As a breast cancer coach, one of the most asked questions is how to cope with Tamoxifen side effects, so today I’m offering assistance!
Tamoxifen is a drug recommended for people whose breast cancer cells exhibited estrogen receptors, termed ER+ breast cancer.
The Action of Tamoxifen
Tamoxifen is in a class of drugs called “SERMs” – selective estrogen-receptor modifiers. Tamoxifen’s action is to occupy an estrogen receptor on a cell, thus paralyzing the receptor and preventing it from triggering the events that result in cell division. It does not kill cancer cells, rather it disables them or puts them to sleep. Tamoxifen targets not only the estrogen receptors in breast tissue, but also all of the other cells in the body that have estrogen receptors.
Tamoxifen Side Effects
Tamoxifen is currently the “gold standard” treatment recommended for all women with hormone driven breast cancer, regardless of the stage. The recommendation of most oncologists for women with ER+ breast cancer is that taking this medication for 5 years after a breast cancer diagnosis can supposedly reduce the risk of recurrence by up to 50%, which is a very persuasive figure. They are now recommending Tamoxifen use for up to 10 years.
I am not convinced that Tamoxifen is such a wonder drug, and I discuss why in my article Why I Chose Against Hormone Blocking Drugs.
Part of my problem with Tamoxifen is the wide range of side effects which include headaches, dizziness, nausea, hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, leg cramps, hair thinning, brain fog, pins and needles in hands and feet, joint pain, moodiness, depression and anxiety.
Tamoxifen may also put a patient at a higher risk for blood clots in the legs (deep vein thrombosis) and the lungs (pulmonary embolism), endometrial cancer and overgrowth of the lining of the uterus.
Since women are recommended to be on this drug for 5-10 years, their concerns about the side effects and loss of enjoyment of life are very real.
It Doesn’t Work For Everyone
What we are finding out here in the trenches is that this drug works for some but definitely not all. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told by a woman that she took the Tamoxifen for the prescribed amount of time and is still battling her second or even third round of breast cancer. So it is clear that the drug doesn’t work for everyone.
Are There Alternatives To Tamoxifen?
At this time, there do not appear to be any good research studies that directly compare specific diets or nutritional strategies with the use Tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer recurrence. Having said that, we do know that a healthy diet and plenty of exercise are truly important, they do make a big difference, and this has been proven by research studies.
The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) study followed 1,500 women with early stage breast cancer who were treated between 1991 and 2000, and found that women who both ate plenty of vegetables and fruit every day as well as got regular physical activity were nearly 50% less likely to die during the study follow up. In this study both women taking Tamoxifen and not taking Tamoxifen were included, so it is clear that diet and exercise are incredibly important for staying well.
For those who choose to take Tamoxifen, some of the side effects can be quite troublesome and these people really need some help.
Here Are My Best Recommendations For Coping With Tamoxifen Side Effects:
Headaches – Having a regular deep tissue massage and/or acupuncture from qualified practitioners can make a huge difference with headaches. Also, as simple as it may seem, drinking plenty of filtered water can assist your body to clear the drug from your system a little better. So make sure to drink plenty of water (and not tap water!).
Dizziness – As odd as it may seem, meditation can be very helpful with the dizziness associated with Tamoxifen use. If the dizziness becomes severe, however, seek the advice of your doctor. You may need to go off the Tamoxifen or reduce your dosage. As with headaches, drinking more water can often help to ease dizziness.
Nausea – Drink ginger tea. You make it with organic ginger root (not the dried spice), slice off a small chunk of it and put it in hot (just off boiling) water and let it steep for several minutes. Sip as needed.
Hot Flashes & Night Sweats – These are more difficult to solve – these symptoms show that the Tamoxifen is doing its work. You may find that certain herbal remedies like Remifemin assist with the frequency, intensity and duration of hot flashes and night sweats. Traditional Chinese Medicine has a number of herbs that are helpful, so seek the help of a qualified Chinese medicine doctor. For a list of other helpful hints, see my article Tips Tricks and Support For Hot Flashes.
Vaginal Dryness – This is one of the most distressing of the side effects and not often discussed. There is one very safe product I can recommend, a natural lubricant called Sylk. Highly recommended. Also organic coconut oil can be helpful.
Leg Cramps – Take 500 mg of magnesium citrate twice daily. Magnesium is also found in plenty of green leafy vegetables, so eat your salad!
Brain Fog – Essential oils are extremely helpful here because they help to clear off the neuron receptor sites of any accumulated gunk (which can result in brain fog). Deep breathing of oils like basil, peppermint, and frankincense helps to clear your mind, improves memory and brain function. Meditation is also very helpful.
Pins & Needles in Extremities – Again, I recommend the use of massage therapy and/or acupuncture, drinking plenty of water, and it would also be helpful to do a bowel cleanse and a liver cleanse because Tamoxifen is a toxic drug, and cleansing will help you clear chemical residues which may be building up in the tissues of your body.
Joint Pain – This is one of the more widely experienced side effects of Tamoxifen. Yoga is helpful, as is massage therapy, and I also recommend a good quality glucosamine sulfate supplement for joint health, together with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.
Moodiness, Anxiety, Depression – Sometimes associated with Tamoxifen use, but often these problems arise just from the fact that you are going through cancer. It’s better not to ignore them and I recommend getting some counseling. Meditation is extremely helpful for anxiety and moodiness. For depression related to Tamoxifen, check with your doctor to see if you can reduce your dosage of Tamoxifen. Some women are taking it every other day, rather than daily, and still getting good results. Dietary assistance for these problems includes eating lots of fresh organic veggies and fruit, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin B complex – all of these are surprisingly beneficial. One last word about depression – it can come on slowly over a period of several months, and some women will not realize that they are depressed. Pay close attention to this please and get some help if you need it. You may want to discontinue the use of Tamoxifen if the symptoms are severe (discuss this with your doctor). I would not recommend the use of anti-depressants because they may make Tamoxifen less effective.
If you are having problems with any of these side effects (or anything not mentioned above) associated with Tamoxifen and would like more information from me, please feel free to contact me. I have plenty of information about all of the things I have recommended and would be happy to share it with you. I also have a more holistic protocol for staying well without the use of hormone blockers, so please contact me if you would like information about that.
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