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Alternative cancer diets

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This page has information on some popular alternative therapies that some people claim can help control or cure nutritional problems, or even the cancer itself. You can go to sections on

 

Complementary and alternative therapies

People with cancer may try complementary or alternative therapies to try to help with nutritional problems. Some of these are very safe, work well and can be used in combination with standard treatments. For example, taking ginger or practicing relaxation techniques such as visualisation and hypnotherapy or acupuncture can help control nausea, particularly when used in combination with antisickness drugs. You can read more about other ways to control sickness in the feeling and being sick section. You might also want to look at the section on complementary and alternative therapies.

But some unproven alternative diets may not be safe and may actually make things worse. Some alternative therapists may claim to be able to cure your cancer or its symptoms with their treatments, even if conventional medical treatments have not been successful. Reputable therapists won't make these claims.

Like most people who work in cancer care, we know that people can find complementary therapies helpful. These are therapies that can be used alongside conventional medical treatment. Many people benefit from these by having a bit of 'me' time and improving their sense of wellbeing and ability to cope with their situation.

But we don't recommend alternative therapies in place of conventional medical therapy because there is little (if any) scientific or medical evidence to back up the claims that are made. If you have cancer, using these unproven methods instead of conventional medical treatment can make you very ill. Talk to your own specialist about any alternative or complementary therapies that you want to try.

If you try any alternative diet or nutritional supplement, it is important to continue to eat a well balanced diet. It is harmful to deprive yourself of the protein, carbohydrates (including sugars) and fats that your body needs to repair itself and keep going. You may have seen reports in the media that sugar feeds cancer. All cells in our body need sugar for energy, including cancer cells. But there is no evidence that restricting your sugar intake will stop a tumour growing.   

If in doubt about any diet or supplement, ask to see a dietician at your hospital and talk it through. Or look on the organisations page for more information on who can provide for help and support about cancer and diet.

There are hundreds of other types of alternative therapies not covered in this section. It is always best to check them out before you start using one. If you have the name of something that you would like information about, click on search at the top of the page and type in what you are looking for. If not, click on 'contact us' on the right hand side of this page and send us your questions. We will be very happy to send you some information.

 

Special ‘cancer’ diets

There are many types of diets that claim to cure your cancer. Two common ones are

Gerson therapy

Gerson therapy is a very disciplined type of therapy and involves giving yourself coffee enemas and eating a great deal of raw fruit and vegetables and their juices as well as taking supplements. People who promote this therapy claim that it cleanses your body and stimulates your metabolism. Yet there is no scientific evidence that any of this is true. In fact, Gerson therapy can be harmful, particularly if you are ill and already undernourished. There is more information about Gerson therapy in our complementary and alternative therapies section.

Macrobiotic diets

A macrobiotic diet is made up of vegetarian foods. The main foods are cereals, cooked vegetables and whole grains. Like Gerson therapy, there is no scientific evidence that a macrobiotic diet can treat or control the symptoms of cancer. Although the foods involved are healthy, the diet can lead to poor nutrition and an imbalance of nutrients, unless it is carefully planned. Research is going on into these types of diets to see if they can play a part in treating or preventing cancer. We have detailed information about macrobiotic diets in our complementary therapy section.

 

Bromelain

Bromelain is a natural enzyme found in pineapples. A small clinical study in Germany recently found that bromelain might help boost the immune system and help control infections. More recent German studies show that enzyme therapy, including bromelain can help to control symptoms of both cancer and cancer treatment. The studies included breast and bowel cancer patients. Those taking the enzymes had less sickness, loss of appetite, bowel problems and tiredness than those who just had standard treatment. Further research may show whether bromelain can play a role in treating cancer and improve survival as well as helping to control symptoms.

 

Essiac

'Essiac' is a herbal remedy believed to originate from the Ojibwa, a native Canadian tribe. It is made of 4 herbs that grow in the wilderness of Ontario, Canada. It was first publicised by a Canadian nurse called Renee Caisse. She named the remedy after herself - 'essiac' is her surname spelled backwards. Essiac is now owned by a commercial company and their lawyers require us to say that "Essiac is the registered trademark of Essiac Products Inc" whenever we mention it.

Essiac is a mixture of roots, bark and leaves, including burdock, sheep's sorrel and slippery elm. The mixture is boiled and you drink the brown liquid which forms. It is claimed to be a miracle cure for cancer but there is no evidence that it cures cancer or helps to control symptoms. We have more information about Essiac in our complementary and alternative therapies section.

 

Laetrile

This is also known as amygdalin or 'vitamin B17'. It is found in apricot pips and bitter almonds and has been described as a highly active compound that can cure cancer. Unfortunately this is simply not true. There is more information about laetrile in our complementary and alternative therapies section.

 

Shark Cartilage

Shark cartilage is sold as a food supplement, not as a drug. There is no evidence that it is any help at all in treating cancer, or any other medical condition. There is more information about shark cartilage in the complementary and alternative therapies section.

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Updated: 26 February 2014