After the celebratory dinner and the jubilant “I’m cancer-free!” social media post, you can finally say goodbye to seemingly constant medical procedures and all the pokes and prods that go with them. Cancer can really begin to take a backseat in your life, but the survivorship stage is an ideal time to focus on building a healthy diet and exercise plan—and integrating high-quality dietary supplements that can help decrease inflammation, ease depression, boost immune function and maximize high-quality sleep.
Before you run out and fill a shopping cart with vitamins, talk with your oncologist or naturopathic oncology provider, and consider incorporating supplements as part of a larger overall health plan, advises Katherine Anderson, ND, FABNO, a naturopathic oncology provider and Director of Naturopathic Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Ask for specific product and dosage recommendations to make sure you are choosing trusted brands and ensure you’re not in danger of interactions between the supplements and other medications you might be taking.
Anderson adds that it’s essential to make a realistic, sustainable plan. “Any plan that’s not implemented is a bad plan. Find the components that are important and apply your creativity to make sure it works best for you.”
The bottom line is diet, exercise and behavioral modifications are imperative for cancer fighters and survivors. “That’s where you will get the most bang for your buck and create a strong foundation from which to build,” says Anderson.
Below are six supplements—and why you should consider adding them to your list.
6 Supplements for Survivorship
Curcumin is the active substance found in turmeric, a spice you may already have in your kitchen. Studies show that it reduces inflammation. The average dose is 10-15 grams a day to keep inflammation at bay; to see a therapeutic effect, high doses in supplement form are often necessary. Beware: The powder (perfect to sprinkle into smoothies or yogurt) is bright yellow and likely to stain porous or light-colored pottery.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil)
This supplement is full of good fats—DHA and EPA—that reduce inflammation, ease symptoms related to depression, relieve skin-related maladies and even improve memory. It’s best to get this fatty acid from deep-water, coastal fish like salmon, lake trout and tuna, but the liquid and pill forms are adequate too. Some are available with a lemon flavor if you can’t stomach a fishy taste.
3. Coenzyme Q10
Back in 1961, researchers discovered some cancer patients have low levels of CoQ10. Since then, that antioxidant—found in most of our body’s tissues—has been shown to help elevate overall energy and boost the immune system. Bonus: CoQ10 can also help repair cardiac damage, which some breast cancer survivors may experience after receiving certain conventional treatments (Adriamycin and Herceptin).
Our bodies rely on probiotics—healthy bacteria in the gut—to break down food and drugs, absorb nutrients, and prevent illnesses like cold and flu. If you are prescribed a course of antibiotics, taking the non-pathogenic yeast Saccharomyces boulardi can protect the intestinal tract, increase SIgA secretion and directly inhibit colonization of harmful bacteria. A daily dose of a well-diversified strain of probiotics with elements in the billions is ideal. Yogurt is a source of probiotics, but often higher doses are required. Supplements come in tablets, powder and liquid forms. The powder is simple to “incorporate into food to make probiotics part of your regular routine,” says Katherine Anderson, ND, FABNO, naturopathic oncology provider, Director of Naturopathic Medicine at CTCA® in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
5. Vitamin D3
A healthy functioning immune system destroys cancer cells naturally occurring in our bodies and, “Vitamin D3 helps to make sure that check-in surveillance system is working well,” says Anderson. Additionally, survivorship can become a time to tackle lingering health issues and secondary effects of aggressive cancer treatment including skin conditions, bone weakness and immune health. D3 is a superstar that can help with all of these issues.
6. Lavender essential oil, calcium and magnesium
Getting substantial, restful sleep is critical before, during and after a cancer diagnosis. A cool, dark room is the first step. Unwind by adding a few drops of lavender essential oils to your pillow or massaging it onto your wrists. Also, 1,500-2,000 milligrams of calcium and 200-400 milligrams of magnesium a day can help eliminate night cramps and muscle tension. (Pro tip: Use Epsom salts in a warm bath for a soothing dose of magnesium sulfates.)