You got the bad news.
Everything is getting set up for various forms of treatment such as chemo, radiation, and/or the newer forms of immunotherapy (very exciting by the way..you'll see why below).
After all, the immune system is specifically tasked with detecting and killing faulty cells in our body.
Are there options out there that can turn the tide in your favor without interfering with treatment?
That last piece is critical since many tools that have anti-cancer effects preventatively reduce oxidative stress and that goes directly against the intent of radiation/chemo.
We'll explain below but to answer the question…Yes! There are tools. Some are supplements and others are behaviors.
This is an exploration of stacking the deck as much as possible based on real research.
Here are the topics we'll cover:
- Understanding the immune system's function with cancer
- Tool #1 - Turkey Tail mushroom
- Tool #2 - CBD isolate
- Tool #3 - Medicinal Mushrooms
- Tool #4 - Vitamin D
- Tool #5 - Melatonin
- Tool #6 - Turmeric
- Tool #7 - Berberine
- Tool #8 - Keto diet (or glucose reduction in general)
- Tool #9 - Cold Exposure
- Tool #10 - Ways to support appetite
Let's get started. You're going to love this research! We've seen it firsthand with friends and family in the middle of treatment.
Work with your doctor of course. Our friends have vetted the mushrooms and CBD isolate with expert doctors at UCSF and UCLA but double-check always.
Let's get started!
Understanding the immune system's function with cancer
We first need to understand how the body gets rid of cancer.
It's all the immune system. The immune system is in charge of cellular birth and death cycles (happening all the time).
In fact, when a pre-cancerous or even virally infected cell displays signals of dysfunction, it's the immune system that detects this and then initiated cell death.
It's happening all the time....when the system's working correctly (more on that with Vitamin D and our steroidal hormones below).
The immune's weapon of choice??
Oxidative stress. When a cell is targeted for removal, the immune jacks up oxidative stress…essentially organic scissors made out of oxygen that shreds anything in its path.
Chemo and radiation are massive deliveries of oxidative stress…to both cancerous and healthy cells (which is why it feels so bad).
We have a whole review on oxidative stress but it's important to understand the primary weapon (of many in the body) against cancer so that we don't work against treatment.
That's Rule #1!
We also don't want the usual suspects:
- Tolerance - when a med/supplement pushes in one direction and causes a rebound effect
- Addiction - spiking dopamine which creates its own issues
- Side effects - knock-on effects to other systems (the body's complicated!)
Let's get to it!
We'll start from the most promising and work our way down.
Tool #1 - Turkey Tail mushroom
If you've seen Fantastic Fungi on Netflix, you might be familiar with Stamet's introduction from his mom (and her stage 4 cancer).
Mushrooms generally have powerful effects on the immune system and certain species are showing impressive results with cancer specifically.
We have a massive review of turkey tail and cancer but here are some quick takeaways.
Let's look at just one substance in Turkey Tail called PSK:
Several randomized clinical trials have demonstrated that PSK has great potential as an adjuvant cancer therapy agent, with positive results seen in the adjuvant treatment of gastric, esophageal, colorectal, breast and lung cancers.
Okay…so randomized, clinical trials.
"Adjuvant" just means used along with traditional treatment.
In Japan, PSK or turkey tail is part of standard treatment within their health system.
It's been used for roughly 2000 years (recorded) in China and Japan.
Again, check out the full Turkey Tail review.
After enquiring directly with Stamet's group, they noted that 6 capsules of this Turkey Tail was part of the original protocol for his mother.
One note…turkey tail can slow serotonin function so we want to support that for mood, sleep, pain, etc.
Speaking of which…
Tool #2 - CBD isolate
The turkey tail review above actually splits duties with CBD isolate.
Like turkey tail, CBD's effects are varied and have a strong immune system effect:
Research indicates that CBD may have the potential for the treatment of cancer, including the symptoms and signs associated with cancer and its treatment. Preclinical research suggests CBD may address many of the pathways involved in the pathogenesis of cancers.
First, understand that CBD is not THC or cannabis.
In fact, CBD directly opposes much of the excess of THC which speaks to the original meaning of the term "entourage effect".
It's not about "pot". CBD works like a feedback mechanism for our endocannabinoid system which is tasked with balancing other key systems including…
The immune system!
