Growing Market For Nutraceuticals in Integrated Cancer Treatment in Caribbean

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Cancer is the second leading cause of death due to non-communicable diseases in the English-speaking Caribbean. In 2018 alone, the region experienced close to 112,000 new cases and more than 63,000 deaths (Globocan). Yet despite a projected rise in new cases of 55% by 2040, consistent access to conventional cancer treatment has been beyond the reach of many cancer sufferers and for those with access, extreme adverse side effects and a lack of palliative care have had profound impacts on quality of life. This has created a growing demand for the integration of Caribbean plants and herbs with well-documented medicinal properties as an adjunct to the conventional cancer protocol.

The term “nutraceutical” is used to describe these medicinally or nutritionally functional foods. Nutraceuticals, which have also been called medical foods, designer foods, phytochemicals, functional foods and nutritional supplements, include such everyday products as “bio” yogurts and fortified breakfast cereals, as well as vitamins, herbal remedies and even genetically modified foods and supplements (The Pharmaceutical Journal).

The term “nutraceutical” was coined in 1989 by Stephen De Felice, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, an American organisation which encourages medical health research. He defined a nutraceutical as a “food, or parts of a food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease”.

In the Caribbean, consistent access to conventional cancer treatment is grossly inadequate. Access to palliative care is disturbingly low and more than half of the region lacks the infrastructure to provide conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy to cancer patients. According to an article by Kellie Alleyne-Mike in the Journal of Oncology (April, 2018) “oncological staffing within the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)  full member states is insufficient to meet the demands of the current population.”

The cost of conventional treatments is also highly prohibitive. According to the World Health Organization’s 2019 “Technical report on Pricing of cancer medicines and its impacts”, the high prices for cancer medicines are “impairing” governments’ ability to provide affordable “population wide access” to citizens. Limited economies of scale and poor negotiating power make it highly unlikely that this will change any time soon.

Where conventional treatments have been available, adverse side effects have negatively impacted patients’ quality of life, causing fatigue, bruising and bleeding, hair loss, nausea and vomiting, neuropathy and trouble breathing, among other debilitating reactions.

Surveys indicate that patients and their oncologists are more increasingly pursuing discussions around integrative oncology (combining complementary therapies with mainstream care) which has been reported to decrease symptoms, improve quality of life and provide patients with the opportunity to have an active role in their care, especially in cases in which there is limited access to conventional treatment.

Read more at Forbes

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