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Cancer. Blending chemotherapy with herbals and supplements

Newkirk Web SmallBy Dr. Mark Newkirk, Director of the Center for Complementary & Alternative Medicine at Saint Francis Veterinary Center

Getting a diagnosis of cancer in your pet can be devastating news.  Fortunately, most cancer patients can be helped to live longer more comfortable lives with a blend of traditional and natural treatments for cancer.  Cancer treatment is an area that does not need to always be “all or none” , that is, traditional chemo vs alternative therapiess.  A blend of traditional and alternative medicines can lead to a better, more side effect free outcome.

Depending on what type of cancer your pet has, combinations of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation are options in treatment.  Radiation therapy requires anesthesia for each treatment as the pet must hold still during the procedure.  Combating the side effects of radiation, plus the effects of multiple anesthesias, can be hard for our pets.  Side effects of chemotherapy are usually on the liver, gastrointestinal tract, or urinary system

The first place to help in ameliorating some of these effects is good diet.  Cancer diets should be high in protein and fat, and low to no carbohydrates.  Studies such as that undertaken by the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre and published in Cancer Research (June 2011) have shown that cancer “feeds” on carbohydrates, “competes” with the host for the protein, but cannot utilize fat for its metabolism.  In the BCCRC study, a diet composed of 15% carbohydrates, 58% protein and 26% fat produced a slower tumor cell growth rate in mice than those who ate a more typical diet of 55% carbohydrates, 23% protein and 22% fat. Carnivores thrive on these types diet anyway, making them potentially appropriate cancer patients.

A metabolic nutritional analysis is very helpful for the cancer patient, as it identifies imbalances and weaknesses in various organs of the body.  Special supplementation is then added based on the pets’ own blood work.  This tailor makes the supplement program to each animal.  With cancer patients, particular attention is paid to the liver (detoxification, drainage, digestion), adrenal (stress, exhaustion) and the thymus (site of the anticancer immune system) glands.

Fatty acid and anti-oxidant therapy remain a point of contention between oncologists and holistic veterinarians.  While many oncologists believe that these supplements interfere with radiation and some chemotherapies, not all oncologists agree, and most holistic veterinarians don’t think so.  In general, I will have these 2 supplements withdrawn 2 to 3 days before and after radiation.

Side effects of chemotherapy to the pets’ organs are mostly concerned with liver, intestine and urinary systems.  For the liver, milk thistle remains one of the best liver protectants there is.  Blood detox herbs such as burdock and dandelion may be helpful to rid the body of the chemical and dead cancer cells.  Glandulars for the liver, adrenal and thymus are added for nutritional support of these major organs.  Probiotics and intestinal soothing herbs such as licorice, yucca and aloe are helpful. Soothing herbs are also good for bladder side effects.

The immune system.  Everyone has their favorite it seems for anti cancer immune therapy.  MushroomsChinese herbs, Western Herbs, Homeopathy, Homotoxicology may be helpful.  In pets, sometimes what determines what we use is the pet themselves, i.e. how many things they will actually take.  Cats for example usually are tough to give herbs to, but homeopathy may be effective.

In the end, cancer often wins, but our best pal has fought the battle longer and harder, and has lived healthier and with fewer side effects, by blending the best of both worlds of medicine.

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A note about safety, effectiveness and regulation of complementary and alternative medical therapies: Rigorous, well-designed clinical trials for many complementary and alternative therapies are often lacking; therefore the safety and effectiveness of many therapies are uncertain.  Government regulations for most of these therapies are not the same as those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs. In general, regulations for most supplements and products are less strict; for example, manufacturers do not have to prove the safety and effectiveness of a dietary supplement before it is marketed.  However, the federal government is now funding studies in this field through its National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and numerous academic medical centers around the country are privately working in the field.