This research project was sponsored by:

The Use of Nutrition and Dietary Supplements as Complimentary Care in Children With Cancer

By Jennifer Hicks                                                                           

with contributions from Barry Sugarman, B.S.ENGR. and Dr. Lainie Shapiro, Chiropractor
of The Cure Our Children Foundation.

[Note: This article was written in April 2004 and is for educational purposes only. It cannot be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. If you have, or suspect that you or your child may have a health problem, you should consult your doctor. We support the use of traditional therapy for children with cancer and believe that nutrition and dietary supplements are not primary care; they are complementary therapies. All off-site hyperlinks will open in a new browser window. To return here, just close the new window when done.]  This page last updated on 5/23/2005.

During traditional cancer treatments, getting good nutrition becomes a problem. Some complain that food doesn’t taste good; others find eating difficult because of mouth sores and other side effects. Yet the body needs nourishment even more at this time.

The proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals you eat are important. They give the body energy, help repair normal tissue, and keep the immune system strong to fight disease. A healthy diet is even more important to continued chemotherapy and to support normal growth during and after the therapy. (1)

Ernest Rosenbaum, MD and director of the Cancer Supportive Care Program at Stanford's Complementary Medicine Clinic ( or call 650-98-5566), says that traditional therapy is the first course of action, but notes that it can only take patients so far. Diet can help. What the patient eats can have noticeable effects on fighting illness, fatigue, depression and the other side effects of cancer treatment. (135) It can also affect energy levels and, as a consequence, quality of life. (2)

Why Nutrition Matters

Better blood

Nutrition can help build better and stronger blood cells. Chemotherapy works to kill cancer cells. Unfortunately, it also kills fast-reproducing cells such as oxygen-carrying red blood cells, mucus membranes, intestinal cells, and some of the white blood cells. With fewer white blood cells, the immune system can’t work as well, which can lead to infections.

Stronger immune system

Nutrition can also help strengthen the immune system, which takes a beating from cancer therapy. A strong immune system depends on adequate nutrients. But, as Quillin states in his book, Beating Cancer With Nutrition, “Do not rely on any ‘magic bullet’ nutrient to beat your cancer. There is no such thing. Your body needs the 50 recognized essential nutrients plus a couple of hundred other valuable nutrients that can be found in a wholesome diet that is supplemented with the right nutrients.” (3)

Balances electrolytes

Nutrition can also help keep the proper balance of electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium. Electrolytes are substances the body needs to maintain the electrical balance and transfer of water among body cells. Electrolytes can be lost due to vomiting and increased urination that occurs when flushing out the chemotherapy agents.

Lessens nausea

Nutrition can help lessen nausea. Eating crackers or drinking ginger root tea can ease the nausea. (More about this later.)

Feel better/more energy

A healthy diet gives the body the food it needs to give it energy. It also enhances the child’s alertness, which can sometimes be diminished during cancer treatment.

Improve appetite/digestion

A healthy diet provides the proper amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. When the three are in balance, the body recognizes that it needs the food and works to increase the appetite. Also, when the three are in balance, the digestive system works more efficiently. But even beyond the normal carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, probiotics can also play an important role in improving digestion. Probiotics help promote the natural flora in our systems which is a definite aid to digestion. It's also important to remember that the type of food you eat matters. For instance, eating a lot of white bread can be constipating, but eating whole grain wheat bread and natural whole grains can improve digestion.

Get Good Nutrition Advice

When you’re looking for nutrition advice, make sure the people you’re asking have the credentials to be believable. People who have been specially trained in nutrition can offer much more specific information than even many medical doctors. You should, therefore, ask about his or her educational background. Specifically, look for the following initials after the nutritionist’s name:

Basic, Nutritious Diet

Cynthia Wojtaszek, RN, MSN, and acting director of the clinical research department at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey says, “If nutritional issues are dealt with early in the patient’s clinical course, many problems can be prevented and the possibility for a good outcome improves.” (4)

A great amount of research has been done about what foods and diets are most important for those with cancer. Among the top food choices are those with antioxidant properties and proteins.

The food guide pyramid to the right, from the National Institutes of Health, helps give an idea of how to feed your children nutritiously. The NIH also says that children 2 to 6 years old need two servings from the milk group per day; children over 6 need three servings. Do not limit fat for children under 2. For older children, aim for a total fat intake of no more than 30 percent of daily calories. (5)

Sometimes, the child will have little appetite because of chemotherapy. This could lead to weight loss unless you keep track of his or her diet to make sure they are getting the calories and nutrients they need. Ask your health care professional how many calories your child needs to maintain his or her weight. Then, use the information below to determine how much of which foods your child will need.

According to the FDA, whatever the calorie level your child needs, the daily reference values for the necessary energy-producing nutrients are always calculated as follows:

The chart below from the National Institutes of Health offers some suggestions of how to choose foods to fit the daily value needs.(7)

Energy Level
Food Group 1600 Calories 2200 Calories 2800 Calories
Grain servings

1 slice of bread, 1 ounce ready-to-eat cereal, 1ž2 cup of cooked rice or pasta

6 9 11
Vegetable servings

1/2 cup of cooked vegetables (including potatoes), 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables, 6 ounces of vegetable juice

3 4 5
Fruit servings

1/2 cup of cooked or chopped fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit, 6 ounces of juice, medium piece of fruit

2 3 4
Dairy servings*

1 cup of milk or yogurt, 1 1ž2 ounces of natural cheese, 2 ounces of processed cheese

2-3 2-3 2-3
Meat in ounces 5 6 7

*dairy recommendation is not based on energy needs.

For children ages 2-3 who eat less than 1,600 calories a day, serving sizes are two-thirds the amounts listed above. (7)


Antioxidant foods

Antioxidants act to protect the cells of the body.