As a result, research is showing the positive effects of CBD across a wide…wide array of pathways:
Pro-apoptotic, anti-proliferative actions of cannabinoids have been demonstrated in many types of cancers [3,5,99]. Cannabinoid actions include cell cycle arrest, induction of apoptosis, inhibition of chemotaxis, cancer cell migration, adhesion, angiogenesis, invasion, and metastasis [3,100,101,102,103].
- Cancerous cell removal (apoptotic)
- Blocking the spread
Just as important, there's lots of research on CBD and the symptoms of treatment.
CBD supports when low (feedback) the following systems:
- Serotonin - key to mood, sleep, pain, and ALL human behavior
- GABA - brain's brake pedal - key to protecting neurons (neuropathy)
- Gut inflammation - nausea (also serotonin involved)
It doesn't affect appetite but we'll cover that below.
The best part..CBD is showing tri-phasic responses:
- Healthy cell with low oxidative stress - CBD has no effect
- Healthy cell with high oxidative stress - CBD reduces inflammation
- Cancerous cell - CBD INCREASES inflammation
We're not sure of another substance that can do this but it speaks to supporting the immune system which should do it naturally.
Holding under the tongue for up to 60 seconds can boost bioavailability and after meals allows more to get past the liver.
Reach out with any questions. Ask your doctor but CBD isolate (just CBD) does not impact the oxidative stress delivery of chemo/radiation…to cancer or faulty cells!
Back to the world of fungi.
Tool #3 - Medicinal Mushrooms
Turkey Tail is not the only mushroom species with anti-cancer effects.
In fact, when you dig deep into the mushroom world, they all have different effects and it's primarily through…the immune system!
There's a pretty good review here:
A large scale review of many studies around cancer found the following:
Study results suggested beneficial effects of medicinal mushrooms, particularly quality of life and reduction of adverse effects of conventional therapies. Also, positive effects on antitumor activity and immunomodulation were reported, e.g., an increased activity of natural killer cells.
The immune system can quickly get very complicated so let's take one example.
Therefore, GL-PS may be potentially useful as part of the treatment regimen to regulate host immune responses and increase the antitumor effects of immunotherapy for glioma.
Okay…so the polysaccharides (like PSK) in Reishi can increase the anti-cancer effects of immunotherapy.
In prostate cancer:
The present study is the first, to the best of our knowledge, to report that GLP may induce apoptosis of PCa cells, which is partially mediated through NAG-1 induction
Apoptosis is cell suicide initiated by our immune system (remember the oxidative stress assassin from above??)
There's a great look at different species here:
Preliminary research on humans is also available and is promising for treatment.
Great…we're catching up with Japan and China where this is commonplace.
So…how do you get ahold of all these species?
We use this blend here from the same company (tied to Stamets).
Next up…the steroid we get from the sun (or at least our ancestors did).
Tool #4 - Vitamin D
D is a master regulator of the immune system (see a pattern here??).
Many people are deficient and that's based on the ridiculous RDA levels of 30 ng/ml. Endocrinologists want us closer to 60-70.
The mortality rate for the current dreaded disease drops to almost zero around that level.
Again…immune system detects and destroys cancer. Hence the cancer risk creeps up as we get older mirroring the immune system aging.
D's a big part of that with over 1000 bodily transactions dependent including many DNA repair pathways (critical for cancer initiation).
There's the prevention side:
In this secondary analysis of a randomized clinical trial with 25 871 patients, supplementation with vitamin D3 reduced the incidence of advanced (metastatic or fatal) cancer in the overall cohort
Or…the relationship between D deficiency and cancer risk:
Research suggests that women with low levels of vitamin D have a higher risk of breast cancer. Vitamin D may play a role in controlling normal breast cell growth and may be able to stop breast cancer cells from growing.
This information is provided by Breastcancer.org.
Or after cancer such as colorectal cancer;
patients in the high-dose vitamin D group were 36 percent less likely to have disease progression or death during the follow-up period of 22.9 months.
Their definition of "high-dose" was 4000IU daily. So behind the times.
Get your levels tested. I have to take 10K daily just to get my levels to 60 ng/ml. I have a version of the VDR gene where I don't convert D well even with daily mid-day sun.
