Australian Paul Kraus is somewhat of a legend among cancer patients.
In 1997, he was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma – a form of asbestos cancer that attacks the lining of the abdomen. Generally, the prognosis for any patient with this disease is anywhere from 3 to 12 months.
Today, eleven years later, Paul Kraus remains alive and well. He attributes his survival to numerous factors, including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), visualization and prayer – but in his book, Surviving Mesothelioma and Other Cancers, Kraus also writes extensively on the topic of supplements.
Among the many forms of Complimentary Alternative Medicine (CAM), the use of supplements – mainly certain vitamins and other plant and animal-based substances – to treat mesothelioma, appears to show the most promise based on medical research.
What Are “Supplements”?
The more accurate terms for these substances are “dietary supplements” or “nutritional supplements.” These terms are most often associated with vitamins, but can be any product added to one’s normal diet. In addition to vitamins, these may consist of minerals, herbs and plant extracts, amino acids and enzymes.
It is possible, and perhaps even preferable to obtain these vitamins and minerals from food. However, this can be difficult for many cancer patients. While supplements are not a substitute for necessary protein or sufficient caloric intake, they can make it easier to obtain necessary vitamins and minerals that may otherwise be missing.
Which Supplements are Best?
A recent Japanese study suggested that the anti-oxidants found in berries – specifically boysenberries – had an inhibiting effect on the growth of tumors, particularly those associated with malignant mesothelioma. The boysenberry (a hybrid of the raspberry, blackberry and dewberry developed in California over eighty years ago) has a particularly high concentration of the anti-oxidant polyphenol, which is also found in tea, beer, red wine, olive oil, chocolate, walnuts and peanuts.
Getting such anti-oxidants from food sources is one thing, but taking them by themselves as a supplement in concentrated form may not be a wise course of action – particularly for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
What Are The Dangers of Supplements?
Because many Americans lack access to low-cost health care, it’s understandable that as many as 80% of all Americans turn to CAM, including dietary supplements in treating their illnesses.
Nonetheless, there are risks associated with the use of supplements, and simply because something is labeled as “all-natural” or “herbal” does not necessarily mean that it is safe. For one thing, most of these remedies and supplements are not tested nor regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
It is also important to keep in mind that many such “herbal” supplements are essentially diluted from the same substances as prescription drugs, but have not been reviewed for safety. Some of these herbs can cause unpredictable interactions with chemotherapy drugs or other standard therapies.
Use Supplements Cautiously
Herbalist Robert Rister – a self-professed “conservative” in matters of alternative medicine – has written nine books on the topic of natural remedies, including Healing Without Medication. On his blog, The Home Remedy Companion, he writes that while “…nutritional supplements are great in some circumstances …mesothelioma, for the most part, isn’t one of them.” However, he has stated that vitamins in the folic acid group and vitamin E can be effective in offsetting the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs such as premextred disodium (Alimta™). On the other hand, mesothelioma patients should avoid calcium supplements, vitamin D and shark cartilage, which can weaken bone and cause other undesirable side effects.