Chemotherapy refers to the use of drugs to treat cancer. For many people, the very thought of chemotherapy evokes horrific images of debilitating nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and weakness. Although chemotherapy can induce those symptoms and many more, newer medications have made most chemotherapy regimens much better tolerated than in the past. Nonetheless, chemotherapy can produce a wide range of undesirable side effects. Which side effects will occur has much to do with the type of chemotherapy, the dosage and timing of the treatments, the general health of the patient, and the history of prior chemotherapy.
For a complete discussion of natural approaches to cancer, consult How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine (Riverhead, 2001).
Which Dietary Factors are Important in Chemotherapy Support?
Nutritional support for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy follows a spectrum. For someone with a minor cancer who has good energy levels, appetite and nutritional status, following the general guidelines for a healthful diet may be all that is necessary. However, at the other end of the spectrum are people with advanced cancers undergoing chemotherapy. These people will usually have low energy levels, loss of appetite, nausea and, possibly, vomiting. For these individuals, the following dietary suggestions can help improve their nutritional status:
- Eat small, frequent meals (every one to two hours), rather than larger meals less often.
- Stay well hydrated and drink 18 to 24 ounces of fresh fruit or vegetable juice daily. The juice can be taken with food or, better yet, as a mid-morning “juice break.”
- Drink a high-protein smoothie once or twice daily (discussed below). Smoothies can take the place of breakfast or a mid-afternoon snack.
- Try ginger—nature’s nausea and vomiting remedy—in tea, juice (use fresh ginger) or rice.
- Use extra seasonings, spices and flavorings to improve food’s taste appeal.
- Avoid flavorings that are very sweet or bitter. Chemotherapy can create a higher sensitivity to the taste of food, which may cause these substances to taste flavorless or boring.
- Eat soft, moist foods like smoothies, bananas, brown rice and yams, and and avoid hard, dry foods like cereals, crackers and hard candies.
- Take small bites and chew completely.
- Drink at least 48 ounces of water daily in addition to the 18 to 24 ounces of fresh fruit or vegetable juice.
In you have anorexia or cachexia, it may be necessary to suspend healthy eating habits and focus on eating the things that appeal to you. That is fine for the short term, but I cannot stress enough the importance of high-quality nutrition to effectively fight cancer.
Cancer patients often need to increase their intake of protein, especially if they are showing signs of cachexia or they are on chemotherapy. Protein helps maintain muscle mass, nourishes the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, boosts blood counts, heals tissues, and boosts the immune system to help fight cancer and prevent infections. On the other hand, inadequate protein intake slows recovery from illness and decreases resistance to infection. Patients undergoing conventional cancer therapy may require as much as 50 percent more protein than usual.
Smoothies are an ideal—and delicious—way for people with cancer to consume lots of high-quality protein. Protein Essentials from Natural Factors provides both whey protein isolates and concentrates along with fermented soy protein. Whey protein has the highest biological value (BV) of all proteins. BV is a measure that indicates how much of the protein you eat is actually absorbed, retained and used in your body (as opposed to the amount that passes out of your body unused.) One reason the BV of whey protein is so high is that it has the largest concentrations of glutamine (an amino acid) and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) found in nature. Glutamine and BCAAs are critical to cellular health and protein synthesis. The recommended dosage of Protein Essentials for chemotherapy support is two scoops twice daily. This dosage provides 34 grams of high-quality protein. If you need additional protein, use a high-quality whey protein.
Increasing the intake of soy foods also appears to be helpful in most cancers. The possible exception is in women who have estrogen-sensitive breast tumors. Fermented soy not only makes the soy protein more easily to assimilate in your body, but also liberates the beneficial soy isoflavones.
Which Nutritional Supplements Should I Take for Chemotherapy Support?
Here are some basic recommendations suitable for most chemotherapy agents.
Foundation Supplements. There are three products from Natural Factors that I think are critical in supporting good health:
- MultiStart: Age- and gender-specific multiple vitamin and mineral formulas. Follow label instructions for dosages.
- Enriching Greens: A great-tasting “greens drink” containing highly concentrated greens like chlorella, spirulina, wheat grass juice and barley grass juice, along with herbal extracts. Take 1 tablespoon in 8 ounces of water daily.
- RxOmega-3 Factors: A true pharmaceutical-grade fish-oil supplement. Take two capsules daily.
Zymactive from Natural Factors is a mixture of proteolytic enzymes (or proteases), which help your body digest protein. These enzymes include the pancreatic proteases chymotrypsin and trypsin, bromelain (pineapple enzyme), papain (papaya enzyme), fungal proteases and Serratia peptidase (the “silk worm” enzyme).
