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Vitamins, supplements and antioxidants during chemo? safe or not safe to take?

Posted by

I am due to start my 6 x FEC on Wednesday and I just wondered what others that have had chemo have done with regards to taking vitamins, supplements and antioxidants during treatment?

I am taking a variety of stuff and have done since my diagnosis, namely high strength vitamin c, zinc, omega 3 and 6, antioxidant tablets (vitamin c, e, selenium and beta carotene) and have recently introduced spirulina and wheatgrass powders into my daily juices. Obviously all this is also taken in conjunction with a diet of fresh vegetables and fruit as much as possible.

I have read many conflicting reports about whether it is safer to take vitamins and antioxidants during treatments. Some say we shouldn’t as it can interfere with the work the chemo does in killing cells and introducing free radicals into the body – we shouldn’t be taking anything that protects any cells in any way. Other reports say that it is safe to use and that it is beneficial in dealing with the side effects of chemo and long term health and survival.

The only advice ive had so far from the nutritionist is to stop taking them for three days either side of my chemo day – so stop three days before and for three days afterwards. But now im worried if I should stop all together, but this seems madness to me – surely it benefits us to be as healthy and supportive as possible during chemo?

Im now getting myself confuzzled – I will be asking the chemo nurse tomorrow but would like to know what others think – if you are also taking supplements etc  did you carry on during your chemo, or what advice were you given?

Many thanks


Anna xx            

Posted by

Hi Anna,

Well I think you know how I feel about supplements and chemo as we are taking pretty much the same things.

I understand your dilemma.  On the one hand the toxic drugs we are having are supposed to attack and kill (ab)normal cell growth and as a side effect kills our bodies natural defences in the form of white blood cells so by taking supplements to strengthen those defences are we hindering the process?  On the other hand, the mutant cell growth which ends up as cancerous tumours can keep on growing if we don't have a healthy immune system and the chemo weakens our defences so much we do need to have a relatively healthy immune system in order to cope with it.  So what to do?

First I would like to say that from everything I have read and from discussions with my oncologist, the immune system is 'central' to cancer.  Apparently, the mutating cells with abnormal growth happen in our bodies all the time but a healthy immune system can track them down and tackle them and keep them in check.  Once your immune system is low for long enough for the mutations to develop, thats when the problems begin.  So my thinking is that, yes we are intoxicating our bodies to stop cell growth for a short while to kill the cancer cells but we still need a good immune system in order to 'help' our body fight what's left and not allow the toxins to do 'too much' damage.  The supplements we are taking are aimed at strengthening the defences and not necessarily at cell building.  I think of it like the chemo is attacking the monster and slowly weakening it and the supplements are feeding the army that is going to go in and slay it!  Let's face it, if chemo alone could do the job, why is our white blood cell count so important while having chemo???  Chemo can also affect how well the body absorbs certain nutrients from food so we do need a little help.

If our immune system had been healthy in the first place, the cancer would have had a hard time getting through the defences.

Mistletoe extract which has been researched extensively in use with cancer treatments both attacks the cancer cells, restricting further growth AND strengthens the immune system.

There are not enough data to be able to say for sure but I think so long as you are not going mad with the doses of your supplements and just trying to maintain a healthy level for your immune system to function properly it should be ok.  Its like anything, good in moderation.  Your body can only cope with certain amounts of vitamins and minerals anyway, so overdosing would be harmful.

I have been taking certain supplements since 2 weeks before I started chemo and so far apart from a little tiredness, I have managed to function very well compared to some other unfortunate people who seem to really suffer.  I would like to think that this has in part, been due to the supplements keeping my body in some kind of normal functioning state.  My DCIS tumour was initially 8cm and was measured at 3cm last week after 4 chemo cycles.  If my supplements were interfering with the chemo I am sure the results would not be as good.  

there is as much research data for supplements as there is against and nothing has been proven conclusively either way.  

My view is - neither chemo nor supplements alone can battle cancer but the two can compliment one another.

