Wheatgrass for cancer?
April 9, 2012 10:04 PM   Subscribe

Have you or anyone you've known had luck with an alternative cancer treatment - wheatgrass in particular?

My SO's father is ill with complications from surgery to remove cancer of the esophagus (following a round of chemo and radiation). Since the surgery, he's had a few bouts of pneumonia and temporary kidney failure. He's now on a ventilator, is being fed through a tube, can't swallor or speak. [ But hey, they got the cancer...wohoo or something like that :/ ] His kidneys are failing again and will need dialysis, but after 4 months at the hospital, the doctors are recommending shutting everything down. We don't want to give up on him. We believe that if we had a chance to boost up his immune system and he could kick the infections in the lungs, his kidneys may resume their function and he could potentially buy a few more years.

We'd like to try some alternative therapies for the reinforcement of his immune system - not necessarily alternative cancer therapies but rather, an extraordinary high immune boost. Do you or anyone you've known had luck with this? Any experience with wheatgrass in this type of situation? Potentially the most challenging - how can this be administered in a hospital setting where it's likely that the hospital won't consent to administering anything that's outside its treatement protocol? Any other creative ways that wheatgrass can be absorbed beside through the mouth?

Thanks in advance for any light you may shed on this!
posted by gardenbex to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There is an article at the American Cancer Society about wheatgrass. Among other things, it says:

The wheatgrass diet was developed by Boston resident Ann Wigmore, who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania. Wigmore believed strongly in the healing power of nature. Wigmore's notion that fresh wheatgrass had value came from her interpretation of the Bible and observations that dogs and cats eat grass when they feel ill. Wigmore claimed that the wheatgrass diet could cure disease.

In 1982, the Massachusetts Attorney General sued Wigmore for claiming that her program could reduce or eliminate the need for insulin in diabetics. She later retracted her claims. In 1988, the Massachusetts Attorney General sued Wigmore again, this time for claiming that an "energy enzyme soup" she invented could cure AIDS. Wigmore was ordered to stop representing herself as a physician or person licensed to treat disease. Although Wigmore died in 1993, her Creative Health Institute is still active. Wheatgrass is readily available, and her diet is still in use.
Wheatgrass is a natural source of vitamins and minerals. However, available scientific evidence does not support the idea that wheatgrass or the wheatgrass diet can cure or prevent disease. One small early study found that wheatgrass juice, when used along with standard medical care, seemed to help control symptoms of chronic inflammation of the large intestine, a condition called ulcerative colitis.

In the situation you describe, wheatgrass is apparently not known to be any more effective than a balanced diet and may (because it is ingested raw, not boiled to kill bacteria/mold) actually be aggressively detrimental to somebody in marginal health.

I understand that you want the best for your SO's father, but this is a bad plan.
posted by mhoye at 10:23 PM on April 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

On preview, I found the same article as mhoye, not going to repost it.

Raw honey on the other hand is well-documented as an antibiotic and for breathing problems. There is a risk of allergic reaction though. But if he can't drink or eat the honey, I don't think you're going to have much luck administering it.
posted by lizbunny at 10:28 PM on April 9, 2012

Not to threadsit, but an important distinction: I'd like to hear first or second-hand experiences with alternative therapies, wheatgrass in particular, and to potentially get creative ideas on how wheatgrass may be administered to a person who can't swallow.

Most importantly, is there a way to incorporate an alternative therapy component to a traditional medical approach in a hospital setting in? I'd imagine the hospital would refuse due to liability issues, but is there another way to do this - by indemnification or by some other way?

Please limit your responses to the actual questons asked. Thanks!
posted by gardenbex at 11:00 PM on April 9, 2012

I know you only want answers to your specific questions, and so I can provide the "alternative therapy" recommendation and personal experience...but I'm still not sure I would recommend what you're suggesting.

For alternative therapies...You might check out a consult with nutritionist Jeanne Wallace. I've seen her reports and analysis and am impressed.

It's "alternative" in that she emphasizes diet and an appropriate balance of chemicals inside your body, to discourage and thwart the growth of cancer cells.