Proteolytic enzymes have a long history of use in cancer patients. Clinical studies in patients with cancers of the breast, lung, stomach, head and neck, ovaries, cervix and colon, along with patients with lymphomas and multiple myeloma, show that the enzymes improve patients’ general condition, boost their quality of life, and provide modest to significant improvements in life expectancy. These studies also indicate proteolytic enzymes can be used in conjunction with conventional therapy (surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation).
Zymactive and other proteolytic enzyme complexes should be taken on an empty stomach if they’re not used as a digestive aid. Take two to four tablets of Zymactive High Potency three times daily, 20 minutes or so before meals.
Maitake Gold is derived from the maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa). In the early 1980s, Dr. Hiroaki Nanba of Japan was researching the immune-enhancing properties of mushrooms when he came to the conclusion that maitake extracts demonstrated more pronounced antitumor activity in animal tests than other mushroom extracts. One of the key benefits to maitake is its ability to be quite effective when given orally. In contrast, the other mushrooms Nanba studied, such as shiitake, are only effective when injected into the bloodstream.
In 1984, Nanba identified a fraction of maitake that possessed a significant ability to stimulate white blood cells known as macrophages (literal translation: ”big eaters”). These specialized white blood cells engulf foreign particles, including cancer cells, bacteria and cellular debris. Nanba termed his discovery Maitake Gold.
Maitake Gold appears to help reduce the side effects of conventional chemotherapy and radiation, while at the same time enhancing their effectiveness. In 1994, a group from China published findings from a pilot study on 63 cancer patients that showed that Maitake Gold’s total effective rate against solid tumors was higher than 95 percent, and its effective rate against leukemia was higher than 90 percent. In a preliminary study conducted by Nanba, 165 patients with advanced cancer were given maitake extract. In patients who were also on chemotherapy, 90 percent had a reduction in the side effects common to chemotherapy, including hair loss, decreased white blood cell counts, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Maitake was also shown to effectively reduce pain levels in 83 percent of the patients. The results were best in breast, lung and liver cancers. Nanba reported significant improvement in symptoms or regression of tumors in 73.3 percent of patients with breast cancer, 66.6 percent with lung cancer and 46.6 percent with liver cancer.
The dosage of Maitake Gold is based upon body weight—0.5 to 1 mg for every 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of body weight per day. That translates to a dosage of approximately 35 to 70 mg. For best results, take Maitake Gold 20 minutes before meals or on an empty stomach.
Curcumin is the yellow pigment of turmeric (Curcuma longa)—the chief ingredient in curry. It has shown significant anticancer and anti-inflammation activity in many experimental and clinical studies. Curcumin has a complex set of actions that are beneficial for the prevention and treatment of cancer. The recommended dosage is 200 to 400 mg three times a day. Take curcumin with an equal amount of bromelain to enhance absorption.
Coenzyme Q10 is a very important supplement for people taking the drug doxorubicin. This drug is especially harmful to the heart, and can produce serious damage (cardiomyopathy) that is often life threatening. A number of studies have shown that CoQ10 can prevent the cardiac toxicity associated with doxorubicin, without reducing its antitumor effect. Take CoQ10 in soft-gelatin capsules for enhanced absorption, at a dosage of 100 to 200 mg daily if you’re taking doxorubicin.
How Do I Know if the Recommendations are Working?
First of all, there are no guarantees—believe me, I wish I had a guaranteed cure for all cancers. Cancer patients often ask tough questions about their expected life span, chances for a cure, risk of recurrence and so on. The numbers given by oncologists only apply to large groups, not to individuals. Each cancer patient is unique, with different characteristics, strengths, weaknesses and genes. Physicians talk with patients about average survival for people with their particular type and stage of cancer. Often, they will refer to the “five-year survival rate.” If the five-year survival rate is 50 percent, it means that half of the patients will die within five years, while the other half will live more than five years. On one end of the spectrum is the patient with rapid disease progression and early death. On the other end is the patient that enjoys a complete cure, long-term remission or many years of disease-free survival. Most patients fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes.
I sincerely believe that the program detailed in my book How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine moves each cancer patient as far to the right of the curve as possible, to include them among the other long-term survivors. In addition, my approach not only maximizes chances for longevity, but also for an increased quality of life during those years.
“Dr. Murray, I believe your program, along with my faith in God, has helped keep me alive and well. I was diagnosed and treated for stage 4 colon cancer, and was given very little hope of survival. Now, three years later, I am healthier than ever, with no sign of the cancer. Thank you.” —LB