While most of your nutrients should be derived directly from the foods you consume, supplements can provide the additional boost that a weakened immune system in someone with cancer needs.
It can be very overwhelming when thinking about supplementing your diet with anti-cancer vitamins, so I’ve outlined some of the top research-based supplements that have been shown to help prevent cancer or assist in cancer recovery.
- Aloe– Aloe vera is a plant that has been studied extensively for its diverse health benefits, including cancer prevention. One study showed that exposure of cells to aloe vera extract resulted in apoptosis (death) of cancer cells without having any significant cytotoxicity towards normal cells. Another study performed in mice who ingested aloe vera while on an endurance training program showed a decrease in their production of prostaglandin E2 (a lipid mediator that promotes breast cancer-associated lymphangiogenesis).
- Amla– Commonly known as Indian gooseberry or amla, this plant is arguably the most important medicinal plant in Ayurvedic medicine. The fruit of the Amla plant contains a collection of compounds that include gallic acid, ellagic acid, 1-O-galloyl-beta-D-glucose, chebulinic acid, quercetin, chebulagic acid, corilagin, ascorbic acid, and geraniin- which have demonstrated strong anti-carcinogenic properties individually, and may help explain the anti-cancer properties of whole Amla extract. The fruit of the amla plant has also been shown to possess analgesic, adaptogenic, cardioprotective, gastroprotective, wound healing, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, free radical scavenging, and antimutagenic and immunomodulatory properties. Studies have shown that amla extract has anti-proliferative effects and inhibits ovarian cancer cell growth.
- Apricot kernels– Amygdalin is a cyanogenic glycoside which is described as a naturally occurring anticancer agent that can be found in apricot kernels. Studies have found the apoptosis-inducing attributes of amygdalin towards different cancers and its potential application as an anti-cancer agent in cancer therapy. One such study in particular showed that low ATP levels caused by the presence of amygdalin in apricot kernels caused the induction of necrosis (death) in tumor cells. Another study revealed that amygdalin blocks bladder cancer cell growth in vitro by diminishing cyclin A (which are elevated in a variety of tumors) and cdk2 (which is associated with tumor growth).
- Moringa powder– moringa has been identified by researchers as a plant with numerous health benefits as it contains essential amino acids, carotenoids in leaves, and nutraceutical properties. Moringa oleifera leaves are well-known to have numerous good biological activities, such as antioxidant, antiatherosclerotic, hypolipidaemic, immune activator, and tumor suppressor. In fact moringa leaf and bark extracts have been shown to effectively inhibit the growth of breast, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer cells.
- Beta glucans– Beta glucans are sugars (classified as polysaccharides) that are found in the cell walls of bacteria, yeasts, algae, fungi, lichens, and plants (like oats and barley). It activates and enhances immune response to invaders like viruses, bacteria, & cancer cells. The healing properties of mushrooms can be attributed to their high-content of beta glucans, which have been shown to increase host immune defense through enhancing macrophages and natural killer cell function. Studies have shown that the fiber in beta glucans helps to increase the cytokines response. This response helps to regulate various inflammatory responses as well as the immune system response in breast, stomach, and colorectal cancers. These studies have even concluded that some forms of beta glucan may be beneficial in helping to reduce the size of cancerous tumors, as well as helping to prevent cancer metastasis.
- Black seed oil– Also known as nigella sativa, black seed oil has been recognized for thousands of years for its incredible healing properties– particularly through an antioxidant role that improves the body’s defense system while inducing apoptosis in cancer cells. A 2003 study revealed that aqueous and alcohol extracts of N. sativa were found to be effective in vitro in inactivating MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Furthermore, black seed oil was found to be a novel inhibitor of pro-inflammatory pathways, inhibiting proliferation of pancreatic cancer cells.
