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Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Leukemia

A comprehensive treatment plan for leukemia may include a range of complementary and alternative therapies.

Standard medical treatment for leukemia usually involves either chemotherapy, radiation therapy or both. There is no evidence that anything but current medically approved standard therapy can stem the progression of or cure these cancers. Therefore, standard therapy should not be replaced by any unproven remedy.

Although standard treatment has greatly improved survival for individuals with leukemia, the side effects can be difficult. There are certain complementary and alternative therapies, which can be used in addition to the treatment prescribed by their doctor.

Complementary therapies are those that are used in combination with, or in addition to, the standard medical treatment prescribed by your doctor. Complementary therapies are usually used to relieve symptoms, alleviate pain or the side effects of standard cancer treatment, and to improve overall physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Alternative therapies are promoted for use instead of the standard cancer treatment prescribed by your doctor. Any therapy promoted for use instead of the standard medical treatment to fight cancer is considered alternative.

Diet & Nutrition

Eating the following nutrient-dense foods that are high in antioxidants may help protect against cancer: dark berries, orange and yellow vegetables, dark leafy greens, fresh vegetable juices containing wheatgrass, beets, romaine lettuce, parsley, and cucumber.

Regularly consume yogurt, deep orange vegetables (carrots, squash, sweet potatoes), vegetables in the cabbage family, tomatoes, citrus fruit, and dark green leafy vegetables. Remember to go for the color. The deeper the color of fruit or veggie, the more nutrients.

Follow the Food Pyramid

A good way to help make sure you are following a healthy eating plan is to use the USDA Food Pyramid as a guide. The pyramid recommends six groups of food that you need to eat to promote good health, and it lists them in descending order of the amounts you need to eat every day. Following the pyramid means eating:

  • 6-11 servings of breads and cereals, rice or pasta

  • 2-4 servings of fruit

  • 3-5 servings of vegetables

  • 2-3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, nuts and eggs

  • Sparing amounts of fats and oils for flavor

  • If you do use fat in your diet, try to stick to monounsaturated fat from oil, canola and fish oils; they all provide Omega-3 fatty acids, which are an important part of a healthy diet.

Things to Avoid

  • The use of alcohol, even in moderate amounts, is associated with increased risk for cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast. Women at high risk for breast cancer might consider abstaining from it altogether. There are no known protective effects of alcohol against cancer to counterbalance the known cancer risks of moderate to heavy use.

  • Alfatoxins are naturally occurring poisons caused by molds during the harvesting, shipment or storage of foods, particularly nuts, grains and seeds. Always store these foods in sealed containers, and throw them away if they become moldy.

  • A Zen macrobiotic diet which proceeds through 10 dietary stages, until one eats only brown rice and water, is not recommended for preventing cancer. (However, the more liberal version -- which includes whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, tofu and vegetables -- is quite consistent with dietary recommendations for preventing cancer.) Macrobiotic diets of any kind should be avoided by people who have cancer already, because they may not provide enough calories and protein to protect against the wasting effects -- or cachexia -- associated with cancer.

  • Foods grilled at very high temperatures, especially fatty foods, should be avoided. The smoke produced by the burning fat produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which may be carcinogenic. You can reduce the negative effects of grilling by trimming as much as possible from meats, skinning poultry before broiling, and not putting frozen meats on the grill.

  • Smoked foods tend to absorb carcinogens that are similar chemically to cigarette tars in tobacco smoke.

  • Salt-cured, pickled and nitrite-cured foods may increase the risk of cancer.


Potentially beneficial nutrient supplements include those listed below.

  • Vitamin A (25,000 IU a day), vitamin E (800 IU a day), vitamin C (3 to 6 g a day), and selenium (200 to 400 mcg a day) have antioxidant activity and may decrease side effects of chemotherapy and radiation

  • Vitamin D (400 to 800 IU a day) may help promote differentiation of cells

  • B-complex (50 to 100 mg a day) with additional B12 (1,200 mcg a day) and folic acid (800 mcg a day) for anemia.

  • Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). CoQ10, an antioxidant and potential immune stimulator, is sold in capsule form and is being studied in persons with leukemia, and other cancers. Some results indicate that this therapy may be useful as a complementary therapy, enhancing the immune system and providing protection against the harmful effects of radiation and/or some chemotherapy drugs on healthy tissues. On occasion, individuals taking this supplement have experienced mild side effects such as headache, heartburn, fatigue, diarrhea, and rash. CoQ10 is being studied to further determine whether it is beneficial, whether it is safe, and for whom.

Supplements should be taken with good food, not instead of good food.


The use of certain herbal remedies may support the lymphatic system, spleen, bone marrow, and liver. Take a combination of the following herbs in equal parts, 30 to 60 drops three times a day.

  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)

  • Blue flag (Iris versicolor)

  • Yellow Dock
    (Rumex crispus); for late-stage
    disease, substitute greater celandine
    (Chelidonium majus) for yellowdock

  • Poke root (Phytolacca americana)

  • Tree of life (Thuja occidentalis)

  • Cleavers (Galium aparine)

  • Cornflower
    (Echinacea purpurea)

  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa) (250 to 500 mg two
    to three times a day)

  • Periwinkle (Vinca rosea) and autumn primrose
    (Colchicum officinale).

    Note: these are potentially toxic herbs to consider for use only under a supervising physician.

Herbs are generally available as dried extracts (pills, capsules, or tablets), teas, or tinctures (alcohol extraction, unless otherwise noted). Dose for teas is 1 heaping tsp./cup water steeped for 10 minutes (roots need 20 minutes).

Hoxsey- herbal formula

Purported to be an immune-boosting remedy, this herbal formula was developed in the early 1900s to treat cancer and is now offered in Tijuana. The formula, which may be used on the skin or taken as a liquid, consists of agents such as bloodroot, arsenic sulfide, sulfur, licorice, red clover, burdock root, barberry, cascara, and other herbs. Advocates of this treatment say that it strengthens the immune system and causes cancer cells to die. Side effects, such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting - and some more serious conditions - have been observed with the ingredients used in the Hoxsey treatment.


An experienced homeopath can prescribe a regimen for treating leukemia that is designed especially for you. Acute remedies may be useful for relief of symptoms associated with complications.


Homeopathic remedies are prescribed by symptoms rather than conditions, as each case of a particular illness can manifest differently in different people.


Developed in China more than 2000 years ago, this is a complementary therapy that has been studied thoroughly. Acupuncture is a technique which involves the placing of needles into the skin at certain points, called meridians. This therapy has been proven effective as a complementary therapy against general muscle pain and the nausea and vomiting of chemotherapy.

Chinese herbs and acupuncture may be a powerful adjunct to conventional therapy.

There is also some evidence that acupuncture may lessen the need for conventional pain-relieving drugs.

It is important to speak with your doctor about any complementary or alternative therapies you are currently using or considering.

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