Yesterday on Twitter I was tweeted “wondering which herbs to help cancer please”. This is an excellent question but a very deep one which cannot be covered by 140 characters!! My response was “there are many herbs which can support. It would depend on the person and the form of cancer. A consultation is essential.”
So what is cancer? We are all aware of it and will all be affected by it. This can be because of personal dealing with it or knowing someone who has had cancer. Cancer is one of the most serious and complex diseases to receive. It is an invasive growth of abnormal cells within the body, cells are deemed malignant instead of benign (causing no harm). The cells are still part of us – they are us and therefore are not attacked by our immune system (which is designed to recognise self). Cells within our body mutate daily but are resolved within the body by a complex system of internal defence, by supporting our body and giving it what it needs to stay healthy then we can prevent the occurrence of the one mutation which isn’t resolved and which develops into one of our biggest fears. The saddest thing about cancer is that 65% of cancers which occur today are preventable which means that changes to our diet and lifestyle could have prevented them from occurring. We need to bathe our DNA in a healthy environment which means minimal stress in our life, good sleep, regular exercise and nutritious food. Cancer is a billion pound industry which millions spent on research into how it acts, which foods are beneficial, drug trials and much more. It is recommended that herbal medicine supports primary care complementing conventional treatment – therefore the oncologist should be informed and communication channels should be open. I must stress that a consultation IS essential when supporting cancer with herbal medicine. This is because there are so many variables. The course of this disease is unpredictable and the cancer can spread to different parts of the body through the blood stream or through the lymphatic system. This is to ensure that if a patient is having chemotherapy that the herbs given to support the symptoms and side effects do not react with the life cycle of the cytotoxic drugs used. For example Yew – the toxic tree which grows in most graveyards is used in pharmacology as a cytotoxic drug used in cancer treatment (the active constituent taxol).
Herbalists aim to mobilise the body’s own defences – this is because of our body’s ability to deal with cell mutations which become malignant each day – this can be as many as thousands of malignant cells which are resolved without us even knowing about them. Therefore for a tumour to develop there must be a failure in theses defences which needs to be identified and supported in the aim of reactivating them. Herbal support of cancer involves the patient being pro-active in his or her treatment, education about health and wellbeing and giving pointers on how to adapt to improve nutrition and health as well as being given an individualised herbal prescription tailored to their needs.
In the words of the late Thomas Bartram (a herbalist) “If improvement in cancer is not possible maybe the condition can be stabilised and the patient helped to cope with the very unpleasant side-effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Thus, may be restored the body’s natural balance and a possible extension of lifespan.” A herbalist will do everything they can to support someone with cancer, herbal support does differ depending on the person and the form of cancer. Treatment for lung cancer will be completely different from ovarian or breast cancer. And you may have 5 women with breast cancer but one may never have had children, one many be post-menopausal, one may have had 3 children, one may have been on hormonal contraception all of her life and the fifth may have suffered a personal trauma. The herbal treatment for each of these women will differ to reflect their very different backgrounds and situations despite all having the same form of cancer.
Diet is one of the main ways to influence your own health and wellbeing. If you eat healthy and provide your body with the right nutrients on a daily basis then give yourself an A* as you are on the right track. If you are not then give yourself an immediate F!! We are what we eat, our body requires nutrients, vitamins and minerals to complete the billions of biochemical processes which are occurring on our body every second of every day. When we are deficient in our nutrition our body tries hard to compensate (a bit like working with the wrong tools). Having the wrong tools you may be able to continue working fine, although it may cause more work and be harder initially you may get used to it – this is similar to those who eat and drink unhealthy foods but do not have any health issues because of it. You may find it really difficult to work with the wrong tools causing you to tire more easily and not get the work done to the standard it should be, it may even break or need repairing sooner than if it was done correctly – this is similar to those who eat and drink unhealthy foods and develop health issues such as IBS, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity etc. but still think they are healthy. You may not be able to complete the job with the wrong tools at all – this can lead to health issues – a prime example in today’s society is the increase in rickets in families from poor backgrounds, poor nutrition leading to a physical condition because of a lack of vitamin C. There are many different scenarios regarding diet and health. The key is to look after your body with good nutrition.
Research into foods with cancer preventative potential include garlic, ginger, liquorice, carrots, celery, parsley and parsnips. Other food sources include onions, linseed, citrus fruits, turmeric, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, tomatoes, peppers, oats, barley and cucumber to name just a few. Look at added them into your diet on a regular basis (if you do not already do so). Aim to eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, reduce the amount of grains in your diet, eat healthy protein – fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, pork etc. Ensure that your plate has as many natural colours as possible – colourful fruit and vegetables are high in flavonoids and antioxidants which have a protective action on your body.
