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How Ayurveda Helps In Combating Cancer

By Devika Bandyopadhya

Cancer is a disease that many of us are stuck with these days. Once known as only a disease of the elderly, cancer has now turned its tentacles towards the younger generation as well. Although feared the most, research has proven that there are ways where one can powerfully fight cancer and overcome it. However, with the intensity in which this disease is attacking the masses, the fear only increases with time, and we all do wish that we or our near ones at least are not drawn towards this illness.

There have been cases where one has been diagnosed with cancer with no obvious symptoms and sometimes even without any history of the possible causes that technically lead to the growth of cancerous cells in a person [1] .

Nevertheless, it is the fighting spirit of the human nature that allows one to undergo the treatment procedure and come out as a winner from this life-threatening ailment. Ayurveda has been found to be effective in treating several illnesses and it does a lot of good for people who are suffering from cancer as well. So, on this World Cancer Day, let's look at how Ayurveda has a lot to offer to cancer patients in terms of treatment and improvement in the quality of their lives.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells start to grow uncontrollably. The abnormal growth of cells is likely to form a mass referred to as a tumour. This tumour can either be benign or cancerous. Cancerous cells can invade the normal tissues and organs and slowly spread throughout the body. On the other hand, a benign tumour is a tumour that grows but does not spread. However, there are types of cancer that do not involve the formation of a tumour. These are leukaemia, myeloma and most kinds of lymphoma.

Carcinogens are the substances that cause cancer. Experimental studies on both animals and humans have shown that several agents, such as chemicals, viruses, and radiation, are responsible for inducing cancer [2] .

Cancer - A Metabolic Disease

Significant research in molecular biology has proven that cancer is a 'metabolic' disease [3] . Mitochondria is the human body's cellular 'powerhouse' and this is where the cancer is initiated. A reverse messaging system occurs inside the cell that sends faulty messages to the nucleus, thus spreading a cancerous process.

At times, it can also take a decade to transform a normal cell into something that is close to being a cancerous cell. During this phase of transition, there are few important changes that begin to occur in the cell. These changes are collectively referred to as the 'field effect' or the 'field defect'. Metabolic investigations at this point can pick up these changes, eventually assisting doctors in successfully identifying cancer during its preliminary stages [4] .

Special Features Of Cancer Cells

  • They are immortal [5] .
  • They have the ability to metastasise [6] .
  • Being abnormal cells, they deceive immunity [7] .
  • They ferment glucose instead of oxidizing it [8] .
  • They show increased angiogenesis [9] .

Mitochondria In Terms Of Ayurveda

Mitochondria is compared to a very important factor in terms of Ayurveda - Agni. The similarities between these two are as follows:

1. Both convert food to bodily energy that when consumed help in the nurturing of the tissues and organs.

2. Both are in the fluid state.

3. Both house the place where heat is produced and facilitate survival and burning of fat.

4. Both play a prime role in the growth and death of cells that are non-functional.

5. Both play a major role in metabolic processes that are related to hormones, iron, calcium, detoxification, etc.

According to Ayurveda, a robust Agni makes a person healthy. When the Agni is completely doused, he or she dies. The same concept applies to mitochondria as well. [10]

Factors That Vitiate Agni [11]

External factors such as tobacco, pesticides, alcohol, toxins, pollution, excess red meat, bakery products, excess sugar, etc.

  • Wrong diet
  • Stress, hormonal imbalance, obesity
  • Inherited weak Agni
  • Beej Dosha (genetic mutation of DNA nucleus)

Ayurvedic Treatment In Combating Cancer

Reverse signalling from a dysfunctional mitochondria is what causes the initiation and progress of the dangerous cancer-causing cells [12] . On the other hand, a healthy mitochondria has been associated with the ability to suppress the growth of these deadly cancer cells. So, it is understood that a treatment that focuses on improving the functionality of mitochondria can actually alter the course of the disease and can also put an end to its growth [13] , and as mentioned above, in terms of Ayurveda, we see mitochondria and Agni on parallel lines and hence the following pattern of Ayurvedic cancer treatment can be applied:

  • The first step is alleviating the causative factors. Vaidyas have mentioned the reversal of nidana (which would include diet and lifestyle) [14] .
  • Removal of free radicals alongside dirty Kapha, Pitta and Vata. These are known to impair the functions of Agni [15] .
  • Restoration and strengthening of the metabolic functioning of Agni [16] .
  • Change in the cellular environment such that the lactic acid produced by cancerous cells can be broken down and absorbed [17] .
  • Immunity improvement
  • Use of neem that has the capability of stimulating tumour suppressor pathways. This promotes the production of more tumour-death promoting chemicals - leading to the death and removal of cancer cells [18] .
  • Reducing the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells through the use of herbs such as Tinospora [19] .
  • Budding of new blood vessels in cancerous tissues can be reduced through the use of herbs like Ashwagandha [20] .
  • Chemicals such as TNF alfa are responsible for inflammation. Herbs such as turmeric can be used to block the effect of such chemicals [21] .
  • Herbs like Ashwagandha and turmeric are also known for their ability to stimulate p53 tumour suppressor pathway [22] .
  • Glucose supply to cancer cells, when stopped, leads to the death of these cells due to lack of food. This can be made possible with the use of herbs such as fenugreek that is capable of absorbing lactic acid [23] .

