In last week’s article I discussed the fact that dietary intake is the foundation for Integrative Oncology. The quality of the food you take in, ensuring high antioxidant and fibre intakes and using strategies like fasting and low-carbohydrate intake etc. can help to support the body – both to tackle Cancer itself, but also to help Cancer patients deal with the often arduous courses of treatment.
But what about actual adjunct therapies – the things you may have read about in the media, on blogs or in forums – which are purported to help treat, reverse or ‘cure’ cancer? Is there any evidence to suggest that natural vitamins or supplements can work where conventional therapies fail?
Here I refer you back to my previous article. This should not be about either/or. Integrative therapeutics should work with the conventional treatments and are not designed to replace them.
You may have read in the media about cases in which conventional treatments have been inappropriate or failed to have full efficacy. Instead, sensational results have been achieved using turmeric or meditation or prayer or something ‘natural’. Certainly these cases may exist, but as far I as I can tell, they are the exception.
Instead, what I am mindful of when working with my Cancer patients is that there is mounting evidence for using certain therapies in addition to conventional cancer treatments – and this is the way I am presenting the information in this article.
This is NOT to claim that any one of these things is a miracle cure, because they aren’t. Nor is this to state that all of these should be used in every case, that each is appropriate for everyone and that all should even be used at once – because they really shouldn’t. Adjuncts don’t replace or add on – they complement. But more is not always better and there are no guarantees. PLEASE work WITH your practitioners and consultants – but I hope that this article might give you an idea of some questions to ask.
ADJUNCT VITAMIN THERAPIES – VITAMIN C
There are many vitamin therapies that are being investigated in light of their potential capacity to benefit the Cancer patient. Whilst many are accruing mounting evidence, there are those which already have a weight of evidence behind them.
Perhaps the most well-known (and actually easy to access) of these are intravenous (IV) treatments of Vitamin C and Glutathione. If you’re reading this blog then you’re likely to have heard of these supplements. You’re probably even taking them. But when we talk about them in the context of Cancer therapy we alter dosage and we change the way we use them.
Because vitamins – the ones you take every day, those that someone like me recommends to you – that are used to ‘supplement’ simply ensure your level of intake is enough for daily health, supporting normal physiology. And yes, whilst dietary intake should suffice there are many reasons (poor soil quality, Westernised food availability and more) that mean obtaining nutrient sufficiency from our diets can be almost impossible.
Additionally our daily requirements of vitamins change when in a state of metabolic or chronic illness. Immune system issues rapidly use up nutrients and high quantities of stress or toxicity in the environment means we may end up actually needing more than just ‘sufficient’. This heightened demand is the major indication for supplementing with vitamins and nutrients.
And yes, in the case of Cancer and Vitamin C, supplementation can be used in this way – to make the antioxidant capacity of the body stronger and to increase ability to tolerate drugs and the toxicity and inflammation created by the Cancer itself. However, in Cancer there is another interesting way to use Vitamin C.
So much controversy surrounds Vitamin C – largely because early proponents of Vitamin C as a curative supplement extolled its virtues so much that they prescribed high oral doses for literally everything (more is better, right?!). This was based on theory and mechanistic understanding – though, admittedly, before we knew all the mechanisms of Vitamin C’s effects.
If you put Vitamin C into PubMed, there are still many articles stating that the benefits of Vitamin C are overstated and that caution should be advised in using this in high doses.
However, there is also evidence to suggest that overall fatigue scores and reporting of general quality of life (in Cancer patients) is improved when Vitamin C is part of their regimen. We know that in low doses Vitamin C is an antioxidant and this is likely the reason that it helps in the Cancer patient – at low doses.
If you are facing a cancer diagnosis then boosting your intake of Vitamin C orally isn’t a bad idea. It will support detoxification processes and help you to cope both with cancer, the toxicity it produces AND any drug-based therapies.
But – more interesting than that – is that the properties of Vitamin C change when the dosing becomes high enough. Such doses are only possible through intravenous infusions. When the dose gets high enough, Vitamin C isn’t an antioxidant, it actually becomes cytotoxic. And yes, the clue is in the name – it becomes toxic to cells. Yes, that means all living cells – but if you as you mentioned above the weaker cells will be more affected – in this case, cancer cells.
