If you are in the process of weaning yourself off of tamoxifen (and there are many reasons why you might want to do so) and need help with the resulting withdrawal side effects, this article shares some tried and true natural remedies to help you out.
The side effects of tamoxifen can be heinous. There are many reasons for these side effects but the major one is that while tamoxifen initially acts as an estrogen-blocker, over time it begins to have estrogen-like activities. When a person has been on tamoxifen for a lengthy period (and that time period varies between people) they can begin to metabolize the drug as they would estrogen, so withdrawing from it can bring on quite a few menopausal symptoms.
Dr Scott M Sedlacek, an oncologist with Colorado Breast Specialists in Denver stated back in 1998 that when a woman stops taking the drug, she can experience estrogen withdrawal. Dr Selacek stated “Perhaps the longer a woman takes tamoxifen, the more likely it will be metabolized as an estrogen and therefore stimulate some of these cancers to recur.”
And that is just what we are finding – the very drug that is meant to protect us from breast cancer recurrence CAN also cause it. I can’t tell you how many women I have personally spoken with who have told me that they took tamoxifen for the recommended five years, only to have breast cancer come back later.
Tamoxifen Is Toxic To The Body
Tamoxifen is toxic to the body, especially to the liver. Even the US Government website http://livertox.nih.gov advises “Long term tamoxifen therapy has been associated with development of fatty liver, steatohepatitis, cirrhosis, and rare instances of clinically apparent acute liver injury.” 1
California has a law called Proposition 65 that requires the state to publish and maintain a list of known carcinogens. In May 1995, California’s Carcinogen Identification Committee voted unanimously to add tamoxifen to that list, and in 1996 the World Health Organization designated tamoxifen a human carcinogen.
As you can see, there is ample reason to stop taking it.
To Wean Yourself Off Tamoxifen
There is no need to taper off the use of Tamoxifen, you can just stop taking it. However, some women report that they fared better when tapering the use of it, that tapering off helped to lessen the side effects. To do this:
1. Rather than taking your usual daily dose, take a dose every other day and do this for two weeks. For instance, take it on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday the first week and Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday the next week.
2. Then take a dose every third day for one to two weeks. For instance, if the last dose was on a Saturday, take the next dose on Tuesday and Friday and the following week Sunday and Wednesday. At this point, you can stop altogether.
Natural Remedies To Help With Tamoxifen Withdrawal Side Effects
You may experience some side effects from withdrawal of tamoxifen, depending upon how long you have been taking it. Woman speak to me of depression, terrible hot flashes, joint pains, body aches, lethargy, feeling like they have the flu, just an all-over-not-feeling-so-great experience. These side effects do not occur with everyone, but just be aware that they can happen, it’s not out of the ordinary.
For Depressed Mood or Mood Swings:
Food: Ensure you are eating well and including plenty of fresh organic vegetables and organic protein in your diet. Protein is especially important because it is necessary for good hormone levels, it has a hormone balancing effect. Also include legumes, nuts, seeds, roasted soy nuts, freshly ground flaxseed and other omega-3 fats for good brain health and neural connections, raw cruciferous vegetables, lukewarm chamomile tea (not too hot as that can usher in a hot flash!)
Exercise: Also helps to elevate the mood. Whatever you like to do for exercise, get up and do it (even though you may not feel like it – it really does help lift the mood.)
Essential Oils: Basil, frankincense, lemon, a blend called Clarity – diffuse them in the room where you are sitting, massage them into the sides of your neck (dilute first if your skin is sensitive), rub them onto the bottoms of your feet before you go to bed.
Supplements: B vitamins assist a proper functioning nervous system, St John’s Wort, Transfer Factors (strengthening the immune system is known to help reduce depression), Panax Ginseng
Massage therapy: Research indicates massage therapy is excellent for depression, and being a massage therapist I can highly recommend it. I see a marked change in my clients that have depression after receiving a massage. You can’t beat a pair of highly trained hands for nurture-ability and easing your burdens.
Meditation: Helps to calm and balance the nervous system in ways we haven’t even learned yet. Try my guided meditation.
For Hot Flashes:
Food: Eating well is crucial for healthy hormonal balance. The same list of foods as those mentioned for Depressed Mood or Mood Swings can help with hot flashes as well. Also 1 tbsp of Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar has been used successfully by some to help with hot flashes. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, white flour, hot drinks and sugar as they are all known to increase incidence of hot flashes. You can drink herbal tea, just let it cool down a bit first. Cruciferous vegetables are particularly helpful – broccoli, kale and cabbage contain indole-3-carbinol which naturally helps to balance estrogen levels.