Aim to stay hydrated daily but drinking no more than 3 caffeinated drinks. Avoid milk and fizzy sodas. Milk is beneficial for babies to enable them to gain weight fast but did you know that we are the only species on the planet that sees it as a stable food source after the age of three? And fizzy drinks – they may taste great but are the most acidic thing you can put in your body. Our body is healthiest when it’s internal environment is alkaline. Drinking fizzy drinks makes this internal environment acidic. Fizzy drinks can rot your teeth so just imagine what it is doing on the inside where you can’t see it!! Drink water, herbal teas, one glass of fruit juice a day, smoothies and the occasional home made cordial* If you drink caffeinated drinks look at swapping them to green tea – this has had numerous studies done on it which have shown anti-tumour effects as well as protective effects in humans and benefits to cancer patients.
Multi-vitamin supplements can be recommended to ensure that you have the right nutrition but to ensure that you are actually absorbing the nutrients you need to assess your digestion. If you experience wind, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation or cramps then your digestive system may not be fully accessing the nutrients that you are taking whether these are supplements or real food. One of the important keys to our health is our digestion, it is vital for our body to be able to access the nutrients we eat. Probiotics have been in the press a lot and are something which I recommend. We need a good balance of good bacteria in our large intestine in order to assimilate a lot of nutrients essential to our health. With the high use of antibiotics there is a large number of people who are lacking in good bacteria, antibiotics translates to anti-life and kills all bacteria regardless of whether it is essential for our health or a pathogen which is detrimental for our health. When looking at supplements medical trials determined that terminal cases have lower levels of selenium (a trace mineral which is essential to health but which is depleted from our soils). If you have good digestion then this would be a good mineral to ensure is in your supplement as we cannot rely on getting it through natural means due to agriculture depleting the soil.
If you are having chemotherapy take high doses of Vitamin C in between chemo sessions. Cytotoxic drugs inhibit the ability of Vitamin C to stimulate the body’s defences. Herbs can help to enhance the body’s own ability to heal itself and can support the body’s digestion and elimination. Do not be put off with the lack of research into herbal medicine and its effects on cancer. Unfortunately when it comes to scientific studies of herbal medicine they generally look at extracts of an active constituent from the plant instead of the whole herb (for purposes of being able to patent it later), which have a negative effect on the results. Herbal treatment is most consistently predicted on the uniqueness of each patient and his or her story of illness.
I would love to write about the different herbs which are recommended for cancer but have chosen not to as their effect (being positive or negative) is determined on the patient and their health history. Instead I will recommend attending a herbal consultation with a qualified herbalist such as myself. If you are suffering from cancer look at instigating dietary measures. Increase the number of fruits in your diet (especially grapes and citrus fruits), increase the vegetables too – aim for at least five portions a day. Focus on adding the onion, cabbage, umbelliferous and nightshade family vegetables. Supplement with garlic and green tea. Add the following herbs to your cooking: ginger, turmeric, mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and basil. If you are constipated look at adding linseed and/or psyllium husks to your diet. Increase activity in your life, meditate and be strong. Positive outlooks can influence positive results – this is in reality the placebo effect 1/3 of people can improve their condition using the power of their mind. But above all know that is you approach a herbalist to support you with cancer the task will be approached with humility and a recognition that the treatment course isn’t set and will be unique to you.
Sorry if I have disappointed some of your but as a professional I have a responsibility to be safe in my practice. If you have any questions there is a forum on my website: http://www.herbsforhealthandwellbeing.co.uk/herbalism-forum.html where I will be happy to answer them personally. Tomorrow I will write about how to make cordials. Namaste
*Most supermarkets have taken full sugar cordials off the shelves and replaced them with ones high in sweeteners. Most sweeteners are detrimental for our health, they have the same reaction in our body which means that we gain weight even when using them, and they can be cancer causing (carcinogens) such as aspartame which is in most drink and in the weight watchers range of foods!! Scary when it says that it is healthy but can actually contribute to cancer!!! Therefore purchase full sugar cordials and only drink occasionally or make your own using delicious fruit or herbs. I make elderflower and elderberry cordial every year in June (for the flowers) and September (for the berries). But once you know how you can experiment and make your own cordials out of most things. I will blog how to tomorrow.