It's solid scientifically, in that her suggestions are based on studies she considers valid - placebo-controlled western medical studies, etc. She always provides references to the specific studies backing up her recommendations to a patient, so the patient can research the validity for themselves. And she'll be honest if science has not demonstrated that a fad or cancer treatment is actually proven to be helpful.

If you're working with a nutritional expert whose work is powerful, effective, and aligns with cutting-edge western medicine, the hospital may have more respect for the treatment. I've seen that Jeanne's work is known and respected by some senior level cancer surgeons at UCSF.

That said, I think Jeanne Wallace may not treat or work with someone who's in the acute hospitalized phase...she is almost exclusively focused on cancer treatment, not the pneumonia you're mentioning...but you can call and check with her team. My understanding is that changing the chemical environment in the body (like providing a high dose of any particular food) can have unintended reactions with hospital-administered drugs, so what you're suggesting sounds a bit risky, given what I know from my personal experience. IANAD.
posted by quinoa at 11:28 PM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a physician I am really biting my tongue not to say more but you have requested me not to comment on your plan outside of the specific question you asked.

I have no experience with wheatgrass but I can tell you this: you should be able to give alternative therapies to a patient in the hospital. You cannot make the hospital do it for you, you would have to do it yourself. Sometimes if you ask permission to do this then hospitals will put some sort of order in the medical record like "OK for family to give patient meds" but I'm not quite sure how that would apply to something that's not one of his prescribed meds, it's more of a food item.

You cannot give him anything by mouth - you'd have to put the juice through his G tube, to do this you'll need a cath tip syringe to put the juice in. Your only other option is a wheatgrass enema.

One other thing I will say because I think it's very important. If your family member is on a ventilator I assume that he cannot participate in medical decision making, so I hope that you would not consider this course of action without the full backing of his next of kin/proxy decision maker. I hope that you would believe this is definitely what he would want you to do in this situation (if it is, then god speed. If it might not be, then don't consider it "giving up on him"). Very sorry to hear about his illness and I wish you all the best.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:58 PM on April 9, 2012 [14 favorites]

Yes, twice, but not wheatgrass and not exactly how you think. Also, not a kidney failure but cancer. But I'll tell you the story in case it gets you thinking of ways to apply the stories to your situation.

My mom's cancer was taking over, and traditional chemo wasn't working. She was at MD Anderson, so they knew of early clinical trials -- this is that step after mice, where they need patients to try a treatment that is pretty much completely unproven. These patients have little to lose. Her doctor paired her traditional treatment with a pill that was made from bark of the yew tree, a tree that was being logged out of existence. It worked! The cancer went into remission. Other people in the trial had great success, and it is now sold as the chemotherapy Taxol.

She was in remission for six years when the cancer returned. Again all the traditional chemos were tried, and nothing would force the cancer back into remission. At this point, her health was in very bad shape but there were still a very few trials she could enter into. They gave her a piece of paper with each medicine/treatment listed along with a brief description, and asked her to choose one if she wanted to take it. They were all really, really long shots. We chose one. It didn't work.

My point is that there are these clinical trials that researchers are always running. I'm not a doctor, but my assumption is that they are all listed in a big database of some sort (like for cancer, maybe a database from the National Cancer Institute). They need people with various specific problems that they believe they have a treatment for, but need humans to test. It's worth asking the doctor about.

It's very hard to give up, especially when you feel like you've won so many of the battles in the past. I did not handle that part well with my mom, and I yelled at the doctor to DO SOMETHING as my mom's organs started shutting down. He was upset because he cared for my mom, but he pointed out that even if they could keep her body alive, she was in tremendous pain and her life would never be the one she loved. This, too, is something to consider.

I know it's hard. I'm sorry you're seeing your father go through this.
posted by Houstonian at 2:14 AM on April 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

My point is that there are these clinical trials that researchers are always running. I'm not a doctor, but my assumption is that they are all listed in a big database of some sort (like for cancer, maybe a database from the National Cancer Institute). They need people with various specific problems that they believe they have a treatment for, but need humans to test. It's worth asking the doctor about.

