Should you take anti-oxidants whilst undergoing chemo or radiotherapy

Should you take anti-oxidants whilst undergoing chemo or radiotherapy

Antioxidants and natural compounds can improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Fact.

Recently, I was asked by a lady with Breast cancer about taking antioxidants at the same time as chemotherapy or radiotherapy. She had been told by her nurse not to take curcumin with her 5-FU drug, part of her FEC-T breast cancer treatment in the U.K. (Writes Chris Woollams)

Antioxidant Curcumin makes chemo work better

Within 20 minutes of searching on the Web, I had found 7 clinical studies showing that, far from being a problem, curcumin made chemotherapy drugs work better.

Go to: Curcumin makes Chemotherapy drugs work better

Should this surprise us? Not at all. One of the most stupid phrases you will hear uttered by doctors and nurses is that an antioxidant protects cells and that they don’t want cancer cells ’protected’ while they use chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Sadly, this comment is just born out of ignorance. The biochemistry of a cancer cell is completely different to that of a healthy cell. Apples and oranges. What protects a healthy cell is unlikely to afford any protection to a cancer cell. In fact, quite probably the opposite. And curcumin has a harmful effect on several unique processes (like the M-TOR pathway) only found in a cancer cell. Curcumin does protect healthy cells. But it damages cancer cells and it sensitises them, which makes chemotherapy work better. 

Oxygen and exercise make chemo and radiotherapy work better

Many ’treatments’ sensitise cancer cells, ensuring MORE are killed by chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Surely, the biggest anti-oxidant is oxygen itself. There is clear research on this. For example, increasing your blood oxygen levels by exercising or using Hyperbaric Oxygen renders cancer cells more sensitive to attack. More then get killed by the orthodox treatment.

Melatonin makes chemo work better

Sloan Kettering in New York have shown much the same for melatonin. Melatonin is normally produced by your pineal gland about 45 minutes after you fall asleep. It knocks you into a deeper sleep. But, few people understand that Melatonin is the largest antioxidant we animals make. And combined with the fact that it is a strong anti-inflammatory, it is why sleep is so healing. But numerous studies have shown it can regulate oestrogen and growth hormone in the body, and it has epigenetic actions against cancer cells, ’correcting them’. Sloan Kettering showed that using melatonin with chemotherapy produced a 40 per cent increased one year survival, and a 93 per cent better chance of the tumour disappearing.

Go To: Sloan Kettering, melatonin enhances chemotherapy

Vitamin C makes chemotherapy work better

The ultimate antioxidant is probably vitamin C, and it is usually this doctors most want you to avoid. Again they are wrong. First Kansa Medical School in 2012, and then Ohio State Medical School in 2016 have shown that Intravenous vitamin C used with chemotherapy drugs actually produces a significant increase in survival times, the latter work being done in full clinical trials on patients with brain tumours and non-small cell lung cancer.

Go To: Intravenous Vitamin C slows tumour growth and increases survival times

A number of treatments, supplements and bioactive compounds improve the success of radiotherapy too.

Go To: 20 ways to improve your radiotherapy experience

Do chemotherapy drugs prevent antioxidants working?

Perhaps we should be asking the question the other way round? 

The fact is that no chemotherapy drug kills off the cancer stem cells - the 3% of cancer cells in the heart of the tumour that control everything. Chemo can knock a cancer back 40%, 50% even 70%. But if you don’t kill off the cancer stem cells they can regrow. Dr. Young S. Kim of the National Cancer Institute in the USA has stated from her research that a poor diet will help the cancer stem cells and the tumour re-grow. But foods containing bioactive natural compounds, and even just taking the same in supplements, can stop that regrowth. Her list included sulphoraphanes, curcumin, piperine, resveratrol, genistein, vitamin E, vitamin A, choline and EGCG which can all stop these cancer cells regrowing and rebuilding the tumour. But then, it is well known now that chemo can encourage cancers to regrow. Maybe you shouldn’t have chemo while taking your antioxidants?

But don’t think it is just about bioactive compounds. 2016 research showed that taking a probiotic containing bifidobacterium could make docetaxel work as well as if you added one of the new wonder immunotherapies!

I think I would want to use supplements alongside any chemo drugs, wouldn’t you?

Sorry, but Doctors have no idea about diet, supplements or antioxidants 

Sadly, Doctors have little understanding of nutrition, less on natural compounds and have little time to read anything. In icon we reported on the senior Australian Government Medical Advisor who has set up a website for doctors to tell them about drugs and pharmaceutical clinical trials, listing all benefits and side effects, because he was so concerned that doctors only get that information from PR releases and media coverage, both of which are provided by the pharmaceutical companies themselves and may be biased.

Doctors rarely ever study nutrition at Medical School and do not pass exams in it.