During normal cell metabolism, oxygen can create damaging by-products, called free radicals. If the free radicals aren’t stopped, they can increase the risk of developing cancer and heart damage. They also make the immune system weaker. Antioxidants though can fix the problem. They bind with the free radicals and make them less damaging to tissues. They can even repair cell damage. (8)

Antioxidants can be found in deeply or brightly colored fruits and vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, blueberries, and oranges. They also include Vitamins C and E, lycopene, selenium, and carotenoids.

Antioxidants can be used before or after chemotherapy administration, but not during chemotherapy administration since it may interrupt the therapy’s effectiveness. (9)  

Importance of protein

A child undergoing cancer treatment needs 50% more protein than a child of the same age who is not receiving cancer treatment.(6)

Protein helps the body resist infection. Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, nuts, dried beans, peas and lentils, and soy foods. During treatment, it is important to encourage patients to eat high calorie, high protein foods.  Items such as hamburgers, fries, pizzas, and ice cream, which are normally recommended to be limited for the average child, may be eaten as long as there is a balance of these, and the other fresh foods described below.  These items do provide calories, protein, fat, and other essential nutrients. (162) 

How To Increase Protein:

But, it’s also important to look at the array of nutrition that’s needed along with protein.

Carbohydrates and fats

Carbohydrates and fats supply the body with calories. Many people undergoing cancer therapy need additional calories. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, breads, pasta, grains and cereals, dairy products like milk and yogurt, and dried beans. Fats are in butter, margarine, oils, nuts, seeds, and the fat in meats, fish, and poultry. It’s better to have unprocessed carbs like whole grain breads and cereals.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals help ensure proper growth and development and help the body turn the calories from food into energy. A normal healthy diet often includes enough vitamins and minerals. But, people with cancer may want to ask their health care team about a vitamin and mineral supplement. (10)  Patrick Quillin, Ph.D., RD, CNS, and director of nutrition at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, suggests taking a daily mineral supplement that contains chromium, magnesium, calcium, and selenium. (11)

Andrew Weil, MD and founder of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Arizona, stresses the use of the omega-3 fatty acids. Much research has been done with omega-3. It has shown that omega-3s, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may slow the spread of cancer and stop the formation of blood vessels that feed tumors. (12, 13)  (More about omega-3 fatty acids in the section on “Promoting Cell Health.”)

Weil says supplements are okay, but prefers foods that are rich in the fat such as: salmon, cold water fish, sardines, nuts, seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed. He also suggests drinking green tea several times a day. (14, 15)

What to Eat

What Not to Eat

When to Consider Complementary Nutrition Therapy

Understanding the importance of nutrition, more and more people, including children with cancer, are turning to complementary nutrition therapy. (16, 17, 18, 19) 

Complementary therapies are those used along with conventional therapy for symptom management and enhancement of quality of life. In other words, it is therapy used in addition to standard cancer therapy, including dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, biologics, and minerals all aimed at strengthening their bodies.

Several recent medical studies support the idea that attention to nutrition is essential.

Research supporting complementary therapy

At the 2002 American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting, Kenneth Hoffman presented results of his research, concluding that “nutritional intervention improves patient tolerability of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy by preventing symptomatic bone marrow depression while improving local control of disease and maintaining a patient's performance status during therapy.” (20)

In addition, Jan Van Eys, M.D. and Ph.D. in the department of pediatrics, at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, found in his studies that “Nutritional support does improve the feeling of well-being and performance status, while maintaining or improving the immune competence, thereby potentially affecting survival by limiting infectious episodes.” (21) And, importantly, high-energy intake, as a result of high carbohydrate, protein, and lipid intake, was strongly related to increased survival. (22)

Most of the research into integrative nutrition therapy has been done with adults. But, in an interview with Patrick Quillin, Ph.D., a registered dietician (RD), certified nutrition specialist (CNS), and director of nutrition at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, he confirmed the need for such therapy in children as well. “Children are little people with biochemistry and nutritional needs that are proportionate to adults,” said Quillin.(11)

Clearly nutrition counts and should be considered an essential part of cancer therapy.

Goals of nutrition therapy

The goals of nutrition therapy are to:

Achieving the goals

Oftentimes, these goals are achieved through modifying the basic diet to include more protein and antioxidant rich natural, functional foods. However, some patients also choose to add nutrition supplements to their diet to either boost their intake of vitamins and minerals in an effort to stimulate their immune system as well as provide the minimum daily requirements or to help counteract the toxic effects of cancer treatment.

A Supplement Overview

Nutritional supplements may help prevent loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue in patients with cancer. The types of supplements can be divided into

And each of the supplements can specifically aid the child in particular ways. In the sections below, we discuss which supplements can help strengthen the immune system, which can increase energy and lessen nausea, and which are best to promote cell health. However, before going into the details, a note of caution.

Cautions about Supplements

Marian Neuhouser, senior scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, says that "it’s best to be a little cautious, especially with high doses, and always communicate with your doctor." (24) That’s because the interaction between even naturally occurring elements and some cancer treatments seem to not do well together.

For instance:

If you’re on warfarin therapy

Recent reviews suggest that some supplements, such as garlic and ginkgo biloba have anticoagulant properties that may interfere with warfarin (Coumadin) therapy and should not be used in the presurgical period (25)

If you’re on radiation or chemotherapy

Beware of potential interactions. St. John’s wort is especially pointed to here, (25) but it may be wisest to take Dr. Weil’s advice since there is still little known about how these supplements interact with chemotherapy and radiation. Weil suggests that during treatment the following are okay to use:

Foods to avoid:

See the Johns Hopkins site at for more information.


