligrams per day to help reduce the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. NAC is also available as an ointment, which can help prevent hair loss and decrease skin burns associated with radiation therapy.
Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) seeds contain a high level of gamma-linolenic acid, or omega-6 fatty acids. If you take the chemotherapy drug vincristine (Oncovin), evening primrose oil can enhance its effectiveness. Take one 500-milligram capsule one to three times daily.
Ginger can help alleviate nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Suggested dosages include 2 to 4 grams of dried rhizome powder two to three times a day; or a 250-milligram tablet or capsule every 2 to 3 hours, not to exceed 1 gram daily. Excessive ginger may cause heartburn.
In December 1999, researchers at Harvard Medical School in Boston reported that American ginseng inhibited the growth of human breast cancer cells in the laboratory. In Russia, researchers found that Siberian ginseng helped protect against side effects from radiation therapy. Both Siberian and Asian ginseng have been recommended following chemotherapy.
The dosage for Siberian ginseng is 2 to 3 grams per day of the dried root or 300 to 400 milligrams per day of the solid extract standardized on eleutherosides B and E. If taking the Asian form, the suggested dosage is 100 to 200 milligrams per day of the standardized herbal extract.
Ginseng is generally very safe, but it may cause insomnia. Do not use ginseng if you have high blood pressure or if you are pregnant or breast-feeding. Long-term use of ginseng may cause tender breasts and menstrual abnormalities.
According to Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Natural Health, Natural Medicine: Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, medicinal mushrooms are recommended if you “are recovering from chronic illness, undergoing cancer treatment . . . or merely want to strengthen your body’s defenses.” Medicinal mushrooms, which include maitake, shiitake, and reishi, help eliminate toxins from the body because they are a rich source of phytochemicals. Reishi fights tumors and helps produce an antitumor substance called tumor necrosis factor. Reishi is available as a tea, extract, or powder. The recommended daily dose is 3 to 5 grams. Occasionally it may cause dizziness, dry mouth and throat, abdominal upset, and nosebleeds if used continuously for more than 3 months. Do not take reishi if you are taking anticoagulants or if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Maitake inhibits tumor activity in breast cancer. To enhance the immune system, take 1000 to 1500 milligrams daily. If you have breast cancer, take 8000 to 10,000 milligrams daily.
Shiitake (Lentinus edodes) contains a substance called lentinan, which stimulates production of natural killer cells. The recommended intake is 2 to 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms two or three times per week. In rare instances, shiitake may cause temporary diarrhea and abdominal bloating if taken at high dosages.
Two other names often associated with this category of antioxidants are Pycnogenol and grapeseed extract. Pycnogenol is the patented name for the proanthocyanidins derived from pine bark. Compared with other antioxidants, Pycnogenol is 20 times more powerful than vitamin C and 50 times more powerful than vitamin E when it comes to destroying free radicals.
Grapeseed extract reportedly inhibits the growth of human breast cancer cells while enhancing the activity of normal cells.
Take grapeseed extract in the form of OPC, or oligomeric proanthocyanidin, 100 milligrams daily, while undergoing radiation.
At the University of Illinois in Urbana, scientists experimented with extracts of rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), namely carnosol and ursolic acid. The carnosol, but not the ursolic acid, appears to prevent the growth of breast tumors, at least in rats. The study’s investigators thus believe this component of rosemary may be a chemopreventive agent for breast cancer.
To prepare rosemary infusion, pour 8 ounces of boiling water over 2 grams of chopped rosemary herb. Cover and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Drink 2 to 3 cups daily.
This popular antioxidant fights free-radical damage from carcinogens and increases the levels of white blood cells and interferon, another anticancer agent. If you are undergoing chemotherapy, vitamin C can help neutralize the free radicals formed by the drugs. High doses are recommended, but the best dose for you will depend on your tolerance level. Begin with 500 milligrams daily and increase by 500 milligrams every day or two until you experience gas and diarrhea. Then reduce the dose by 500 milligrams. This is your “tolerance” dosage.
Vitamin C comes in two different salts, sodium-L- and sodium-D-ascorbate, and as ascorbic acid. The salts are more effective than the acid when taken to alleviate the damage caused by the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). If you have high blood pressure, however, avoid the salts. Ask your doctor about taking vitamin C before and during 5-FU treatment. The destructive effects of doxorubicin (Adriamycin) can be reversed by taking either form of vitamin C to tolerance level.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that can prevent damage from free radicals, protect heart muscle, help prevent baldness (a common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation), and help maintain white blood cell levels. Look for a supplement that contains vitamin E in the form of d-alpha tocopherol. Following are the dosage guidelines:
● If you are receiving chemotherapy or radiation, take 800 to 1600 international units daily. Monitor your blood pres-sure regularly. If it becomes elevated, reduce or stop taking vitamin E.
● Mouth sores (mucositis) are a common side effect of chemotherapy. Break open a 400–international unit vita-min E capsule and apply the oil directly on the sores.
● If you are taking Adriamycin, adding vitamin E appears to enhance the ability of the drug to kill cancer cells. High doses of vitamin E (1600 milligrams per day) may also help prevent the hair loss associated with the use of Adriamycin.