Posted by

thank you tinkers, as ever, really sound advice.

i am only taking the rda of each product, especially with the spirulina and wheatgrass i am taking a very small amount as i am introducing them slowly. i am still trying to get as much of my nutrients from food, but it does get very expensive buying eating so much fruit and veg all the time. i also find it difficult to eat as much as is suggested  - for cancer paitents it recomends 10 portions a day!!

i agree with your opinion - i think a healthy immune systems vital to staying well during chemo and even if i am not able to eat all the good foods i need at least i can keep my vit c levels up.

i will speak to the nurse tomorrow and ask her opinion as well i think.  

Posted by

Hi again Anna,

I don;t know if you spoke to the guy at Indigo herbs about the spirulina and wheatgrass, but if you did he would have told you about the hmm hmm side effects if introduced too much too soon.  I can confirm which is why I started with only half a tsp of spirulina and 1 tsp of wheatgrass a day for the first couple of weeks.  Also do check up on the nutritional content of these, as combined they offer an almost perfect balance of nutrients (some not found elsewhere) and you may be doubling up on some supplements you could drop to save a bit of dosh too!

I also took some of your advice, as I am ER+ I changed my soya milk for rice milk.  If you ever come across it, check out a book called 'The China Study'.  It is a general study on diet and health but has some research on cancer too including what we discussed previously but also protein and cancer.

I know what you mean about the cost of fruit and veg.  Where I lived before, I used to go to an open air market on saturday at about 4pm just as they were shutting down and all the veg stalls sell bags of fruit and veg for a couple of quid each to get rid of them otherwise its waste.  I used to save oodles doing it that way and the kids got loads of fruits but where I am now does not have a local market and I depend upon the supermarkets and their prices!!  It is no wonder the nation is becoming so unhealthy, it seems cheaper to buy to convenience foods!!

It will be interesting to see others' views posted here.  

Good luck with the chemo!



Posted by

thanks - i didnt speak to him but i read some of the info on the website and so i am just taking 1/2 teaspoon of both a day in a small glass of orange juice - apart from the vivid green colour it doesnt taste of anything so thats good! 

i know what you mean - i also used to have a great market near home and got all my veg and fruit from there - massive bags for a pound. some of the organic stuff didnt last too long but thats ok as i mainly use it for juicing.

good news about the rice milk - i quite like it now. i ran out at work last week and so tried to have a cup of coffee with dairy milk and couldnt drink it! its was yuck - so my tastebuds have adpated after only a month. i did have a cheesse toastie yesterday though, so tut tut to me on that score.

just waiting to get wednesday out the way now and all the mystery will disappear. i have my session in the morning but my daughter has her new nursery assessment in the afternoon, i was hoping to make it and go with her but i think hubby will have to take her. if my chemo is at 11.30 will i be home by 1.30 i wonder? im having my bloods done at the doctors today, so that will save time tomorrow.   

Posted by

I switched to drinking proper green tea and pu erh tea from leaves with no milk or sugar (coming from a big northern tea drinker with milk and 2 sugars) and it took me about a month to actually enjoy it and now I dont enjoy normal tea at all.

I think you are having FEC aren't you?  In which case, it is much quicker and only usually takes about 30-40 mins for administering the drugs, then flush with saline and anything bits they need to do.  You should be outta there in about 1hr 30mins!!  So you could still make your little one's nursery.  Although, Both myself and Ruthy1953 found that immediately after FEC, your head hurts and you feel a bit weak and queasy for about 24 hours but probably ok for a quick appointment that is not too demanding.

I hope you got your bandanas and/or wig sorted.  I had very long thick hair and it started falling out in handfuls only 2 weeks after chemo!

Although I am 6 years older than you, I think we are pretty similar lifestyle wise - I used to be an 8st 3lb weight-training fanatic, never smoked, only occasionally drink in moderation, ate fairly healthily but still cancer got me.  my onc tells me it was probably a compromised immune system due to stress.  I am a single parent with 3 kids (10 8 and nearly 3) and worked over 40 hours a week and was responsible for everything that needed doing.  So just out of curiosity, did you also have a stressful lifestyle?