To Strengthen the Immune System

Mushrooms (as functional food or supplements)

There’s been much discussion about and research on mushrooms. While they don’t attack cancer cells directly, they seem to produce an anti-tumor effect by activating different immune responses. (27, 28) The mushrooms most studied are the reishi, shiitake and maitake. Each contains lenitinan and beta glucans. In addition, a semi-synthetic compound called irofulven from another mushroom is showing promise. A good book for learning more about mushrooms is Medicinal Mushrooms: Ancient Remedies for Modern Ailments by George Halpern and Andrew Miller. You can find it at at

Irofulven shows an excellent ability to kill cancer in many human carcinoma cell lines tested, but doesn’t work as well with sarcoma and leukemia. (29) In addition, it seems that combining irofulven with topotecan appears to be an attractive approach to the treatment of pediatric malignancies. (30, 31) For more information online, see

Lentinan was extracted from shiitake mushrooms and contains beta 1,3 glucan, which seems to have a variety of positive properties. It

Beta 1,3 Glucan is a fraction of the maitake mushroom. It seems to enhance the activity of the NK cells. (24) It also has shown anti-cancer properties in some studies in Japan and is used to treat cancer in more than 400 hospitals throughout Asia. (33) Some studies suggest that orally administered beta glucan can improve the anti-tumor effects of monoclonal antibodies against established tumors in mice. (28) Other research indicates that when it is used along with chemotherapy, competent cell activity is clearly increased (34, 26) and cancer cell death is effective and quick (35, 26).

A study published in December 2003 showed that combining beta-glucan and monoclonal antibodies may kill more tumor cells. The research was conducted by Dr. Ross and others at the University of Louisville and Biopolymer Engineering, a Minnesota biotechnology company. You can read a copy of the study here.

Doses of beta-glucan range from 0.5 to 1 milligram per kilogram daily, taken in divided doses. Few studies in humans are available, and it is not known what doses may be safe or effective. (36) Of course, one can also simply eat them, cook with them, and make teas from them. For more information online, see the M.D Anderson Cancer Center at

PSK (polysaccharide-Krestin) and PSP (polysaccharide-peptide) are two extracts from mushrooms. These, too, have been found to increase immune cell production, enhance tumor shrinking, and also help alleviate chemotherapy symptoms. (37)

MGN-3®/BioBran is a single supplement from the mushroom plant and is showing promise in some areas. The product, made by Daiwa Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., ( or 866-773-0819 is an extract from rice bran and treated with an extract from Shiitake mushrooms. Some studies have found that it increases the activity of natural killer (NK) cells and helps conventional chemotherapy drugs work better by increasing the susceptibility of cancer cells dying. (38, 39)

Ghoneum also looked at how MGN-3 NK activity in 24 individuals using 15-45 mg/kg/day for two months. NK activity was enhanced at all concentrations used and acted in a dose-dependent fashion to increase NK cell activity significantly over the duration of the study. And that it increases NK activity after only 12 weeks even in those with advanced cancer. (40, 41)

And a Japanese study reported in 2000, showed that in one 18-month study, patients whose treatment included MGN-3 were 60% more likely to survive the entire study as compared to those who did not take MGN-3. (39)

RM-10™, created by Jordan Rubin, Ph.D. candidate, CNC, and doctor of naturopathic medicine, contains a combination of 10 certified organic medicinal mushrooms, aloe vera, and cat's claw. (42)  Peter Rothschild, MD and Ph.D., says that RM-10 “boosts production of NK cells by 320 percent and inhibits formation of new blood vessels essential for tumor growth.” Typical dosing for adults appears to be nine caplets a day for four months. Maintenance is then six caplets daily for four months, followed by three caplets daily with weekly one-day off intervals. (43)

You can find a retailer who sells it by going to Rubin’s Web site, Garden of Life, at or by faxing them at 561-472-9298.

AHCC is short for active hexose correlated compound and is a supplement made from an extract of mushrooms. Its early clinical results seem to show promise (37) as it appears to enhance NK cell activity (44) and act as a powerful antioxidant (45). A study published in 2002 found that disease-free survival rates after five years were 34% for the AHCC group, and 20% for the control group, showing that the survival rate was significantly prolonged by AHCC administration. (44)  For more information online, see

Planetary Formulas are the creation of Michael Tierra, a clinical herbalist and licensed acupuncturist. He has developed a full spectrum of mushroom products, including Reishi Mushroom Supreme™ and Shiitake Mushroom Supreme™. More about these products and ordering information is available online at or by calling them at 800-606-6226.


To Increase Energy

Minerals assist the body in energy production and so do electrolytes. Each are needed for metabolic functions, the body processes that help us create and use energy. But cancer therapy can deplete the minerals we need and some of its side effects, such a lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and increased urination, can create an electrolyte imbalance. When any of those happen, we get tired and have little energy.

There are supplements that can help.


All natural juices have electrolytes and are the best source of electrolytes for you. Bananas are especially high in electrolytes, but other juices also have them including apple, orange, pear, and grape juice. Sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate are examples of electrolytes. They are also found in many sport drinks and electrolyte mixes such as Gu2O energy drinks, Gatorade®, Powerade®, Pedialyte®, and All Sport®. These can be found at most grocery stores or pharmacies. You can also use Gu energy gel, which contains maltodextrin to aid in energy.


Several mineral supplements may also help boost energy. These come in tablets or capsules, either a single mineral supplement or a combination. A daily multivitamin containing supplements at the levels of the dietary reference intakes (DRI) can be used safely as part of a program of healthy nutrition. (9) Don't take mega doses, though, as that can lead to kidney stones.

The minerals that appear to have most relevance to cancer patients are calcium, iron, magnesium, and selenium.


Calcium helps strengthen bones and keep teeth and gums healthy. It also is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of recurring, pre-cancerous colorectal growth (46, 47) and may also be a chemopreventive agent. (25)

It’s naturally found in dairy products such as milk, cheeses, ice cream, and some fruits, vegetables, and grains. The best source of calcium is in kale. A supplement of up to 1200 mg a day is suggested in at least one study, (46) and the preferred forms are citrate, gluconate, and malate rather than carbonate..


