Q&A: Studies show natural therapies are safe but most oncologists still wants to avoid them – Why?

table with fresh wildflowers with words: Q&A: If Studies Show Natural Therapies Are Safe With Chemo And Radiation Why do Most Oncologists Still Say to Avoid Nutrients, Herbs And Antioxidants?

If Studies Show Natural Therapies Are Safe With Chemo And Radiation Why do Most Oncologists Still Say to Avoid Nutrients, Herbs And Antioxidants?

Unfortunately many oncologists are still holding on to the outdated concept that chemo and radiation have a “PRO-oxidant” effect, which would be undermined by the consumption of “ANTI-oxidants.” The mechanisms of chemotherapy and radiation are actually poorly understood but recent evidence shows that they may not directly kill the cancer cells immediately but rather fatally damage them before they undergo natural apoptosis (cell death).1 Antioxidants and natural plant compounds, such as curcumin (from the herb turmeric), actually may help finish the job and promote the death of cancer cells thus having a complementary effect to chemo and radiation instead of working against it.2 However, it is very important to point out that not all natural substances are safe to take along side conventional treatments. There are exceptions depending on the type of chemotherapy or radiation, type of cancer and the condition of each patient. NDs are trained to guide patients to safely choose which natural therapies are safe with each conventional treatment.


What can you do if your oncologist is against any natural treatments but you still want to include some natural therapies as part of your treatment plan?


While the number of open-minded oncologists is growing unfortunately there are still many that are totally against any natural therapies while on chemo or radiation. The process of cancer diagnosis and treatment is very frightening and often starts quickly with very little time for the patient to think about the options presented to them. Many patients feel they are given little choice by an oncologist that is pushing to start treatment quickly while totally against any natural therapies. While I can’t answer this question for you there are a few suggestions that other people have found helpful. First, don’t rush into a decision. You may feel like you have no choice but you always do. Unless it’s a medical emergency, waiting a few days or even weeks to make the right decision won’t impact the success of your therapy. Second, ask lots of questions. If you don’t like what the oncologist has to say don’t be afraid to ask direct questions and maybe even seek a second opinion. If you are wondering about natural alternatives then ask a trained ND. The purebalance integrative cancer centre offers free consultations with prospective patients so they can ask questions and find out if natural therapies are right for them. This is a good way to make sure you are on the same page without any cost or commitment. Ultimately, this is a difficult question to answer since it’s really up to what you as a patient are comfortable with but don’t feel like a doctor should make your decision for you. A ND can help you understand the research and know which specific supplements and therapies actually complement your conventional care and which ones should be avoided due to interactions.


  • Ricci MS, Zong WX. Chemotherapeutic approaches for targeting cell death pathways. Oncologist. 2006 Apr;11(4):342-57.
  • Patel BB, Majumdar AP. Synergistic role of curcumin with current therapeutics in colorectal cancer: minireview. Nutr Cancer. 2009;61(6):842-6.

Dr. Paul Hrkal, ND

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