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Natural Compounds Used for the Treatment of Cancer

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 5/24/2011

What natural compounds are used for the treatment of cancer? Learn about nature's own contribution to cancer treatment and how these natural substances can support conventional care.

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    Natural Benefits

    It has long been established that a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, seeds, grains and legumes — and therefore antioxidants and other beneficial compounds — may help prevent cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, a significant body of laboratory evidence demonstrates that antioxidants may slow or possibly prevent the development of cancer. Antioxidant activity may be beneficial as it neutralizes the destructive effects of free radicals. Other compounds also have anti-cancer properties. While all trials have not consistently supported this view as there is plenty of inconclusive research, there continues to be positive studies today on the benefits of natural compounds used for the treatment of cancer.

    Using natural substances through a healthy diet and supplements is not a substitute for regular medical care and the more scientifically established benefits of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but it is worth considering as a complementary form of medicine. Find out what nature has to offer.

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    Beta-Carotene and Vitamin C

    Kale and Citrus Does including vitamins and minerals in your diet with plenty of fresh foods as well as supplements help to treat cancer? Vitamins A, C, E and selenium help to scavenge for and neutralize the negative effects of free radicals. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body when it is needed. This nutrient enhances natural killer cell activity. It is found naturally in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables and as well as many green leafy vegetables. Talk to your doctor before taking supplements as there is some evidence that taking beta-carotene in synthetic form may increase the risk of lung cancer amongst smokers. Also, beta-carotene and vitamin A are considered possibly effective for preventing cancer only in conjunction with the activity of other important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, E, selenium and zinc.

    Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant. There have been many trials on the benefits of supplementing with this nutrient to help reduce the risk of cancer. Studies back in the 1970s and 1980s showed that large doses increased the survival time and the quality of life of terminal cancer patients. There have also been positive studies showing the benefits for the prevention of some cancers. There has also been inconclusive evidence. This nutrient has many benefits in the human body which may make it an ideal nutrient simply for increasing overall well-being. It is found in many fruits and vegetables; bell peppers, green leafy vegetables, berries and citrus fruits being some of the best sources.

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    Vitamin E and Selenium

    Vitamin E is a group of fat-soluble substances with antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. This nutrient is found in nuts, green leafy vegetables, egg yolks, whole grains and meat. According to the American Cancer Society vitamin E may act to protect the body in cases of prostate, bladder and colorectal cancer, although again there is conflicting evidence.

    Selenium improves free radical scavenging. This mineral also helps with the formation of antibodies, improving immune health. Found in grains, meat, seafood and many types of nuts there is actually a lot of selenium in the food we eat and only small amounts are required. Too much selenium can have an adverse effect.

    Talk to your doctor before supplementing with these nutrient compounds to help treat cancer naturally. Getting them from food sources is safe and may be very beneficial as nutrients have the opportunity to be absorbed together, and to work synergistically for a more potent effect.


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    Chlorophyll

    According to Science Daily, the Journal of Cancer published information on the potential benefits of a derivative of chlorophyll, chlorophyllin, in 2009. This natural compound was found to be ten times more effective at killing colon cancer cells then a type of chemotherapy drug, Seaweed Salad hydroxyurea. Chlorophyll is found naturally in green plants — think broccoli, sea greens, spinach and kale. More research needs to verify the benefits of chlorophyllin for fighting cancer but it may be useful, especially when combined with chemotherapy medications.

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    Curcumin

    Tumeric Curcumin (turmeric) is another potentially beneficial natural compound that may be used to help treat cancer. It is not a recommended treatment right now, but researchers are studying the possible benefits of slowing cancer growth. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. You can of course cook with this flavorful spice, but talk to your doctor before taking curcumin supplements.

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    Maitake Extract

    Extracted from maitake mushrooms, which are native to northeastern Japan, this extract is believed to inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors due to the presence of beta-glucan. Maitake also may help the body deal with the side effects of chemotherapy. There is no evidence as of yet to support the use of this natural substance for cancer treatment, but research is underway, according to the American Cancer Society.

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    Going Natural

    There are natural compounds used for the treatment of cancer. While all of these nutrients and other substances have countless health benefits and potential for fighting and preventing cancer, it is important to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements. Some such as selenium and vitamin E should not be taken in high doses, others may pose some risk for some groups of people and others may interfere with medications taken for cancer treatment or for other health conditions.

    While supplements are one option and they are a sure way to get sufficient amounts of a natural compound, do not forget the benefits of eating a healthy diet. Eat foods that are rich in all of these natural compounds — eat green salads everyday, try including sea greens in your cooking, more garlic, onions and even turmeric. Eat fresh berries, cruciferous vegetables, peppers, sweet potatoes and Japanese mushrooms. Diet is not a cure for cancer, but it may help prevent some cancers as well as heart disease and it can help the body overcome the effects of conventional treatments.

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    References

    Natural Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/antioxidants

    Medicine Plus, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html

    Linus Pauling Institute, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/vitaminC/

    American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/vitamin-e

    American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/selenium?sitearea=ETO

    "Natural Compounds, Chemotherapeutic Drugs May Become Partners in Cancer Therapy." (Science Daily, Sep 7, 2009), http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090831130808.htm

    Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/curcumin/AN01741

    American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Treatment/TreatmentsandSideEffects/ComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/DietandNutrition/maitake-mushrooms

    Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing.Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).

    photo by Kari Sullivan

    photo by Norwichnuts

    photo by Jon Connell