Many people living with cancer turn to herbal cancer supplements to alleviate treatment side effects, improve their health, or assist with nutrition. Before beginning any supplements to treat your cancer, it is very important to speak with your doctor to evaluate your situation.
There are two main nonconventional approaches to medical treatment – complementary and alternative medicine. Complementary therapy refers to someone taking an herbal supplement to help in reducing the nausea of chemotherapy, whereas alternative therapy refers to someone taking herbal supplements in large does in an effort to cure the cancer instead of undergoing chemotherapy. Claims that supplements can cure cancer are not proven, and in many cases, can be harmful to a person’s health.
Safety of Supplements
Much of the information available on supplements is based on anecdotal evidence instead of scientific studies. Many people believe that because herbs and supplements are natural and have been used throughout time for medicinal purposes, they are safe. The safety, however, depends on a number of elements including ingredients, dosage, preparation, and how they work in the body.
The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness before they are sold, but instead only claims a supplement is unsafe after consumers have reported problems with them. Additionally, supplement manufacturers are allowed to place health claims, nutritional claims, and functional claims on supplements that do not need to be tested or true. All of these supplements have a disclaimer stating that “This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”
If you are undergoing treatment for cancer, you need to be very cautious about supplements, as they can interfere with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Talking with Your Doctor about Supplements
Before you begin taking any supplements, you should address this information with your doctor:
- Potential side effects
- Recent information on the supplement, preferably from clinical trials
- Potential interactions with current cancer treatments
- Recommended dosage levels and length of treatment
- Potential health risks and benefits, depending on your medical history
Things to Consider
- Be skeptical of the claims on supplement labels, in particular anything that claims to cure cancer (being that no single treatment can treat all cancers).
- Use only the supplements that you and your doctor decide upon, and purchase single herb products that clearly state how much of the herb the product contains. Only purchase brands from companies that you or your doctor know are reputable.
- Look for a certification mark or seal from a third-party organization, such as U.S. Pharmacopoeia or Good Housekeeping Research Institute. These labels indicate that the supplement has met certain manufacturing standards.
Some herbal supplements have been effective in helping alleviate some of the symptoms of cancer treatment, and may be a great avenue to explore for you. Be sure to do plenty of research, and talk to your doctor before you decide on any alternative medicine approach (to be sure that it will not adversely affect any other treatment you are undergoing).