Cancer and Natural Medicine

by Dr. Les Moore

Cancer is in epidemic proportions today. It is the second leading cause of death of Americans and one of the most feared diseases. At the rate it is increasing, it will soon surpass heart disease as the number one cause of death of Americans. It is as statistically common as acne and male pattern baldness. We have been spending trillions of dollars waging a war on cancer and have been losing steadily. Eli Jones, MD, said that the headlines have been saying that there is a cure for cancer around the corner for fifty years. He said this in 1871. Things haven't changed that much.

Most other countries will offer cancer patients the option of conventional therapy, natural therapy, or a combination of both. This is true in the Orient and also in Europe. Most of the patients that I see want the best of both worlds also- they want the best conventional therapy and the best complementary and alternative therapies available. Some patients choose to use the immune stimulating therapies only, and hold conventional therapies back to use for the big guns in case they don't respond to the natural therapies. I see some patients who are not responding to conventional treatments and want to use natural therapies. I also see some patients who have beat cancer and want to do things to prevent a secondary reoccurrence of the cancer - either the original cancer, a different cancer, or a treatment induced cancer.

There are many theories as to the cause of cancer. We do not know all of the answers with our science, but our understanding of cancer is beginning to grow, although our knowledge is still a drop in the bucket. Most classical medical systems believe that there is some kind of toxin involved. Many folk systems will use some type of a therapy to cleanse and move the blood, a concept that is universal among herbalist. This seems to collaborate with our understanding of environmental and endogenous toxins (electromagnetic, chemical, psychological, microbial, energetic, etc.) and their ability to be carcinogenic. The EPA has found that there are five of the top carcinogens in everybody's body and the USDA has found that no one is meeting their RDA of nutrients. Our ability to eliminate these toxins and improve our nutritional status to fight cancer is key to winning the war on cancer.

There are many things that we can do to assist in preventing cancer, treating cancer, and cope with the side effects of cancer and conventional treatments. Prevention is lowering our risk of getting cancer, and usually consists of dietary and lifestyle changes, including nutrient supplementation. Treatment is used to increase the body's natural healing power to inhibit growth and spread of disease, and usually consists of dietary and lifestyle changes including a daily regimen of nutrients, herbs, and other supplements and therapies. Many people wish to cope with some of the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation to fight fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, blood count drops and other side effects of conventional therapies.

From a naturopathic perspective, we need to build as our foundation the basics of a healthy diet, adequate sleep, clean water, and a good attitude. We want to eliminate any known carcinogens, toxins, triggers or promoters. The supplements we do need to support normal cell replication and immune function. We need to do co-treatment for any conventional therapies to reduce side effects and increase survival rates. We want to try and do correct anti-tumor herbs, medications, and foods. Individualized therapy medicine should be the capstone on our strategy for cancer treatment or prevention.

Nutritionally there are a number of things we can do to help prevent cancer and treat cancer. For prevention, an 'anti-cancer' diet would be to eat foods as closely as possible to the way they grew (whole foods, preferably organic); reduce red meat intake and replace with cold water fish, beans, whole grains, vegetables, and perhaps soy products; increase fiber content significantly; reduce intake of pesticides and herbicides; increase intake of tomato products and cruciferous veggies; insure proper hydration, replace sodas and beers with green tea; identify and remove food intolerances and allergies; identify and remove causes of constipation and abnormal bowel function; practice caloric moderation; and use olive oil. For treatment, we must remember that 40% of cancer patients will die of malnutrition and that glucose is the preferred substrate of cancer cells. Our therapy must then be oriented to feeding ourselves and selectively starving the tumor by avoiding sugar, alcohol, and simple carbohydrates, choosing good fats, and increasing pure, lean protein.

The use of antioxidants for prevention and to reduce side effects of conventional treatments is very important. There are over 150 studies showing the effectiveness of antioxidants used with conventional therapies, both decreasing toxicity (reducing side effects) and increasing survival rates. Antioxidants can protect healthy cells during radiation and chemotherapy, act as natural anti-tumor agents, and provide immune support.

There are many things we can do to minimize specific side effects. For nausea and vomiting, we use herbs such as ginger or herbal formulas; homeopathics such as arsenicum, ipecac or tobaccum; acupuncture and sea bands; electrolyte replacement drinks and miso; and, when all else fails, massage tends to work. For diarrhea we will modify the diet, add glutamine, use probiotics to promote a healthy gut environment, and acupuncture. For mucositis (sores in mouth or esophogitis) chamomile or slippery elm works well, vitamin E, glutamine powder added to drinks is great, and folic acid rinses (swish and swallow) help. For decreased blood counts, both anemia and leukopenia, some of our Chinese herbal formulas are great, and single herbs such as Korean ginseng for anemia and astragalus for leukopenia work well. For a decreased appetite and weight loss we can use our herbal bitters such as gentian and ginger and peppermint.

Basically, with cancer, there are many things that we know. We know that toxins in the environment contribute to the US cancer epidemic. We know that antioxidants, conjugating agents, and other nutrients are required for detoxification of carcinogens. We know that research overwhelmingly indicates that numerous nutrients and phytochemicals exhibit anticancer activity, and nutrient combinations exhibit synergistic benefits. In order to effectively prevent or treat cancer we must improve our nutrition, inhibit metastasis, reduce side effects, remove the promoters such as hormones, use anti-tumor herbs, nutrients, and foods, support the immune function, enhance detoxification, and practice a positive attitude and lifestyle.