Immune Stimulating Naturopathic Cancer Therapies


One of the hallmarks of cancer is the ability of cancer cells to evade destruction by the immune system (1).  Even more insidiously, cancer can co-opt your own immune system and trick it into inhibiting the production and function of immune cells (2).  

Both actions allow tumors to develop, proliferate and metastasize.  Therefore, it is important for patients with cancer to maintain competent immune function to improve their outcomes.  

video Block
Double-click here to add a video by URL or embed code. Learn more

Conventional therapies such as surgery (3), chemotherapy (4) and radiation therapy(5) have been found to weaken and suppress the immune system.  

One of the most common reasons that chemotherapy is halted is due to low white blood counts also known as neutropenia.  Many individuals receive white blood cell boosters while undergoing conventional care to help maintain their white blood cell count, often this is done to prevent infections.  

Clearly, it's important to maintain intact immune function while undergoing conventional therapy to fully take advantage of their anti-cancer effects. 

Many naturopathic therapies such as the use of botanicals, nutraceuticals, IV’s, injection therapies, and even targeted diet adjustment have been found to have a profound impact on immune function.  

Because the immune system is such an integral component of cancer prevention and treatment, it is something we address with every patient that walks through our door.  Each person is assessed on an individual basis to decide which immune stimulating therapies are right for them.    

Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)

Naltrexone is an opioid antagonist commonly used in opioid and alcohol addiction.  It blocks the opioid receptor preventing these substances from attaching.  However, it is used at significantly higher does during these situations (50-150 mg vs 1.5-4.5 mg) hence when we use it, it is called low dose naltrexone (2,10). 

At low doses, naltrexone reversibly and transiently binds (for 3-4 hours) to the opioid receptor (1).  The body senses that it has low levels of opioids and so increases the production of endogenous opioids also known as endorphins and enkephalins (1).  

It also upregulates the number of opioid receptors in the body and the sensitivity of these receptors (1).  Many of our cells, including immune cells, have opioid receptors on their surface. 

Dr. Dan Rubin and Dr. Melissa Coats discuss Low Dose Naltrexone

One of the endorphins produced is known as Opioid Growth Factor (OGF) or Met-enkephalin (2).  OGF binds to the Opioid Growth Factor receptor (OGFr) that is found on many cells.  Once bound it has a multitude of effects.  The use of LDN has been found to:

  • Inhibit cellular proliferation
  • Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Balance the TH1 an TH2 immune response
  • Enhance the function of cytotoxic T and natural killer cells
  • Increase the number of dendritic cells
  • Increase the levels of T-helper/CD4 immune cells (2).

This is beneficial in many conditions which includes autoimmune disease and other inflammatory conditions as well as cancer. 

There are numerous studies and case reports of the benefits of LDN in patients with cancer (2).  Dr. Rubin has used a combination of LDN and ALA to successfully treat patients with pancreatic cancer (3,5) as well as lymphoma (4).  LDN has been found to have efficacy in ovarian (6-7), breast (2), colon (8), renal (9), neuroblastoma (11), glioblastoma (13) and squamous cells carcinomas (2, 12).  

It exerts its effects by directly inhibiting cancer cell growth, inhibiting angiogenesis, and stimulating the immune system (2).  

Use of LDN has also been found to reduce side effects of common chemotherapies such as cisplatin (2,10).

To see if low dose naltrexone might be beneficial in your situation, please schedule a consultation with one of our physicians.


One of the frequent reasons we prescribe mistletoe therapy is due to its immune stimulatory effects.

When first beginning therapy, mistletoe activates the innate/nonspecific immune system (7-9).

Continued use of mistletoe stimulates the adaptive immune response and pushes the immune system towards a Th1 response which results in the induction of cytotoxic T cells and memory T cells (7). This could result in long term immune stimulating effects towards cancer.

The main immune stimulating effects of mistletoe has been found to be stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC’s) (1,7). It also increases the numbers and function of natural killer cells (8-9). Furthermore it stimulates the production of haematopoietic progenitor cells (5).

Over time, mistletoe has been found to train the adaptive immune response and increase levels of CD4+ T lymphocytes (2-4, 7).

Mistletoe has also been found to protect immune cells from the cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy (6).  Subsequent injections have been found to increase the levels of T-lymphocytes (2-4, 7).

Studies have found that over time, the body may become desensitized to the effects of mistletoe therapy and increasingly higher doses are needed to provide the same benefit.

