More and more often, chemotherapy and natural medicine are parts of a union.

Many people who need chemotherapy also look for natural remedies. This research aims at lessening the side effects of certain therapies, or at finding unconventional ones to follow.

Scientific literature counts many studies which demonstrate that, in some cases, chemotherapy and herbal therapy together can improve the healing process.

Integrative cancer treatment is increasing too. There are medical associations who deal just with it (one of them is ARTOI, and conferences are held on the whole national territory every year to promote this integrated medical practice. Many branches of natural medicine come to the aid: homeopathy, anthroposophic medicine, acupuncture, herbal therapy, nutraceuticals etc. in combination with chemotherapy. Their purpose is to make chemotherapy more effective and decrease its damaging effects.

Plants have side effects too. Besides, some substances do interact with chemotherapy drugs. Therefore, when having chemotherapy, it’s absolutely necessary to ask an expert medician before taking any herbal medicinal product or dietary supplement.

Chemotherapy and natural medicine, how do they interact?

Chemotherapy, herbal theraphy and food: how do they interact? All substances that enter the body must pass through the liver to be eliminated. Here they are modified by enzymes (chemical labs) that prepare them for expulsion.
Chemotherapy drugs have many side effects, so each of them is precisely dosed. In fact, the dosage to be taken must be the smallest one, but with the maximum effect.

Some substances are so-called enzyme inducers. These substances stimulates enzymes to work faster. Let’s make an example: I take a medication that needs to stay in my body for 6 hours to be effective. At the same time, I take a substance that works as an enzyme inducer. In this case, the medication will be eliminated faster from my body. So, it may be ineffective, but however full of its side effects.

Some other substances are enzyme inhibitors. They decrease the working speed of the liver enzymes. A less efficient elimination system may leave chemotherapy drugs in our body for a longer time, thus making them much more toxic.

Other substances have an effect that opposes the effect of the chemotherapy drug. Like Penelope’s shroud, a medication builds up and another builds down.

Risky vegetable substances

When having chemotherapy, risky vegetable substances are those who interfere with the effect of a medication or with its elimination.


Echinacea is a powerful herb to increase the immune defenses of the organism. If it’s taken along with most chemotherapy drugs, it can reduce their effects. Be careful to echinacea as an herbal remedy also when taking immunosuppressives. These therapies are meant for autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
In fact, echinacea interferes with drugs like methotrexate.


Hypericum, or St John’s wort, is used as an herbal remedy for mood disorders. And it’s easy to need support when undergoing chemotherapy!
Hypericum is an enzyme inducer, so chemotherapy may not have enough time to be effective. Also some synthetic drugs for depression may give this kind of problem, but in this case it’s competence of the medician to adjust their dosage when prescribing them.


Ginseng is an Oriental herb whose root is used. Many people take it as an energiser. During chemotherapy it’s normal to feel tired and ginseng may seem useful. But it may interact with the drugs, because it’s an enzyme inhibitor.


Aloe is a plant with big and thick leaves from which a gel is extracted. It’s not good to use it along with some types of chemotherapy drugs which contain platinum. In fact, a substance contained in the aloe juice, aloemodine, may make these medications less effective.

Grapefruit juice

Grapefruit juice is a thirst quencher that many people like. But it’s a powerful enzyme inhibitor. It raises the concentration of the medication in the body, therefore also its toxic effects. A 250ml glass shows its action during 24 hours. This juice should be avoided also when taking a pill for 5 years after breast cancer intervention.


Soy is a legume which should be avoided when undergoing a chemotherapy that uses a class of drugs called taxols. In this case, soy acts like an enzyme inhibitor, thus increasing the concentration of the medication in the blood.

Chamomile and mint essential oil

Chamomile and mint essential oil taken by mouth may interfere with anastrozole. This medication is prescribed as a pill to be taken everyday for 5 years after some forms of breast cancer. Chamomile reduces the concentration of the drug, while mint essential oil increases it.



Opuscolo Informativo realizzato dal gruppo di lavoro Farmacia Oncologica IRST e

Farmacia Ospedaliera AUSL Romagna sede Forlì

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