The first words out of a doctor’s mouth when you mention alternative or complementary therapies are likely to be: There are no scientific trials to back those up.
That’s usually the case with most alternative medicines. There might be anecdotal evidence, from experience or observation, but often there is no rigorous clinical evidence that the drug under discussion is helpful.
If the doctor is open-minded and has learned something about the alternative medicine you are discussing, he or she may know whether the drug is at least safe to try, if not proven effective.
That’s why it’s always exciting when even the smallest clinical trial emerges showing promising results for alternative therapies. It’s one more step toward having another weapon in the arsenal.
So, when a very small study — 31 patients with recurrent ovarian cancer — experienced relief from chemotherapy-induced fatigue with a new herbal and nutritional regimen, I ran it by a friend who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.
She has been making every effort to stay involved in her usual activities, but she has noticed now and again that she feels tired, something unusual for a woman of her energy levels.
When she heard about the trial conducted by New Chapter, Inc. of Brattleboro, Vt., she was excited, and passed it on to her own oncologist, who, unfortunately, didn’t react one way or another to the news.
What is the news? It’s that a formulation of turmeric-based herbs and nutrients “previously shown to complement or not disrupt chemotherapy,” and commercially available, brought significant relief from fatigue for a small group of cancer patients, as measured by the FACIT index (Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy).
The index was used two to six months after the intervention with the herbs to measure quantitatively the difference in fatigue before and after supplement administration.
“(Researchers) were carefully monitoring their blood work every week. There were no negative changes,” says Tom Newmark, president of New Chapter.
“And there were no changes in the chemo regimen before, during and after. The herbs were not interfering with the chemo. There was no antagonism.”
Chemotherapy regimens the patients were undergoing were Carboplatin/Taxol, Gemzar, Topetecan, Doxil, Taxol, Cisplatin, and Gemzar-Cisplatin.
“This combination of herbal and nutritional supplements substantially reduced fatigue in a population of heavily pretreated recurrent ovarian cancer patients. This improvement in quality of life suggests further investigation through randomized trials,” the company said in a professional abstract presented recently at the Complementary Cancer Care Conference in Washington, D.C.
The researchers recognize, of course, that the study is too small to draw any major conclusions from and that larger studies are needed.
And Newmark cautions against using any herbs without “bringing your oncologist into the loop.”
But it would be good news if further studies lead to a better quality of life for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Reprinted with permission; New Chapter, Inc.