Are herbs safe for cancer patients?
Herbal Medicine and Cancer: Herbs may seem dangerous, but they can sometimes interfere with cancer treatment. for example, some herbs can prevent chemotherapy and radiation therapy from killing cancer cells. Some herbs increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy toxicity, which can lead to unwanted side effects.
Doctors recommend that patients avoid herbs during treatment. It is not safe until research finds which herbs are safe for treating cancer. Clinical trials combining herbal medicine with cancer treatments are very new in the United States. China has conducted similar tests since the early 1900s. Cancer doctors rely on clinical trials. The lack of clinical trials on herbal drugs limits what doctors can safely prescribe.
People with cancer should seek permission from their oncologist before taking any herbal medications because some herbs can adversely affect the outcome of cancer treatment.
Is herbal medicine effective in treating cancer?
Research in the emerging medical field known as integrative oncology seeks to understand which complementary therapies are safe and effective, including herbal medicines, in combination with traditional cancer treatments. Some traditional anticancer drugs contain active herbs. For example, the chemotherapy drug for mesothelioma (paclitaxel) comes from the bark of the yew tree. However, taking the tree bark herbal supplement does not produce the same effects as Toxicol.
In general, herbal medicines are not as effective as traditional medicines. While some people get relief with herbal medications for mild symptoms or side effects, most people get more relief with prescription medications. Prescription drugs can have unwanted side effects and these side effects motivate people to consider herbal medicines. Herbal remedies tend to have fewer side effects than standard care. This is partly because they are less potent than CE drugs.
For example, patients using natural remedies for insomnia are less likely to experience dizziness, tremors, or seizures than patients using prescription pills such as benzodiazepines. The side effects of herbal remedies are usually mild. Constipation is common. The probability of dependence on herbal remedies is also low. The US. The Food and Drug Administration refers to most herbs as GRAS or they are generally identified as safe. But patients must remember that herbal remedies are still a type of medicine. Make sure you get prior approval from your oncologist. Herbal medicines can come in the form of tablets or capsules, extracts, teas, or tinctures (alcohol-based concentrate).
Research on herbal medicine and cancer
Research suggests that certain herbs can help cancer patients cope with cancer symptoms and the side effects of cancer treatment. Studies in test tubes and animals have shown anticancer effects of various herbs, although these results have not been replicated in human experiments.
Research on astragalus has shown that it reduces the side effects of plastin-based chemotherapy agents, such as cisplatin and carboplatin. These are the two most effective chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma.
A 2012 Chinese study published in Medical Oncology found a better quality of life in lung cancer patients who received a combined injection of astragalus, cisplatin, and vinorelbine compared to patients who received only cisplatin and vinorelbine. Astragalus patients improved their physical performance, improved appetite, and experienced less fatigue, pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Be sure to discuss astragalus with your oncologist because it is a powerful herb. You can change the way your body processes chemotherapy in a way that helps or bothers the patient.
Traditional Chinese medicine uses a herb called dong Quai to promote general health. This herb offers additional benefits to cancer patients receiving doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug used in the treatment of mesothelioma.
A 2007 study published in Basic and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology found that dong Quai protects against heart damage caused by doxorubicin. A 2006 study published in Oncology Reports found that dong Quai might protect against lung inflammation caused by radiation therapy.
The 2011 review, published in Inflamopharmacology, looks at Burdock Root’s lab studies showing the herb has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-cancer, and liver-protective properties. It has not been shown to treat cancer in humans, but it reduces inflammation and helps patients recover from liver damage after cancer treatment.
It should be noted that burdock root tea, a commercially available type of tea, was contaminated with atropine in the 1970s. Atropine is a chemical that causes irregular heartbeats and blurred vision. Cancer patients should closely monitor the effects of any herb they have tried.
A herbal tea blend called Essiac Tea contains herbs known for their immune-boosting effects, including burdock root. Research has shown that essiac tea does not cure cancer, but it does contain more antioxidants than red wine or green tea.