Almost two-thirds of the iron in the body is found in hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your body’s tissues. For people with cancer, too little iron, called anemia, is often a problem. And, although iron is naturally found in meat, fish, poultry, beans and iron-fortified food, if your appetite is off, you may need iron supplements. (48) The DRI is 18 mg with an upper-limit intake (UL) of 45 mg. (49)


Some chemotherapy drugs cause magnesium to be lost through the urine. Magnesium is found in green vegetables, nuts and seeds. (50)


Phosphorus plays a major role in energy production and during chemotherapy it is essential for kidney balance.


Several studies suggest that selenium supplements may help chemotherapy be more effective (51, 52, 53) and may help better achieve long-term remission. (54) It may also be a chemopreventive agent. (52)

The recommended DRI for selenium is 55 mcg/day; the UL is 400 mcg/day. Selenium is found naturally in shellfish, eggs, grains, garlic, and liver. (55) The richest source of selenium in a supplement is a selenium-enriched brewer's yeast. (9)

If you are taking supplemental selenium and are undergoing radiation, be sure to speak with your dietitian or medical team about possible interactions. (54).


Zinc is needed to make the immune system healthy and stimulate NK cells (56, 57) and it helps in the proper functioning and activity of over 200 enzymes throughout the body. (55) It has been proven to help support a healthy immune system and as necessary for DNA synthesis. (58) Too little zinc causes DNA damage in the cells and makes it harder for the cells to repair that damage. (59) Too much zinc, though, can inhibit the immune system, so concentrate on the DRI rather than large dosages. (60)

Colloidal minerals

Colloidal mineral supplements contain a bit of each of the above minerals. They supposedly come from ancient vegetation deposits found in a few isolated areas of the world, apparently making them a more natural form.


Promoting Cell Health

Nutrients - in the right combinations - can help the body repair cellular damage. And without these nutrients, the destroying of cells continues - and 33 percent of cancer patients die from malnutrition as opposed to only three percent of those who are well nourished. (3)

Antioxidants help cell health. They are the elements in some plants and foods that help destroy free radicals that hurt the body. They can help by:

The chief botanicals used by people during active cancer treatment seem to be Echinacea, garlic, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, and soy isoflavones, (25) although others provide benefits. Also, the whites of citrus fruits contain citrus bioflavinoids, which are very beneficial.

Antioxidants to promote cell health

Cautionary note about antioxidants

Avoid large supplemental doses of anti-oxidants during treatment. This includes vitamins A, C, and E, and selenium. However, the amounts of these nutrients found in a standard multivitamin with minerals, and in foods, are not of concern. (10)


Astaxanthin is a red-orange pigment that occurs in the natural diets of many fish, including salmon, trout, and shrimp. It is closely related to carotenoids such as beta-carotene or lutein. It is extracted from salmon, yeast, and microalgae. The recommended dose is 1 mg per twice a day. It is a powerful antioxidant and may inhibit the growth of tumor cells. For more information, see


Echinacea stimulates activity in the immune system and increases the production of white blood cells. (57) It also increases the activity of these blood cells to attack the invading organisms by between 20 - 40 percent. Echinacea is non-toxic. (62)

It is often used to make a tea. To calculate the child’s dose, take the child's weight in pounds, divide by 150, and then multiply that number by the recommended adult dose. (The adult does for tea is two teaspoons of powdered herb in one cup of boiling water, drunk five to seven times a day) (63) Do not take if you have ragweed allergies.  Some sources recommend taking Echinacea for no more than 8 weeks at a time. (161)

For more information, see


Many believe that garlic - either as a supplement or in its natural form - should be a staple of a cancer patient’s diet. (3, 64, 57) It attacks bacteria and neutralizes free radicals because of its potent antioxidant effects (57, 64). It’s also been shown to help reduce platelet aggregation, or the clumping together of blood cells, which makes it is easier for cancer to spread (65, 66) and shows some promise of stimulating NK cell activity (67, 68). It can also help protect against the negative effects on the heart of the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin. (64)

The adult dose for garlic, according to the MD Anderson Cancer Center Complementary/Integrative Medicine Education Resources (69), is 600 to 900 mg daily of non-coated, dehydrated garlic powder in three divided doses, standardized to 1.3% allicin content, which has been used in human studies. (69) To determine the appropriate child dose, use either Clark's or Cowling's rule, below:

Garlic supplements can lower blood sugar so this is not recommended for diabetics on medications. (71) For additional information, see

Ginkgo Biloba

Much has been written about the ability of Ginkgo biloba extract to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. (72, 73) Recent work in Massachusetts supports this, noting that is flavonoid and terpenoid constituents act as antioxidants. (74, 75, 76) Flavonoids are present in a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.(76) Researchers believe that the two may act in a complementary manner to inhibit several cancer-related processes, and thus suggest that the supplement you take should include both components to gain the best effects. (74) It has also been shown in mice that Gingko biloba can help minimize the toxic effects that the chemotherapy drug doxorubicin can have on the heart. (77) (Also see trial mentioned in "Ginseng.")  Ginkgo is not recommended for those on warfarin (Coumadin), heparin, those with low platelets, or those with any other blood coagulation problems. (161)

For more information, see


Panax ginseng is a plant that has been used in traditional medicine in China for thousands of years. It has been shown through lab and clinical work to stimulate the immune system, and lower stress levels (78) in part by increasing the production of NK cells. (79, 80, 57)

It may also selectively interfere with the cell cycle in human cancer. (81) Ginseng is available as a powder, capsule, tea, or is sometimes mixed with foods. There is no standard dosage; however Commission E, the German regulatory agency for herbs suggests one to two grams per day of ginseng root for up to 3 months. (82)

