Complementary and alternative brain cancer treatments

Complementary and alternative brain cancer treatments

Enlightened Medicine - using complementary therapies to improve the success of your cancer treatment programme

This article aims to demonstrate just how many complementary approaches are available to the average brain cancer patient - if only they knew what research was available. We will look at diet, supplements, stress management and even killing yeasts and parasites! You can find more examples of how people used complementary and alternative brain tumour treatments to beat their brain cancer here.

This article finishes with comments by top brain cancer oncologist Dr Henry Friedman, and AMY’s Story - about a lady with a brain tumour who built a complementary programme around Friedman’s orthodox approach; something he is happy to call ’Enlightened Medicine’.

At CANCERactive our aim is simply to increase your personal odds of beating cancer. No more, no less. You can also go to our article on using the ACTIVE8 Programme for yourself. Or you can find out more about a Personal Prescription with Chris Woollams.

A few complementary and alternative approaches to brain tumours

By Madeleine Kingsley and Chris Woollams

Just as cancer is a multi-step process, so the best treatment for brain tumours involves more in the way of treatment than merely keeping appointments with the neurosurgeon and oncologist. As Chris Woollams says, the battle against cancer is rarely won by one move alone; it’s not as simple as stamping on a cockroach. Over the past 10 years CANCERactive has flagged up a rich array of supportive therapies that can, in your chosen time, lift your mind, mood and spirit, alleviate symptoms and side-effects whilst positively strengthening your body.

That’s the beauty of complementary treatment. It’s not must-take medicine to be passively endured. Whether you go for acupuncture, healing, nutritional support, yoga or counseling is entirely your choice and in your control. And choice helps restore mastery over a life that sometimes feels hi-jacked by the white-coated. If surgery, chemo and radiotherapy represent the armoury against brain tumours, then complementary and alternative treatments could be the paint palette there to enrich, brighten and soothe an all too grim and dark phase of existence. We have come a long way since Chris Woollams questioned his daughter Catherine’s oncologist about supportive supplements during her radiotherapy. His suggestions for a detox and vitamins were dismissed but eventually the oncologist mentioned tests at St Thomas’ Hospital that showed how both Selenium and Soya Isoflavones upped the effectiveness of radiotherapy for brain tumours. "When did you intend to tell us this?" asked Chris.

1. Nutrition, Lifestyle and Supplements for brain tumours

Chris actually went on with his research and discovered that the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas was saying that the Chinese herb Astragalus could also improve the success of radiotherapy. Since that time he has found research that melatonin, a low carb diet, controlling blood sugar with berberine (or metformin) and Hyperbaric Oxygen can all help.

Then he was approached by a researcher and doctor from Geoff Pilkington’s group who wanted to conduct clinical trials on six natural compounds all of which had been shown in preliminary research to help brain tumour patients. Those compounds were fish oils (long-chain omega-3), curcumin, echinacea, Coenzyme Q10, soya lecithin (which includes choline and inositol) and chokeberry. But then omega-3, choline and inositol are known to be brain-protective, while coenzyme Q10 helps mitochondria function properly, echinacea stimulates the white immune cells, and curcumin does the same while reducing inflammation and it also causes cancer cell death.

And all get across the blood brain barrier.

Someone who beat a brain cancer is Professor Ben Williams. Back in 1997, he built a programme around his orthodox medicine, a programme that included Diet and supplements, but also, off label drugs

* Metformin to cut blood sugar

* Melatonin and Tamoxifen to cut estrogen

* Mebendazole (a human parasite killer) which has an effect (rather like the drug Vinicristine) against brain tumour cells

* Accutane, an acne treatment that seems able to kill cancer stem cells). 

You can read the Ben Williams story HERE.

