Complementary Cancer Therapies: Do They Work?

Updated: Jan 28

We wrote this article to show natural, complementary therapies which are available that may fight cancer or aid in the treatment of cancer. Always listen to your doctor/oncologist/medical specialist and speak with them prior to following any of the tips below. We DO NOT recommend ignoring their advice when dealing with serious, life-threatening diseases such as cancer. All of the topics below should be researched further by anyone wanting to try them and not used to replace conventional medicine, unless approved by a qualified medical professional.

Cancer is a condition where cells begin to reproduce uncontrollably. These cells can remain specific to a body part or spread to surrounding tissue and organs (metastasis). More than 1 in 3 people will develop cancer with cancer rates predicted to increase by 62% in the next 20 years (1) (2).

As previously mentioned, always consult your doctor before trying any cancer prevention treatments should you be diagnosed. This is because:

  1. Every cancer is different and some therapies might make the cancer more aggressive and/or lead to other serious side-effects e.g. if you are suffering from renal (kidney) cancer, your body will not be able to filter the blood as effectively. This could lead to higher than normal concentrations of certain chemicals and compounds in the blood.

  2. There could be unwanted interactions with some of the medications you have been prescribed.

That being said, if your doctor deems some of the therapies safe - it is not likely they would “recommend” you try them; instead they may leave the decision with you. As long as you stick to the recommended guidelines without harm, what do you have to lose? Feeling as if you are doing everything in your power to fight cancer can help raise your morale, which in itself is a great way to help in the fight against cancer.

Standard medicine is by far the best "front line defence" once diagnosed. Below are some alternative and complementary therapies which could be useful alongside conventional medicine and our verdict on them.


While restricting sugar as a cancer treatment has gained popularity in recent times, as of yet, there is no direct evidence linking a reduction or removal of carbohydrates/sugar from ones diet with improved cancer symptoms. There is an indirect link to limiting sugar and cancer but no concrete cause and effect link has been found (3).

A ketogenic diet has been proposed as an adjuvant therapy in cancer patients. The theory behind this is that some cancer cells lack the ability to metabolise ketone bodies and therefore could be starved of energy due to a reduction of circulating glucose whilst following a ketogenic diet, whereas healthy cells which do posses the ability to utilise ketone bodies continue to function normally (4).

The efficacy of a ketogenic diet as an adjuvant therapy for cancer patient requires more research to determine its effects on each type of cancer. This is because preclinical evidence exists which shows that, whilst a ketogenic diet demonstrates a potential anti-tumour effect in most cancers, it may cause side-effects and pro-tumour effects in kidney cancer (5).


Utilise a ketogenic diet alongside regular cancer therapy, specifically chemotherapy.

- Follow recommended calorie intake as prescribed by your doctor or registered dietician

- Protein intake - as recommended by dietician, more than likely 0.8g - 1g per kg bodyweight

- Carbohydrate intake - 15-50g per day

- Fat intake - the remainder of calorie intake

Potential actions (6 fig):

- Brain cancers - glioblastoma, astroglioma, medullablastoma, neuroblastoma

- Prostate cancer

- Colon cancer

- Pancreatic cancer

- Lung cancer

- Breast cancer

- Stomach cancer

- Liver cancer

Potential pro-tumour effects (6 fig):

Kidney cancer



Ketogenic diets are difficult to follow if you have trouble digesting large amounts of fats. If you have pre-existing liver and gall bladder problems it is important you raise the issue with your doctor beforehand.


Although more evidence is needed to confirm whether or not a ketogenic diet has proven anti-tumour effects, enough small studies and reports exist to warrant further research and consideration. The lack of reported side-effects - with the exception of cases of kidney cancers and melanoma - means that a ketogenic diet provides a liable adjuvant therapy for cancer patients.


