Sunday, October 24, 2010

Inspire Health - Vitamins and Supplements

At the Inspire Health workshop, we were told that on top of an excellent diet for those on a "cancer journey" (which includes those hoping to prevent a recurrence), vitamins and supplements can help. Precise requirements will, of course, depend on individual circumstances but there are some general recommendations.  What I'm putting here is what I learned.  I think their recommendations are covered in their booklet (available at the bottom right of their website - Inspire Health).

The physicians at Inspire Health have developed a pair of basic supplements especially for people with cancer. They worked with the company, SISU, to create them. The supplements include (among other things):
  • Beta-carotene: Promotes immune response
  • Vitamin A: Supports vision and immunity
  • Vitamin C: For immunity, tissue repair, healing, anti-stress
  • Vitamin E: For cell membranes and nerve tissue
  • Selenium: For antibodies and white blood cells. For reduced risk of prostate, blader, colon, lung, breast, and esophagus cancers
  • Zinc: For immune function, T cells, and mucous membranes
  • Co-Enzyme Q10: For mitochondria, energy, heart, immune system, and to counter the toxicity of chemotherapy
  • Calcium: Best along with Magnesium. Prevents osteoporosis and colon cancer.
In addition to the above type of multi-vitamin, there are other supplements and vitamins one should be taking.

There was a lot of talk about the importance of Vitamin D and the research that has been done into it recently. I follow the research on Vitamin D quite closely myself after learning about how important it is and how deficient most of us are. My Vitamin D levels were low but I wouldn't have known if not for my Naturopath who had me request the test from my doctor. Neither my own doctor nor anyone at the cancer centre tested my Vitamin D levels. I find that shocking considering the correlation between it and cancer.  What I have also learned is that some doctors - the more progressive ones - are now including a Vitamin D test as a part of standard tests during people's annual physicals. Some doctors don't and some won't even if you request the test. The doctor from Inspire Health said that if your doctor won't do the test, you should get another doctor. If you've had your Vitamin D tested, you will probably recall that all of your other test results came back quickly while your Vitamin D test results took 3 or 4 weeks. This is because we have to get the test done somewhere far away and each test costs about $90. This is probably why doctors are discouraged from making this a standard test. Just sayin ...

Get your Vitamin D levels tested! Then, if it's less than optimal (which is almost surely the case), supplement as instructed and then, after about 3 months, get it tested again to see how much it's improved. It might take a few tests to get your level of supplementation figured out. As we age, our bodies don't create Vitamin D as well as when we were young.

Someone asked about getting too much Vitamin D and the doctor said that it's very unlikely. Some people are taking 20,000 international units per day and are still not getting too much. If you recall, after my test results came back low, I took 20,000 IU per day for a week and then 10,000 per day for 3 weeks. Now I take 4,000 per day. The general recommendation for everyone (though it is widely felt to be on the low side) is 2,000 IU per day.

Now, about Vitamin D ...
  • It acts as a hormone and gene regulator. It stabilizes cells and prevents tumour initiation and progression. It effects immunity, the nervous system, bone and calcium metabolism.
  • Supplementation reduces all cancer risk by 60%; 78% if continued for more than 1 year.
  • Inspire Health doctors recommend aiming for a blood level of 125 to 175 nMol/L. They recently raised this recommendation from 150.  Inspire Health doctors believe that supplementation with Vitamin D should be part of standard cancer treatment recommended by traditional oncologists and expect it will be quite soon.
Two recent studies (breast cancer and colon cancer) have found that Vitamin D blood level at the time of a cancer diagnosis is highly correlated with survival. Patients in whom Vitamin D levels were high were half as likely to have a recurrence or to die from their disease.

