Cancer has remained as an enduring mystery to the science of medicine… But, in recent years there has been great progress in understanding the causes of cancer development and possible mechanisms for its treatment. In this article, we will explore the role of inflammation and immune suppression in development of cancer. We will also discuss some useful Ayurvedic herbs that can benefit in integrative treatment of Cancer.
Inflammation and Cancer:
Chronic low-grade Inflammation has been found to be a causative factor in about 20% of new cancer cases.1 However, nearly 100% of advanced cancers produce an inflammatory effect that propagates and maintains growth, as well as metastasis of the cancer.2 Inflammatory signals seem to increase rate of cell division and result in DNA damage. Inflammation also promotes new blood vessel formation, which bring nutrition to these abnormally growing cells.3 Studies show, that controlling inflammatory activity can inhibit early-stage cancer development.4
So, there is a powerful case for controlling underlying inflammation in management of cancer.
Innate Immunity and Cancer:
Most cancerous cells that the body produces are recognized and destroyed by Natural Killer Cells of the innate immune system.5 As cancer progresses, tumors develop immune-tolerance by producing immunosuppressive signals and cells.3 This has a protective effect for cancer against our innate immune system. This knowledge has lead to development of cancer-immunotherapy: where signals from the cancer cells are used to activate our own immune system to fight against that cancer.6
Therefore, supporting our innate immune system provides great promise for complementary cancer therapy.
Role of Ayurvedic Herbs:
Andrographis p.: Kalmegh (Sanskrit name) is a well-known herb in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine traditions. It is known as the “King of Bitters”, a quality that is good indicator of how good it is as a medicine. Terpene compounds in the herb serve immunostimulatory function that activates surveillance against cancer cells.7 Furthermore, Kalmegh is a very good preventive herb as well… Studies show that it helps to reduce DNA damage as part of its activity.8 This activity, prevents degeneration of cellular activity, which can lead to issues with aging and cancer development. Kalmegh can be used in those with immune weakness caused by stress, as well as those seeking preventive or complementary therapy for cancer.
Phyllanthus a.: Bhumyamalaki (Sanskrit) is a lesser known, yet powerful immune-modulating and detoxing herb of the Ayurvedic tradition. One of the main pathways that cancers metastasize (spread), is by using inflammation to burrow their way into blood vessels and lymphatic system. As part of its immune-modulating activity, Bhumyamalaki has been shown to reduce general and cancer-related inflammatory signals (Cox, iNos, NFĸB).9 This activity makes it useful in cancer-preventive inflammation management. Bhumyamalaki has been shown to control metastasis of cancer as part of its ability of controlling cancer-related inflammation.10 In other words, bhumyamalaki is helpful in keeping a tumor contained while it is being treated.
Tinospora c.: Guduchi (Sanskrit) it also commonly known as Amruta in Ayurvedic tradition. Amruta means “Elixir” that rejuvenates and give everlasting vitality. This herb contains high concentration of berberine, which helps to control blood sugar, an important fuel for cancer cells.11 Additionally, Berberine is a very helpful anti-cancer compound. It is known to inhibit cancer causing microbes like H. pylori bacteria and Hepatitis C viruses. It also inhibits activity of inflammatory and oxidative enzyme in the body that prevent or control development of cancer.12 In studies, Guduchi has been shown to promote dose-dependent cancer-free survival in mice.13 This is attributed to detoxifying, antioxidant and rejuvenating activity of Guduchi herb.
While this is great, very high doses of Berberine can be toxifying… Therefore, it is best to take the herb in moderation and in care of your physician.
Curcuma l.: Turmeric is the most commonly known ingredients of curry. It is widely used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It is very benign and has been proven effective in many multitude of conditions that involve immune-modulation. It has been shown to be effective in so many conditions that it requires a whole book to describes all of this health promoting properties.14 The herb is one of the most inflammation modulating herbs that has been shown to be specifically effective against: Colon cancer,15 prostate cancer16, breast cancer17, blood cancer (multiple myeloma18), and more.