- Colloidal silver– Colloidal silver is a suspension of tiny silver particles in a liquid and has been used as an antimicrobial and disinfectant agent. It has been shown to have a cytotoxic effect in MCF-7 breast cancer cells through induction of apoptosis. More research is needed to definitively ascertain whether colloidal silver can be considered as a promising alternative cancer therapy.
- Curcumin & turmeric– Turmeric, a spice grown in Asian countries, is known in Ayurvedic medicine to be a detoxifier of the body. Curcumin—the key phenolic compound in the spice turmeric—has been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-allergic, and antiseptic properties, and is capable of inducing programmed cell death in rare breast cancer cells. It has chemopreventive and antitumoral activities against some aggressive and recurrent cancers. One 2013 study found that patients with neck and head cancer who chewed 1,000 mg of curcumin in tablet form each day experienced suppressed rates of tumor growth. Another study showed that curcumin was able to inhibit the proliferation of various tumor cells and prevent carcinogen-induced cancers in mice. During active cancer therapy, a supplemental regimen of turmeric is now being evaluated in combination with chemotherapy and radiation given their role as “modifiers of biologic response or as adaptogens, potentially enhancing the efficacy of the conventional therapies or reducing toxicity.” Turmeric can be taken raw (in its original root form), as a powder, extract supplement, or even essential oil.
- Boswellia (frankincense)- Research strongly suggests that essential oils can help in both the prevention and treatment of cancer. In fact, clinical research has shown that the use of essential oils can stop and potentially reverse the growth of cancer cells in animal and human cell studies. For example, a 2018 study revealed that frankincense essential oil suppressed tumor progression through the regulation of the AMPK/mTOR pathway in breast cancer. It is known to possesses the strongest anti-cancer properties, as it has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme that is responsible for inflammation in the body. It has also been proven to induce tumor cell specific cytotoxicity. It’s very important to purchase a good quality brand; my personal favorite is Rocky Mountain Oils.
- Vitamin D3– Vitamin D has been identified as a breast cancer risk factor to be targeted for cancer prevention. Studies have suggested that vitamin D can regulate the entire process of tumorigenesis, from initiation to metastasis. For example, vitamin D can prevent the initiation stage of tumor formation by exerting anti-inflammatory and antioxidant defenses and DNA repair processes. In cancer cells that are past the initial tumor formation stage, vitamin D has still been proven to elicit anticancer properties through inhibiting cell proliferation, and even resulting in cell death. Studies suggest that the effects of vitamin D supplementation may be stronger for cancer mortality than for incidence.
- Vitamin C– Vitamin C is a well-known anti-oxidant that actually has been proven to possess tumoricidal effects. Clinical studies showed that high-dose vitamin C, given by intravenous and oral routes, may improve symptoms and prolong life in terminal cancer patients. Vitamin C injections are able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, and actually change the transcriptome of breast cancer cells. It is able to induce apoptosis via the disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential and the suppression of the translocation of transferring receptor from cytosol to membrane. Vitamin C therapy has also been shown to suppress the proliferation of cancer cells that are involved in metastasis, as well as increase immune function. One such case was a 49 year old man who was diagnosed with a primary bladder tumor with multiple surrounding tumors around 2-3 cm. He declined systemic chemotherapy and opted for IV vitamin C treatment. He began with 30 g of vitamin C twice per week for 3 months, followed by 30 g once every 1–2 months for 4 years. It’s been 9 years since his diagnosis, and the patient is in good health with no symptoms of metastasis or recurrence. Anther study performed in 2015 showed that a woman with multiple pulmonary metastases who received high doses of vitamin C therapy intravenously experienced complete regression of her metastasis, resulting in complete remission of the primary carcinoma. Patients who use vitamin C therapy often can go into remission in as little as seven weeks.