There have been no clinical trials on humans to prove that the herb destroys cancer. However, the MD Anderson Cancer Center notes that although all published by the same lead author, there are “A small number of studies report that ginseng may stimulate activity of immune cells in the body (T-lymphocytes and neutrophils), improve the effectiveness of antibiotics in people with acute bronchitis, and enhance the body’s response to influenza vaccines.” (83) At the University of Kansas Medical Center though, a Phase II trial is underway to study to see whether Ginkgo biloba and/or ginseng have an effect on enzymes that related to chemoprevention of cancer. For more information, contact Aryeh Hurwitz, M.D. Phone: 913-588-6060 Email  Ginseng is not recommended for those with high blood pressure. (161)

For more information, see

Grape Seed Extract

Grape seed extract comes from grape seeds and skins. It has been shown in several studies to inhibit cell growth which makes it potentially helpful in shrinking tumors. (84, 85) They may also help heart, brain, and liver tissues. Typical doses are 50 to 100 mg daily. For more information see,

Green Tea Extract

Some researchers have found that green tea and extracts from it may have a protective effect against some cancers because it contains antioxidants. It contains an ingredient that seems to block the growth of cancer cells. Other researchers see evidence that it also helps kill cancer cells. (86) It may also prevent certain bacterial infections. Green tea is usually brewed using 1 to 2 teaspoons of the dried tea in a cup of boiling water, or is steeped for 3 to 15 minutes. Organic green tea, which is grown without pesticides, is also available.  For more information, see  and


Lutein is part of the family of compounds known as carotenoids, and is found in foods that are bright yellow, orange, and green. Foods that contain lutein include: kale, spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, corn, broccoli, zucchini, squash, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, celery, and egg yolks. researchers speculate that biological activities may work at the membrane level by hindering tumor growth. (87)


Lycopene is found in red foods like tomatoes and watermelon (88). It may be a potent helper in building a stronger immune system in cancer patients. (89) It also shows some potential of also being a cancer preventative. (90, 57) And recent research suggests it may also help shrink tumors. (91, 92, 93, 94).

Although the MD Anderson Cancer Clinic believes more studies are needed to prove effectiveness, they also note that 13.3 mg of lycopene daily have been studied as an immune system enhancer. (95)

Sources of lycopene are tomato sauce, vegetable juice, tomato soup, tomatoes, and even ketchup. (71) For more information, see


Pycnogenol comes from the bark of pine trees along the French coast and contains naturally occurring chemicals called proanthocyanidins. It may help protect cells which line the walls of the heart and blood vessels. There is also some evidence that it may help kill cancer cells. (96) Practitioners use 25-300 mg/day for up to 3 weeks. For more information, see .


This is an antioxidant from red grapes also found in red wine. (57)  Resveratrol is currently in preclinical trials to determine its cancer fighting abilities. It has previously been shown to have anticancer activities in both cell culture and animal cancer models of tumors. Several studies have demonstrated that it may have the broad antitumor properties in a wide variety of human cancer cell lines. Specifically it showed an ability to inhibit cancer cell growth. (97, 98, 99)

Soy isoflavones

Isoflavones, compounds found only in plants, (100) are also antioxidants. (101) They are also a type of phytoestrogen, or plant hormone, that resembles human estrogen in chemical structure yet are weaker. One particular isoflavone, called genistein, according to several studies, seems to have potential to inhibit the growth and invasiveness of many types of tumors. (100, 102, 103) In addition, it’s also said to “actually help a cancer cell to revert back to a normal healthy cell.” (11)

The FDA has labeled soy foods as heart disease preventive foods. They are also an extremely high source of protein. Even if studies don’t prove they are a treatment for cancer cells, “there is no good reason to discourage people from eating whole soy products, such as roasted soy nuts or tofu, or drinking soy milk,” according to Omer Kucuk, M.D., professor of medicine and oncology, in the division of hematology and oncology at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, in Detroit, Michigan. (101)

Rich sources of soy are tempeh, miso, soy milk, soy nuts, and soybeans. (71)

Vitamin C

There is only a small amount of preclinical data about Vitamin C. It suggests that vitamin C may either stimulate or inhibit tumor growth depending on the form, dose, timing, cancer site, and type of chemotherapy. More study is needed to determine its effects, (9) but it is an antioxidant and may stimulate NK activity. (104)

The daily recommended uptake is 90 mg/day for men and 75 mg/day for women; the UL is 2000 mg/day. (9) It is found in citrus fruits, papaya, tomatoes, and green vegetables. (55)

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps prevent damage to white blood cells. (57) It is found in whole grains, vegetable oil, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, and eggs. (55) Some studies have shown that it may also be a chemopreventive and increase the number of helper T cells. (105, 106) It also shows promise as an anti-tumor agent and may reduce both pain and reduce fibrosis from radiation treatment. (9)


Like astaxanthin, zeaxanthin is a carotenoid and is a very strong antioxidant. We have it in the macular region of our eyes. The best natural sources of it come from egg yolks, and yellow fruits and vegetables, although it is also found in dark green, leafy vegetables. For more information, see

Additional botanicals that may improve cell health

Our kitchen cupboard can also be a good place to find sources of antioxidants. Dried oregano, sage, peppermint, garden thyme, lemon balm, clove, allspice and cinnamon all contain very high concentrations of antioxidants. (107) Remember though to cook them thoroughly. Other botanicals are noted below:

Astragalus - increases NK cell production and stimulates the immune system. (57) It is used throughout Asia as a tonic food and medicinal plant that stimulates the immune system It increases the number of stem cells and stimulates their development into active immune cells. (62) Over the past two decades there has been much research into astragalus, but thus far the results, while promising are still experimental. However, a recent study demonstrated that astragalus may inhibit the progress of something called Th2 cytokine, found in the cells of patients with tumors. (108) In addition, a human clinical study just last year, showed that a three-week daily injection of Astragalus received during chemotherapy could “inhibit the development of tumor, decrease the toxic-adverse effect of chemotherapy, elevate the immune function of organism and improve the quality of life in patients.” (109) However, CIMER cautions that the evidence is unclear as to its effectiveness. (110a) For more information, see

