Herbal Supplements May Affect Chemotherapy

Many cancer patients turn to herbal supplements in their journey to become healthy but they may unknowingly weaken their chemotherapy treatment, a new report shows.
Mounting evidence shows that popular supplements such as acai berry, cumin, herbal tea, turmeric and the long-term use of garlic can intensify or weaken the effect of chemotherapy drugs.
In some cases, the supplements can cause a toxic reaction, according to a report presented at the recent Chicago meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
“With the growth of the Internet, patients have better access to information about alternative products and often turn to dietary and herbal supplements to treat their illness because they think they’re natural and safe,” said Dr. June M. McKoy, a geriatrician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and lead investigator on the ASCO presentation in a NMH news release.
“What people don’t realize is that supplements are more than just vitamins and can counteract medical therapies if not taken appropriately,” she said.
Patients need to be honest with their doctor, McKoy added. About half of patients undergoing chemotherapy did not inform their doctor that they were taking supplements, according to the research.
“Some believe it’s not important, while others are uncomfortable admitting they are pursuing alternative therapies,” McKoy said. “The truth is, integrative approaches can be beneficial for cancer patients, but it’s important to take these approaches at the right time and under the supervision of your doctor.”
If you are thinking about or are already taking herbal supplements, bring the labeled container to your doctor so they can give you advice about its safety during chemotherapy.
Sometimes patients can achieve the results that they want through other means, said Dr. Melinda Ring, medical director for the Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group’s Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness.
“Integrative therapies such as massage, acupuncture and meditation can address important patient needs by alleviating stress, addressing pain and helping patients cope.”
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