Supplements and Everyday Miracles

My 14 year-old daughter and I took a girls’ road trip this weekend To Winston-Salem, NC, home of Wake Forest University and the Demon Deacons. image

I attended a nutrition conference put on by a wonderful vitamin company, Standard Process, as part of my chiropractic continuing education. The speaker was an acupuncturist and herbalist who has created a hugely successful multi-state practice by treating and healing people using only Chinese medicine and whole-food supplements.

We’re not talking about people with hang nails or acne here. This man told stories about patients like Ed, who had suffered a massive heart attack which left much of his heart muscle destroyed. When he first came for an office visit, it took him 20 minutes to walk from the front door down the hall to the consultation room. After each excruciatingly slow step, he had to rest against the wall before he could go on. When he finally made it to the office, he looked up with defeat in his eyes. “The doctor told me to get my will in order. He’s given me two months to live. Can you help me?”

Talk about the wind being knocked out of you! I can’t imagine the pressure of that plea. The practitioner told him that he would do his best to help him. The man could only come in every two weeks at first because he needed that long to recuperate from the exertion of the visits. Slowly, things began to improve. The man began walking in his neighborhood. In a few months, walking turned to jogging and rock climbing. Eventually, he stopped coming in. The practitioner often thought of him and wondered how he was doing. Eight years later, he ran into a mutual friend who filled him in. “Ed said to tell you hello if I saw you. He’s hiking in Utah.”

The weekend was full of inspiring stories like this one. Stories about scheduled surgeries being canceled because they were no longer necessary. Stories about diabetes being turned around in two weeks. Stories about women being able to fulfill the lifelong dream of motherhood after years of infertility. And the greatest part was that the stories were true and the remedies were simple. Whole food vitamins, nutrition and acupuncture.

I have to admit that I have been buying tons of synthetic vitamins to support me through my breast cancer treatment, and I never thought much about it. Among the interesting facts I learned this weekend was the pearl that most synthetic vitamins are made from coal tar, a known carcinogen, or petroleum products. The capsules are often made from the connective tissue of sick or weak animals. Recent studies that have come out showing that people who take the most supplements have the highest death rate from all causes are based on synthetic vitamins, not whole food supplements.

When you eat a carrot or a piece of broccoli, you’re getting a whole vitamin complex with all parts working together to provide the beneficial effect. Synthetic vitamins artificially strip one portion of that complex away and concentrate it into a pill with other undesirable ingredients. Not only does this significantly reduce any benefit that may have been received, it is sometimes harmful.

I came away from the weekend with a wealth of knowledge and great hope as both a doctor and a patient. I know that I will definitely be revamping my supplements after this weekend. Oddly enough, my Mima used to say that she would never take vitamins because they give you cancer. Maybe she was on to something.

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Supplements That Have Let Me Live Well During Chemotherapy, Part 2

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

As promised, I am going to outline the supplements that I have used specifically for chemotherapy and why I chose them. If you missed the first part of this post, you can catch up here. I am undergoing Adriamycin/Cytoxan/Taxol (ACT or ECT) chemotherapy for breast cancer, but I feel that these supplements would be helpful to anyone needing immune or antioxidant support during a period of chronic stress.

I can see your eyes getting big when I mention antioxidants. It is a very controversial topic when it comes to chemotherapy. Some doctors discourage the use of antioxidants for fear that they might lessen the effectiveness of drugs that work through oxidation. However, there are many scientific studies showing that antioxidants actually increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs while reducing the side effects. Click here to take a look at an article that is really well done and explains how each drug category is affected by a specific antioxidant.

Just a note of caution here. Most of the following supplements are plants, so if you have strong allergies, proceed slowly. If you are allergic to ragweed or daisies, be aware that Echinacea and Astragalus are in this family. Also, if you take a large amount of prescription medication, it would be wise to do some research and see if there is any interference with these substances. If you feel like you want to talk to someone about it, your best bet would be an herbalist or a Naturopath. Your MD will probably look at you like a deer in the headlights.