Cannabinoids are chemical compounds derived from cannabis which act upon cannabinoid receptors in the body. Of the many cannabinoid compounds present in cannabis, two are of importance: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis which leads to the “high” one experiences when consuming it. THC has analgesic, antiemetic and anti-inflammatory properties which has led to cannabis being prescribed for a number of diseases in certain countries. The psychoactive nature of the drug, however, limits its medicinal applications. CBD is another cannabinoid present in cannabis which does not have a psychoactive effect and has gained popularity in recent years in the form of CBD oil which, in the UK, is now available in large health food stores. CBD acts upon slightly different receptors in the body than THC but provides benefits nonetheless such as anxiety lowering properties and potential anti-cancer effects.

CBD oil could inhibit tumour growth by activating apoptotic pathways and inducing anti-proliferative and anti-angiogenic effects (7) (8). On the other hand, evidence shows that in certain circumstances, cannabinoids may promote cancer growth by suppressing the anti-tumour immune response (9) (10) - it is important to note that these studies pertain only to THC, not CBD.

The legality of cannabis and cannabis-derived compounds varies from country to country and further research is needed to justify its application. At the moment, the psychoactive nature of THC, the unknown interactions between cannabinoids and other drugs, and the potential for tumorigenic effects, limit its use. Whilst CBD oil is legal in most countries and may provide benefits with minimal risk, always consult with your doctor prior to using it as it may interfere with other medications (11).


Follow dosage guidelines on specific CBD oil supplement.

Potential actions:

Stem from its ability to induce apoptosis and autophagy. Affects many types of tumour (not specified).

Potential pro-tumour effects:

Dependant on dosage of cannabinoid type.


Some dosages and types of cannabinoid may suppress the immune system and activate mitogenic factors which, in turn, could lead to pro-tumerogenic effects.


Research into the potential use of cannabinoids in cancer therapy is in its early stages. With the potential for pro-tumerogenic effects stemming from dosage and cannabinoid types, the risk may outweigh the reward. That being said, the stigma attached to cannabis seems to be reducing and more and more research is being done on cannabis and CBD oil for medicinal use. This may lead to many great applications being discovered in the near future. For now, use extreme caution and make sure that you are fully aware of the risks involved (12).

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The application of vitamin C in cancer therapy was first hypothesised by Linus Pauling in 1976 (13). This led to two high profile studies by the Mayo clinic in the 1970’s which seemed to discredit the findings made by Pauling and led to the therapy being abandoned by oncologists (14). The issue with the “findings” is that the Mayo clinic studies used orally administered vitamin C as opposed to intravenously administered vitamin C. Intravenously administered vitamin C leads to much higher plasma levels than orally administered vitamin C and the plasma levels required to have a cytotoxic effect on cancer cells can only be achieved this way. Maximal oral administration leads to serum levels of 220 µmol/L whereas intravenous administration can lead to levels as high as 14,000µmol/L (15). Levels of 1000 - 4000µmol/L are cytotoxic to tumour cells (16).

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which may provide other health benefits such as reduced inflammation (17). Consuming foods high in vitamin C is a good idea at all times, though it is always worth consulting your doctor when making nutritional changes if you are being treated for cancer.

Vitamin C therapy warrants further study as there is a potentially beneficial application when used in conjunction with other cytotoxic drugs. Intravenous vitamin C therapy should only be administered by a qualified professional with the knowledge and consent of your doctor. Self-medicating with high doses of vitamin C is not advisable as oral administration would not lead to plasma levels high enough to illicit cytotoxic effects and may cause other problems (18).

Related Post: Vitamin C: A Potential Super Vitamin?


Administered intravenously only as oral administration does not lead to serum levels high enough to exhibit anti-cancer effects. Intravenous vitamin C dosages of between 5-25g has been shown to be safe for cancer affected adults to decrease inflammation, restore the body's antioxidant stores and possibly support quality of life (19). In trial studies dosages of up to 1.5g/kg were given with no reported side-effects and some reported reductions in symptoms. Always follow guidelines provided by administered practitioner (20).

Although orally administered vitamin C administration will not lead to required serum levels, oral administration of vitamin C may help continue vitamin C repletion between intravenous vitamin C treatments (21).

Potential actions:

An increase in antioxidant levels, improvements in quality of life and reductions of side-effects associated with conventional treatments means intravenous vitamin C therapy is potentially beneficial to almost all types of cancer.