At Naturopathic Specialists, we have developed a protocol which maximizes the immune response from mistletoe while minimizing the need to continually increase to higher doses.  For more information about mistletoe therapy, click here, or shedule a consultation with one of our physicians.


Botanicals have a long history (thousands of years) in being used to prevent and treat infections, cancer and autoimmune disease.  Much of this has to do with their interaction with the immune system.  

In modern times science has helped to identify the exact mechanisms by which these botanicals act. This is beneficial to our patients since we can tailor botanical formulations to their specific needs.

One of the benefits of botanicals is that they may have multiple different functions an impact the body in a multitude of ways at the same time.

This often allows us to formulate complex botanical formulas that address multiple needs at once. Botanicals can impact the immune system in multiple different ways. For instance, they can:

  • Stimulate the immune system
  • Modulate the immune system
  • Act as anti-microbials
  • Stimulate lymph flow
  • Decrease inflammation and much more.  

Since botanicals interact with the body in complex ways it is imperative that you seek guidance from a physician before beginning using them. This is especially important if you are taking pharmaceuticals or undergoing conventional cancer care since botanicals can interact and, in some cases, interfere with many common pharmaceuticals.  To speak with one of our doctors about the use of botanicals in connection with your care plan, click here to contact us.

Infographic: Different immune herbs 

Immune stimulants: These herbs are generally used acutely to improve the number and function of immune cells. 

  • Echinacea spp
  • Eupatorium perfoliatum
  • Commiphora myrrha
  • Usnea spp
  • Baptisia tinctorial
  • Acmella oleracea
  • Zanthoxylum americanum

Immune modulators: These botanicals are generally used long term to help balance the immune system. Depending on how they are used they can stimulate an immunosuppressed individual while also calm an overactive immune system. 

  • Withania somnifera
  • Astragalus membranaceus
  • Ophiocordyceps sinensis
  • Eleutherococcus senticosus
  • Ocimum tenuiflorum

Anti-microbials: This class of botanicals contain compound that are directly toxic to antimicrobials such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Many culinary herbs have anti-microbial properties which demonstrates that they may have originally been used to prevent food spoilage. 

  • Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
  • Cinnamomum zeylanicum
  • Allium sativum
  • Sambucus canadensis
  • Capsicum spp
  • Rosmarinus officinalis

Lymphagogues: These are herbs that improve the function of the lymphatic system by either increasing lymph production or improving lymph flow. 

  • Galium aparine
  • Ceanothus americanus
  • Phytolacca decandra

Inflammation-modulators: Like immune modulators this class of botanicals can either increase inflammation or decrease inflammation depending on the overall state of an individual’s body. 

  • Achillea millefolium
  • Curcuma longa
  • Boswellia serrata
  • Commiphora myrrha


Nutraceuticals are products containing isolated ingredients which have health-promoting benefits.  

Most nutraceuticals are based on nutritional products (hence the “nutra”) and are often derived directly from food.  Most of the products that you can obtain from a health-food store (we are talking about capsules in bottles) can be, at least loosely, considered nutracueticals.

The problem here is that although they may have a fancy label most products on the shelves cannot make a health-related claims.  Some labels may bear a name that is suggestive of what it may do for you, but that can be misleading.  

Also, dosing can be an issue.  Many products readily available to the general public are produced in capsule sizes and suggested dosages that may be too small to produce an intended or desired effect.  Additionally, combining one nutraceutical with another may cause unexpected or unwanted effects.  

Knowledge about mechanisms of action, product combining, achieving the desired effect, and creating a sufficient dosing schedule is a complex calculation.  

We certainly advise everyone to speak with their physician before attemping to treat on their own.

Furthermore, since many nutraceuticals are derived from food or botanicals, our physicians will often discuss or prescribe a diet therapy to complement or enhance the encapsulated products.  Dietary strategies which enrich for specific nutrient components combine well with nutrition-based targeting agents, such as nutraceuticals and can often deliver a broader range of supportive agents, holistically.  

For instance, one of our physicians may prescribe the nutraceutical, quercetin, for a given symptom or to block a certain pathway in a cancer cell. Alongside of this, the same physician may encourage the patient to regularly eat foods that are high in quercetin such as: yellow onions, yellow peppers or black tea.  

With the help of a skilled physician, nutraceutical protocols can be highly effective.  If you're interested in maximizing the benefits of nutraceuticals as part of your care program, feel free to contact us.   


Read more below, or click here to contact us!


Immune Stimulating Therapies

(You Are Here)