Since my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve been researching alternative treatments that she can incorporate in conjunction with her conventional treatment. This post is dedicated to my mom and anyone else who is on a journey to wellness.
I’ve begun to document my research below on an integrative approach in treating cancer. I hope that it can benefit you (as prevention against cancer) as well as helping anyone you might know that is battling cancer. Remember that cancer is a disease of the body’s own cells that have proliferated due to various factors. In re-framing the way you think about cancer, it’s easier to understand that if nature (in this case your body) created a problem, it also possesses the innate ability to heal it. The therapies listed throughout this post serve to encourage and promote the body’s self-healing capabilities; many can even be used in conjunction with conventional cancer treatments with no negative side effects.
Research strongly suggests that essential oils can help in both the prevention and treatment of cancer. In fact, clinical research has shown that the use of essential oils can stop and potentially reverse the growth of cancer cells in animal and human cell studies. For example, a 2018 study revealed that frankincense, pine needle, and geranium essential oils suppress tumor progression through the regulation of the AMPK/mTOR pathway in breast cancer. Frankincense oil, however, is known to possesses the strongest anti-cancer properties, as it has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme that is responsible for inflammation in the body. It has also been proven to induce tumor cell specific cytotoxicity. In addition to frankincense, the other most potent essential oils against cancer are lavender, myrrh, turmeric, and peppermint. You can benefit from essential oils by rubbing them directly on your skin, using a cold diffuser, or ingesting them internally. It’s very important to purchase a good quality brand; my personal favorite is Rocky Mountain Oils.
In 1906, embryologist Dr. John Beard proposed that pancreatic proteolytic digestive enzymes serve as the body’s primary defense against cancer. Enzymes (protein structures that serve different purposes) possess catalytic responsibilities; meaning they are able to speed up the rate of chemical reactions in the body. They have also been shown to help dissolve fibrin – the outer coating of cancer cells that prevents the immune system from identifying and destroying them. During the initial stages of tumor growth, fibrin “provides a scaffold for the growth of tumor cells,” and plays an important role in angiogenesis and the metastasis of cancer cells. Studies have proven that enzyme therapy shows “remarkable selective effects that result in growth inhibition of tumor cells with metastatic potential.” Further research has documented the anti-inflammatory, immune-supporting, and antitumor and antimetastatic activites of proteolytic enzyme mixtures that contain trypsin, chymotrypsin, bromelain (found in pineapples), or papain. All of these properties have shown systemic enzyme therapy to increase the “response rates, the duration of remissions, and the overall survival times” of cancer patients. Even if a cancer patient has decided to pursue chemotherapy as a treatment option, research has shown that enzyme therapy can help mitigate some of the side effects that accompany chemo, as well as protect against drug-induced gut dysbiosis.
Ozone (O3) gas is a molecule that is made up of three oxygen atoms in a dynamically unstable structure and is known to possess many therapeutic effects that are safe and with minimal side effects. It is often used to treat and disinfect disease particularly through its abilities to inactivate bacteria, fungi, yeast, viruses, and stimulate oxygen metabolism while activating the body’s immune system. Ozone therapy also has the ability to boost the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells in addition to regulating inflammation. As a potent regulator of the immune system, ozone will calm the immune system down if it is over-active in cases of auto-immune diseases, or will stimulate the immune system in cases where it is under-active (e.g. cancer and chronic infections). The basic logic behind ozone therapy in the treatment of cancer is that healthy cells in the body need oxygen to flourish, but cancer cells cannot live in an oxygenated environment. Studies have shown that ozone therapy that was administered by autohemotransfusion on three alternate days over one week improved oxygenation in the most hypoxic tumors. Another 2018 study that assessed the effect of ozone therapy in women with progressive cervical cancer found a slight increase in immune function. Perhaps most fascinating, however, is a 2015 study that revealed that giving high-dose oxygen may help efforts to stimulate the immune system against tumors. In this study, “tumor-bearing mice were placed in chambers with well-controlled gas composition (60% oxygen)” to mimic protocols of supplemental oxygen delivery to humans. Researchers found that ozone shrank lung tumors in mice, and the killer cells went after tumors that had spread, or metastasized, in mice with a difficult-to-treat type of breast cancer. In fact, my hypothesis a few years ago that ozone should be used as a complementary therapy to chemo is now being considered by doctors today, given that it can enhance the efficacy while reducing the side effects of chemotherapy.
Diet & Juicing
Nutrition plays a significant role in both preventing and slowing the progression of cancer. There is strong evidence that diets rich in vegetables, fruits, dietary fiber, some healthy fatty acids, and whole grains are conducive to preventing cancer and favor recovery from it as well. In researching the best diets for cancer, I’ve come across the ketogenic, macrobiotic, mediterranean, and vegan diet. I’ve read both good and bad responses about each. For example, despite the many good things I’ve heard about the ketogenic diet, I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily good for all cancer patients, unless they’re suffering from brain cancer. However, the one type of diet that I’ve found to be positive all-around is a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets are diets that primarily rely on vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and healthy fats such as avocados and coconuts, while minimizing or excluding meat, dairy, and eggs.
