Herbal Supplements and Prescriptions, Which Is Best?

Herbal Supplements and Prescriptions,

Which Is Best?

Herbal and prescription awareness monthJuly is Herbal and Prescription Awareness Month. East meets West in medicine and cancer treatments, or does it? Many cancer patients and parents of cancer kids want answers about which is best, herbal or prescription, when to use herbal supplements, or can you use both simultaneously?  Knowing which herbs may interact with medications is especially important. When you have a child with cancer, it is vital to check with your medical professionals before giving any natural or herbal remedies.

Mixed herbal pillsUse Caution with Herbal and Holistic Supplements

It is also important to note that federal law does not require supplements to be proven safe by the FDA. This is because they fall under nutritional supplements. It can cause a lot of confusion about what information is trustworthy and which products are safe. One good resource to start with is the FDA.

Antioxidants and Chemotherapy

For example, many oncologists recommend holding off taking antioxidants during chemotherapy as it can interfere with the effectiveness of the chemotherapy. In addition, new findings suggest that cancer patients and people with an increased risk of cancer should avoid taking antioxidant supplements. This was first reported in 2015 by the National Cancer Institute. Studies showed that antioxidants accelerated the growth and invasiveness of tumors.

“Based on the available evidence, Dr. Bergö of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden said he was extremely concerned with the aggressive marketing of antioxidants to cancer patients. The data strongly suggest that using antioxidants could be really dangerous in lung cancer and melanoma, and possibly other cancers,” he said. And because theres no strong evidence that antioxidants are beneficial, cancer patients should be encouraged to avoid supplements after they have a diagnosis.”

Chemo Interactions With Foods and Supplements

Chart of common drug and food interactions

“The combination of cancer drugs taken by patients and the complementary and alternative medicine may interact, causing adverse outcomes,” according to the National Cancer Institute. “Certain constituents of foods and dietary supplements (e.g., St. John’s wort, grapefruit juice, and epigallocatechin gallate from green tea) can alter the Pharmacokinetics (PK) of specific types of drugs. The PK of a drug predicts therapeutic outcomes for the patient. Various herbs and dietary supplements are known to influence the PK of certain drugs, such as St. John’s wort. Currently, research on dietary supplements and cancer drug PK interactions is limited. But there is evidence for several possible interactions and adverse reactions.” 

St. John’s Wort Interacts with Leukemia Drug

One such interaction is St. John’s Wort on the drug Gleevec used to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in childhood cancer. There is evidence of this in a clinical study by Berenson, CS, Jusko WJ. This study demonstrated that “co-administration of imatinib with St. John’s Wort may compromise imatinib’s clinical efficacy.”[1]

So before you reach for what seems like a benign cup of tea or harmless herbal supplement, please pause a moment to educate yourself about what effect it may have on cancer and cancer treatments.

Find the Help You Need!

Here to Serve’s dedication to helping families cope with pediatric cancer inspires us to help bring awareness to this vital topic. We at Here to Serve hope this information was informative and encourages you to reach out to your healthcare providers, trusted professional resources, and Here to Serve, who can assist you with valuable support and resources. Here to Serve will help guide you through the challenges of caring for kids with cancer. We provide numerous resources from food and nutrition, meal and housekeeping support, gift cards, and assistance with financial needs. Consider contacting Here to Serve if you or someone you know has been recently diagnosed with childhood cancer. If you are inspired to donate to Here to Serve rest assured they will make the most of your donations to help families and children battling cancer.

By Amanda Enciso

About the Author

Amanda Enciso is a cancer survivor from the Los Angeles area. She volunteers knowing what families endure during the cancer journey and after, as she battles GVHD resulting from her transplant.  While going to school full-time to get a degree in English to start a new career path in life, Amanda finds time to write blogs for Here to Serve.

1. Berenson CS, Jusko WJ. The influence of St. John’s wort on the pharmacokinetics and protein binding of imatinib mesylate. Pharmacotherapy. 2004 Nov;24(11):1508-14. doi: 10.1592/phco.24.16.1508.50958. Erratum in: Pharmacotherapy. 2004 Dec;24(12):1837. PMID: 15537555.

All information on this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.