The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center conducted 18 studies on Essex in the 1970s and 1980s. These studies found that ESIAC did not increase immunity or kill cancer cells.
This compound is found in St. John’s wort and helps kill cancer cells. According to a 2000 study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, hypericin can cause some cancer cells to die after photodynamic therapy, an experimental treatment for mesothelioma.
This herb shows anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects in laboratory studies. According to a 2000 review published in the British Journal of Anesthesia, it also reduces nausea and vomiting related to chemotherapy. But ginger should definitely be avoided before and after surgery. It promotes bleeding and should be avoided in patients with a low platelet count.
A 2011 review published in the Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews reported that taking aloe vera during chemotherapy can help prevent oral ulcers in some patients.
Also known as an Ecuador, research in humans suggests that it reduces mistletoe symptoms and improves the quality of life. A study published in the European Journal of Cancer in 2013 found that mistletoe reduces the side effects of chemotherapy in patients with lung cancer.
According to a 2013 study published in Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, cancer patients with advanced tumors were able to tolerate higher doses of gemcitabine (a chemotherapy drug used to treat mesothelioma) with the addition of mistletoe.
Its herb contains a compound called curcumin. A 2011 study published in Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology shows that curcumin extract is safe to combine with gemcitabine chemotherapy in pancreatic cancer patients.
Turmeric is used as an anti-inflammatory. When combined with bromelain (a pineapple extract) and arnica (a herbaceous plant) it can reduce injuries in surgical patients.
A 2006 test-tube study published in the Journal of Experimental Therapeutics in Oncology found a compound in the moringa tree to kill ovarian cancer cells. Other research suggests that it can help with cancer symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, sore throat, fever, and joint pain.
Herbs that help treat side effects
Many herbs can help control the side effects of traditional cancer treatment. However, doctors do not recommend that cancer patients take herbal medications while undergoing cancer treatment. If you want to try herbal medicine during cancer treatment, talk to your oncologist so he or she can monitor your response and warn you of possible drug interactions.
Precautions for the use of herbal medicines
Herbal medicines are less likely to cause side effects than traditional ones. But patients can still experience problems. Some herbs can cause adverse interactions with chemotherapy drugs. Others can prevent the blood from clotting properly after surgery.
Take a close look at how you feel before and after taking herbal medicines. Patients should always consult their doctor before trying herbs to prevent problems. Food does not need to undergo FDA testing before it reaches the market. Some patients unknowingly bought drugs contaminated with arsenic, lead, and mercury.
To prevent contaminated herbs, patients should only purchase products from reputable companies that are labeled as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP).
Patients may also see one or more of the following quality labels on their herbal medicines:
- GAP (good agricultural practices)
- GLP (Good Laboratory Practices)
- GSP (good supply tools)
- GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice)
Although some herbs can slow cancer growth, patients should avoid over-the-counter herbal cancer remedies. These remedies are often produced without any scientific evidence to back up the manufacturer’s claim.
Talk to your oncologist
The importance of discussing herbal remedies with your oncologist before purchasing or trying them cannot be stressed enough.
Very often, patients hide the medicines and herbs they want to take from their doctor. Your oncologist has a good interest in your heart and just wants to protect you from harmful interactions.
In many cases, your doctor will give you permission to take herbal remedies after you have completed treatment.
You may also consider joining a clinical trial that examines a herb in conjunction with cancer treatment. These tests are not common, but they closely monitor patients for harmful interactions. They take the necessary precautions to avoid unwanted side effects, such as testing herbs for contaminants before administration.
The common misconception is that natural products are not harmful or that it is always safe to combine them with herbs.
Many natural substances such as arsenic and tobacco are toxic and carcinogenic. The effects of herbs can range from mild to strong, depending on the person taking them and the medications they use.
It is wise to thoroughly research the herbs you want to try and take your research to your oncologist. This will allow your doctor to advise you on as much information as possible.