Studies have shown that diets rooted primarily in vegetarianism have proved to be effective in preventing as well as treating cancer. For example, a 2017 study revealed that compounds (notably sulforaphane and polyphenols) in foods that are rich in a plant-based diet could change tumors from ER-negative to ER-positive cancers, making the cancer more likely to respond to treatment. Furthermore, consuming a lot of cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli sprouts, kale, collard greens, cabbage, turnips, broccoli rabe, and bok choy) is critically important, given that they are enriched with “several chemical components that have tremendous negative effects on multiple pathways of cancer cells due to their anti-proliferative and anti-tumorigenic properties.” In fact, another great way to reap the benefits of these vegetables is through juicing. Juicing helps the body to absorb more nutrients from the vegetables because it separates the juice from the fiber. In fact, it’s the fastest way of getting nutrition into the body, as it nourishes cells directly with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. My mom enjoys juicing carrots, beets, celery, cabbage, and even ginger. These types of foods contain bioactive compounds that have potential anticancer as well as detoxifying properties, while ginger has been shown to act as an anti-cancer ant anti-inflammatory agent. Last but not least, probiotics are essential in promoting good gut health – which is critical in having a strong immune system to fight cancer and lowering inflammation in the body. Probiotics have been shown to activate the body’s natural killer cells in promoting the adaptive immune response against pathogens, so try to take one on a daily basis.
Mushrooms are nature’s best superfood, and have been proven to possess medicinal benefits against cancer. Reishi, shiitake, chaga, maitake, and turkey tail have all been proven to decrease the body’s inflammation response, reduce the growth of tumors that are hormone receptor positive, and boost immune function. Since my mom was diagnosed, she’s been taking 1,000 mg of turkey tail supplements per day (given that raw mushrooms do not offer the same benefits for cancer patients as supplements do). Researchers that performed a 7-year study funded by the National Institute of Health found that immune function in breast cancer patients was enhanced in those who took daily doses of turkey tail in pill form, and that this mushroom increases natural killer cell functional activity towards tumor detection and eradication. The pill they took was the same one my mom takes – Host Defense Turkey Tail mushroom. Furthermore, the FDA recently approved a clinical trial for turkey tail mushrooms, in which cancer patients would take it in combination with conventional chemotherapy. Turkey tail has significant potential in being a transformative cancer therapy.
Acupuncture—defined as “a family of procedures involving stimulation of anatomical locations on the skin by a variety of techniques” by the National Institutes of Health—is derived from ancient Chinese medicine, which takes into account four main functions the body needs to work properly in order to maintain health. This begins with the acknowledgement that oxygen serves as fuel for the body and the brain, and that a lack of oxygen in the tissues inevitably leads to disease. Chinese acupuncturists believe that a substance called ‘qi’ circulates around the body through pathways called meridians, and that a significant number of acupuncture points are specified on the body of the twelve or fourteen major meridians. Despite the fact that western scientists have disproved that qi and meridians exist in the body, advocates of acupuncture have developed two theories that align with the modern conventional way of thought. The first is the gate control theory of pain, which suggests that nerves in the body can be compared to railway tracks that head for the station in the brain’s pain reception centers. As such, a sudden or small sharp pain from a needle will essentially cause the points to switch, leaving any old pain signals in the body unable to reach the brain’s station. The second theory proposes a type of “analgesic action” of acupuncture, which is associated with the release of endorphins within the brain. MRI’s have shown that acupuncture has effects on cortical activity, and neuroimaging has been shown to distinguish between placebo vs real acupuncture. More research is needed in assessing the benefit of acupuncture in cancer, as “12 (36%) of the 33 conducted trials were on various cancers, and 7 (21%) were specific to breast cancer.” Among these studies, however, an overall rate of 63% reported positive results.
Most importantly, acupuncture has also been shown to significantly improve immune function, which is critical in helping the body identify and eradicate cancer cells. For example, a research experiment tested peripheral blood samples before and after a group of 34 females who received an acupuncture session, versus a control group of 20 women did not. The results showed that “the most favorable effects of acupuncture on the immune functions appear seventy-two hours after the single session and persisted one month after the end of the complete treatment.” Furthermore, impaired immune functions such as chemotaxis, phagocytosis, and NK activity were significantly improved in the post-acupuncture bloodwork. The improvement in natural killer cells via acupuncture is critical given that these cells play a significant role in controlling tumor activity as well as inflammation. Aside from its immunity-boosting benefits, several patients have adopted the use of acupuncture for cancer-related psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, insomnia, and impairment in quality of life.
