Dietary Supplements and Chemotherapy

Deciding to use chemotherapy is an incredibly complex decision and may be the only one available. I would never judge the choices made by people struggling with cancer nor encourage or dissuade people from making treatment decisions with their doctors. However, important nutritional information may help clinicians and patients make the best choices for their specific circumstances. While it is true that chemotherapy can kill any cancer, the problem is that it might kill the person, too. Much of mainstream oncology is determining the highest dose of chemo that can destroy the most cancer cells while allowing the patient to survive. This doesn’t always work. About 20 to 25 percent of people being treated for cancer die of the chemotherapy and its side effects and not the disease.

Conversely, some cancers that were once almost universally fatal, especially childhood leukemias, are now highly curable because of advances in chemotherapy. However, the more cycles of chemotherapy a person undergoes, the higher the risk of death. Why would a person need multiple rounds of chemo? The best results are obtained with the first round of treatment. However, if the cancer comes back, the doctors use chemo again to try to get rid of the tumor or at least slow it down. It doesn’t work as well the second (or third or fourth or fifth) time around because cancer cells develop chemoresistance. Just as in antibiotic resistance, the surviving cancer cells are the best at resisting chemotherapy’s lethal effects. And they start replicating again from the stem cells left behind—the cancer cells masquerading as usual and hiding in the body, only to recur months or years later.

Another problem is the use of dietary supplements while undergoing chemotherapy. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, it is a life-changing event that often marks the beginning of significant emotional and physical challenges. People are suddenly invested in finding anything—whether mainstream treatment or not—that will improve their chance of long-term survival and reduce distressing symptoms and side effects. People are afraid, and they understandably want answers.

Fortunately, researchers have tackled both these problems by looking at (A) do certain supplements help chemotherapy work better and (B) are better results obtained by using specific dietary supplements during treatment.

One researcher of particular importance is Dr. Ajay Goel, a cancer researcher and thought leader at the City of Hope Cancer Center. His team is at the forefront of discoveries on the ability of natural plant medicines to treat cancer and assure better outcomes. He has published hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers on this topic, many of which are referenced below. This body of research has impressive results—including human, animal, genetic, and cell studies. Some of the dietary supplements thus far investigated dramatically enhance the powers of chemotherapy by making cancer cells more vulnerable, reducing chemoresistance, and even stopping the creation of cancer stem cells. In every instance listed below, the combination of natural supplements and chemotherapy surpassed chemotherapy alone and demonstrably reduced chemoresistance. And I should mention that in none of these studies did supplements impair the effects of the cancer treatment. If you are interested in reading more, the references are included below. You can find the abstract or the full text of the articles mentioned in the electronic archive of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), available at

Andrographis—Andrographis is an ancient Ayurvedic herb that has been respected for millennia for its health benefits. In these studies, an andrographis extract standardized to a minimum of 20% andrographolides produced much better cancer outcomes and improved the efficacy of the chemotherapy’s gemcitabine (often used for pancreatic cancer) and 5-fluorouracil, also called 5-FU (often used for colorectal cancer), reducing chemoresistance.

Berberine—Berberine is not a plant but is a compound found in several plants, including Indian barberry. Berberine research is often on diabetes and heart disease, with excellent benefits noted for metabolic syndrome. However, researchers are now investigating its ability to reduce chemoresistance.

Curcumin—Curcumin is a polyphenol found in the spice turmeric. Curcumin’s ability to help people with cancer has been repeatedly confirmed by research. Over 7,400 studies have been published and archived in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) electronic database, specifically on curcumin and cancer. The first study I would like to mention is on a difficult-to-treat form of cancer called multiple myeloma and is a human clinical trial. Using enhanced absorption curcumin that incorporates turmeric essential oil along with chemotherapy (melphalan) and steroids more than doubled the remission rate of this disease compared to people who received only chemo and steroids.

Tannin-free French grape seed OPCs—Grape seeds contain oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) that are great antioxidants, improve blood vessel strength and flexibility, and reduce blood pressure. Recently, scientists have begun to explore its anticancer activities and ability to overcome chemoresistance. The grape seed extract used in this study is tannin-free (meaning no large OPCs that cannot be absorbed).

Chemotherapy might cure your cancer, but it can also play a role in recurrent or new cancers down the line. Chemotherapy might be life-saving, but it can also be life-threatening. Fortunately, there are powerful botanicals that have the potential to make chemotherapy more effective and far less dangerous. These nutrient interventions can:

  • Repress signals in the body that interfere with chemotherapy
  • Kill cancer cells and stop their spread
  • Destroy cancer stem cells, the “seeds” of cancer recurrence
  • Make chemotherapy more effective at lower dosages

For a more detailed look at the anti-cancer potential of botanical medicines, I urge you to read Dr. Goel’s book, Beat Cancer, Naturally. Free copies are available at the Oregon Natural Market.

Michael Chase, MS, NTP
Nutrition Science and Dietetics



Okuno K, Xu C, Pascual-Sabater S, et al. Andrographis reverses gemcitabine resistance through regulation of ERBB3 and calcium signaling pathway in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Biomedicines. 2023;11:119.

Sharma P, Shimura T, Banwait JK, Goel A. Andrographis-mediated chemosensitization through activation of ferroptosis and suppression of β-catenin/Wnt-signaling pathways in colorectal cancer. Carcinogenesis. 2020:1-10.]

Zhao Y, Wang C, Goel A. Andrographis overcomes 5-fluorouracil associated chemoresistance through inhibition of DKK1 in colorectal cancer. Carcinogenesis. 2021. Advanced publication data:

Okuno K, Xu C, Pascual-Sabater S, et al. Berberine overcomes gemcitabine-associated chemoresistance by regulating Rap1/PI3K-Akt signaling in pancreatic ductal carcinoma. Pharmaceuticals. 2022;15:1199.

Santosa D, Suharti C, Riwant I, et al. Curcumin as adjuvant therapy to improve remission in myeloma patients: a pilot randomized clinical trial. Casp J Int Med. 2022;13: 375-384.

Yoshida K, Toden S, Ravindranathan P, Han H, Goel A. Curcumin sensitizes pancreatic cancer cells to gemcitabine by attenuating PRC2 subunit EZH2, and the lncRNA PVT1 expression. Carcinogenesis. 2017 Oct 1;38(10):1036-1046.

Miyazaki K, Morine Y, Xu C, et al. Curcumin-mediated resistance to Lenvatinib via EGFR signaling pathway in hepatocellular carcinoma Cells. 2023;12.

Shakibaei M, Kraehe P, Popper B, Shayan P, Goel A, Buhrmann C. Curcumin potentiates antitumor activity of 5-flurouracil in a 3D alginate tumor microenvironment of colorectal cancer. BMC Cancer. 2015 Apr 10;15:250.

Shakibaei M, Buhrmann C, Kraehe P, Shayan P, Lueders C and Goel A. Curcumin chemosensitizes 5-Fluorouracil resistant MMR-deficient human colon cancer cells in high density cultures. PLoS ONE. 2014:9(1).

Ravindranathan P, Pasham D, Goel A. Oligomeric proanthocyanidins (OPCs) from grape seed extract suppress the activity of ABC transporters in overcoming chemoresistance in colorectal cancer cells. Carcinogenesis. 29 Dec 2018.



DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. No action should be taken based solely on the contents of this information. Individuals should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The statements made in this informational document have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Any product discussed is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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