If brain tumours are stem cell/oestrogen-driven, there are plenty of ways of reducing your own estrogen levels. For example:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight - fat increases levels of the hormone in the body while holding toxins
  • Go organic - a number of herbicides and pesticides, once in the body, are known to mimic the actions of oestrogen. Worst offenders Lindane and DDT were banned in the USA and Europe, but only for usage. Still made, they are sold to third world countries and can appear today in a supermarket near you on imported food.
  • Cutting in-home toxins certain in-home cleaners, toiletry products, personal care products and even common packaging, contain chemicals like toluene, perfume, phthalates, BPA, toluene, parabens which mimic the action of oestrogen in the body 
  • Taking multi-strain probiotics: beneficial bacteria in the gut have now been shown in research to be capable of binding to oestrogenic products in the gut and aiding their elimination. Moreover, parasites (yeasts, viruses, and pathogens have been increasingly identified as present in brain tumours. Parasite and yeast killers may be taken with the probiotic. (See: Scientist finds parasite in all cases of brain tumours). They are easy to get rid of.
  • Eat lots of broccoli or supplement; indole 3 carbinol in broccoli can help convert aggressive oestrogens to safer alternatives. Sleeping well in a darkened room and/or taking melatonin can be important.
  • Mushrooms like Coriolus, Maitake and Shiitake are anti-oestrogenic and have the added benefits of increasing the immune system and even, in some cases, attacking cancer cells. Even button mushrooms.
  • Flaxseed, crushed on your food can aid blood oxygenation and also reduce human oestrogen levels.
  • Sleep because melatonin is important in the fight against brain cancer.
  • Eat Polyphenols  because they are in the top ten natural compounds that kill cancer stem cells

Obviously, EXERCISE is an important factor in reducing excess fat levels and weight. It also stimulates positive hormones, and moves the lymph, stimulating your immune system. Daily, light to moderate exercise for 45 minutes, in research, has been shown to significantly increase survival times. Go and get puffed!

SUNSHINE acts on the cholesterol layers below the skin to produce vitamin D. And vitamin D activates your attacking T-cells. Without enough vitamin D in the body, you just don't have an effective immune system. US research even shows it can normalise cancer cells and restore them to health. If you cannot go in the sun for 90 minutes every day, take 5000 IUs of vitamin D supplement.

Chris Woollams has two books which shed more light on all this: The Rainbow Diet and how it can help you beat cancer, and Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer.

Some other ideas include:

  • Berberine, a blood sugar lowering herbal constituent, has clinical research showing it can improve the performance of brain tumour drugs. Metformin (the diabetes drug) has also been used in the same way.
  • Pine bark and grape seed extract (OPCs) have immune boosting effects and research on their benefits for the brain.
  • Green tea has high antioxidant potential, as has resveratrol, which particularly affects brain cells.
  • An Epsom Salts liver flush, magnesium, milk thistle, dandelion, black raddish and boldo tea can all help clean the liver, which is a vital organ in the fight against cancer.
  • Sugar should be avoided. It poisons brain cells. Look into a Ketogenic Diet (a form of the Rainbow Diet) below or the Atkins Diet..
  • You should eat more greens, whole plant foods and pulses - they reduce the level of human oestrogens by increasing the far, far safer plant oestrogens. Lignans help bind to, and remove, fats and toxins. All cross the blood brain barrier. But greens are an essential source of vitamin K and the latest research from the USA shows how this protects the liver whilst enhancing the action of vitamin D against cancer cells.
  • Mistletoe is another compound, albeit with limited clinical trials behind it; useful for keeping the liver detoxified when having chemotherapy; there is research on the treatment (usually injections) showing it also has an effect with brain tumours.
  • The drug chlomipramine may have some effect, and research suggests it enhances the abilities of Temozolomide.
  • Anti-inflammatory compounds are important. Not just fish oil and curcumin, but ginger,frankincense (Boswelia), ashwanga, and a small (75mg) aspirin and antihistamines like Desloratadine can be helpful.

Complementary health guru, Jan de Vries, reminds that old remedies offer renewed promise. He too quotes mistletoe - under the trade name of Iscador - a hallmark remedy of the Ita Wegman clinic, Zurich, Switzerland or through doctors who have trained there. Iscador injections says Jan de Vries have been around for years but continue to give good results. Iscador is mistletoe (viscum album) and for brain tumours, its specifically loranthus or mistletoe that grows in the wild oak. Unfortunately this has to be administered by doctors: its not on free sale.

Another almost revolutionary development is IP6, a product developed by Dr Abulkalam Shamsuddin, Professor of Pathology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. This IP6 - Inositol Hexaphosphte IP6 has proven to be very helpful in all cancer cases but especially in brain tumours. "We have lots of good results with IP6 which is a protein found on the inner wall of a rice grain. Its freely available because it’s administered as a rice product. The tremendous benefit is that it controls not only the cancer cells but the free radicals that promote the cancer. Such questions (about complementary therapies) need no longer fall on deaf (or over-busy) ears. Approachable experts have responded to a very real need,"he says.