Posted by

yes it is FEC im having. hope to make the appointment, even if i just tag along for the ride and sit in the car, hubby doesnt know where it is so i need to go and show them! then i can always just go home to bed. im desperate to get her into this nursery for august and places are short, so i dont want her to miss this assessment date.

i bought some bandanas and scarves online today, aslo a nice beanie hat and a little thermal cap for bedtime! i have a wig fitting appointment booked saturday, so hopefully i will be well enough to go to it. if i can manage it i will also go and get my hair cut a bit shorter so its not so much of a shock when it comes out.

i used to love going to the gym and was a dance and aerobic fan up until i had my daughter. but since then (3 years ago) i just havent found the time - i know its a terrible thing to say to a single mother but ive just turned into a lazy arse, with a lazy diet to boot. i didnt have a particulalry stressful lifestyle - my job isnt very stressful and my daughter isnt a handful, but i have always been a 'worrier' - worry about money, about health (how ironic..) about everything, and its maybe just a physical symptom of the stress of worry and anxiety for years. or it could be the painkillers ive been on for years  - i had a bad car accident a few years ago (and then another one last year)  whcih left me with whiplash injurys in my shoulders and neck. i take daily painkilers (codiene and paracetamol) but only a couple a day. i always wonder if its the effect of taking these for years - toxins in my body maybe? but then if i am strongly er+ it has to be due to oestrogen as well.

i just dont know - no-one can put their finger on it. fate just decided it was me this time - why fate couldnt decide id win the lottery instead i dont know...   

Posted by

Hi Jamesy

I'm sure you will be fine after your 1st FEC.  I'm now on day 12 and feeling physically and emotionally  like I did before I was diagnosed!  I used the cold cap and still have my hair but am just about to go and wash it so I'll see what happens then!

It's been interesting reading the posts about vitamins.  I've read so much info on the internet it gets so confusing and I did read that milk thistle was a 'no no' for ER+ cancer.  In a booklet the hospital gave me it does say taking multi vitamins is ok but I haven't taken any.  I'm going to speak to my onc next week and ask him what he thinks.  I'm happy to take anything that might help kill off this monster and help stop it coming back.

I also believe that stress has a big part in cancer.  I've had a large amount of stress over the last 14 years due to very close family passing away and awful problems with my ex husband.  Last year was my best year ever; I remarried and my son got engaged and was planning his wedding for later this year and then wham, breast cancer came to upset my happiness. Stress has always affected my eating and there has been many times over the years where I've gone days without eating hardly anything and certainly not healthily.  I think this affected my immune system and ultimately was a factor which led to me having BC.  I'm trying to be healthier now and if you think spirulina and wheatgrass are good things to have, I'm going to get it.  I have a Holland and Barrett a short drive away so expect I could get some from there.

Lots of good luck with your chemo, think positively, have lots to drink and something to eat before you go - my chemo nurse believes that having it on a full stomach helps make it easier, and good luck at nursery.

Ruth xx

Posted by

Hi Anna,

re supplemnents and FEC. I am half way through Fec chemo and thought it would be a good idea to take some multi vit and minerals, i bought them and took them in to my next chemo session, my chemo nurse sent then down to the pharmacy where they prepare my chemo. i was told not to take them as they contained folic acid. i have since talked about it to my local pharmacist and he had not heard of this but as he was not a specialist in this area i should go by what my chemo pharmacy said. so any one takeing anything should run it by their hospital pharmacy that was his advice.


Posted by

Hi Irene,

From what I gather, yes folic acid can act as a chemo-protector and can hinder some cytotoxic drugs used in chemotherapy, however a refined folate known as 'folinic acid' is actually used in conjunction with chemotherapy to treat some cancers.  I guess the problem here is quantity. Even in higher doses it may only matter with certain chemotherapy drugs like methotrexate. I do not believe there would be a problem with Taxotere or Xeloda.  So folic acid in itself is not a problem, it depends on levels and what you mix it with.

In addition, as a side, folic acid has been shown to possibly help reduce risk of certain cancers including breast cancer. 

Dietary folate intake and breast cancer risk: results from the Shanghai Breast Cancer Study.


Division of General Internal Medicine and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37232, USA.

I think it is back to the old adage of 'moderation in all things'.