Herbal and Complimentary Therapies
Please read first: Medical Disclaimer
In recent years, herbal supplements have become very popular; just look at the many shelves containing herbal remedies at your local drug store. In some cases, consumers view these supplements as harmless because they are viewed as "natural" substances obtained from plants. They are also easily obtainable as no prescription is required for purchase. Herbal remedies, however, are only loosely regulated by the FDA. They are not required to be tested or proven safe prior to being marketed as they legally are "dietary supplements" and not prescription medications. The FDA can remove a dietary supplement from the market only if it presents a significant risk of illness or injury (Ephedra was pulled off the market only after it was found to be responsible for approximately 155 deaths).
Some herbal supplements may be useful, but in some cases they may also be harmful, especially when combined with prescription medications. Many herbal remedies interact with prescription medications. Some are also not recommended for use in combination with other cancer-fighting therapies. For example, the particular IV chemotherapy I received could have been 40% less effective if I had taken the herbal remedy St. John's Wort at the time of my treatment.
I suggest that you view herbal remedies as you do prescription medications. When asked by your physician what medications you are currently taking, let them know not only your prescription medications, but also any herbal remedies you use. Check with your doctor before taking any herbal remedies, especially if you are taking prescription medications.
This is a link to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's web site that will allow you to enter the name of an herbal supplement and give you good information on that particular remedy: About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products
Another great link is to a series of short videos recently published by Memorial Sloan Kettering. It will take you about an hour to watch the videos, but they are well worth your time: Understanding Herbs and Botanicals in Survivorship
Fantastic claims of cure-all foods and supplements can be found all over the internet and in many magazines, newspapers and publications. Many of these claims prey on those of us who are desperately seeking treatment for difficult to treat illnesses, like cancer. This is another excellent web site with information about evaluating these advertised claims. It is published by the Mayo Clinic: Complementary and alternative medicine: Evaluate claims of treatment success
Answers to common questions about diet and cancer from the American Cancer Society