Exercise: Recent studies indicate exercise does not really help hot flashes, but I beg to disagree, they obviously didn’t use yoga in their studies. I found yoga to be extremely beneficial because it helps on so many levels to calm the nervous system, it plays a part in hormonal balancing, yoga is an amazing resource.
Essential Oils: Essential oils can have a positive effect on the endocrine system by stimulating particular neurotransmitters that help to relieve hot flashes. Clary sage, peppermint, spearmint, lavender and thyme all have a positive effect on hot flashes. If you are in the midst of a hot flash, a single drop of peppermint on the back of your neck will soon have you feeling much better.
Supplements: Omega-3 fats, black cohosh, vitex or chasteberry, American ginseng, maca – all appear to alleviate the frequency and incidence of hot flashes.
Meditation: Helps to calm and balance the nervous system, even 5-10 minutes of meditation can be very beneficial for hot flashes.
Acupuncture: Studies indicate that acupuncture does indeed help with frequency and severity of hot flashes and my clients who have tried it confirm this. 2
For Joint Pains and Body Aches:
Food: Eating lots of fresh produce definitely helps with joint pains and body aches. Please avoid food known to be inflammatory such as caffeine, white flour and sugars. Fresh ginger and turmeric (curcumin) are extremely good for joint pain, as are freshly ground flaxseed and other omega-3 fats.
Essential Oils: Can be very helpful for joint pain and body aches. My favorites are wintergreen, peppermint, ginger, and a blend called Deep Relief. Rub into affected area.
Supplements: Glucosamine sulphate, omega-3 fats, MSM, ginger, turmeric
Hot Epsom Salt Baths: Use 1 cup of Epsom salts in bathtub, soak for 20 minutes (careful, not too hot as this will exacerbate hot flashes). The magnesium is a wonderful pain reliever and helps draw toxins out of the body.
Arnica Montana ointment: Very helpful for joint pain.
Food: The same list of foods as those mentioned for Depressed Mood or Mood Swings can help with fatigue as well. Especially good quality protein (organic), legumes, vegetables (especially cruciferous), spinach and kale (high in magnesium), avocados, bananas. Drink plenty of filtered water too because dehydration can cause fatigue.
Sleep: If you are feeling especially fatigued, don’t try to fight through it. Nurture yourself and get to bed early. Rise later if you can, take naps, and know that this won’t last forever.
Supplements: B complex vitamins, Transfer Factors, Siberian ginseng, Coenzyme Q10.
Massage therapy: A healing massage session can definitely help with fatigue, it helps to unblock your energy channels.
Bone Density Problems After Withdrawal of Tamoxifen
Estrogen is necessary for good bone health, our bones rely upon it. When taking tamoxifen, premenopausal women are at a higher risk for osteoporosis, and while postmenopausal women have been told that tamoxifen strengthens bone and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, its other side effects make that one particular benefit not worth risking, in my opinion.
According to Professor David S Goodsell, tamoxifen is “serendipitously specific. It is chemically very similar to estrogen, and binds in the same site on the estrogen receptor as the normal hormone. Tamoxifen is not a typical inhibitor, blocking action completely. It is found to have a range of effects, sometimes blocking the action of the receptor, but other times actually activating it…” Professor Goodsell goes on to state that tamoxifen “appears to act like estrogen in bone cells, actually providing the proper signals for bone maintenance.” 3
Maybe so, but still not worth the risk, there are many other, less toxic ways of building good bones and they don’t have the toxicity of this drug.
When withdrawing from tamoxifen, it is important to find out what state your bones are in. Research indicates that withdrawal from tamoxifen does put women at a higher risk of osteoporosis. 4
To help you find out which tests are the best ones to monitor your bone health, go to www.betterbones.com, run by Dr Susan E Brown, a bone specialist and nutritionist. She has a very good article discussing which bone assessment techniques she feels are most advantageous: Bone Density Tests Are Not Enough. Highly recommended reading.
If you have decided you wish to discontinue the use of tamoxifen, first of all I would suggest you discuss it with your oncologist or primary care physician. You should always do this. Some will be supportive, others may not be, so just be aware of that. This is your body, however, and your quality of life and you have every right to do what you feel is right for you.
2. The effect of acupuncture on postmenopausal symptoms and reproductive hormones: a sham controlled clinical trial – http://aim.bmj.com/content/29/1/27.abstract
3. The Molecular Perspective: Tamoxifen and the Estrogen Receptor – http://theoncologist.alphamedpress.org/content/7/2/163.full
4. Prevention of Bone Loss After Withdrawal Of Tamoxifen – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3140137/
xxx FOR HELENA xxx
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