That's not very common though, right?
The overall prevalence rate of vitamin D deficiency was 41.6%, with the highest rate seen in blacks (82.1%), followed by Hispanics (69.2%).
And that's based on being under 20 ng/ml!! Goodness. The biggest epidemic you'll find and the cheapest to correct.
I'm sure your doctor has run the cheap (around $40) Vitamin D test many times…right?
Get tested. Supplement as needed. D also coordinates your steroidal hormones and both estrogen and testosterone support and manages…immune function!
As for breast cancer, notice that Vitamin D was beneficial there.
Big review on Vitamin D.
Next up…not just for sleep.
Tool #5 - Melatonin
You're thinking…melatonin? That's just for sleep, right?
No melatonin (derived from serotonin) is showing many different facets now for neuroprotection and even cancer!
A lot is going on with melatonin but a key piece is that it blocks linoleic acid processing but really hits a host of targets:
stimulation of apoptosis, regulation of pro-survival signaling and tumor metabolism, inhibition on angiogenesis, metastasis, and induction of epigenetic alteration.
- Kills faulty cells (apoptosis)
- Messes up cancer energy source (metabolism)
- Blocks growth of blood supply to cancer
- Blocks spread of cancer
Melatonin also showed the potential to be utilized as adjuvant of cancer therapies, through reinforcing the therapeutic effects and reducing the side effects of chemotherapies or radiation
Meaning…to be used along with treatment!
As usual, we come back to the immune system and melatonin is immunomodulatory…it balances the immune response.
From this, we would expect the immune system to do its job better which is to target and kill faulty cells.
The pharmacologic concentration of melatonin shows cytotoxic effects in breast cancer cells.
The research (across many different cancers) runs from 20-50mg daily so it's a high dose. Ask your doctor of course!
Next up, is a general all-purpose immune manager.
Tool #6 - Turmeric
Like with CBD isolate, we love when a supplement can show two different effects depending on the state of the system.
Turmeric (curcumin) is regarded as a general all-purpose anti-inflammatory.
However, that's not the whole story and we definitely don't want to ramp down the immune system (inflammation) when fighting cancer.
After all, the ability of your body to "see" cancer and attack it resides solely in the immune system.
An enemy from within!
As expected…the results should be varied and many:
Curcumin exerts its anti-cancer effects through a variety of mechanisms. Curcumin inhibits and suppresses the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cells, which exerts its effects by reducing the modulation of anti-apoptotic gene products, activating caspase, and upregulating cancer-suppressive genes such as P53
Cancer likes to block the cell-suicide machinery and curcumin restores this process
It also activates pathways that directly impede and suppress cancer.
But…as an anti-inflammatory, can we take it with chemo/radiation since they primarily work by increasing inflammation (which kills cells indiscriminately)?
curcumin increases the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy which results in improving patient’s survival time, and increasing the expression of anti-metastatic proteins along with reducing their side effects.
See why we like supplements that have different responses depending on the state of the system?!?!
Just like CBD isolate. Selectivity.
Studies look at 2000mg daily as a baseline but work with your doctor.
More info here:
Let's go south…to the gut!
Tool #7 - Berberine
We have a massive review on berberine.
It's interesting due to its effects on AMPK (more here), a powerful and primordial nutrient sensing pathway that changes the body from growth to cellular housekeeping. Huge player for longevity.
Metformin also hits this same pathway and berberine is a natural analog for met.
Since AMPK is such a basic pathway for all multi-cellular life, you would expect to see many different effects from berberine:
Recent studies have shown that BBR exerted anti-tumor effects against lung cancer, cervical cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, and other malignancies. BBR inhibits cancer cell proliferation through various mechanisms
Many types of cancers. Many mechanisms. AMPK (and mTOR, its downstream cohort) is a big deal.
Immunotherapy is a huge advance now in the fight against many cancers. Go figure.
Berberine is interesting there..
BR has been shown to exert positive effects on tumor immunotherapy. A study showed that BBR acted as a dopamine D1- and D2-like receptor antagonist to inhibit secretion of IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-6, and IL-1β from LPS-stimulated lymphocytes
The immune system…yet again. Also, it helped with neuropathy!
And berberine and turmeric together??
