Supplements and Myeloma: Helpful or Harmful?

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Topics include: Treatment and Living Well

Are there any supplements that multiple myeloma patients should be taking?  Are there any supplements that could be harmful?  Experts from MD Anderson, Dr. Bob Orlowski, Dr. Lorenzo Cohen and Ally Day, weigh in on supplementation as it applies to myeloma treatment.  Turmeric, green tea and vitamin B12, among others, are all discussed. The experts stress caution related to drug-herb interaction and the importance of disclosing anything you are taking with your healthcare team.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

Jack Aiello:

Ally or Dr. Cohen, are there other supplements I should be considering taking as a myeloma patient? 

Dr. Orlowski:     

Actually, I can say real quick turmeric, which is I think the compound that makes it yellow is curcumin, which is what people do take.

We did a trial here at MD Anderson at one time. Frankly, we’re willing to try anything that we think will help myeloma patients. We don’t care if it’s a chemotherapy or an alternative treatment or whatever.  If it helps people, that’s what’s important.  This was what we call a single arm study, which means that there wasn’t a comparison group. And what we saw was that some patients had stable disease for prolonged periods of time.  Others, unfortunately, the myeloma grew.  No one had a reduction in their myeloma level.

And because some people with myeloma can stay stable without any treatment, we couldn’t say for sure that the people on the curcumin who were stable wouldn’t have been stable otherwise.  So we couldn’t really conclude that it was either helpful or hurtful from that study.

Ally Day:               

But if that’s a supplement you’re interested in taking, then, at least from my physician’s point of view, that would not be a problem.  We also get some patients who take other supplements like vitamin B12, vitamin B6, L-Lysine maybe to help with neuropathy issues as well. And those are okay as well as long as you tell us that you’re starting to take it.  Sometimes, people start taking supplements on their own. And because they’re not prescription medications, they don’t think it’s something worthy of telling the physician or the nurse.  But please tell us so that we can document that in case something happens later down the line. And we just have everything to look back on to get the full picture.

Jack Aiello:         

So if you didn’t hear that, tell your doctor anything else you’re taking.

Dr. Cohen:           

So the biggest concern about supplements is, as you heard, this negative what we could call drug-herb interaction. And it could be with things that you would think are relatively benign and not important to bring up like I drink a gallon of green tea every day.

There’s probably nothing wrong with drinking two or three cups of green tea a day, but if you’re on treatment, then there are more concerns. We know that grapefruit can activate metabolism along certain pathways. So drinking a lot of grapefruit we know is something people are told not to do.  And this has to do, importantly, when you’re undergoing active treatment in particular.  So we want to—probably at least one-third of the patients who come into our integrative medicine center to meet with our doctors want guidance in the area of herbs and supplements. And there are some things that you can do safely alongside treatment. 

There are some things you shouldn’t do. And then there are things that we can postpone and wait until treatment is over. And importantly, in terms of the area of vitamins and minerals, it’s important to supplement if you’re deficient.

So we are probably all in this room deficient in vitamin D. But maybe not everyone.  So before we start supplementing, work with your physician to get your levels checked.  If you’re going to choose to be vegetarian, you probably need to check your vitamin B12 because a good source of B12 comes from red meat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t potentially get it from food. So the ideal is to get all of these vitamins and minerals from food. 

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you. 

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Page last updated on September 15, 2015