There is, really, only one thing I hate about my job as a Cancer Coach.
Well, maybe “hate” is too strong a word. Let’s say “really don’t like”. Really, really, REALLY do not like.
Want to know what that one thing is? It is the almost inevitable conversation with my client that begins: “My doctors told me not to take any supplements.”
I hear this ALL the time…
Nutritional supplements in general, and antioxidant supplements in particular, are one of those hot topics over which allopathic medicine and natural medicine frequently butt heads.
Antioxidants, in case you’re wondering, are nutrients which can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body. Examples of commonly known antioxidants are vitamins A and C, beta-carotene, and selenium.
And how exactly, you might also be wondering, is this oxidative damage generated?
Well, when our body cells use oxygen, they naturally produce by products called free radicals, which can cause damage.
Not only that. This big and beautiful world we live in is full of toxins which either contain free radicals themselves or generate free radicals after we breathe or swallow the substances. (Think: smog… cigarette smoke… automobile exhaust… pesticides… There are lots of other things.)
So, how’s a poor body to cope? Antioxidants to the rescue! They act as “free radical scavengers” and prevent or repair damage done by these free radicals. As you can well imagine, this has implications for not only cancer prevention and healing, but virtually all degenerative diseases including heart disease and diabetes. Antioxidants are known even to slow down or reverse the aging process!
I start to get a little nervous whenever I hear this opening line because I know that my ability to reassure and convince my clients of the value and safety of antioxidants as a part of their cancer healing protocol will be a HUGE player in their overall outcome. In most cases, in moderate doses, antioxidants will:
1. Increase effectiveness of radiation or chemo
2. Increase tolerance to standard treatment
3. Decrease vulnerability to permanent side effects
4. Positively affect overall long-term survival.
So, why would their doctors tell them such a thing?
I think I know the answer to that question. That doesn’t mean, however, that I agree with their advice.
The concern, I believe, is that antioxidants could (theoretically) interfere with the cell-killing effects of radiotherapy and the chemotherapy drugs which exert their effects by oxidative stress and free radical damage.
Fair enough. But it’s not as straight forward as that.
I say “theoretically” because it has been argued by some experts (for example, Dr. Kedar Prasad and his colleagues at the Center for Vitamins and Cancer Research at the University of Colorado Health Science Center’s Department of Radiology in Denver) that these concerns are not valid.
Their position is that antioxidants can protect healthy cells while enhancing the growth-inhibiting effects on cancer cells. Win-win. From my experience — and from the experience of my clients who follow an antioxidant protocol — this tends to be true.
How can this be? The answer to this question is attributed to the fact that cancer cells actually increase the intracellular level of antioxidants beyond normal levels. This results in increased expression of growth-inhibitory genes, reduced expression of growth factors, and increased cellular suicide (apoptosis).
As Dr. Michael Murray and his co-authors point out in their book, How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine, “Antioxidant supplementation at the dosages we recommend offers about as much protection to the cancer cell as a bulletproof jacket would during a nuclear attack.”
On the other hand, the potential damage done by chemotherapy to the nutritionally unsupported body is often so great that the patients find it necessary to abandon treatment and their immune systems never fully recover.
It’s like that really bad joke: The operation was a success. Unfortunately, the patient died.
The simple truth is medical doctors receive very little training on nutritional matters.
The other truth is, orthodox medical professionals DO prescribe antioxidants in conjunction with conventional cancer treatment. Amifostine to reduce radiation toxicity. Cardiozane to counter Adriamycin toxicity. Mesna to prevent damage to the urinary system when using the anti-cancer drug, Ifosfamide. All are synthetic antioxidants and, even though somewhat toxic in nature, do not generate controversy.
So, yeah, what’s up with that, right? Double standard? Ya think?…
Furthermore, a review of 214 studies showed only three potentially unfavorable interactions of specific chemo drugs with specific antioxidants. That is why seeking the guidance of a health professional trained in nutrition is a good idea. Just don’t expect that guidance to come from the Ortho-Docs…
In the mean time, you can’t go wrong with upping your antioxidants from food sources. Fruits and veggies are always, first and foremost, your best bet. Eat cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, spinach, tomatoes, yams, squash, raw carrots, grapes, pomegranates, and all berries. Let your food be your medicine! Your body will thank you.
Our bodies really do have a tremendous capacity for healing when adequately nourished and given what they need. Being witness to this truth is what makes me say over and over again: I love my job.