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Breast cancer treatment can have devastating effects on quality of life, but two bee products have been found to significantly reduce some their most common adverse effects
Few things are as dissonant to me as the use of so-called "anti-hormone drugs" in breast cancer patients to prevent recurrence. Not only are these drugs extremely toxic, with Tamoxifen classified by the World Health Organization as a known carcinogen and a list of over two dozen adverse effects associated with their use on our database, but their much tauted "life saving" benefits may only be theoretical. Furthermore, their use is often completely unjustified given the prevalence of breast cancer overdiagnosis.
First, the Problem with Breast Cancer Overdiagnosis
For those who are not yet aware, it has been estimated that thousands of women each year are subject to breast cancer overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis is actually a technical-sounding euphemism. What is actually happening is that women are being erroneously told they have breast cancer when they actually have benign lesions, such as the commonly misunderstood ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which most of the time would never progress to cause symptoms, much less bodily harm. Even when in rare cases overdiagnosis is identified before the patient undergoes unnecessary treatment, the psychological and physical trauma that follows the initial error can have lasting adverse health effects.
Most overdiagnosis goes unrecognized and results in overtreatment, which includes unnecessary lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapies. It has been estimated that 1.3 million US women were wrongly diagnosed and treated for breast cancer in the past 30 years for conditions that even the National Cancer Institute's expert panel in 2013 determined are intrinsically benign and should not be called "cancer" at all.
Following treatment, most "breast cancer survivors" (or, more accurately, "survivors of overdiagnosis and overtreatment") are given so-called hormone suppressive drug therapies, with Arimidex and Tamoxifen the most commonly used in the category. These drugs happen to be produced by Astra Zeneca, which maintains control of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a monthly promotional campaign to encourage healthy, symptomless women to subject themselves to x-ray mammography, the result of which is significant increases in diagnoses of "early stage," or "zero stage" breast lesions such as DCIS, as well as increases in drug sales – a conflict of interest that is as obvious as it is unethical.
The Need for Integrative Medical Approaches: Enter Honey and Bee Pollen
But the world is not perfect. The time lag between the emergence of new medical truth and clinical practice can span decades, and with the growing number of Stockholm syndrome afflicted overdiagnosed and overtreated patients doing whatever they are told by their "saviors" following treatment, the reality is that hormone suppressive drugs will continue to be promoted and used by thousands of women, no matter what we write here or how many references we back up our research with.
Because I have personally witnessed and worked with dozens of women who have experienced not only the original traumas and side effects of breast cancer treatment, but also the subsequent hair loss, fatigue, hot flashes, libido crashes, etc., that are often caused by drugs like Arimidex and Tamoxifen, I am reporting on a new study published in Molecular and Clinical Oncology titled, Bee pollen and honey for the alleviation of hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms in breast cancer patients," which at least offers some palliative support to attenuate these side effects, while also having potential side benefits as well, including anti-cancer properties.
Hormone suppressive drugs commonly result in discontinuation. Some of the side effects are themselves treated with potent psychotropics like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Lyrica (gabapentin), leading to a downward spiral that can be more dangerous to one's health than the original theoretical cancer risk the original prescriptions are being used for. The new study aimed to test the hypothesis that bee pollen could be helpful in reducing the menopausal-type symptoms that are caused by chemical hormone suppression, as was recently evidenced by a trial that showed pollen extracts reduced hot flashes and improved quality of life in menopausal women.
Interestingly, the researchers used honey as a placebo, but found that it was as effective as bee pollen at reducing patient symptoms.