The combination of berberine and curcumin has been shown to effectively suppress growth in certain breast cancer cell lines. The combined treatment was more effective than treatment with either berberine or curcumin alone
To beat the dead horse (terrible saying)...
This review emphasized that BBR as a potential anti-inflammation and antioxidant agent, also as an effective immunomodulator, is expected to be widely used in clinics for cancer therapy.
"Immunomodulator" music to our ears. Not boost or suppress. Balance!
Research is reflecting 1500-2000mg daily for periods of time. Obviously, run everything by your doctor!
Let's turn to some interesting tools outside of supplements.
Tool #8 - Keto diet (or glucose reduction in general)
Glucose is the enemy in fighting cancer.
Cancer cells are unique in that they rely heavily on glucose to generate energy for their rapacious growth.
That doesn't mean that sugar causes cancer…research doesn't back that up. It's definitely not your friend.
The whole Warburg effect:
Nobel laureate Otto Warburg found that cancer cells thrive on glycolysis, producing high lactate levels, even in the presence of abundant oxygen.
On the flip side, what about diets like keto which are primarily protein and good fats (see what that means here).
Carbohydrates are just sugar in a different form factor.
So…where are we with this?
The majority of preclinical and several clinical studies argue for the use of the ketogenic diet in combination with standard therapies based on its potential to enhance the antitumor effects of classic chemo- and radiotherapy, its overall good safety and tolerability and increase in quality of life.
Essentially, keto or low/no carb diets mimic a form of fasting. Cue the AMPK pathway above!
This forces the body into housekeeping mode and a big part of that process is increased removal of faulty cells (called autophagy). Sound familiar?
Most importantly, we can use it with chemo, radiation, and immunotherapy!
Basically…the transition starves out cancer cells while our body switches to other pathways for energy (ketones and fats).
The ketogenic diet, a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet with adequate amounts of protein, appears to sensitize most cancers to standard treatment by exploiting the reprogramed metabolism of cancer cells, making the diet a promising candidate as an adjuvant cancer therapy.
So…cancer is weakened in the face of standard treatment!
Along those same lines (AMPK), let's look at cold exposure.
Tool #9 - Cold Exposure
AMPK is triggered by famine, drought, heat exposure, and…cold exposure!
Basically, times are bad out there, let's hunker down our cellular machinery.
Interesting new research on cold exposure and cancer specifically…
Piggy-backing off of the keto/AMPK angle, scientists exposed mice to cold temperatures with the following results:
These mice went on to have considerable tumor inhibition and a survival rate that was almost double that of mice that received no treatment.
What's interesting is that when the second batch of mice were exposed to cold but fed high-glucose diets, the benefits went away.
Essentially, cold exposure ramps up brown fat activity which uses up glucose stores to make heat.
Again, it comes down to AMPK, a system-wide pathway for all things energy related.
As the researcher put it:
“This is really something new: not directly targeting cancer cells, but rather altering global metabolism in the body to affect tumors,”
What about the opposite…when you can't eat due to chemo/radiation. Dangerous weight loss.
Tool #10 - Ways to support appetite
Even though our research focus is on CBD, we're not big THC fans. It builds tolerance and hits anandamide receptors (called CB1) too hard and for too long.
Longer term, this is the wrong direction for health.
That being said, CBD does not affect appetite and THC most definitely does. If a person has no appetite from cancer treatment, THC definitely boosts appetite.
"Wasting away" or cachexia is a serious issue with cancer treatment so THC has a role there and CBD counters many of the negatives of THC, hence the original meaning of the "entourage effect".
Work with your doctor of course. We'll leave off the cancer-fighting effects of THC since we can get those without the baggage from CBD more cleanly. Same system…one pushes in one direction (THC); one supports works like a feedback mechanism when low (CBD).
We'll take the latter but THC has a role for appetite and maybe pain (but not sleep..interrupts sleep architecture).
Learn why CBD is a must with cannabis or THC.
That's a wrap.
Other interesting players we're keeping an eye on but are not ready for prime time.
- Rapamycin (drives mTOR pathway)
- High dose vitamin C (interesting new research on tumor shrinking)
Till then, this is our cancer toolkit! Fight the good fight. Work with your doctor. Win!