Bioactive compounds are now well researched

Elsewhere on this web site we have covered the tome by John Boik, who in 2001 was one of the senior staff at the prestigious MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas. This book is over an inch thick, and called ’Natural Compounds in cancer therapy’. It contains over 4000 references to scientific papers and basically concludes that, far from in some way interfering with the biochemical process involved in chemo or radiotherapy, taking anti-oxidants actually improves the success rates of both. Support for this stance came in 2005 again covered in icon Cancer Watch, when UCLA produced the conclusion that healthy cells are self-regulators and will pick up the maximum concentrations of antioxidants available in order to maximize their biochemical processes. However cancer cells have lost most of this regulatory ability and will overload on anti-oxidants. Their view is that this is what sensitises the cancer cells and what HELPS the chemo or radio kill them off.

Some antioxidants are even approved by the FDA for use with chemo!

In certain cases (e.g. the use of amifostine) some specific antioxidants are actually approved by the FDA and recommended for use with chemotherapy and are known to have enhancing benefits in, say, oral and lung cancers and child leukemia.

The whole matter has recently been highlighted by Ralph W. Moss PhD, the famous US cancer researcher. In a paper ’Should patients undergoing Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy be prescribed antioxidants?’ (Integrative Cancer Therapies Vol 5, 1; 63-82. Also on PubMed) Moss expertly takes the reader through the myriad of research, including clinical trials, stating clearly that the DAndrea paper was incomplete and that there is far more information available than either she included or is widely acknowledged. His conclusion is that a blanket rejection of the concurrent use of anti-oxidants with chemotherapy is not justified by the preponderance of evidence. For the more scientifically biased amongst our readers we have listed below some of the main scientific references on this subject.

Many drugs are not actually ’chemotherapy’

Consider the drug Tamoxifen for example. It blocks estrogen receptor sites on cells and is used to increase survival times in breast cancer where the woman is pre-menopausal. Many women know of the side-effects of Tamoxifen.

In 2004, our magazine icon carried clinical research that showed vitamin E supplementation could enhance Tamoxifen so that it provided the same positive benefits, but at a 25 per cent lowered drug dosage. Melatonin has shown similar benefits, as has Indole 3 Carbinol.

Great for the patient but not so great for the profitability of the pharmaceutical company concerned. We doubt any oncologist has even noticed the research. 

But why would you not halve the dose and use vitamin E and melatonin (two antioxidants)?

By the way, the new immunotherapies work better if you take a simultaneous probiotic.

If taking antioxidants is bad, why tell us to eat fruit and vegetables instead?

Ralph Moss raises another important point - one we have repeatedly made. If taking anti-oxidants is of such a concern, why do many of the same oncologists tell the patient to eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables instead? Is it because they believe fresh fruit and vegetables are devoid of antioxidants these days and thus can’t interfere with their chemotherapy? Or is it because they are fearful of the synthetically produced ones? (Just as we are! In icon we continually tell you to take the natural forms). 

Perhaps it is neither of these. Perhaps they are just not aware of the enormous amount of research in the US alone.  However, the answer may lie in an article from the early days of icon, when Dr. Graham Henderson wrote a piece for us telling our readers just why UK Doctors were so negative towards complementary therapies. To summarise: UK Doctors want to be the fount of all knowledge for their patients, and many have neither studied formally, nor had the time to study since leaving medical school, these complementary therapies and especially nutrition. (Only recently a newly qualified doctor was in our offices openly stating that (apart from a morning on combating heart disease) she had not spent one day formally studying nutrition in her whole seven years training!) As Dr. Henderson concluded, most UK Doctors are outside their both knowledge and comfort zones.

Nothing brings this home more than reading Moss conclusions, one of which is that Patients would be well advised to seek the opinion of physicians who are adequately trained and experienced in the intersection of 2 complex fields, that is, chemotherapy and nutritional oncology.

If all UK NHS oncologists who qualify could please e-mail us on [email protected] with their name, phone number and qualifications we will happily publish a list in icon magazine and on our website. This debate will not be settled until we have more experts who are fully qualified in both oncology and nutritional therapy.

Meanwhile, a similar view on the benefits and the increasingly vacuous criticism of natural compounds as beneficial adjuncts to chemo and radiotherapy can be found in the article on Herbs by the expert Alan Hopking in icon Issue 3 2006.

For the record, we continue to recommend that all patients having chemo and radiotherapy supplement using natural supplements (like Chlorella, garlic, astragalus, Aloe Vera, medicinal mushrooms, green tea, selenium, natural vitamin E, probiotics, cur cumin, vitamin D etc) and we increasingly find positive research-based evidence.  (For example:  Prasad K. N:  Int. Cancer Therapies 2004, 3:3, 310-323.  Multiple dietary antioxidant therapies enhance the efficacy of standard and experimental cancer therapies and decrease their toxicity). 

But we especially recommend that patients load up on the foods that can provide them with the biggest range of cancer fighting agents possible.

Rainbow diet          At last, the definitive, research-based book on how to build a diet to help beat cancer. Click here to read about it.


For those of you who want to check the scientific references used, we have selected a mere 75 from those recorded by Ralph Moss. See below!




Some detailed references:

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