Why AntiOxidant Rich Foods Are Discouraged During Chemo

After my friend was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer a couple of months ago, I dove into several weeks of research into all aspects of treatment and nutrition to support her.

And you could say too that this was my way of working through the shock. It was all I could really do for her at the time aside from providing the much needed moral support.

She quickly progressed through her own data overload, tests, meeting with doctors, her own research, and making painful decisions on treatment, beginning 4 months of chemotherapy just over a month ago.

And while she was encouraged with the feeling that her hair could be saved, most importantly she was elated by her doctor’s belief that she was curable.

However, we were both confused on her first day or her chemo, when the nutritionist discouraged her from taking any anti-oxidant supplements. She then even told her to avoid drinking more then 8 oz of freshly made vegetable juice!  (We had brought some juice I had made that morning.)

I was surprised to say the least.

Come to find out, conventional wisdom generally recommends total avoidance of all dietary supplements during chemotherapy and radiation. And, some practitioners have even asked that their patients avoid fruits and vegetables.

Why?!?

Why would a doctor tell you to avoid fruits and vegetables??

My friend was already eating a healthy diet, and did already eat several servings of whole veggies every day.

She had only just added juicing to her already healthy diet. Her goal was to get as many micronutrients and live enzymes into her system, and to balance her pH.

But the nutritionist’s point was not only that the loss of fiber in juicing was undesirable, but that in fact, any added anti-oxidants, even with supplementation, could somehow interfere with the chemo.

As to why or how nutrition from even whole foods could interfere with chemo, she didn’t say.

Although yes, one could agree the argument that the fiber in veggies is part of their nutritional package, they are not as good a source of fiber source as beans, grains, nuts, or legumes.

Sweet potatoes and potatoes rank among the highest fiber vegetables, which I happen love both in juice and on my plate! But they still posses at least 70% less fiber than a serving of most beans per oz.

So it just seems to me to be intuitive that adding fresh veggie juice to an already healthy diet would provide an invaluable boost of much needed essential minerals, vitamins, micronutrients and enzymes (many of which are depleted in our bodies by prescription drugs, especially by chemotherapy).

Not to mention the benefits of the pH balancing effect you create when consuming more vegetables, particularly drinking freshly pressed vegetable juice, when another side effect of chemotherapy and other prescription drugs is an acidifying effect on the system.

But I wanted to understand what was behind this recommendation against anti-oxidants during chemo, and not immediately jump to the defensive.

After leaving the hospital later, I just had to go and research this question. Maybe the chemo’s ability to destroy cancer cells would be compromised with too much of a good thing?

To avoid intake of anti-oxidants was so contrary to what the sum total of my years of research seemed to conclude, and in contrast to what many of the most well known and established alternative cancer treatments prescribe (therapeutic levels of some anti-oxidants).

The role of antioxidants in a war on cancer

As it turns out, one part of the ‘not while on chemo’ argument is that the anti-oxidants make the cancer cells stronger as well as the ordinary cells (to the opposite of the goal of chemo, to kill all cells).

Some believe that the anti-oxidants reduce the efficacy of the radiation and chemo drugs. It could be that because radiation and some chemotherapy agents fight cancer by generating free radicals which kill the cancer cells. And, since antioxidants neutralize free radicals, they believe they may thereby interfere with the treatment.

But there is actually mounting evidence over the last decade giving weight to arguments that support giving the immune system the strengthening benefits of anti-oxidants while on chemo.

Even experts disagree on this confounding conundrum

The arguments are for prescribing antioxidants during chemotherapy are to counter the resulting oxidative stress from chemo. After all, oxidative stress can both cause and promote the growth of cancer cells, while depleting vitamins and anti-oxidants in the body.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) agrees that evidence currently supports both views, that antioxidants could interfere with treatment and protect healthy cells and reduce side effects.

The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported in an article as far back as 2008, by lead author Brian Lawenda, MD, MC, USN, clinical director of radiation oncology at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, that despite two decades of research, controversy has only continued about the use of dietary antioxidant supplementation during chemotherapy and radiation.

One leader in anti-oxidant therapy during chemo is Kedar N. Prasad, PhD, founder of, and Chief Scientific Officer of the Premier Micronutrient Corporation.

According to Dr. Prasad, “Antioxidants function to prevent free radical damage, and that’s important. But at therapeutic doses, there are other mechanisms, such as induced apoptosis, decreased inflammation, and enormous change in gene expression.” This is due to the damaged sustained by the body’s tissues from free radicals and severe inflammation which are both from disease, as well as chemo.[1]

It should be noted though that Prasad limits his antioxidant recommendations during chemotherapy to therapeutic doses of vitamins A, C, and E and beta-carotene.  This is for the reason that other antioxidants are made in the body, such as alpha-lipoic acid.

Interestingly enough, juicing fresh, whole vegetables enhances the body’s immune system so that it is better able to produce powerfully effective anti-oxidants of its own, such as superoxide dismutase (SoD).

But Prasad explains why the controversy exists in the first place, that the initial data on antioxidants are being perceived in a way that is like comparing apples to oranges.

“First, there are two different kinds of doses of antioxidants used. You can divide the data on the role of antioxidants in cancer therapy in two categories: a preventive dose, which is a low dose, and a therapeutic dose, which is a high dose. For the preventive dose, the data has shown protection of normal cells and tumor cells. For the therapeutic dose, the data shows that it inhibits the growth of cancer cells but not the normal cells. People are looking at data for preventive doses, which is confusing. Another important thing that has caused controversy is that people are looking at data for cancer prevention, such as the beta-carotene trial that showed a link with lung cancer occurrence. This doesn’t make sense. The data is not the same for prevention of cancer and for people with cancer undergoing therapy.”  [1]

The moral of the story here is, do your own research, use your best judgment, and keep your eye on your diet overall so that you avoid cancer. And if you hear that word from your doctor, eat as MANY fresh whole foods as you can BEFORE your treatment begins so that you can be as healthy as possible to take on the harsh treatments often prescribed.

While some believe that they would not opt for chemotherapy, advancements have come a long way and you can’t make that decision until you are actually faced with it. But you can certainly do a lot for the improvement of your health overall, starting today. Please share this for any others who need to hear this information!

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