Indole-3 carbinole - neutralizes and breaks down toxins in the body. This is found in green foods such as broccoli. (57) Several studies suggest it may inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells or even work to kill the ones remaining. (110, 111) Indole-3 carbinole can be found in vegetables such as cauliflower and brussel sprouts. (60)

Milk thistle (silymarin) - an antioxidant containing flavonoids and works to detoxify the liver (112, 57). Some studies also show that it also helps kill some cancer cells. (113, 114) It may also be effective in treating liver disorders caused by cancer therapy. A phase II trial is ongoing at to determine its effectiveness. For more information, contact Kara Kelly, MD at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center in New York at 212-305-5808. For more information about milk thistle, see

Mistletoe extract - The FDA has approved mistletoe extract for use in cancer treatment studies. It has been found to stimulate the immune system and to kill cancer cells in the laboratory and animal studies. (115) It has been used either alone or in conjunction with traditional anti-cancer drugs to treat cancer in tens of thousands of patients in Europe. A phase I clinical study at is going on at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine to examine the safety and effectiveness of the combination of mistletoe extract and gemcitabine. For more information, contact the patient recruitment and public liaison office at 1-800-411-1222 or by emailing A typical treatment course lasts several months to years with subcutaneous injections given three to seven times per week. (115) For more information, see

Sulforaphane - Sulforaphane is another antioxidant that promotes cell health. It is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. But it is most abundant in three-day old broccoli sprouts, which are available in the marketplace. The levels of the sulforaphane in three-day old sprouts are from 10 to 100 times greater than in mature broccoli. For more information, see

Omega-3 fatty acids to promote cell health

Dr. David Jho of the department of surgery at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says, “few nutritional therapies available that have the potential to be clinically effective in malignancies and other chronic inflammatory conditions as omega-3 fatty acid.” (116)

The results of several animal studies have shown that taking omega-3 fatty acids can slow the growth of cancer cells, increase the effects of chemotherapy, and reduce the side effects of the chemotherapy or of the cancer. (117)

A recent study on 200 people with weight loss due to cancer increased their weight and amount of lean tissue as well as experienced an improved quality of life by drinking one can a day of a protein and energy dense supplement enriched with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. (118)

Omega-3 fatty acids, of which there are three, are a form of polyunsaturated fats found primarily in oily cold-water fish such as tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel. The American Heart Association recommends eating tuna or salmon at least twice a week, but commercial fish oil capsules are available containing either the DHA or EPA version of the oil.

EPA is eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA is docosahexaenoic acid. Both the EPA and DHA forms of the oil have been studied extensively and have been found to have beneficial effects.

The third version of the oil, has not been studied as much. It is called α-linolenic acid (ALA) and is found in walnuts, dark green leafy vegetables, and flaxseed oil. Flaxseed is available in flour, meal, and seed form. It may be found in some multi-grain breads, cereals, breakfast bars, and muffins. The toasted seeds are sometimes mixed into bread dough or sprinkled over salads, yogurt, or cereal. Flaxseed meal can be used in the same way. Flaxseed oil is available in many health food stores in liquid form and is sometimes mixed into cottage cheese. The oil is also available in soft gel capsules. (119)

Some nutritionists suggest a dose of one to two teaspoons of flaxseed or flaxseed oil daily, or taking daily supplements containing 1-2 grams of omega-3s. (120) If you use the oil rather than the capsules, make sure it is refrigerated and don't store it for too long a time. (60)

Evening primrose oil is also a source of omega-3 fatty acid. A daily dose of 3 g based on a standardized GLA content of 8% is standard according to the American Botanical Society. (121) Another important source of omega-3 fatty acids is krill oil. Krill oil is high in antioxidants. You can find it at health food and vitamin stores, or buy it online from the Vitamin Shoppe at or by calling them at 800-223-1216.

For more information about fish oil, see

Probiotics to promote cell health

Many chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin and vancomycin are antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the normal intestinal bacteria and to replenish normal intestinal flora and to generate B vitamins, probiotics are an excellent choice. Probiotics are bacteria that may have some beneficial effects for people with cancer. Foods that contain them include:

L. acidophilus is found in some yogurts and is said by some to stimulate production of NK cells and activates macrophages. (57)

If taking it as a supplement, most sources suggest 1 to 10 billion bacteria as a recommended dose. This amount is available in tablets, capsules, and powder form. Average dosage suggestions vary from 1 to 3 times per day.

In at least one study, another probiotic (Lactobacillus casei Shirota) seemed to enhance NK cell activity and even delay the onset of tumors in mice. (123)

For more information about L. acidophilus, see

Supplements to Produce Cell Health

Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10 , or Co Q10 , is an antioxidant that heightens cardiovascular efficiency. (57, 124) Since there is significant evidence that doxorubicin can induce cardiomyopathy, it's nice to know there is something that may help. According to the National Cancer Institute, Co Q10 helps cells

In addition, there is growing evidence that suggests chemical creations of Co Q10 can slow down cancer growth. (126) When it is taken as a pill, it is best absorbed with fat. Thus, lipid preparations such as soft gelatin capsules are better than the purified compound. Doses and administration schedules differ, but are most often between 90 and 390 milligrams per day. No serious side effects have been reported. Research has been ongoing since 1961.

You can find Co Q10 at many drug stores and it can also be ordered from The Vitamin Shoppe either online at or by phone 1-800-223-1216.

