Antioxidants and conventional cancer therapy can work together

Compromising Position

About one-third of all cancer patients who take supplements begin doing so after their diagnosis.

That’s according to a recent survey (Journal of Clinical Oncology, February 2008), which also notes that nearly two out of every three cancer patients who take dietary supplements don’t discuss their supplement use with their doctors.

That’s not very shocking really. And it’s also not very good.

Any issue that impacts your health (such as supplement use) should be shared with your doctor – even if he tends to be dismissive about alternative health care. And he may well be, given the widespread belief that antioxidant supplements may undercut the effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

But in the decade since that theory was first published in the journal Oncology, many studies have demonstrated that antioxidants may help cancer patients live longer while improving quality of life.

Skewed logic

Cytotoxic therapies (such as chemo and radiation therapies) create free radicals. Some believe these therapies depend on free radicals to kill cancer cells. And some proponents of this theory even suggest that patients treated with cytotoxic therapies should avoid antioxidant-rich foods – which would basically cut fruits and vegetables from their diets.

Right. Pour poison into a cancer patient’s blood stream while removing key sources of high quality nutrients. I have no idea how that scheme makes sense to anyone.

In a 2007 study from the Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Education, researchers combed through several databanks to come up with 19 randomized clinical trials that evaluated the use of antioxidants during chemotherapy.

The 19 trials included more than 1,500 subjects, and most had advanced or relapsed cancers. Seven trials evaluated the antioxidant glutathione, four evaluated melatonin, and the remaining trials examined vitamins A, C, and E, N-acetylcysteine, ellagic acid, or an antioxidant mixture.

Results showed no significant decreases in chemotherapy effectiveness when used with antioxidant supplements. In fact, the supplements may have INCREASED chemo effectiveness. Writing in Cancer Treatment Reviews, the authors noted: “Many of the studies indicated that antioxidant supplementation resulted in either increased survival times, increased tumor responses, or both.”

As for quality of life measures, in 17 trials that assessed chemotherapy toxicities (such as weight loss, low blood count, nerve damage, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.), 15 trials showed that subjects who received antioxidants had fewer side effects than control group subjects who didn’t receive supplements.

Where to start

As I’ve noted in previous e-Alerts, one of the foremost authorities on alternative cancer treatments – Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D. – has advocated antioxidant therapy for many years.

At a 2001 symposium, Dr. Moss gave a speech that included this comment: “We can reassure patients that the overwhelming mass of data accumulated so far supports the concurrent use of chemotherapy with dietary antioxidants.” That was one year after Dr. Moss published a book titled “Antioxidants Against Cancer” in which he outlined the ways antioxidants enhance the effectiveness of cytotoxic treatments while minimizing their side effects.

There are many different types of chemotherapy, of course, just as there are many types of antioxidants. Decisions about which antioxidants to use with which chemotherapies should be made with professional help from doctors who are familiar with alternative therapies.

Vitamin C is probably the most common antioxidant therapy for cancer. Research has shown that high doses of vitamin C administered intravenously can kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. You can find more information in the e-Alert “Hot Buttons” (1/18/07) at this link:

“Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Use Among US Adults After Cancer Diagnosis: A Systematic Review” Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 26, No. 4, 2/1/08,
“Impact of Antioxidant Supplementation on Chemotherapeutic Efficacy: A Systematic Review of the Evidence from Randomized Controlled Trials” Cancer Treatment Reviews, May 2007,