Natural May Not Mean Safe
Many of us are interested in using herbal or dietary supplements to enhance health or even fight cancer. There is a huge industry supporting such products, and it is really hard to tell what is legitimately useful and what is a scam. It is pretty clear to me, for example, that the hype around shark cartilage ("sharks don't get cancer") is ridiculous, but might it be helpful to take extra doses of Vit D? Part of the trouble is that there has not been careful testing of most products, and the NCI has just started to run clinical trials on a few. The results of those first trials have not been so good for the supplements as their value was not proven (e.g. St John's Wort was not a helpful treatment for depression.) It is really important to tell your doctor what you are considering or taking, especially during the months of active treatment. The biggest worry is that an herb might interfere with the drugs of chemotherapy or radiation (for example, people are asked to discontinue any vitamins, especially antioxidants, other than a basic multi vitamin during radiation therapy). Once treatment is done, there is a lot more flexibility, but still worth a careful conversation.
This is a report from ASCO's Cancer Net that reminds us that natural may not necessarily mean safe, let alone beneficial. Be a thoughtful and informed consumer. Remember hemlock!
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.
Supplements as complementary and alternative medicine
Supplements are considered part of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), a diverse group of treatments, techniques, and products that are not considered conventional medicine, such as those that have been scientifically tested, found to be safe and effective, and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Supplements can be used in addition to conventional medicine or in place of conventional therapy. Learn more about CAM.
For example, if someone takes ginger to help reduce nausea during chemotherapy, it is considered a complementary therapy. Some supplements can be safely used with a doctor's guidance to manage side effects of conventional treatment or to improve a patient's physical or emotional well-being.
However, if someone takes ginger in an effort to cure the cancer instead of undergoing chemotherapy, it is considered an alternative therapy. Despite promotional claims, there is no dietary or herbal supplement that cures or treats cancer. Many supplements interfere with cancer treatment and can be harmful to your health.
About Dietary and Herbal Supplements