2. The Ketogenic Diet and brain cancer

Katie Sheen, a nutritional therapist and lecturer at the University of Worcester, became interested in ’eating to combat cancer’, 10 years ago when her brother-in-law was diagnosed with a low grade astrocytoma. He and his family launched Astro Fund, the only charity in the UK to focus on low grade glioma research. Says Katie, "My brother-in-law saw that the astrocytoma is such a perversely beautiful cell: it looks like a starburst. So that’s how the charity was named he wanted it to be a light in the darkness".

Katie’s focus on the ketogenic diet could be, at the very least, a torch or a beacon for those looking for an adjuvant therapy for brain cancer: working on her dissertation, she discovered that the Mayo clinic was using this diet as a mainstream treatment for children with medication-resistant epilepsy: "Basically it’s the antithesis of what you’d imagine," says Katie. It’s a very high fat, calorie-restricted diet (whipped cream and animal fats permitted), with moderate but adequate protein and very low carbs. There are variations (MCT, Modified Atkins, which you can read about on the website Matthew’s Friends). But the whole point of the diet is that it puts the body into ketosis. That’s the state the human body goes into under starvation, when it burns fat for energy. Healthy brain cells can use ketones for energy but a brain tumour can only use glucose. Says Katie, "It’s such an incredibly simple metabolic approach: you starve the tumour of sugar".

Investigating further, Katie came upon the Ketogenic Diet work of Dr. Thomas Seyfried at Boston College, Massachusetts who was researching the ketogenic effect on brain cancer. He cited the example of two children with high grade brain tumours, both of whom were beyond further medical help. The nutritional department was allowed to try the diet: One child responded well and survived at least another 10 years. (Nebeling et al, J Am Coll Nutr. 1995 Apr;14(2):202-8). In Italy, a 65 year old woman with glioblastoma multiforme started a calorie-restricted ketogenic diet in combination with chemotherapy. Tumour regression was seen on scanning, but 10 weeks after lapsing from the diet the tumour progressed further (Zuccoli et al, Nutrition & Metabolism 2010;7:33).

A number of groups have researched this diet in animal models for brain and prostate tumours. It is now being researched with humans.

Nobody at the moment is suggesting that this approach is a substitute for medical treatment but it could a very useful adjunct.

"Now," says Katie, "a research group led by Adrienne Scheck in Arizona is doing experimental work on a glioma mouse model and getting very good results so we hope to be able to get a phase I clinical trial under way in the UK soon, to build on promising results from a German trial which has just published". ( The diet needs to be done under strict supervision by a competent professional (a nutritional therapist could do this with the appropriate skill).

3. Overall Wellness and brain cancer

At NorthShore University HealthSystem in Glenview, Illinois, Leslie Mendoza-Temple, MD and medical director of the integrative medicine program says specifically of brain tumours, "The idea is to optimize a person’s overall wellness".

"Several types of bodywork can help especially for pain and dizziness. Acupuncture and massage therapy stimulate endorphins and help minimise pain symptoms, including headache,"says Dr. Mendoza-Temple. "Acupuncture can also help with dizziness. Tai chi is really great for people with brain tumors, especially cerebellum tumors, because it sharpens balance skills and confidence, which reduces the risk of falling".

Meditation is also recognized by the US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a mind-body practice that can be helpful in managing the symptoms of various illnesses. One form of meditation, known as mindfulness, is newly popular among medical researchers for its benefits in stress reduction. "Mindfulness is a very useful way for brain tumor patients to reduce stress and get a better sense of control over their situation", says Mendoza-Temple.

A specialist Centre for Mindfulness at Bangor University is currently researching (with Oxford University) best practice for lifting depression. Mindfulness has its root in Buddhist spiritual practice and seeks to focus an individual on experience in the moment. The idea is to encourage awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings and sensations in a way that suspends judgment and self criticism a particularly valuable tool for those on a cancer journey who too often find themselves swept away by a riptide of thoughts and feelings, worries, pressures, responsibilities and wanting things to be different from how they are right now. Feeling stuck in this riptide can be draining and lock one into the pain, difficulties and misery of illness that confound our attempts to find a solution or to feel better. Mindfulness can help you to handle the struggle and so genuinely improve your quality of life. You can visit the official UK website of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

4. And now, an example of how Complementary and Alternative therapies beat brain cancer.

American Airlines flight attendant, Amy Pomykal, credits a cornucopia of supplements from the Life Extension Foundation for her quick recovery from an aggressive, malignant brain tumour. Amy is just one example of a Living Proof that complementary and alternative therapies can beat a serious cancer.

