If you have cancer and take chemotherapy, should you use high-dose antioxidants at the same time? This has been a hot topic of debate for decades. In his book Cancer and Vitamin C, Linus Pauling suggested that high-dose vitamin C might interfere with chemotherapy. He thought the vitamin would render the drugs ineffective. So he obviously concluded that patients undergoing chemotherapy should refrain from taking high-dose vitamin C at the same time.
Oncologists are usually in agreement with this position. But, with only a few exceptions, the evidence is now against it.
Studies have found that many patients taking chemotherapeutic drugs and vitamin C experienced fewer side effects. Only a few small studies have investigated the effects of chemotherapy combined with antioxidants in humans.
One study in Finland looked at high-dose antioxidants taken together with chemotherapy and radiation. The researchers found that the antioxidants significantly prolonged survival in patients with small-cell lung cancer.
Another randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled Dutch study tested antioxidants in 50 cancer patients undergoing cisplatin chemotherapy. Cisplatin normally damages the ears and kidneys, and patients typically experience hearing loss. Half the group received a placebo, and half took 1,000 mg of vitamin C, 400 mg of synthetic vitamin E, and 0.1 mg of selenium twice a day.
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The antioxidant supplements did not significantly prevent kidney or inner ear toxicity. But the supplemented patients did have less loss of high-tone hearing.
Now, another study has taken the research a step further. Researchers conducted this study by following 136 patients with stage III or IV non-small-cell lung cancer. About half the patients took chemotherapy alone; the other half received chemotherapy and daily high-dose antioxidants, including about six grams of vitamin C, one gram of synthetic vitamin E, and 60 mg of beta-carotene. There was a trend toward improved response in those who received both chemotherapy and antioxidants.
A recent paper in the Journal of Nutrition
suggested that free radicals, while generated by many chemotherapeutic drugs, may not serve to kill cancer cells and, therefore, antioxidant vitamins may protect against needless toxicity of the cancer drugs. Among the many different chemo-therapeutic drugs, only a few have been definitively shown to depend on free radicals to kill cells.
We don't have enough published clinical studies to definitively state that you may use high-dose antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, with chemotherapy. Still, the available evidence suggests that for many of the commonly prescribed drugs (the ones that do not depend on free radicals for their effectiveness), concern may be unwarranted.
If you decide to use chemotherapy to treat cancer, taking antioxidants may help protect you from the side effects of the chemo. So don't be afraid to suggest the use of antioxidants with your physician. You might just fight the cancer more effectively with fewer side effects.
One final note: Many physicians are now using extremely high-dose vitamin C intravenously to treat cancer. And they're seeing extremely good results. So you may want to talk to your physician about using this treatment as well.
Your insider for better health,
Steve Kroening is the editor of Nutrient Insider, a twice-a-week email newsletter that brings you the latest healing breakthroughs from the world of nutrition and dietary supplements. For over 20 years, Steve has worked hand-in-hand with some of the nation's top doctors, including Drs. Robert Rowen, Frank Shallenberger, Nan Fuchs, William Campbell Douglass, and best-selling author James Balch. Steve is the author of the book Practical Guide to Home Remedies. As a health journalist, Steve's articles have appeared in countless magazines, blogs, and websites.
Anticancer Research, 1992; European Journal of Cancer, 2004; Journal of the American College of Nutrition, February 2005.