- Mushroom supplements– Mushrooms are nature’s best superfood, and have been proven to possess medicinal benefits against cancer. Reishi, shiitake, chaga, maitake, and turkey tail have all been proven to decrease the body’s inflammation response, reduce the growth of tumors that are hormone receptor positive, and boost immune function. Since my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, she’s been taking 1,000 mg of turkey tail supplements per day (given that raw mushrooms do not offer the same benefits for cancer patients as supplements do). Researchers that performed a 7-year study funded by the National Institute of Health found that immune function in breast cancer patients was enhanced in those who took daily doses of turkey tail in pill form, and that this mushroom increases natural killer cell functional activity towards tumor detection and eradication. The pill they took was the same one my mom takes – Host Defense Turkey Tail mushroom. Furthermore, the FDA recently approved a clinical trial for turkey tail mushrooms, in which cancer patients would take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy. Turkey tail has significant potential in being a transformative cancer therapy.
- Probiotics– Probiotics are defined as live bacteria and yeasts that exert beneficial effects for health. They have been found to help in the suppression of the growth of microbiotia that can damage the immune system and subsequently suppress tumor growth. Both animal models and human studies have shown the therapeutic effects of probiotics in reducing metastasis of cancer cells. Given that about 80% of your immune system lives in your gastrointestinal tract, it shouldn’t be a surprise that probiotics help strengthen your immune cell activity. In fact, studies have also shown that a stronger intestinal barrier may prevent cancer in the rest of the body. Improving the gut microbiome is a new horizon in cancer therapy.
- Quercetin- Quercetin is a flavonoid present in many vegetables, fruits (primarily berries) and beverages. It has antioxidant, anti-tumor and anti-inflammatory activity, and has been shown to have anti-proliferation effects on cancer cells (even in low doses). A 2017 study performed in tumor bearing mice revealed that the mice exhibited a significant reduction in tumor volume after being treated with quercetin in-vitro. Quercetin has also been shown to possess chemoprotective and radioprotective properties, protecting normal cells of the side effects that result from chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
- Proteolytic enzymes– In 1906, embryologist Dr. John Beard proposed that pancreatic proteolytic digestive enzymes serve as the body’s primary defense against cancer. Enzymes (protein structures that serve different purposes) possess catalytic responsibilities; meaning they are able to speed up the rate of chemical reactions in the body. They have also been shown to help dissolve fibrin – the outer coating of cancer cells that prevents the immune system from identifying and destroying them. During the initial stages of tumor growth, fibrin “provides a scaffold for the growth of tumor cells,” and plays an important role in angiogenesis and the metastasis of cancer cells. Studies have proven that enzyme therapy shows “remarkable selective effects that result in growth inhibition of tumor cells with metastatic potential.” Further research has documented the anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, and antitumor and antimetastatic activites of proteolytic enzyme mixtures that contain trypsin, chymotrypsin, bromelain (found in pineapples), or papain. All of these properties have shown systemic enzyme therapy to increase the “response rates, the duration of remissions, and the overall survival times” of cancer patients. Even if a cancer patient has decided to pursue chemotherapy as a treatment option, research has shown that enzyme therapy can help mitigate some of the side effects that accompany chemo, as well as protect against drug-induced gut dysbiosis.
- Dandelion root– Dandelion extracts have been researched primarily for their anti-inflammatory and anti-depressant activity. However, studies have shown that dandelion root extract can be an effective alternative cancer treatment through its ability to activate multiple death pathways in cancer cells. It’s also been shown to induce apoptosis (death) of human pancreatic cancer cells, as it is cancer cell selective, and does not harm non-cancerous cells.
- Essiac tea- Essiac tea is an herbal tea mixture that has historically been used as a cancer treatment. It contains four herbs – burdock root, indian rhubarb root, sheep sorrel, and slippery elm. Essiac is known to strengthen the immune system, relieve pain, and may reduce tumor size. More clinical trials are needed to confirm its anti-cancer properties, however it has shown no adverse side effects within cancer patients who drink it.
I encourage you to speak with your doctor and consider incorporating some of these anti-cancer supplements today.