Diagnosed in April 2002, she was running a marathon in December, having had eight hours of surgery in May followed by simultaneous chemo and radiation. Amy’s story is particularly poignant because she had escaped the fate of her 9/11 colleagues and was contemplating a career change or, at 32, starting a family with her husband, when she was struck down by anaplastic glioblastoma. "They basically told me my days were numbered. I felt like I was going to die," she recalls. "I couldn’t speak because of the tumour and I remember being angry".

Amy’s husband, a cautious and conservative man, became her treatment advocate, sharing the role with her sister Keri who took a more daring and enquiring approach. It was Keri who researched the Life Extension supplement programme on the net and acquired them in time to support Amy’s brain during radiotherapy and protect against potential memory loss. The pills and potions were so numerous they had to be stored in a fishing tackle box. They seemed to conserve her stamina during post-operative treatment too - she could still play tennis twice a week and kept all her hair. "Running that race was not", Amy reflects, "the brightest thing I’ve ever done, but I lived through it!" She also used visualisation, imagining the tumour shrinking, herself growing older. "I prayed a lot for strength and the ability to make good decisions."

Knowing the prognosis was still very poor, Keri directed her sister to a cutting-edge clinical trial at the Brain Tumour Center at Duke University Medical Centre. The trial was officially closed but Amy was given special dispensation by medical director Dr John Sampson. This trial involved culturing the patients dendritic cells with RNA from the tumour to produce a strong immune response against the cancer cells. Every fortnight for six weeks, Amy received her injections and three months later her scan showed marked improvement. Six months on, in January 2004, the tumour had disappeared. Dr. Henry Friedman, co-director of Duke neuro-oncology programme takes a progressive attitude to complementary treatments like Amy’s. As long as she told her doctors what she was taking, and it wasn’t toxic, he was content. His belief is that empowering patients in their own care achieves the best outcome. "We have no proof that what she was taking might hurt her, and it might help. We don’t know the answer" says Friedman. "We could say the same things about what we were doing. I think it’s enlightened medicine. It’s admitting where you don’t know what’s going to go on, but following the principle of ’Do no harm’."

Since her illness Amy has become the mother of two children. She continues to take her supplements along with her anti-seizure medication.

"I believe the supplements did a lot, and that I’ve done well because of them, and my mental attitude and my faith. I believe that I’m going to survive."


Amy Pomykals Supplement Regime

Drugs: Neurontin (anti-seizure drug)

600 mg/day

Super-Absorbable CoQ10


Super EPA/DHA with Sesame Lignans
& Olive Fruit Extract


Green Tea Extract


Norwegian Shark Liver Oil


Super Selenium Complex


Grape Seed Extract with Resveratrol




Echinacea Extract


Ultra Soy Extract



20 mg/day

Super Booster


Pure Gar




IP-6 and Inositol


Alfacalcidol (Vitamin D3 Rx form)

2.5 mcg/day

Curcumin and turmeric


Boswellic acid



3000 GDU 3x/day

Squalamine extract



500 mg/day



Whey protein

1 scoop daily

Greens formula


Coriolus versicolor mushroom extract


Maitake D-Fraction




Colostrum extract

425 mg/day


500 mg/day

Enzyme formula


OPC (oligomeric proanthocyanidins)


Beta 1,3, glucans






And so we come full circle to almost the same things Chris found in his research. Now, thankfully, whatever your cancer, at CANCERactive, Chris and the team of doctors, herbalists, naturopaths and so on will tailor you a Personal Prescription based on the unique ACTIVE8 PROGRAMME (click here to find out more) to help you start your own integrative approach to beating your cancer. Dr. Friedman, now of Duke’s specialist unit - The Preston Robert Tisch Center - called it enlightened medicine. We just call it an information service that tells you all the things shown in research to be of some effect but then we dont treat, we just inform! And we certainly dont believe any one thing, drug or vitamin, is a cure for cancer. But we do believe, to use a famous advertising slogan, that Every Little Helps!

Call 0203 186 1006 to register and find out about options and costs.

Go To: Other Complementary treatments

Go To: Alternative brain cancer treatments that worked for others

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