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Vitamin Use in Cancer Care

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The use of vitamins—and antioxidants in particular—during cancer therapy has a long history of controversy. Many pioneers in the field of cancer care and research—Drs. Charles Simone, Ralph Moss, Kedar Prasad, and Keith Block, among others—have sifted through the conflicting research and offer an alternative viewpoint from many in allopathic medicine and the mainstream media. Life Extension has an excellent bibliography of the science behind using nutritional supplements with cancer therapy.

Dr. Simone and his colleagues did a comprehensive review of the medical literature regarding the use of vitamins along with chemotherapy and radiation in a two-part article in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. He notes that the prejudice against supplements originated from an erroneous statement made in a 1997 New York Times article by a Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital physician who contended that vitamin C interfered with chemotherapy and radiation in humans. Despite the fact that statement had no basis in scientific fact, the caution against vitamin use while undergoing chemo or radiation has been promulgated by the vast majority of the oncology community.

The controversy continued with the recent publication of research from Sloan Kettering that suggests that vitamin C protects cancer cells from chemotherapeutic agents and that antioxidants such as vitamin C should be avoided during cancer therapy. In those experiments, mice given vitamin C before their chemotherapy actually had faster-growing tumors than mice not fed vitamin C, and human cancer cells in a culture pretreated with vitamin C were 30-70% more resistant to chemotherapy agents than cells not pretreated with vitamin C.

However, the president of the American College for Advancement in Medicine, Dr. Jeanne Drisko (professor of orthomolecular medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center), says that the experiment was faulty, making its results worthless. The researchers used dehydroascorbic acid, not vitamin C (ascorbic acid). Dehydroascobic acid is somewhat toxic to humans, according to Dr. Drisko, and the body works very hard to keep the blood levels of dehydroascorbic acid at a minimum. Because mice make their own vitamin C, mouse results might not apply to humans.

Dr. Ralph Moss has also reflected on the controversy in his column “War on Cancer” in the November issue of The Townsend Letter. Dr. Moss studied a review article entitled “Should Supplemental Antioxidant Administration Be Avoided during Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy?” that appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Moss focused on a discussion of the famous Bairati study (sometimes known as the Laval study) on the use of synthetic beta carotene and synthetic alpha tocopherol during cancer treatment. This decade-long study contained the bombshell that the harmful effect of synthetic vitamins was entirely restricted to one group—smokers. There was also a decided difference between those who consumed beta carotene in their diet versus those who received synthetic beta carotene in supplemental form.

Many mass-market supplemental multivitamin and mineral preparations contain synthetic beta carotene. The discovery of more than 600 forms of carotene in the carotenoid family has prompted a discussion among integrative physicians that forms of carotene other than beta carotene may be more powerful in their immune stimulating effect. Many of these nutritionally skilled practitioners have adopted the use of natural mixed carotenes to support their patients’ nutritional health.

Integrative physicians like Dr. Drisko must overcome tremendous bias in both research and clinical practice. AAHF serves a key role in protecting the right of the practitioner to offer science-based integrative care to their patients.

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