It is shocking to realise that over 65% of cancers are preventable and down to lifestyle factors. What is even more shocking is that there isn’t much money being invested in preventable medicines and millions invested in cancer research and treatment.
As a herbalist my view and treatment of cancer is different to modern medicine, although herbalism can be used alongside orthodox treatment to support people. The key is that everyone is different – their lifestyle, signs, symptoms and reasons. Therefore when I support people with their health and wellbeing it takes into account the individual – we are all unique at the end of the day.
This week is cervical cancer prevention week. This is a European wide initiative lead by the European Cervical Cancer Association (ECCA). Several charities take part in raising awareness. This is something I am also happy to do to share information about natural ways we can prevent cervical cancer and information about how herbalists support those of us who are affected by it.
Orthodox medicine are aware that cervical cancer is preventable. Despite the modern advances in medicine 20% of women do not attend their cervical screenings and at present 50% of school age girls don’t take the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination.
Smoking is a serious contributing factor to cervical cancer – being a smoker can increase the risk of getting cervical cancer four-fold!! This is because the carcinogens (cancer causing molecules) from cigarette smoke are concentrated in the cervical lining – this may be a protective mechanism as levels in the cervical mucus can be 10-20 times higher than levels in the bloodstream.
Unfortunately in western society our diets are lacking in nutrition. If our body doesn’t get the nutrition that it needs then it cannot work effectively. Our bodies are complex, but many people like to liken the body to a machine – this is a way of looking at the body using only a physical perspective (and not our mental and emotional aspects) but we wouldn’t allow our cars to run low on petrol, let the radiators run low on water causing the car to overheat, or not top up the oil to ensure the engine runs smoothly. We are so much more complex than an engine but for those of us who are not mechanically minded then an engine is very complex.
When we do not nourish our body our body has to cope without the necessary nutrients to compete thousands of different actions required within our body. New research is discovering that most health issues are linked to our digestion and yet our western diet is high in calories and low in nutrition. Folic acid can protect against abnormal changes in the cervix. Folic acid is usually prescribed during pregnancy to support the development of the foetus. This is because folic acid is required as an essential ingredient for making DNA.
Although we may be fully grown we still require our DNA daily to make new cells and repair damaged ones, therefore without healthy levels of folic acid in our diet abnormal cell production can occur (cancer is seen as an abnormal cell growth). Scientific studies have found that 5-10mg of folic acid can reverse mildly abnormal pap smears and that a deficiency of folic acid contributes to the start of cervical cancer especially if the HPV virus is present. Folic acid is a type of B vitamin and healthy dietary sources include: spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, oranges and orange juice, poultry, pork, shellfish and liver.
Folic acid deficiency isn’t the only nutritional contribution, if our body is low in beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium or iron then it can increase cervical cancer risk. If you are a lady who is taking the contraceptive pill it may be worth ensuring that you are eating a nutritious diet. Taking the pill helps to reduce breast cancer. There is research that shows that abnormal changes in the cervix are increased in women on the pill, this may be because it is more natural to have children or because the contraceptive pill impacts the absorption of nutrients (our hormones have an impact on our digestion). Most nutrients can be accessed by eating a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
There is also an emotional connection with our cervix. Low self-esteem and a disconnection with our bodies can impact our health. When we are emotionally conflicted the risk of cervical abnormalities can increase. Symbolically the cervix can represent the potential for change, growth and transformation. When we are in unhappy relationships, do not stand up for ourselves, have a negative outlook or have recently lost a loved one our risk will increase. Our emotions are who we are, they are linked to our physical self and can impact on them. The key is to look after ourselves. To give us the time we need, not to beat ourselves up when we have a lot on our plate or something goes wrong and to look on the bright side of life. There is research that has shown again and again that positive people have less health issues, both mental and physical than the more pessimistic people.
I will discuss several herbs which are appropriate for the prevention and treatment of cervical cancer, but want to state that herbal treatment depends on the individual. There may be ten women who have experienced cervical cancer but each one will be supported differently. One women may have had five kids and be happily married. One may have been on the pill all her life. Another may have experienced trauma such as rape. Women who have low self-esteem will be supported differently from those who are over-confident. A herbal consultation looks at all aspects of a person’s health and wellbeing. This includes past history, family history, diet, a deep investigation into the health issue, any other health issues, emotions, social/lifestyle impacts and much more. This creates a full picture of a person; I can then work out which herbs to offer to support.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an excellent herb which is utilised in many cancer support formulas in Western Medicinal Herbalism, Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. Curcumin is an active constituent in this spice which has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumour effects. Studies have also found that turmeric can enhance chemotherapy drugs and aid the support of the body. You can add it to meals to support your health and wellbeing.
Green tea (Camelia sinensis) is a fantastic anti-oxidant herb which contains phyto-phenols and flavonoids. It has many benefits including reducing mutations, improving cholesterol levels and regulating fat metabolism. It has been shown that drinking this regularly can reduce many cancer risks including cervical cancer. You can even add the leaves to stews and soups.
When we visit loved ones it normally includes bringing some fresh grapes. It turns out that grape skins are rich in flavonoids which have anti-oxidant effects which help to reduce the risk of cancers.
Ginger is a spice which I use regularly in my practice (and my cooking). It helps to reduce inflammation which is linked to cancer, and characteristic of cervical cancer. You can make a delicious tea using the ginger root and add it to your diet.
I hope that you have found this information helpful. If you have any questions I am more than happy to answer them. Also if you would like support with your health and wellbeing and live in the Grimsby area I am available for consultations at The Achilles Centre which is an accredited health care centre based on Dudley Street.