Turmeric & Curcumin
Turmeric, a spice grown in Asian countries, is known in Ayurvedic medicine to be a detoxifier of the body. Curcumin—the key phenolic compound in the spice turmeric—has been found to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, analgesic, anti-allergic, and antiseptic properties, and is capable of inducing programmed cell death in rare breast cancer cells. It has chemopreventive and antitumoral activities against some aggressive and recurrent cancers. One 2013 study found that patients with neck and head cancer who chewed 1,000 mg of curcumin in tablet form each day experienced suppressed rates of tumor growth. Another study showed that curcumin was able to inhibit the proliferation of various tumor cells and prevent carcinogen-induced cancers in mice. During active cancer therapy, a supplemental regimen of turmeric is now being evaluated in combination with chemotherapy and radiation given their role as “modifiers of biologic response or as adaptogens, potentially enhancing the efficacy of the conventional therapies or reducing toxicity.” Turmeric can be taken raw (in its original root form), as a powder, extract supplement, or even essential oil.
IV Vitamin C Therapy
Vitamin C is a well-known anti-oxidant that actually has been proven to possess tumoricidal effects. Clinical studies showed that high-dose vitamin C, given by intravenous and oral routes, may improve symptoms and prolong life in terminal cancer patients. Vitamin C injections are able to induce apoptosis in cancer cells, and actually change the transcriptome of breast cancer cells. It is able to induce apoptosis via the disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential and the suppression of the translocation of transferring receptor from cytosol to membrane. Vitamin C therapy has also been shown to suppress the proliferation of cancer cells that are involved in metastasis, as well as increase immune function. One such case was a 49 year old man who was diagnosed with a primary bladder tumor with multiple surrounding tumors around 2-3 cm. He declined systemic chemotherapy and opted for IV vitamin C treatment. He began with 30 g of vitamin C twice per week for 3 months, followed by 30 g once every 1–2 months for 4 years. It’s been 9 years since his diagnosis, and the patient is in good health with no symptoms of metastasis or recurrence. Anther study performed in 2015 showed that a woman with multiple pulmonary metastases who received high doses of vitamin C therapy intravenously experienced complete regression of her metastasis, resulting in complete remission of the primary carcinoma. Patients who use vitamin C therapy often can go into remission in as little as seven weeks.
Intermittent fasting – an eating pattern in which one adheres to a specific time window in which he or she may not eat—has been explored with regards to its effects on tumor growth and progression. This is due to the fact that short-term fasting may help better target cancer cells, specifically through its ability to promote stem cell-based regeneration and reverse immunosuppression. One study revealed that mice put on a diet of intermittent fasting experienced trends in delayed tumor growth when compared to those that were not. Researchers also found that putting mice on intermittent fasting diets combined with chemotherapy drugs such as doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide not only slowed the growth of tumors, but also prompted a 33% increase in the levels of cancer-fighting white blood cells, making the cancer-killing cells more effective at attacking and shrinking the tumors. Another study showed that fasting is able to “modulate the tumor microenvironment” by allowing enhanced drug delivery and reducing circulating growth factors and inflammation. With regards to actual human clinical trials, a 2016 study found that “prolonging the length of the nightly fasting interval may be a simple, nonpharmacologic strategy for reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence.”
Mind-body medicine is defined as focusing on the interactions among the brain, mind, body, and behavior. It describes the powerful ways in which emotional, mental, social, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect health. Mind-body medicine specifically focuses on intervention strategies that are thought to promote health such as relaxation, hypnosis, visual imagery, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. The mind-body strategy of meditation has been proven most effective in regulating the body’s stress response—an integral part of cancer formation. Meditation—defined as the act of attempting to clear the mind through concentrated focus on an object, sound, breath, or other movement—serves to promote the practice of mindfulness, or awareness of the present moment, designed to reduce stress and promote relaxation. It is often associated with a perceptual shift in which one’s thoughts and feelings are recognized as events occurring in the broader field of awareness. Meditation has been shown to regulate emotional and affective responses to stress, decrease inflammation in the body, and strengthen the immune system. In fact, researchers in Canada even found that the telomeres (the protein caps at the end of chromosomes that determine how quickly a cell ages) of cancer patients who meditated over a three month period stayed the same length rather than shortening as they did in the patients who did not meditate. I encourage you to start a meditation practice on a daily basis. Try some guided ones before you’re comfortable enough in your practice to be able to clear your mind to just focus on your breath, and watch how your mind and body begin to change.
I hope that the information above was informative, and I encourage you to review the studies linked throughout this post to strengthen your knowledge and understanding of the complex science behind these therapies. Take control of your own healing journey, and try a more integrative approach.