When we hear the words "natural" or "herbal," we often think "safe." This isnít necessarily true -- "natural" does not equal "safe."
For example, herbal supplements such as acai berry, fish oil, garlic, and herbal teas are commonly believed to be beneficial to your health. However, these natural products could harm a patient during chemotherapy treatment. Researchers from Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago say that there is growing evidence that herbal supplements may intensify or weaken the effects of chemotherapy drugs -- even to the point of making them lethal.
Though herbal supplements are plant-based products, they can still interfere with the mechanism of certain chemotherapy drugs and/or have certain effects on the body during chemotherapy. For example, long-term use of garlic supplementation may increase the risk of bleeding, while the use of fish oil (as we've discussed before) may induce resistance to certain chemotherapy drugs, such as Cisplatin.
Consuming culinary herbs in small quantities for flavoring is generally safe, but consuming large quantities for prolonged periods may hurt someone receiving chemotherapy.
Recent research shows that 50 percent of patients who are undergoing chemotherapy did not tell their doctor that they were taking alternative therapies like supplements. Some patients believe it is not important, while others may be uncomfortable admitting they are seeking therapies outside of what has been prescribed for them. Patients often donít realize that supplements are more than just vitamins and may counteract medical therapies, including chemotherapy and supportive medications.
As healthcare providers, we need to encourage patients to state all current medications, including herbal supplementation. Iím sure many patients do not think to mention their herbal remedies when asked about their medication list. They may not recognize the importance, since some of them are labeled as "natural."
More research is needed to help us understand which supplements may interact with cancer treatment and the extent of those interactions. In the meantime, researchers and healthcare providers urge patients to stop all herbal supplementation while receiving chemotherapy until further information is available.
Do you have many cancer patients who take herbal supplements? If so, do you discourage use while receiving chemotherapy?
To view the full research from Northwestern University, please visit the
Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center Website.