Turmeric can be used commonly as part of day to day cooking and also as an ingredient herbal tea. Daily use is great for preventive benefit. However, the powerful healing compound of Curcumin is only present in very low doses. Curcumin is also difficult to absorb when administered as a simple powder. Therefore, specific therapeutic extractions of Curcumin combined with fatty acids and long pepper have been developed to maximize absorption and effectiveness. I find this to be a very effective medicine if complementary management of severe inflammatory disease, joint pains, as well as cancer.
A comprehensive strategy of Ayurvedic & Naturopathic Medicine includes use dietary modifications that minimize blood sugar spikes, depleting cancer-supportive dietary and lifestyle components, as well as maximizing innate vitality. Herbal medicines can be used strategically and directly to communicate with the body and drive the body’s defenses against cancer cells. Whether it is prevention or cancer treatment, natural medicine plays an important role in an integrative treatment plan. Natural treatment contributes to improving length and quality of life for those suffering from cancer.
- Mantovani A, Allavena P, Sica A, Balkwill F. Cancer-related inflammation. Nature. 2008;454(7203):436–444.
- Grivennikov SI, Greten FR, Karin M. Immunity, inflammation, and cancer. Cell. 2010;140(6):883–899.
- Shalapour S and Karin M. Immunity, inflammation, and cancer: an eternal fight between good and evil. J Clin Invest. 2015;125(9):3347–3355.
- Tomasetti C, Vogelstein B. Cancer etiology. Variation in cancer risk among tissues can be explained by the number of stem cell divisions. Science. 2015;347(6217):78–81.
- Nouroz F, et al. Natural killer cells enhance the immune surveillance of cancer. Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Volume 17(2), April 2016, Pages 149-154.
- Mohamed, E., Cao, Y. & Rodriguez, P.C. Cancer Immunol Immunother (2017) 66: 1069.
- Kumar RA, et al. Anticancer and immunostimulatory compounds from Andrographis paniculata. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004 Jun;92(2-3):291-5.
- Sultan Ahmad Md, et al. Andrographia paniculata a Miracle Herbs for cancer treatment: In vivo and in vitro studies against Aflatoxin B1 Toxicity. Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics, Vol. 15(2), April 2014, Pages 163-171.
- Keimer AK, et al. Phyllanthus amarus has anti-inflammatory potential by inhibition of iNOS, COX-2, and cytokines via the NF-κB pathway. March 2003Volume 38, Issue 3, Pages 289–297.
- Sau Har Lee, et al. Antimetastatic Effects of Phyllanthus on Human Lung (A549) and Breast (MCF-7) Cancer Cell Lines. PLoS ONE 6(6).
- Sangeetha MK, et al. Anti-diabetic property of Tinospora cordifolia and its active compound is mediated through the expression of Glut-4 in L6 myotubes. Phytomedicine: international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology 20(3-4) · January 2013.
- Sun Y, et al. A systematic review of the anticancer properties of berberine, a natural product from Chinese herbs. Anticancer Drugs. 2009 Oct;20(9):757-69.
- Jigetia GC and Rao SK. Evaluation of the Antineoplastic Activity of Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) in Ehrlich Ascites Carcinoma Bearing Mice. Biol. Pharm. Bull. 29(3) 460—466 (2006)
- Goel, Ajay. Curcumin: Nature’s Answer to Cancer and Other Chronic Diseases. (Book), Take Charge Books, NC (2016)
- Patel, Vaishali B. et al. “Colorectal Cancer: Chemopreventive Role of Curcumin and Resveratrol.” Nutrition and cancer 62.7 (2010)
- Teiten, Marie-Hélène et al. “Chemopreventive Potential of Curcumin in Prostate Cancer.” Genes & Nutrition 5.1 (2010): 61–74. PMC. Web. 14 May 2018.
- Liu, Dongwu, and Zhiwei Chen. “The Effect of Curcumin on Breast Cancer Cells.” Journal of Breast Cancer 16.2 (2013): 133–137. PMC. Web. 14 May 2018.
- Vadhan-Raj S., Curcumin Downregulates NF-kB and Related Genes in Patients with Multiple Myeloma: Results of a Phase I/II Study. Blood 2007 110:1177.