Now, on to "Super Foods".
  • Ground Flax seeds: Its fibre lignans have anti-cancer effects in breast, prostate and other cancers.  (I asked about the possibility of using chia seeds instead and was told that yes, chia seeds and hemp seeds are also "super foods" and are good alternatives). While ground flax seed is something you should take (2 Tablespoons per day - sprinkled on cereal, salads, yogurt, in smoothies), flax seed OIL should be avoided until more research is done. There was an explanation for this -- something about research that was done -- but I don't remember. I have a nut and seed grinder that I use to grind my flax seed (you have to grind it to get the lignans) and it works really slick. But now I'm enjoying using chia seeds which don't have to be ground and they don't need to be refrigerated (as flax seeds do). 
  • Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids (EPA+DHA): are anti-inflammatory and benefit the brain and cardiovascular system as well as help healing from cancer and improving response to chemotherapy. 1,000 mg EPA-DHA per day is recommended. This is equivalent to approximately a third of a serving of salmon. It is especially important to use a good brand of fish oil. Two that were recommended are Nordic Naturals and Nutra Sea. They are guaranteed toxin-free.  I've been taking 1,000 mg for the past year.
  • Garlic: shown to inhibit most cancer cell lines. It also supports cardiovascular health, the liver, digestion and the immune system. It is anti-bacterial, viral and fungal.
  • Lycopene: It is a dietary carotene found in tomatoes and is particularly rich in processed tomatoes. A Mediteranian Diet is high in lycopene. It helps with prostate and other cancers. Some men hoping to prevent cancer take a couple of tablespoons of tomato sauce every day.
  • Curcumin: from tumeric (the yellow colour in curry). It is an antioxicant and an anti-inflammatory. It inhibits cancer initiation, progression and metastases. I've been taking a daily curcumin supplement and I asked if I still needed to be taking it now that my chemo is done. I was told that I could quit taking the supplement provided I add a bit of tumeric to my food 3 times per week. Easy to do. I add it to eggs, rice, stir fries.  If one has metastatic cancer, the doctor recommended taking 500 mg 3 times per day, which is what I was taking during radiation and after (since I didn't visit a Naturopathic doctor until after my chemo was done --- silly girl!).
  • Green Tea: It helps prevent many cancers and cancer recurrence. The effect of green tea on cancer cells was called "dramatic".  When asked how much to drink, she said, "as much as you can" and then she said 5 to 6 small cups per day would be ideal. If you're not drinking that much, she recommends a green tea extract, which is what she takes every day because she's so busy she often forgets to drink her tea. That's what I'm going to start doing for the same reason. I find it hard to remember to drink tea during the day. It doesn't come naturally to me - a non-coffee and previously non-tea drinker.
  • Milk Thistle: For liver support, detoxification and regeneration. I've been taking it every day for a year.  
  • Plant Polyphenols: Includes flavenoids, catechins, and anthocyanins, which includes green tea catechins, ellageic adic in pomegranates, resveratrol in red wine, and antifungal pigments in berries. When asked about the wisdom of drinking alcohol, the doctor said that if you are going to have a drink, make it organic red wine because it's the only alcoholic beverage that has resveratrol and organic wines have higher levels of resveratrol. Resveratrol, a cancer suppressant, can also be taken as a supplement. Drinking or eating pomegranate every day is also recommended along with eating berries every day.
  • Melatonin: is a natural antioxidant hormone produced by our pineal gland. It promotes sleep induction and length and depth of sleep. It maintains natural body and hormone rhythms. It increases physiological resilience and increases survival in advanced cancer. It help chemotherapy work better (potentiates chemotherapy). Melatonin has been especially well researched in Italy. It can double survival rate when taken with chemotherapy.  
The goal overall is to strive for an anti-inflammatory state with healthy diet, supplements and vitamins.  Our typical American diet is an "inflammatory diet". It's no coincidence that Asian, East Indian, and Mediterranean cultures have much less incidence of cancer. Once people from those cultures adapt a North American diet, their risk of cancer increases considerably.

When it was time for questions, of course several people wanted to know about using supplements during chemo and radiation. Several people at the presentation, including myself, had been told by our oncologists to please NOT take any supplements or vitamins and to just eat a "normal healthy diet".  The doctor's answer to this question was to say that hundreds of clinical studies have shown benefit in the use of supplements during cancer treatment. There are a couple that should be avoided (beta carotene for smokers with lung cancer, and Vitamin E in head and neck cancer). The outcomes of hundreds of studies have almost always found that the effect was either neutral or enhanced. Many of the studies indicated that antioxidant supplementation resulted in either increased survival times, increased tumour responses, or both, as well as few toxicities.

And there you have it ... all I learned about supplements and vitamins as they pertain to cancer.

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