Astragalus by jrdnzASTRAGALUS (photo by jrdnz)

Astragalus is a fantastic product for deep immune support. It inhibits tumor growth, increases natural killer cells, protects the kidneys and liver, and reduces fatigue. The product I take is from Gaia Herbs and is called Astragalus Supreme. This is from an organic farm right here in Asheville, but it is available online. I take 2 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Echinacea Purpurea by Jonathan BillingerECHINACEA (photo by Jonathan Billinger)

Echinacea is another fantastic immune support product. It is helpful in preventing illness with decreased white blood cell counts and also instrumental in stimulating new cell production. This is the magical herb among Sioux Indian tribes both for healing and for health maintenance. I use a Mediherb product called Echinacea Premium. Once again, this company has a wonderful reputation for quality, and they grow all of their own herbs on a large organic farm. I alternate this product with Astragalus; when one runs out, I take the other, etc. I take 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Milk Thistle by H ZellMILK THISTLE (photo by H Zell)

This is the ultimate in liver protection. And when your liver is being bombarded by chemo drugs, pain killers, steroids, and God knows what else, you need some protection. Milk thistle also protects the kidneys, lowers LDL cholesterol, and decreases intestinal damage. I read some research showing that silymarin, an ingredient in milk thistle, may have an estrogenic effect. But other research showed that it inhibited metastasis. I probably will discontinue this one after treatment, just to be safe. But for now, my liver is in tip top shape. I use a product called Liver Health, also by Gaia Herbs, 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.

Turkey Tail Mushrooms by BuckeyeinTriadTURKEY TAIL MUSHROOM (photo by BuckeyeinTriad)

Also known as Trametes versicolor, the turkey tail is the “mack daddy” of mushrooms. As a matter of fact, it is used as standard of oncological care in Japan and China, where 9600 clinical randomized clinical trials have been done on disease-free and overall survival. Improved immune function seems to be a key in prevention of primary and secondary breast cancer, and medicinal mushrooms shine in this area. I use a product called Chemo/Rad Support by Dr. Kang Secret Formulas. You can Google this and order online. I like this fomula because it has other ingredients to help with the toxicity and side effects of chemo and radiation. It says to take 2-3 three times per day, but I can’t do this many pills. So I take 1 in the morning and one in the aftenoon. After treatment, I may move strictly to a mushroom extract.

So far, all of these supplements have been basic support formulas for any kind of stress/disease state. The following are more specific and I took these when I couldn’t stomach anything else in those days right after treatment.

ESSENTIAL FOR AC/EC:

COENZYME Q10- One of the most devastating side effects of AC/EC is cardiotoxicity. I am a runner, and this doesn’t work for me, so I got serious about protecting my heart. Adriamycin works by damaging DNA in cancer cells. Unfortunately, the mitochondria (or energy plants) in the cells of your heart are very susceptible to the inflammation that this creates. CoQ10 is an anti-oxidant that protects healthy tissues in your heart. Not only that, but COQ10 has been shown to stimulate the immune system, allowing it to “fight back” against cancer cells. I take 100mg twice per day.

ESSENTIAL FOR TAXOL:

L-GLUTAMINE- I know you’ve heard me talk about an L-glutamine cocktail to drink during infusion and for a few days after. In addition to that, I take L-glutamine capsules every day. They can help prevent destruction of the GI lining and peripheral neuropathy. As a bonus, they can enhance your mood, and who doesn’t need that right now? I take two 1,000mg capsules twice per day.

For infusion days: mix 15mg of L-glutamine powder in ginger ale or fruit water and start sipping about 15 mins prior to Taxol. I keep sipping throughout. That day and for the next 2-3 days, I have one of these cocktails twice per day.

pills

 

HOW CAN I TAKE ALL THESE?

 

I know this seems like a lot of pills, and I’m not gonna lie. It is. But you do get used to it, and you have to remember that it’s for a very good cause, you! I break it up so I’m taking pills 3x/day. It’s just a habit now. Write down everything that you choose to take, the dosage, and how many times per day you need to take it. Then build yourself a dosing schedule that works around breakfast, lunch and dinner. I find that it’s easier to remember to take pills if I’m sitting down to eat. The only exception is L-glutamine: try to take it on an empty stomach, at least in the morning.

I’ll be posting additions as I go along in treatment and beyond. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found supplements that helped with chemo, radiation, or general health. Good luck!!

 

 

 

 

Supplements That Have Helped Me Live Well During Chemotherapy, Part 1

80’S CANCER JAM OF THE DAY:

LIVING WELL WHEN YOU’RE BEING POISONED…AN OXYMORON?