Those with impaired renal function and G6PD deficiency may experience problems clearing high dosages of vitamin C from the bloodstream and may not benefit from intravenous vitamin C therapy (22).

Intravenous vitamin C can protect breast tumours from the drug Tamixofen (23).


Considering that doses of over 75g are tolerable and the multi-faceted actions of vitamin C in terms of antioxidant capabilities, cytotoxic effects and anti-inflammatory benefits mean intravenous vitamin C therapy provides a liable addition to conventional cancer treatments. With no current contraindications with regards to its use alongside chemotherapy - no studies have been performed to determine the effects of intravenous vitamin C therapy and radiation - and the potential to provide synergistic benefits, it is worth consulting with your doctor (24). Oral administration of vitamin C is also worth discussing with them.


Curcumin performs a broad range of actions within the body which may help in the fight against cancer by impacting the growth, replication and death of cancer cells. It may also play a role alongside conventional cancer treatments by limiting the negative effects of non-specific chemotherapy treatments.

Curcumin is commonly known as a potent anti-inflammatory agent. In fact, this study shows curcumin is a more potent anti-inflammatory than standard NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (25). Many cancers are linked to chronic inflammation so reducing inflammation levels in the body could help protect against cancer (26).

Cancerous cells evade therapy induced apoptosis (programmed cell death important in the regeneration of cells, whereas therapy induced apoptosis is artificially triggered) in a number of ways which allows them to proliferate. One of the ways curcumin may help to combat cancer is by stimulating apoptosis in cancerous cells whilst not affecting healthy cells (27).

When used in conjunction with traditional cancer treatments and chemotherapy, curcumin has the potential to increase the effectiveness of the treatment and reduce negative side-effects associated with such treatments (28) (29) (30) (31).

Curcumin is a polyphenol found in turmeric, a yellow spice. On its own, curcumin has low bioavailability meaning not much of it is absorbed - interestingly, this may be beneficial in certain circumstances, more on that later. To improve the bioavailability of curcumin it is recommended to consume turmeric with black pepper and a healthy oil such as coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil. Low bioavailability means most or all of it passes through the digestive system without being digested. In cases of cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract, this may be beneficial (32).

Related Post: 5 Benefits Of Turmeric


Bioavailability of curcumin is increased with the intake of piperine (extract of black pepper) and healthy fats such as coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil (33).

The maximum dosages used in trials without any toxic effects is up to 8g per day (34).

Potential actions:

May slow the spread of cancer and improve the effects of conventional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and reduce inflammation (35).

May be particularly beneficial in (36) (37):

- Breast cancer

- Colorectal cancer

- Stomach cancer

- Skin cancer

- Oral

- Cervical

- Lung

- Leukemia

- Lymphoma

Contraindications (38):

- Pregnancy and breastfeeding

- Gallbladder disease

- Kidney stones

- Bleeding disorders

- Diabetes

- Iron deficiency

Turmeric supplements can interact with certain medications such as blood thinners and diabetes medications.


Curcumin supplementation provides a wealth of health benefits not limited to cancer. Research still needs to be performed to give us a definitive answer for its application to cancer treatment but normal supplementation can be beneficial to all (provided you don't suffer from the contraindicative conditions mentioned above). Supplementation of up to 10g/day has been shown to be safe and could provide benefits when used alongside chemotherapy drugs, yet not enough research has been performed. Always consult your doctor before supplementing with any herbal supplements (39).


The first recorded applications of fungal treatment first appeared in traditional Chinese medicine thousands of years ago (40). Fungi and herbal remedies were also popular in East and South East Asia and Russia up until the 18th century (41). Over the past 60 years, research into mushrooms, specifically their application in terms of health, has increased exponentially - just walk into any health store and you will no doubt find an array of mushroom supplements. Research into specific anti-microbial and anti-tumour capabilities is limited, with the majority of anti-tumour research focusing on the general cytotoxic effect which is harmful to ALL cells, not only cancerous ones. This route of research follows the old approach to cancer therapy where unspecific treatments were used to destroy cancer cells which inevitably destroyed healthy cells as well (42). Nowadays, specific treatments are used which focus on the individual characteristics of certain cancers and, indeed, of the patient themselves. Cordyceps extracts, for example, demonstrated cytotoxic effects on cancer cells whilst largely unaffecting normal cells (43).

