Supplemental Loyalty

I am personally opposed to the non-prescription use of supplements, and have a low opinion of people who recommend their use based either on their personal experience or worse yet, what they have heard. Going through chemotherapy is often traumatic at best, and the fact that the chemicals involved are toxins imparts a great risk in their use. Many of the non-prescription medicinal supplements fail to list the ingredients in them, or describe their content in vague and often inaccurate ways. The risk of ingesting a compound that reacts badly to the chemicals of therapy or the altered state of the body is actually quite high. Simple vitamins have proven to be fatal in some cases when used in conjunction with chemotherapy. As such, using a supplement without a serious discussion about it with both one’s oncologist and their pharmacist is a bad idea. A very bad idea.

Yet I continually see people recommending them to total strangers of whom they have no knowledge. When, in the forum where they made their recommendation they are challenged, the ferocity of their argument is surprising to me. I wonder why such blind loyalty to a for profit product exists. Especially in light of the commonality with which it is hammered home that each of us is different and react to our therapies differently. It is not unusual to see a forum participant explain just that, and then launch into the promotion of use of some off the shelf, and at times off the wall supplement. Doing so is a reckless thing to do and a very fast way to make me believe the poster has no credibility, regardless how knowledgeable or credible they might seem.

As it is, medical errors in chemotherapy are already way too common. I was given Doxirubicin by my oncologist as a first line treatment upon diagnosis. The infusion put me into both toxic and anaphylactic shock and nearly killed me. My oncologist explained to me after I was released from a week in ICU that a traumatic experience on the first exposure to the therapy was common. He ordered a second infusion and I was again hospitalized near death. I don’t say this to criticize my oncologist, on the contrary I relate it to show the propensity of the chemistry in use to produce unexpected and very negative results. Chemotherapy walks a fine line of trying to poison overactive cancer cells while leaving the rest of the body intact, and there is always collateral damage to ones physiology. Not sometimes, always.

The idea of doing anything at all to alter the already fine line walked in the application of the toxins is ill advised. So it makes me wonder why on earth someone would encourage anyone, especially a complete stranger they know little, if anything about, to alter the body’s chemistry in any way. What astounds me more is the number of people who then risk their own health by blindly trying the promoted product. It’s right up there among the most of the non-survival behaviors. When a debate ensues about the wisdom of encouraging the use of any substance outside of the cancer teams knowledge, one argument always stops the conversation cold. That is asking the person promoting a supplement to state that they are certain to a 100% certainty that the supplement will do no harm, and to publicly claim the full responsibility for any negative result from their recommendation. In essence to provide a contract to put their money where their mouth is. If a physician cannot be 100% certain, how can a lay person make that claim?

When it comes to medicine, there is never a 100% certainty about anything. When taking chemotherapy one is already under tremendous risk of collateral physical damages, some, like the cancer itself, can lay dormant for long periods before revealing their bad effects. When it comes to supplements and the recommendations of unqualified people, it’s best to take a page from the public service announcements of drug abuse –which unsupervised and unapproved supplement experimentation really is.

Just say No.