You can search for clinical trials yourself at ClinicalTrials.gov. I did a quick search for "cancer and pneumonia" and found something like 46 trials currently seeking participants. I have no way of knowing if any of these would be appropriate for your SO's father.

Take care of yourself. This is very hard.
posted by shiny blue object at 6:42 AM on April 10, 2012

I'd like to hear first or second-hand experiences with alternative therapies

An ex-ladyfriend's mother had late stage lung cancer. My ladyfriend concentrated primarily on alternative treatments for her mother including wheatgrass and all the nutritional nonsense. Her mother's condition bottom out after the cancer spread to her brain and the rest of her body and made her psychotic and demented. She spend most of her time getting lost and being confused. Then one day, with no warning (she was up and wandering around incoherently the previous day) she died. My ladyfriend was 26 at the time, her mother must have only been in her 50s, maybe a little younger.

My understanding is that my ladyfriend largely didn't cooperate with the hospitals and doctors in the administration of alternative therapies.

It's a sad world.
posted by fuq at 6:48 AM on April 10, 2012

Purely anecdotal, and with no scientific backing but you asked for personal experiences and add to that that it's not specifically about wheatgrass but another idea you might consider.

My father had lung cancer and had to have pretty much 1 full and part of his remaining lung removed, he was in a very bad way from the radiation treatments and the like, the doctors gave him roughly 6 months if all went well. He came home and went on a very healthy eating program which included vast quantities of berries of pretty much any sort, anything with a strong colour he'd heat a punnet or 2 of a day (Australian punnets are smaller and cost a lot more than they do in the US but roughly 2 cups) but included lots of raspberries and blueberries. These could be given to him in juice/puree form through his tube, though you'd have to watch out for consistency etc so I'd speak to the nurses or doctors about that.

He lived almost another 18 months before the cancer spread to his heart. That is the good side, and we are glad he did that as he got to meet his grandson, from his point of view I am not sure if he was glad or not as he was in a lot more pain than he had been previously that last 6 months and part of me has always had the impression he wished he had died before the pain levels meant he was doped up all the time, so like others have stated make sure you are doing what he wants.
posted by wwax at 8:19 AM on April 10, 2012

Please limit your responses to the actual questons asked.

The ACS article I linked to notes that some people use wheatgrass enemas, to precisely the same indeterminate and possibly-harmful effect.

Having said that you should be honest with yourself, when you ask people to limit their responses to the "actual questions" you pose, about whether you're looking for alternative treatment suggestions that may produce positive outcomes or just fishing for answers that make you feel good about the last straws you've already decided to grasp.
posted by mhoye at 9:10 AM on April 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

My mother was rediagnosed with cancer about 18 months ago and has been attempting to boost her immune system since her initial diagnosis about 3 years ago. She drinks wheatgrass daily. Other than obviously not curing her cancer, it is very hard on her stomach. She is not, and has never, taken chemo so there are no nausea issues related to that, but more than once I have seen her drink her shot of wheatgrass only to end up vomiting 20 minutes later.

I like wwax's suggestion of juicing raspberries and blueberries. Fresh berry juice while in the hospital is allowed as long as you are allowed to bring in food, which most hospitals do, and I am sure would be welcomed given the usual bland food hospitals dole out. Don't tell the doctors you are administering any kind of any thing, just ask if you can bring in fresh juice and leave it at that.
posted by 8dot3 at 10:21 AM on April 10, 2012

Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences with this horrible disease and who shared words of encouragement. I want to give a special shout out to treehorn+bunny for answering my question with grace and without waxing judgmental. Alternative therapies can be controversial and not everyone will utilize them. Those who were able to speak on their experiences with alternative therapies or how to administer them - thank you so, so much!

PS. My SO's father is still with us. Taking two steps back for every step forward, but still making small strides and still with us.
posted by gardenbex at 9:28 AM on April 24, 2012

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