New lines of research are being performed aiming to look at the anti-tumour effects of fungi and their extracts, not only in terms of direct tumour fighting action but also as to how their complex array of compounds may affect cancer in a synergistic fashion (44).

Read more about mushrooms and their health benefits here.


Research into the possible medicinal applications of mushrooms is in its early stages and as of yet there are no guidelines for the medicinal applications of mushrooms. It is recommended to include wild mushrooms such as shiitake in your diet and supplementing with high quality mushroom supplements such as cordyceps Cs-4 and lion's mane can drastically improve human health (45). Always consult your doctor prior to using any mushroom supplement.

Potential actions (46):

Note: The following is based on four individual mushrooms and fungi - Fomitopsis pinicola, Hericium erinaceus, Trametes versicolor and Inonotus obliquus.

- Liver cancer

- Cervical cancer

- Colorectal cancer

- Sarcoma

- Gastric cancer

- Leukemia

- Gastrointestinal cancer

- Adenocarcinoma

- Melanoma

- Lung cancer

- Breast cancer

- B-Lymphoma

- Prostate cancer


Not enough research exists of the medicinal (specifically oncological) application of mushrooms, therefore, no contraindications have been identified.


The medicinal application of mushrooms and fungi provides an interesting line of research and further knowledge. Mushrooms have been used for their healing capabilities for thousands of years yet are we only now beginning to understand why. While there is not yet any concrete evidence demonstrating anti-cancer properties, promising results from studies warrants their potential use as a supplement. Always opt for high quality natural supplements and consult with your doctor before taking herbal or non-herbal supplementation.


Proteolytic enzymes is the name given to a group of enzymes responsible for the breakdown of proteins into smaller peptide and amino acid chains. Proteolytic enzymes reduce the negative effects of tumour and therapy induced side-effects such as nausea, GI discomfort, tiredness and restlessness. It also increased response rates, duration of remission and overall survival times in patients with plasmacytosis - a type of cancer affecting plamsa cells (47).

Other benefits of consuming proteolytic enzymes in terms of cancer fighting include:

- boosting cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor which, as its name suggests, helps to fight cancer cells

- anti-inflammatory (48)

- destroys fibrin which has been linked to the metastasising abilities of some cancers (49) (50)

When consuming proteolytic enzymes to be used systemically - within the system and, therefore, not for digesting foods - it is important to take them on an empty stomach.


Dosage and quantity figures are difficult to come by when looking at the anti-cancer application of proteolytic enzymes. One of the issues is the extremely high doses required for anti-cancer benefits according to this source. Consuming up to 160 PER DAY is a challenging and expensive task (51). It would be wise to start at the recommended dose and work up towards your intended dosage whilst being aware of any side-effects, though high doses seem to be well tolerated in cancer patients (52). As mentioned above, take proteolytic enzymes on an empty stomach for systemic effects.

Potential actions:

The applications of proteolytic enzymes on cancers is still in the early days of research but most studies seem to report beneficial results in cancers of the human digestive tract such as: colorectal cancer, stomach cancer and cancer of the bile duct (53).


Always consult your doctor prior to taking proteolytic enzymes (especially if you suffer from liver damage), are taking blood thinners, or are pregnant or nursing (54).


Proteolytic enzymes are produced naturally in the body mainly to aid in digestion amongst other things. Their therapeutic use has been around since the 1960's and has potential to aid in human health through many functions (55). In terms of its cancer fighting properties, sufficient research is needed before definitive conclusions are drawn. This, coupled with the high dosages and, therefore, high cost, means that using proteolytic enzymes for anti-cancer purposes isn't at all feasible.