Well, I’m down to 3. Three more rounds of chemo to go. All in all, it has not been as bad as I anticipated (I’m knocking really hard on some wood here). Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been pleasant by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve managed to live life without major changes and with very little downtime. I have worked 3 days per week without calling in sick. I’ve been able to run/walk through it all, allowing myself more rest on chemo weeks. I’ve shuttled kids back and forth, cooked, shopped, gone out with friends, and kept my sense of humor. The only major casualty has been cleaning, but honestly, if you had looked at my house on any given day since…well,.forever, you would have thought that I was born with a disease that didn’t allow me to pick up a rag.

dirty-house-3

CHEMO IS TOUGH, BUT THERE ARE THINGS THAT CAN HELP

I know that all this may be a matter of sheer luck, and that chemo affects everyone differently. But I think that there are things we can do to stack the deck in our favor and get through it with more strength and fewer bad days. As you know if you’ve been reading some of my previous posts, I have been using a few tricks here and there to minimize the toxicity and side effects of chemotherapy. If you missed it, you can see a picture of me icing my hands and feet during my last Taxol infusion to prevent nail discoloration and neuropathy. And you can check out my recipe for an L- glutamine chemo cocktail here.

SUPPLEMENTS I TAKE AND WHY

Since I started chiropractic school 10 years ago,the field of nutrition and supplementation has been a passion of mine. The idea that we can alter body chemistry and possibly disease states through natural means is amazing to me. I have attended hundreds of hours of seminars on these topics, and I never tire of reading about them. Yesterday we went on a family trip to Gatlinburg, TN, about a two-hour drive. Just for fun, I read notes and research studies from a cancer symposium put on by the Institute of Functional Medicine. Can you say “science geek”?

nerd girl

What follows is a list of supplements that I have taken during chemotherapy with Adriamycin/Cytoxan and now Taxol. Some of these are just part of my everyday program, and I will continue to take them after I have finished treatment. Others are especially important for each type of drug. I’ll point this out as we go along.

REQUIRED DISCLAIMER

I am very happy to share what I have learned with you, but I completely respect your decision not to use any supplements if that’s what you have decided is in your best interest. This is a very individual decision. I’m not telling you that this regimen is a cure for cancer or that it will help everyone. I’m just telling you that I feel that it has made a difference for me, along with other lifestyle choices, which I’ll go over in a future post.

EVERYDAY SUPPLEMENTS:

Fish Oil- 2400 mg per day, but may double- very good for cardiovascular health and may help with depression- Bonus: eases constipation if you are prone to it

Cranberry Extract- 950mg/day- as estrogen levels drop in menopause and/or during chemo, women are more prone to UTI’s; I haven’t had a UTI since I started taking this 18 months ago- Bonus: high in anti-oxidants to reduce inflammation

Multivitamin- Go high quality here- you want the serving size to be at least 4 caps/day because you can’t absorb the nutrients all at once. I choose no iron because it is tough on the GI tract and I have read studies about cancer cells utilizing iron at a higher rate than regular cells. Also, choose one with “methyl” before the name for folate and B12. Some people can’t absorb regular forms. Bonus: you will make up for a crappy chemo diet and get some extra energy

Magnesium- 500mg before bedtime or less if you get loose stools- most people are deficient in this mineral and it is a required co-factor for countless chemical reactions. Bonus: eases constipation and helps you sleep better

Note: I take Cal/Mag/Zinc occasionally but only every 3rd night or so. I have read that Calcium is not as beneficial in supplement form as once thought, but I am still researching this one. I’ll get back to you.

Vitamin D- ***6,000mg/day (need to do a baseline level before dosing) This is the holy grail of supplements in my book. Get your level tested ASAP. If you are fighting cancer, your level should be at least 50 ng/mL and preferably around 70. I could write an entire post about the functions of vitamin D, and I think I will in the near future.

Probiotics- Did you know that a large percentage of your immune system lives in your gut? Probiotics keep that gut healthy by providing beneficial bacteria and preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria. This is a crucial supplement for chemotherapy. Adriamycin is an antibiotic which will destroy the normal gut flora. Buy a high quality, refrigerated probiotic. I am using Jarrow “ultra Jarrowdophilus” with a 50 billion colony count. This has been a lifesaver for my GI health and regularity.

Stay tuned tomorrow for supplements that I have incorporated specifically for chemotherapy.