For cancer patients, nausea is a well-known factor that severely curtails quality of life. It can be very difficult, and often springs to the surface with chemotherapy treatment. Another effect is numbness and tingling through the fingers and toes, an effect called neuropathy. Let’s see which natural supplements may be able to lessen the blow here.
There are three types of nausea, namely, anticipatory (smell or sight of treatment site), acute (within 24 hours after chemotherapy) and delayed (more than 24 hours after chemotherapy). Ginger is frequently used to treat various types of nausea and vomiting. Recently, there are clinical studies with ginger in cancer patients who suffered from chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.
In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 162 cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, all received prescription drugs specifically used to treat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Patients were randomized to receive either 1 gram, 2 grams or matching placebo daily for three days. But ginger provided no additional benefit for reducing the prevalence or severity of chemotherapy-induced nausea or vomiting.
In another good-quality but small study, 48 gynecologic cancer patients receiving “cisplatin” were initially randomized to receive either regimen A (1 gram a day of ginger root power) or regimen B (placebo plus the drug “metoclopramide”) for five days. Later on, these two groups switched. Results showed that the addition of ginger to the standard antiemetic drug offered no added advantage in reducing nausea or vomiting.
Another study comparing diets found that a high-protein diet, with a protein drink, additional protein and ginger twice a day led to less nausea. And fewer patients required medication.
As for neuropathy, the good news is that it is temporary. For it, there are three promising dietary supplements: glutamine, vitamin E and acetyl-l-carnitine. For glutamine, there is only one good-quality study done, in Taiwan. In this study, 86 patients with colorectal cancer on the drug “oxaliplatin” receivedeither 15 grams of glutamine twice a day or no glutamine supplement for a week. Glutamine supplementation resulted in less neuropathy, less interference with activities of daily living as well as reduced chemotherapy. Two other studies supported these findings.
Vitamin E when given together with chemotherapy has been shown to prevent neuropathy. There are four studies in the medical literature with three performed by the same group of researchers. The dose of vitamin E used varied from 300 mg to 600 mg a day. All studies showed that vitamin E reduced incidence and severity of neuropathy when compared to the control group.
In one pilot study, 27 patients with chemotherapy-induced neuropathy were given 1 gram of acetyl-L-carnitine intravenously for at least 10 days. About 73% of the patients had a clinically significant positive response to acetyl-L-carnitine in terms of symptomatic improvement. Future larger and better designed studies are needed to confirm these exciting but early results.