Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My Mum is currently undergoing chemotherapy (ECF - Epirubicin, Cisplatin and 5FU) for Adenocarinoma of the stomach.
Can she take the below herbals while undergoing chemotherapy?
- Gingseng tea
- Reishi Mushroom tablets
- Goji Berry juice
Your help would be greatly appreciated.
Sherri Cirignano, MS, RD, LDN, Clinical Dietitian Specialist for the Abramson Cancer Center, responds:
In response to your inquiry regarding your mother's use of specific herbals during chemotherapy, I will start by cautioning against the use of anything supplemental in pill or extract form that is taken on a daily basis during treatment. This is because there is so much that is unknown at this time about how herbal or other supplements could possibly interfere with treatment regimens. This is an area of study that is just starting to be explored, and there is little information regarding the interactions with the specific chemotherapy regimen you have mentioned. As always, be sure to inform the physicians involved in your mothers care about any supplements she may be taking.
The following is general information regarding the items you mentioned:
- Ginseng tea - (Panax Ginseng)
- At this time, research results on Ginseng are not conclusive enough to prove any health claims, but it is generally regarded as a potentially safe herb.
- Some studies show Ginseng may lower blood glucose and others indicate a possible benefit on immune function.
- Possible side effects include headaches, sleep and gastrointestinal problems. It is suggested, if used, to consider limiting use to 3 months to decrease the possibility of side effects.
- Ginseng may alter the anticoagulant effect of drugs or herbs and interacts with warfarin, phenelzine, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, amphetamines, and caffeine and may reverse the effects of tranquilizers. Ginseng may impair digoxin action and should not be used with estrogens or corticosteroids. This list is not inclusive of possible drug interactions.
Sources: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Clinical Guide to Nutrition and Dietary Supplements in Disease Management, 2003
- Reishi mushroom tablets -
- At this time, there is no real evidence of benefits of reishi. Although thought to be safe, no formal safety studies have been performed.
- Some studies show possible antiviral effects, but evidence is preliminary at this time.
- Possible side effects of reishi supplements include mouth dryness, stomach upset, nosebleed, and bloody stools with over 3-6 months of use. Reishi also has anticoagulant (blood thinning) effects and may increase the risk of bleeding, especially if combined with other blood thinning agents.
Source: Mosby's handbook of Herbs and Supplements and their Therapeutic Uses, 2003
- Goji berry juice - (Scientific name: Lycium chinense; Lycium barbarum)
- There is insufficient information at this time about the effectiveness of lycium.
- The berries of the plant contain beta-carotene, niacin, pyridoxine and ascorbic acid and the berries may have liver protective properties.
- Possible drug interactions include an increase in the effects of warfarin (Coumadin). The berries may also increase white blood cell counts in some patients.
Source: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database
I hope this information is helpful to you.