For more information about Co Q10, see

Shark cartilage

Cartilage has been said to have anti-cancer potential, mostly because there is some evidence that it stops the formation of new blood vessels needed for tumor growth. However, nine clinical studies in adults have been done, and the evidence is inconclusive regarding the effectiveness of cartilage as a cancer treatment. (127)

Of the available shark cartilage products, two are currently undergoing trials: BeneFin for colorectal and breast cancer and AE-941, also known as Neovastat for advanced cancer. Neovastat is a liquid extract of shark cartilage. (128)

Phase I and II trials of Neovastat seemed positive. So far it appears that a twice-daily dose of 120 mL give a median survival time for patients with kidney cancer of 16.3 months compared to a twice-daily dose of 30mL, where the survival time was 7.1 months. (129) Neovastat is currently in two phase III trials; one for kidney cancer and one for lung cancer. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Neovastat has shown a consistently excellent safety and tolerability profile in clinical studies involving more than 850 patients. Some patients have been receiving treatment for almost four years. (130)

Side effects may include: nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, constipation, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, and generalized weakness. (128)

Neovastat is produced by Aeterna, a company in Quebec, Canada. They can be reached online at or by phone at 418-652-8525.

Additional information on cartilage supplements can be found at the British Columbia, Canada, and Cancer Agency online at

Easing Nausea

Roy Upton, a renowned herbalist, and executive director of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia suggests carminative herbal teas to lessen nausea. Carminative herbs are spicy and aromatic and consist of some of the most common kitchen spices. These are generally readily available in grocery stores and health food stores. His specific suggestions are available on our nausea page, about three-quarters of the way down at


Ginger, especially as teas, seems especially useful for nausea and indigestion. It works by helping to make more saliva and digestive juices, neutralizing stomach acid and toxins, and increasing tone and movement in intestines. There are capsules available or try two cups of tea using one teaspoon fresh ginger or 1 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger. Using too much may cause heartburn. Do not use for postoperative nausea as it may prolong bleeding or with combinations of other blood thinners. (71)

Some people like ginger peach tea for its soothing effects. A variety of teas can be seen and ordered at


Occasionally, the sense of smell in a person with cancer can also contribute to feeling nauseous. To deal with this, determine what the offensive odor is and consider using aromatherapy to mask the smell. Aromatherapy can use candles or oils or a mixture of dried herbs and flowers.

Some studies show that aromatherapy can increase the feeling of well-being and decrease the level of stress in people with cancer (131, 132) And, in one study on women in labor, 50 percent found the therapy helpful and reduced the need for additional pain relief. (133)

You can find aromatherapy oils in health food stores and herbal shops, or you can order them online. It might be a good idea first though to bring your child to see what fragrances he or she enjoys.

Oils particularly suited for children according to traditional use are tea tree, lavender, and chamomile roman. If you’re using the oils as a massage, don’t massage irradiated areas.

If the aromatic smell worsens the nausea, simply stop it, or try another fragrance.

Ayurvedic Nutrition

Ayurveda medicine looks at imbalances in the body, which it views as being made up of three forces, known as Doshas. When an imbalance exists in those forces, an Ayurvedic physician would suggest a combination of foods, exercise, meditation, and herbs to restore the balance. (134)

Apparently, in many instances, these physicians know what they are doing. According to a report of a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one clinical study showed that in 79 percent of cases, the health of patients with various chronic diseases improved measurably after Ayurvedic treatment. Laboratory and clinical studies have suggested that some Ayurvedic herbal preparations may have the potential to prevent and treat certain cancers. (135)

To determine whether Ayurvedic medicine makes sense to you or your child, you may first want to consider what is involved in an Ayurvedic diagnosis. It may also be helpful to determine your basic constitution type, which can be done at Your Constitution .

In addition, basic diet Ayurveda food guidelines depend on one’s basic constitution type. Most practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine strongly suggest consultations before choosing the appropriate herbs.

Ayurvedic herbs

An interview with vice chancellor and professor Ram Harsh Singh, of the Rajasthan Ayurveda University in Jodhpur, India revealed that 85 plant drugs are reported to have anticancer effects. He notes that herbs with “katu, tikta, and kasaya rasa (bitter, pungent, and astringent tastes) have significantly greater possibilities of producing anticancer effects.” (136) Herbs that have been most researched include:

Ayurvedic physician, Virender Sodhi, M.D., N.D., and technical advisor at the Bellevue, Washington-based Ayush Herbs recommends, “supplementing the diet with vitamin E (400 IU or more daily), selenium (200 mcg daily) and vitamin C (up to 2,000 mg daily). CoQ10 and fish or flax oils are also important.” (138)

Tinospora cordifolia

This is a bitter herb that stimulates the macrophages as evidenced by an increase in their number and the percentage of cells killed. (139) It is used in Ayurvedic medicine to improve the immune system and the body's resistance against infections. (140) It’s also been shown to protect against liver damage in rats, thus strengthening the immune system. (141)


Also called turmeric root, this herb has recently been shown to have some ability to protect cells. (142, 143, 25) It appears to block harmful chemicals from getting inside cells by acting as a kinase inhibitor. Kinase inhibitors can stop the growth of cancer cells. (144) Curcumin also appears to be able to destroy cancer cells while not harming healthy cells. (144, 145) A daily dose is suggested at 2000 mg to 4000 mg, three times a day on an empty stomach, with a heavy meal if digestive problems arise.

Curcumin should not be taken if you have a stomach ulcer, are undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, or are taking certain drugs. (146, 147) Check with your healthcare provider first. You can order curcumin online at the Vitamin Shoppe at or call them at 800-223-1216.

In addition, some mixtures of herbs also show promise.


This is a mixture that contains dozens of herbs has been shown to help stimulate appetite and assist in weight gain in patients with cancer. (137) Chyavanprash is created as a jam, and contains amla fruit. The normal dosage is 1 - 2 teaspoonfuls a day. Some studies show this to be a powerful anti-oxidant and rejuvenative, in part because the amla fruit is the world’s richest food source of Vitamin C, and contains a wealth of bioflavonoids. (138) It can be ordered online from at:  or Phone 888-792-0028, and from    or you can call 888-543-9294 .

