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Exposures to toxic chemicals and metals may contribute to the onset of disease and affect treatments and outcomes. Many toxic substances have been reported in the news in recent decades for their widespread presence in the world and our risk of exposures to them. A few examples of high-profile items:
Chemotherapy drugs are also toxic and can produce a considerable body burden with concentrated exposures.
Choosing Therapies Wisely
by Laura Pole, RN, OCNS
I have worked with many people with cancer who have thought that "more is better" when deciding on complementary therapies, including natural products/supplements.
Though it makes sense to integrate a variety of therapies and lifestyle practices, the key is to choose therapies that will complement each other, will target your particular terrain and tumor microenvironment, will not interfere with nor increase toxicity of conventional treatments, and fit your goals. When thinking about natural products and supplements, these points are important:
Many studies and ongoing programs document the prevalence of high body burdens of carcinogens and other chemical contaminants in humans. Some examples:
After intensive courses of chemotherapy, many patients seek ways to reduce their body burdens of residual chemicals. Detoxification (detox) strategies are thus of interest both clinically and as an environmental public health issue.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health summary finds little evidence of benefit and potential harm in some detox strategies.1
However, numerous case reports and anecdotes claim benefits from detox diets or therapies.2 The Institute for Functional Medicine offers a science-based detox module, such as their Detox Advanced Practice Module 2018.
Mounting evidence demonstrates benefits of metal detoxification in some cancers.
Although careful science on detox claims is still difficult to find,3 some evidence is emerging of benefit. Some preclinical work shows that toxic metals interfere with chemotherapy efficacy, and several clinical studies demonstrate the benefits of metal detoxification in some cancers:
- Copper chelation in unspecified cancers4
- Copper chelation in breast cancer5
- Iron chelation in hematologic malignancies, including myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and acute leukemia6
On the other hand, copper chelation in patients with asymptomatic hormone-refractory prostate cancer did not produce benefit.7
See these therapy summaries for more about their use in detoxification:
Detoxification can mobilize toxics into the bloodstream. Great caution should be taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding, as increasing toxics in a woman's blood can expose her fetus or infant to the chemicals.
Naturopathic oncologist and BCCT advisor Lise Alschuler notes that "a prolonged fast is not an appropriate detox program for someone just completing chemo."
Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and reviewed by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on June 26, 2020.
Brian Bouch, MD: Integrative Oncology, Part 1
Brian Bouch, MD: Integrative Oncology, Part 2
- Pizzorno J. The Toxin Solution: How Hidden Poisons in the Air, Water, Food, and Products We Use Are Destroying Our Health—and What We Can Do to Fix It. Harper Collins. 2017.
- Silent Spring Institute: Body Burden
- Barbara MacDonald, ND, LAc: The Breast Cancer Companion: A Complementary Care Manual: Third Edition
- Raymond Chang, MD: Beyond the Magic Bullet: The Anti-Cancer Cocktail
- Donald I. Abrams, MD, and Andrew T. Weil, MD: Integrative Oncology, 2nd Edition
- Neil McKinney, BSc, ND: Naturopathic Oncology, 3rd Edition
- Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella: The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition
- Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies: Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six
- Michael Lerner: Choices In Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Approaches to Cancer