Herbs not Always a Healthy Alternative

Chemotherapy could be compromised by herbal supplements

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Any supermarket in America has a great deal of real estate devoted to herbal supplements. You may think these are natural substances that can only help. The fact is, herbal supplements - particularly during cancer treatment - can do more harm than good.

Herbs can interfere with the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. They can also cause interactions with other medicines you may be taking. That's why it's critically important for you to keep your doctors up to date about all of the medicines you're taking - including vitamins, minerals and herbal supplements - not just during cancer treatment but at all times.

If taking herbal supplements, tell your oncologist.

New research from the Northwestern Memorial hospital finds that various supplements can react badly with chemotherapy drugs. These supplements can intensify or weaken the chemotherapy drugs and sometimes cause toxic  - even lethal - reactions.

The herbal supplements interact with the chemotherapy drugs in a number of ways. Some interfere with the metabolism of the drugs so they are less effective. And long-term garlic use can increase the risk of surgical bleeding.

Lead investigator, June M. McKoy, M.D., geriatrician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, says people find out information on the Internet and begin taking supplements without realizing the potential problems.

She said, that's why it's so important for patients to tell their doctors everything they are taking.

Recent studies suggest than nearly 50 percent of patients are taking herbal supplements but not telling their doctors they are doing so.

Integrative medicine such as massage, meditation and acupuncture can play an important role in cancer treatment, the researchers say. Again, it's best to discuss all these activities with your doctor.

Findings from this work were presented at 2011 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting. Before publication in a peer-reviewed journal, study findings are considered preliminary.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 19, 2011
Last Updated:
August 22, 2011