Author Archives: Lise Alschuler

Calendula for Radiation Induced Dermatitis



This is a picture of radiation dermatitis. This can happen in some women when they get radiation. The skin reacts and it can become very painful and obviously, uncomfortable. So there are some things, mechanically, that are very effective at helping to reduce the risk of dermatitis.

The first one I want to mention is Calendula. So Calendula is an herb that can be used topically. There’s a very important thing I want to say which is that you’d never want to put anything topically on your skin before radiation treatments because if you moisturize your skin before you get radiation, it can actually make that dermatitis worse. So you want to go in as dry as possible. But right after radiation, if you apply Calendula ointment, then it has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the risk of developing this dermatitis. Calendula is very very indicated; very well documented therapy to help reduce this dermatitis.

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Medicinal Mushrooms – Support and Safety during Breast Cancer

Integrative oncology is really a concept that’s becoming more and more commonly understood and hopefully something that we can see more often.

Mushrooms are a very important synergist with conventional treatment.  Some of the data on mushrooms is actually reported about as data on something called PSK which stands for Polysaccharide Krestin.  This is a compound that is extracted from a mushroom called turkey tail mushroom.  Also, its Latin name is Coriolus Versicolor. And just to confuse matters, it’s also been called Trametes Versicolor. All the same thing. Turkey Tail mushroom.

So they extract out this PSK, breast survival with PSKthis polysaccharide. These companies kind of just enzymatically react it a little bit. So it’s basically synonymous with what you get in the mushroom. And it’s called PSK. So a lot of the data on mushrooms is also data on PSK. That being said, this particular review took 31 trials and, again, we’re close to 10,000 patients when we combine all these trials together. And I boxed in breast. So if you look at that, the 10 year survival for breast cancer in people who just had chemotherapy, in these trials, was about 65%. In people who had that chemotherapy plus they added the use of Turkey Tail mushroom and/or PSK abstract, their survival went up to 81%. So that’s a significant improvement in survival with the addition of mushroom to the chemotherapy.

turkeytail mushroomThis is what Turkey Tail mushroom looks like. You can see why it’s called Turkey Tail.

Below is a relatively recent meta analysis that looked at 13 studies and they found that if you took all the cancers combined, there was a reduction in five year death rate from cancer by 9%.  Now, that might not sound like a lot, but this is an actually, statistically, this is an absolute reduction, which is a much stronger effect than a relative risk reduction. This study is so compelling that in countries like Japan, the use of medicinal mushroom is part of the standard of care.  So people who get chemotherapy and radiation in places like Japan, will also get recommendations for medicinal mushrooms because it has such a significant impact on improving survival. So this is something that I hope will become standard of care in the United States too.

So if we go back to the trial data and you look at all these cancers, the cancers that have the best benefit from the use of mushrooms include breast cancer. So breast cancer is one that I certainly recommend concurrent, at least, consideration for concurrent use of medicinal mushrooms.

The graph below is a survival graph. So if you follow the line on the bottom, you can see the numbers 0 – 5.  So that represents time in years. So if you go to the number 5, and then you just kind of make an imaginary line going up, your imaginary line will intersect those two end points there. The dotted line represents the percent of people – and you can see that by going across to the vertical axis and it’s written there for you too.breast cancer survival graph

So at five years, 72% of people who did not take mushrooms were alive without cancer. And on the other hand, if you look up a little further to the solid line, you see that 79% in five years were alive who had also taken the mushrooms. So there’s an improvement in the percentage of people alive at, really, any time point if you follow those lines when you add mushrooms in to conventional therapy. So that’s just how that’s represented in a graphic way.

The slide below relates to two trials on estrogen receptor negative cancer. So this is breast cancer that does not express that estrogen receptor. Generally speaking, estrogen receptor negative cancers are harder to treat and they’re a little bit more aggressive. And so these become more significant, these results.PSK and breast cancer

So in the first trial, what they did is that they gave these women mushrooms in addition to conventional chemotherapy. And they found that by giving mushrooms in addition to chemotherapy there was a significant improvement in overall survival.

In the second trial, they gave women either chemotherapy or a PSK extract and there was comparable survival. So this is particularly of interest and I’m not sure I would go as far as to recommend mushroom substitute for chemo. This was not a chemo that is commonly used for breast cancer, but it does indicate the power of mushrooms to extend overall survival when combined with or used concurrently with and beyond chemotherapy.

By: Lise Alschuler, ND FABNO

Radiation Induced Dermatitis

radiation induced dermatitisI want to talk about radiation, specifically radiation dermatitis. This is a picture of radiation dermatitis. This can happen in some women when they get radiation. The skin reacts and it can become very painful and obviously, uncomfortable. So there are some things, mechanically, that are very effective at helping to reduce the risk of dermatitis.

The first one I want to mention is Calendula. So Calendula is an herb that can be used topically. There’s a very important thing I want to say which is that you’d never want to put anything topically on your skin before radiation treatments because if you moisturize your skin before you get radiation, it can actually make that dermatitis worse. So you want to go in as dry as possible. But right after radiation, if you apply Calendula ointment, then it has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the risk of developing this dermatitis. Calendula is very very indicated; very well documented therapy to help reduce this dermatitis.

Interestingly, aloe vera, which is often used, is actually not by a research perspective, effective. And clinically, I’ve not seen it to be very effective either. But, there are some oral things, some botanicals that you can take by mouth that will help to reduce radiation dermatitis as well because they kind of stimulate moisturization in the skin and repair in the skin. So one is Turmeric or Curcumin. That can be helpful.

Calendula for Radiation Dermatis

Another one is Milk Thistle. Milk Thistle is actually a very nice way to help reduce the risk of developing dermatitis. Just, again, taken orally concurrent with time of radiation. And if somebody develops radiation dermatitis, one of the treatments that can be used as a medicinal form of honey, which has been free of all microbes and is kind of very specific to medicinal use is from New Zealand originally, but purchasable here in the United States, certainly. Called Manuka Honey. Applying Manukah Honey, again, at like at night, so well after the radiation treatment can help to heal up dermatitis.

Now, clearly, talking with your oncologist about this can be difficult. Some advice that I will give you around this, one; is to really obtain support and guidance from trained integrative healthcare professionals. You know, naturopathic oncologists, or naturopathic doctors that have gone on to receive additional training and certification in naturopathic oncology and their focus is on providing this level of support. So they would sort of be at the top of the list.

Integrative HealthcareThere are also some really well trained innovative medical doctors, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, herbalists, so you want somebody that can guide you because there’s a lot of complexity to this. And those people should take over the communication. So they should be communicating with your oncologists so that your providers are talking with each other and that everybody is on the same page.

Furthermore, if you are using herbs, do tell your oncologist about it, even if your oncologist doesn’t like that you’re using herbs, it’s important for them to know that you’re using them because they need to have that information if something about the way in which you react to their treatment is different, or unexpected, they can try to help figure out what might be going on and they’re better able to do that when they know all the things that you’re taking regularly.

what is integrative oncologyIn general, you want to be conservative. So when in doubt, avoid potential interactions and don’t use herbs concurrently if you have concerns about it. There is plenty of opportunity after treatment to employ the use of herbs to help lower the risk of recurrence and recover from treatment. And, again, remember that if you’re getting chemotherapy, for example, and you’re getting it on a schedule with a couple of weeks, two to three weeks in between treatments, that affords you an opportunity to employ some of these therapies in a more safe manner.

And then, finally, do rely on good studies and expert guidance, but don’t rely on pervasive or persuasive testimonials, especially on the internet. These are just ripe for problems and are not reliable in any way.

By: Lise Alschuler