The study design and results were described in the abstract as follows:
"We compared a pollen-honey mixture with pure honey(placebo) in a prospective, randomized crossover trial in breast cancer patients receiving anti-hormonal treatment. The menopausal complaints were assessed using the Menopause Rating Scale (MRS). A total of 46 patients were recruited; 68.3% (28/41) of the patients reported an improvement in their symptoms while taking honey, compared with 70.9% (22/31) who reported an improvement with pollen (the difference was non-significant). The results were confirmed by significant improvements in the postmenopausal complaints in the two groups in a pre-post analysis in the MRS and its 3 subscales. This study provided evidence that honey and bee pollen may improve the menopausal symptoms of breast cancer patients on antihormonal treatment." [emphasis added]"
The study authors raised a flag of caution regarding the honey's ability to raise estrogen levels in patients. If the goal of reducing breast cancer recurrence and hormone suppressive drugs like Arimidex is to reduce estrogen levels and/or estrogen activity in the body, clearly this is not a good thing. And yet, estrogenic substances like genistein in soy, enterodiol in flaxseed and resveratrol in grapes have been identified to have potent anti-breast cancer properties. Furthermore, the unsophisticated idea that "estrogen is a carcinogen," without qualifying by type, estrogen receptor activity and specificity, etc., has been a fundamental part of the success of the estrogen-blocking drug manufacturers' promotional copy. The reality, however, is that naturally-induced, and/or naturally mimicking estrogen activity (as is commonly found with phytoestrogens) may be preventive and even therapeutic against breast and other hormone sensitive cancers. This should be taken into account when you read the study's concluding remarks:
"In conclusion, this study provided evidence that honey and bee pollen improve menopausal symptoms in breast cancer patients receiving antihormonal treatment. As we observed an increase in the serum levels of oestradiol with honey treatment in patients receiving aromatase inhibitors/inactivators, and due to evidence regarding the effect of honey and bee pollen on ovarian function and the direct effects of these products, honey and bee pollen should be used with caution in cancer patients. Whether this caution is justified remains to be established. As previously mentioned, the scepticism regarding soy products also does not appear to be justified, according to Chi et al (3). Honey and bee pollen may be offered to women who have failed to respond to other reasonable alternatives to cope with postmenopausal symptoms (e.g., acupuncture) and who would otherwise discontinue treatment. However, the fact that flavonoids, which are found in both honey and pollen, have been found to prevent breast cancer, supports the use of both products in women with menopausal problems without a history of breast cancer. The use of honey and pollen for menopausal complaints in healthy women and patients with breast cancer should be addressed in future trials."
The study's findings could be considered a double-edged sword. For instance, women who would normally discontinue hormone suppressive drugs from their side effects (i.e. their body telling them the drug is a bad idea) might stay on them longer while using honey or bee pollen to mask or mitigate the warning signs of incompatibility and/or accumulating toxicity (i.e. like taking an aspirin for a toe pain caused by a splinter that simply needs to be removed). While prolonging medication compliance may be construed as a "good" thing from the conventional perspective, it may also simply enable patients to maintain a suboptimal or misguided drug-based protocol longer. The ultimate outcome, therefore, is they may end up being at higher risk of Tamoxifen-induced liver or endometrial cancer because they were able to stay on it longer: clearly not a "good" outcome.
Thankfully, there is another factor that may help to resolve the dilemma: honey may actually have anti-cancer properties by itself. If this is true, honey certainly can not be looked at simply as a palliative, side-effect reducing adjunct to conventional drug-based treatment.
Plenty of Natural Alternatives Exist and Have Been Researched
Indeed, there may be safer and more effective ways to prevent breast cancer recurrence by using natural anti-hormone and anti-cancer substances. For instance, there are a wide range of natural aromatase inhibitors ("estrogen blockers") which have been studied to have potential anti-breast cancer properties. Here is a section on our database on Aromatase Inhibitors. Also, we have amassed a vast database of research on natural anti-breast cancer substances, nutritional protocols and CAM modalities. You can investigate the research on our database: Breast Cancer research.
My hope in writing this article is that for those who have their minds made up that they are going to stay on drugs like Tamoxifen or Arimidex that their side effects can be reduced naturally. However, I also hope that those who are looking for more natural alternatives to these drugs, and to a more root cause resolution-based model of addressing breast cancer (including investigating whether or not their original diagnoses were even valid), will benefit from exploring other approaches that offer more sustainable solutions than the palliative use of natural interventions in the integrative model which still gives conventional medicine the dominant position.
 Results of the ATAC (Arimidex, Tamoxifen, Alone or in Combination) trial after completion of 5 years' adjuvant treatment for breast cancer. Howell A, Cuzick J, Baum M, Buzdar A, Dowsett M, Forbes JF, Hoctin-Boes G, Houghton J, Locker GY, Tobias JS, ATAC Trialists' Group Lancet. 2005 Jan 1-7; 365(9453):60-2. [PubMed]
 A randomized, controlled, double-blinded clinical trial of gabapentin 300 versus 900 mg versus placebo for anxiety symptoms in breast cancer survivors. Lavigne JE, Heckler C, Mathews JL, Palesh O, Kirshner JJ, Lord R, Jacobs A, Amos E, Morrow GR, Mustian K Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2012 Nov; 136(2):479-86. [PubMed]