Onward we march toward the end of this series that examines the use of supplements and cancer and chemotherapy. Here I look at “mucositis,” inflammation along the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, beginning with the mouth, and bone marrow suppression.
Symptoms of mucositis include mouth sores, heartburn and diarrhea. The worst chemotherapy culprits include: carboplatin, doxorubicin, etoposide, 5-FU (fluorouracil), irinotecan, methotrexate, and topotecan. Risk factors for chemotherapy-related diarrhea include getting radiation therapy as well, older age, having colitis, and having a tumor in the GI tract.
A recent review on the use of natural remedies in the treatment of mouth sores found that simple interventions such as ice, honey, and topical vitamin E oil can decrease symptoms. It also mentions glutamine rinse (up to 30 grams a day) and aloe or chamomile mouthwashes as promising agents to treat this common condition.
Three potentially useful supplements were mentioned in a review article on chemotherapy-induced diarrhea:
1. Probiotics: There is some evidence that probiotics are useful in radiation-induced diarrhea, but not in chemotherapy-induced diarrhea. Since chemotherapy weakens the immune system, patients may be at an increased risk of potentially life-threatening infections from the use of probiotics.
2. Glutamine: Glutamine offers protection to the GI tract against chemotherapy-induced damage. Taking six grams, three times a day for 15 days, starting five days before the first course of chemotherapy has been shown to be effective in preventing chemotherapy-induced diarrhea.
3. Kampo medicine: Its effectiveness for diarrhea is mixed . Kampo medicine (the Chinese herb “Haneshashin-to”) may help alleviate diarrhea in advanced non-small cell lung cancer.
Now for the bone marrow, which produces red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Many drugs used in chemotherapy suppress the bone marrow, leading to a reduced number of red blood cells, resulting in fatigue, a reduced number of white blood cells, leading to increased risk of infection, and a reduced number of platelets, with increased risk of clotting problems and easy bruising. Bone marrow suppression occurs between seven and 10 days after chemotherapy and subsides after three to four weeks.
Extracts from Coriolus mushrooms, in particular “polysaccharide krestin” (PSK), were shown to kill cancer cells and bolster the immune system. For over 30 years, PSK at a dose of three grams a day has been added to the traditional chemotherapy to treat various cancers (e.g. lung stomach, leukemia) in Japan. PSK boosts the immune system by raising the white blood cells, natural killer T cells, and antibody response in cancer patients.
There was meta-analysis of three clinical trials involving 1,094 patients with colorectal cancer who all underwent surgery and were later treated with the standard chemotherapy with and without PSK. This study shows that PSK improved both survival and disease-free survival in colorectal cancer.
Other extracts that have shown positive results in boosting the immune system include agaricus, AHCC (a newly discovered functional food) and mistletoe (“Iscador”) extracts.