The restriction of calories before and after chemotherapeutic treatment is a relatively novel idea, with the therapeutic applications of fasting gaining increasing popularity. While more studies need to be done to test the efficacy of fasting and chemotherapy, the correct protocols and patient selection, there are promising signs that there may be some weight to this theory. Fasting has been shown to increase a tumors sensitivity to chemotherapy drugs while protecting healthy cells from the negative effects of chemotherapy. Fasting also increases the effectiveness of tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) - a drug commonly used in anti-cancer therapy - which, though further research is needed, provides additional weight to the efficacy of fasting and anti-cancer treatments (56).

Several small studies have shown promise as patients who undertook fasting protocols prior to, and after, chemotherapy “reported greater tolerance to treatment and less fatigue, weakness and gastrointestinal symptoms compared with previous non-fasting treatments.” 1 A study by the Mayo clinic which concluded in December of 2018 aimed to test the effects of fasting in chemotherapy patients with results still to be published (57).


Fasting for at least 48 hours is required to see some form of anti-cancer benefit (58). For improvements in quality of life during chemotherapy, fasting for at least 24 hours before and up to 24 hours after treatment has been shown to have potential (59) (60).

When fasting for therapeutic reasons, aim to consume no food or drink, only water if necessary. You may experience mild dizziness, fatigue and hunger; these are common symptoms of fasting and are not necessarily signs of poor health.

Potential action:

Aids in improving sensitivity to chemotherapy drugs whilst reducing associated side-effects. May posses some anti-cancer properties.


Fasting while undergoing cancer treatment is not recommended for everyone, however, those who have either a body mass index (BMI) of under 20, diabetes, eating disorders or sarcopenia (degenerative loss of skeletal muscle) need to be very careful as a restriction of calories could negatively affect their health. In these scenarios, calorie-restricted fasting-mimicking diets where micronutrient needs are met could prove useful.


Prolonged fasting provides many health benefits outside the realms of cancer (61). It is something we recommend to anyone looking to improve their overall health. For use alongside conventional cancer therapies, as long as there are no contraindications, it is definitely worth consulting your doctor.

Further references: (62) (63)


Cancer diagnosis is life-changing. Conventional medicine provides an important first-line intervention and you should always follow your doctors advice. The therapies mentioned above should be viewed as complementary and used alongside your treatment protocol. While the science is not yet conclusive for a lot of the suggestions mentioned above, the anti-cancer potential they have should encourage you to explore them. Even if they do not live up to their expectations, simply feeling like you are in control and doing everything that you can could help you remain positive which, in itself, could help you overcome cancer.

1. Safdie FM, Dorff T, Quinn D, et al. Fasting and cancer treatment in humans: a case series report. Aging (Albany NY). 2009;1(12):988-1007. doi: 10.18632/aging.100114.

Related Post: Vitamin C: A Potential Super-Vitamin?

Related Post: 5 Benefits Of Turmeric

Related Post: 3 Powerful Mushroom Supplements


John Maitland

John Maitland is the co-founder of 'The Evolved Way.’ A personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience, he has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.

Samson Hodin

Co-founder of 'The Evolved Way', and experienced personal trainer, Samson practices what he preaches. His own healthy lifestyle, which informs this site, is based on understanding the right way to eat and exercise, not excluding of course going out and enjoying life knowing you can still feel and look good.

#Health #Illness



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Articles and information on this website may only be copied, reprinted, or redistributed with written permission. The entire contents of this website and articles featured are based upon the opinions of John Maitland and Samson Hodin, unless otherwise noted. Individual articles are based upon the opinions of the respective authors, who may retain copyright as marked. The information on this website is not intended to replace professional medical advice, nor is it intended to treat or cure any medical condition. It is intended as a sharing of ideas, knowledge and information from the personal research and experience of John Maitland and Samson Hodin, and the community. John Maitland and Samson Hodin are both fully qualified personal trainers. We will attempt to keep all objectionable messages off this site; however, it is impossible to review all messages immediately. All messages expressed on the website, including comments posted to blog entries, represent the views of the author exclusively and we are not responsible for the content of any message.