Now, please remember that I said that if you put this into PubMed you will get a lot of different information – which is why I link to just one paper in this article regarding cytotoxicity: the most modern one. It is never right to just use one paper and insist that this counts as evidence – but from my reading of the literature I would suggest that the evidence for the later models of intravenous Vitamin C are compelling in terms of the impact on Cancer DNA, especially Cancer stem cells.
Additionally, there have been relatively few cases of harm being caused by high dose, intravenous Vitamin C – though there are conditions in which it is contraindicated. My discussion with my clients always revolves around their aims and how they feel about these therapies. There is no doubt that using Vitamin C in an Integrative Cancer Protocol is definitely something that I do – but at what level and how it is administered is individual to each patient, and each patient’s condition.
ADJUNCT VITAMIN THERAPIES – GLUTATHIONE
The partner antioxidant to Vitamin C that you may also have heard of is Glutathione. Sometimes labelled ‘the body’s master antioxidant’ humans actually make this within the body – unless they have certain genetic polymorphisms which mean they cannot do this (or at least, not easily). Glutathione is therefore different to Vitamin C, the latter of which can only come from what we take into our bodies.
Much like any nutrient or compound, however, Glutathione is a finite resource of which we can only make so much. It must be replenished when it is used up – and this is quite energy intensive and requires a lot of building blocks (other nutrients) to allow us to keep making more.
Cancer is a highly toxic state. The treatments for Cancer are also highly, highly toxic (the whole point is that the drugs are toxic to the mutated cells). It therefore stands to reason that boosting our available supply of a “master antioxidant” can help the Cancer patient detoxify the body overall.
Again, you can just take Glutathione orally – but here the difference between oral and intravenous administration is less about the quantity of the dose and more about the absorption, metabolism and usage issues when the Glutathione supplements ingested orally must be passed through the digestive tract. Here again, therefore, we see that Glutathione infusions can become a fundamental part of Integrative Cancer care – because they supply a large quantity of the body’s master antioxidant which it can use to generally support all of the biological, immune and detoxification processes.
APPLYING IVs IN CLINICAL PRACTICE
It must be pointed out that both of the above are not to be used lightly or randomly. Vitamin C dosing may be relatively benign at low doses – but upping the dose to cytotoxic levels must be done under strict supervision.
Additionally, Glutathione was once reported to negatively interact with chemotherapy drugs, minimising or nullifying their impact. More recent studies seem to suggest that that is not the case, however it is still recommended that Glutathione IVs are NOT done on the same day as chemotherapy treatments to ensure no contraindications.
Moreover, no single one of these therapies is typically used alone. Combining the above, potentially adding in other supplements (mentioned below), either intravenously or orally, can all help to support the physiology of a patient suffering with Cancer. Neither of the above nutrients are directly capable of killing Cancer on their own – even the cytotoxic Vitamin C. They require adjuncts too – sometimes other nutrients, herbs or compounds – sometimes the environmental conditions to be correct (of which, more next week).
And yet, using high doses of intravenous vitamin and nutrient therapies can help to directly weaken or clear out Cancer cells and also help support the overall physiology of a body which, to put it simply, is already trying its hardest to eliminate Cancer cells on its own.
ADJUNCT VITAMIN THERAPIES CONTINUED
Other supplements being explored in intravenous adjunctive Cancer therapies are:
Curcumin: very interesting, new developments demonstrate that the specific formulation that can be infused and there are thousands of cases in the US where this has been used.
Artesunate: the IV form of the herb Artemisinin, a well-known anti-viral and anti-malarial drug, which has been shown to be toxic to certain Cancer cells just as it is to the viruses.
Hydrogen Peroxide: which sounds scary but is actually a substance produced by the body itself as a form of oxidative stress. In the case of Cancer adding more Hydrogen Peroxide works like the cytotoxic Vitamin C above, sensitising the immune system to focus on and eliminate/kill the most stressed cells, which will be the Cancer ones. Using Hydrogen Peroxide intravenously is useful too because it means it can go around the bloodstream (travelling freely, rather than being located intracellularly when it is made endogenously).