Ayurvedic tonics and mixtures

Amrit Protection System®

This contains MAK-4 (Maharishi Amrit Kalash Nectar) and MAK-5 (Maharishi Amrit Kalash Ambrosia) which, in some studies were shown to inhibit the growth of human melanoma cells; but the aqueous extract of each was not effective. In addition there was some evidence of less nausea. (148) Additional studies are underway. It can be purchased at


This is known also as ProImmu and contains extracts of Ocimum sanctum, Withania somnifera, Emblica officinalis and Tinospora cordifolia. It has been shown to significantly increase NK cell activity in mice (149) and to help protect their DNA from harm. (150) A child’s dose is considered to be two teaspoonfuls twice daily (151) A modified version is available from some health food outlets. This is called DefensePlus and is available only in pill form. To order it, go online to Herbs Can cure at or call them in 011 91 129 5001405 in India.

Alternative Supplements and Tonics

Herbal Tonics

A tonic is not a medicine. It is a drink of "good things," used to maintain and enhance health. It's taken daily and contains a mixture of antioxidants and other ingredients that help keep the body health.

Several tonics are on the market claiming to help the immune system or improve general health. One problem with them, according to Mary Ann Richardson who has a PhD in public health, is that none are standardized and few have done controlled studies to measure the effectiveness of their product.

She conducted a study on Flor-Essence, an herbal tonic containing burdock root, Turkish rhubarb root, sheep sorrel, and slippery elm bark, watercress, blessed thistle, red clover, and kelp.

It has not been studied for anticancer properties, but Flor-Essence is a confirmed antioxidant. Nevertheless more than 75 percent of those Richardson contacted who us the tonic use it because they have cancer and 72.2 percent rated the benefits of the tonic as very good/excellent. (19)

The tonic has been reviewed by the National Cancer Institute's Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It found evidence of anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and immune stimulating effects from components of the individual herbs used. However, the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center notes that no evidence of effectiveness in humans had been reported in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. (152)

Flor-essence can be ordered online from iHerb at or by calling them at 888-792-0028.

Another group of tonics that has received some attention are those from Ron Teegaurden, a noted herbalist and specialist in Chinese tonic herbs, who looks at tonics as a way to vitality and improved well-being, not as a cure. He creates his tonics based on his knowledge of herbs and his belief in the Chinese philosophy of the interconnectedness of the various parts of the body to one another. (160) His products can be ordered online at or by calling 888-55-TONIC.

Teegaurden recommends taking reishi and astragalus every day to boost the immune system and suggests at least 1500 mg (up to 3000 mg).

Other Supplements


Juven is an orange-flavored drink mix produced by MTI Biotech, has no known side effects and does not need to be prescribed or injected. It’s made up of arginine and glutamine, which support immune and muscle function, and beta-hydroxy beta-methylbutyrate (HMB), a biochemical important for muscle development. (153, 154) Juven® a phase III trials ongoing in multiple centers across the United States. For contact information, go to order Juven®, call MTI Biotech at 877- 465-8836 or visit their Web site at A 30-day supply is $89.00.

Poly MVA (Polydox)

Poly-MVA, as it is known in Mexico and Canada, or polydox as it is know in the United States, is an enzymatic complex designed to repair damaged DNA. (155) It’s a compound that contains various minerals, vitamins, and amino acids such as lipoic acid, palladium, B 12, and other B complex vitamins. It works by activating free radicals and turning them into energy. (156) and basically altering the DNA. It is used in conjunction with chemotherapy. (157)

Although definitive human studies have been done, anecdotal information indicate that the active ingredients in Poly-MVA may be beneficial in protecting cell DNA and RNA

95 patients were treated; these included breast, lung, colorectal, prostate, pancreatic, ovarian, malignant melanoma and primary brain neoplasia. 90% of the patients were in the category of having failed all available therapy. 88 are surviving on therapy with a mean survival time of 9 months. The anticipated survival time of this group, from available statistics would vary from 20% to 60% at 6 months. All of these patients received moderate doses of chemotherapy. Falk - 1994

If you choose Poly-MVA, it’s important to note that you want to limit your antioxidant. (156)

Poly-MVA is a liquid that is mixed with water or juice. Patients take two teaspoons in a glass of liquid four times a day for two weeks, then three times a day for two weeks and then twice a day. (157) There appears to be no toxicity and no side effects. You can order Poly-MVA from the Web site at  or you can call them at 866-POLY-MVA.

ImmunoPower Pills

Quillin is the developer of ImmunoPower and calls it “full spectrum nutrition protection” Taken as a packet of 12 pills one to three times a day, ImmunoPower contains a plethora of ingredients, including:

You can order ImmunoPower online from Life Extension at or by calling 1-888-741-LIFE. The cost is $250 for 15 packets.


ExtendNS has undergone one medical study that suggest it has positive effects on bone marrow and in fact, rather than it decreasing during cancer treatment, it increased. This therefore indicated that the Nutritional Adjunct not only prevented the bone marrow depletion, rather increased it significantly. (128)

Among the compounds ingredients are L-glutamine, vitamins B6, B12, C and E, beta-carotene, arginine, chromium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. (122)

It is sold by Nutritional Supplements Corporation, whose Web site is at Order online at or you can call them at 1-800-504-1161.


Clearly there are benefits to adding herbs and other nutritional supplements to the diet of a child undergoing cancer treatment. Energy levels can improve; the immune system can be strengthened; and blood cells become stronger. Your child can enjoy being more alert and less prone to infection. Even nausea can be lessened - all from adding some of these complementary supplements to the daily diet. The effects of each of the supplements mentioned here will vary depending on the child, his or her general health and body composition.

But, this is an intensive area of research. Much has already been discovered, but more will come. The future looks brighter toward integrating nutrition, supplements, and complimentary care with traditional medical care.



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