Herbal decoctions used in Ayurveda have the potential to cure cancer. On a scientific perspective, multiple herbs are designed to work on biochemical pathways and the various organ systems. It supports the body's defence systems and thus nourishes the body as a whole.

Herbs are believed to promote healing along with the reduction of side effects and complications associated with cancer. [24] .

Ayurvedic Therapy For Cancer

Ayurvedic therapy understands its main goal as identifying the cause behind an illness, whereas the therapeutic approach of Ayurveda has been divided into categories such as

  • Prakritisthapani Chikitsa (which means health maintenance),
  • Rasayana Chikitsa (which means restoration of normal function),
  • Roganashani Chikitsa (which means disease cure), and
  • Naishthiki Chikitsa (which means spiritual approach).

What Ayurvedic Expert Suggests...

According to Dr Sharad Kulkarni, Ayurveda Surgeon, BAMS, MS (PhD), relaxation therapies serve to be the best way to lower stress and relax oneself especially when one is going through the ordeal of cancer. Dr Kulkarni is of the view that the relaxation techniques work best when used during or after chemotherapy, as this is actually when the person is subjected to the most emotional downfall of cancer. He goes on to say that yoga, meditation and regular exercising are a must to keep oneself fit and going during cancer.

Lymphoma patients can sleep better through the practice of yoga. People with breast or prostate cancer can reduce their stress levels with the regular practice of yoga [25] .

Ayurveda-specific Diet For A Cancer Patient

A calorie-restricted diet is ideal to follow when one is suffering from cancer. The diet should be such that it provides the required nutrients to the body but also keeps the cancer cells deprived of its food. Hence, compelling these abnormal cells to die. The following are some of the general diet-specific rules [26] :

  • Avoid bakery and maida products
  • No tobacco, liquor or vinegar
  • Avoid sabudana
  • No deep fried food
  • Prefer early dinner
  • Strictly avoid raw food and salad
  • Minimise the intake of sugar (this includes avoiding white/brown sugar, honey, jaggery, carrot/beetroot juice, fruit juices, etc.)
  • Expert vaidyas advise fasting at least once a week

When asked about the diet that a cancer patient should follow, Ayurvedic surgeon Dr Kulkarni says, "Processed and packaged foods should be avoided which also include food items that have added colours. Sugar intake should be minimized. Alcohol, tobacco and narcotic drugs are a complete NO. These food items contain active carcinogens and are the prime causes of cancer of various kinds."

Dr Kulkarni also said that the diet rules of avoiding packaged and processed foods also apply to a person not suffering from cancer as these are foods that drive a person towards the development of cancer. He advises the use of Gomutra or cow's urine as this serves to be an active anticarcinogen (this has been proven by several scientific pieces of evidence as well). He also believes that intermittent fasting can benefit a cancer patient in multiple ways.

The Viewpoint Of The Vaidyas

Development of cancer has been associated with the weakening of the Dhatu Agni. This is the weakened metabolic strength of the tissue wherein cancer actually originates [27] .

Repeated exposure to environmental toxins is said to cause Samprapti (describes the complete route of a disease's manifestation) [28] . This turns out to be Pitta-provoking factors at the deep cellular level. Micro inflammatory changes begin to occur due to the increased Pitta. This disturbs the cellular components known as Pilu Agni and Pithar Agni. This results in the poor formation of tissues.

Ayurveda considers cancer to be a Tridoshic disorder. This is so because of its capacity to spread when there is an interplay of abnormal Pitta, Vata and Kapha [29] . Vata being the active Dosha, is involved in metastasis. The abnormal growth of cells that create a malignant tumour is due to Kapha. The metabolic activity of the cancerous cells is enhanced by Tejas (a component of Pitta). This malignant tissue is said to possess strong Agni.

Anticancer Herbs

85 plant drugs were observed and a meta-analysis was conducted under a research-based assessment on the Ayurvedic concept of cancer. The study data revealed that herbs such as Katu, Usna Virya, Katu Vipaka and Kasāya Rasa show anticancer effects. The research also came out to say that herbs that possess dry, light, coarse and sharp biophysical properties can show immense possibilities of showing anticancer signs and results [30] .

To Conclude...

Being a cancer survivor requires a lot of inner strength and determination and definitely a lot of support from dear ones. Many cancer patients have vouched for the fact that incorporating therapies such as massages and aromatherapy during cancer have helped them cope better with the life that chemotherapy makes them go through.

However, when talking about the consumption of herbs, a little thought is definitely recommended. Although, most of the Ayurvedic medicines are made from different herbs, there has been no particular research on them mostly with respect to how safe their intake is when one is undergoing chemotherapy.

There are possibilities that some drugs might interact with radiotherapy or cancer drugs. Therefore, it is always recommended that you use registered herbal products and more so better if you prefer to consult a specialist before going ahead with an Ayurvedic-specific routine lifestyle during cancer. Nevertheless, staying positive and surrounded by your loved ones always do miracles and cancer is an illness which can be fought bravely by all determined souls.

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