There are more – some more well researched than others, some simply not available easily in the UK. All of these intravenous therapies can be bolted onto other IV therapies, depending on the individual cases. Again, I would suggest that these are experimental strategies. There is simply nowhere near as much evidence for all of the Integrative Oncology as there is for the efficacy of modern oncological pharmaceuticals. However, that does not in any way mean that these options should be dismissed. They are all showing promise – and in very real ways they can assist with the treatments that are conventionally offered.
BEYOND THE INTRAVENOUS
It’s not just intravenous supplements that help, of course. Take Curcumin, for example. These curcuminoid parts of the Turmeric plant can be taken orally in tablet form and you may have heard reports of cancer patients who have failed all other conventional therapies and yet achieved great success with massive doses of curcumin tablets. (Or actually even plain old Turmeric capsules, though you need enormous doses of Turmeric to obtain enough of the therapeutic components).
There are questions over the doses required in oncological care – and again, I am stopping short of recommended gram amounts. But the previous sentence does contain a clue – these doses must be in multiples of grams, not milligrams.
With oral Curcumin (much like with IV Curcumin) it does have to be in a specific format – both to maximise absorption and to slow the speed with which it is rapidly processed by the body. This is why you hear of Curcumin being mixed with black pepper, or piperine (to interfere with liver metabolism of the active curcumin compound) – then the contention that actually making the curcumin in liposome or phytosome form makes it better absorbed.
There are also new capsules which contain not just the Curcumin, but also bisdemethoxy Curcumin and demethoxy Curcumin, along with Turmeric oil – purported to provide more benefits given that you’re effectively consuming the whole plant.
Yet having said this, there are those who are sceptical about the biochemistry of this. And actually, I have heard anecdotal stories of women taking 20 or more capsules of common Turmeric (nothing added) per day and believing this has caused the regression in their cancer. So whether there is a placebo effect involved, or the need to add black pepper has been overplayed (as would be suggested by the liposome article above) it is, to me, unclear.
And this is the concern with any adjunct therapies (or actually, nutrient supplementation studies in general). They are not studied as rigorously or specifically as pharmaceutical drugs – and often these case studies do not use a single intervention so justification for intense trials based off the anecdotes just doesn’t accrue funding or grants.
And yet, quite compelling, there are statistics demonstrating that, epidemiologically speaking, populations where spices and herbs (including turmeric) are consumed daily in relatively high doses, the overall incidence of all Cancers is lower. Can we say this is because of the turmeric consumption? Not at all. It might have nothing to do with it – or it might be just a tiny fragment of the dietary considerations. But the whole dietary intake piece, as discussed last week, is vital when it comes to preventative Cancer care – and there may just be an argument for including spicing in the meals that you consume.
There are other herbs, supplements, minerals and compounds known to affect detoxification and the immune system, which can assist in integrative Cancer care – whether taken as a supplement or increased in the diet. To give a thorough and comprehensive insight into all of these would take an entire book on the interesting roles of each, which I cannot do here. But these additional supplements can include the following:
- Boswelia (Frankincense)
- Glutathione and Artemisinin orally (mentioned above via IV)
- Maitake and Turkey Tail Mushrooms
- Green Tea
- Licorice Root
- Co-enxyme Q10
Every single one of the above supplements/nutrients/compounds/foods is fascinating. The herbal world and the role of plants and our biochemistry is a source of deep intrigue for many – and it is finally becoming more mainstream to look towards the plant world to assist our human biology. This is especially true in the realm of Integrative Oncology.
Now, be warned – not all of the above can help in every case – and combining the right therapies, in the right doses and in the right cases takes the work of a practitioner who knows both Cancer as a disease and their patients’ individual situations. Again, if you would be interested in working with me as your practitioner, do reach out to me.
But there is more to Cancer than what you eat and what you take. There are other therapeutic tools which can be bolted onto all of the above to support the body and to help put the Cancer patient’s cells in the perfect place to be vulnerable to all treatments mentioned above and to the conventional drug therapies. So next week I will discuss these tools in my final article of this series: Integrative Oncology Part 3: Adjunct Therapies – Treatments and Supportive Therapeutics.