Can we cure cancer with natural remedies?
Recently, there has been an increasing population of cancer sufferers or loved ones of those whom are diagnosed with cancer, calling our pharmacy for advice on certain natural remedies and their effects on cancer healing. This has prompted me to write a post on the role of and evidential support of natural remedies in healing cancer. For centuries, traditional remedies have been used with the hope to cure many diseases and although we know that certain herbs/foods have beneficial effects unfortunately the lack of evidence makes it impossible to use them solely for treatment purposes.
I have made a list of the main ingredients that are being requested and sought for, for their various properties that are thought to help heal cancer. Some are stated to have preventative properties and some more curative.
Turmeric is a spice grown primarily in Asia and belongs to the ginger family and is a major ingredient of curry powder. The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which laboratory studies have shown do have anticancer effects on cancer cells. A phase I clinical trial looked at giving curcumin to 25 patients with precancerous changes in different organs. This study seemed to show that curcumin could stop the precancerous changes becoming cancer. Research has also shown that there are low rates of certain types of cancer in countries where people eat curcumin at levels of about 100mg to 200mg a day over long periods of time. But, currently, there is no conclusive research evidence to show that turmeric or curcumin can prevent or treat cancer. A number of laboratory studies on cancer cells have shown that curcumin does have anticancer effects. It seems to be able to kill cancer cells and prevent more from growing. It has the best effects on breast cancer, bowel cancer, stomach cancer and skin cancer cells. These studies look promising, but we need to do more clinical trials in humans before we will know if curcumin has any potential to treat cancer in people.1
Vitamin C also known as ascorbic acid is found naturally in oranges, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrant, broccoli, brussels sprouts and potatoes. It is important to consume 40mg of vitamin C every day because it can’t be stored in the body.2 High-dose vitamin C may be taken by mouth or given through a vein into the bloodstream. When taken by IV infusion, vitamin C can reach higher levels in the blood than when the same amount is taken by mouth. Some studies of IV high-dose vitamin C in patients with cancer have shown improved quality of life, as well as fewer side effects. However, IV vitamin C may cause serious side effects in patients with kidney disease, G6PD deficiency, or hemochromatosis.3 Unfortunately, the limited robust evidence makes it impossible to use vitamin C alone or to approve its use alongside chemotherapy.
Garlic is closely related to onions, leeks, shallots, scallions and chives. For many years, it has been claimed that garlic can help fight cancer and infection. It is also said that garlic may be beneficial for stomach and abdominal problems. Garlic contains many sulfides, one of which is alliin. When garlic bulbs are crushed, alliin is converted to another compound, allicin. Allicin seems to be one of the main active compounds in garlic and gives the root both its odor and its health benefits. Garlic also is an antioxidant. Garlic may reduce the levels of Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium that can cause stomach ulcers and has been linked to stomach cancer. Protective effects from garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block the formation of cancer-causing substances, halt the activation of cancer-causing substances and enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death. 4Other research results on the beneficial effects of garlic on cancer have been mixed. There are many opinions on how the preparation and amount of garlic eaten may affect your health. Cooking a clove of garlic or cutting it changes the amount and type of the garlic's active compounds. Because of this, some people suggest eating it raw. Eating large amounts of garlic, especially raw, may irritate your gastrointestinal tract, causing stomach upset and gas. But using a couple of cloves in pasta sauce, in salad dressing or on garlic bread, even every day, shouldn't be a problem. 5
Study limitations, including the accuracy of reporting the amounts and frequency of garlic consumed, and the inability to compare data from studies that used different garlic products and amounts make an overall conclusion about garlic and cancer prevention extremely difficult. Since many of the studies looking at garlic use and cancer prevention have used multi-ingredient products, it is unclear whether garlic alone or in combination with other nutritional components may have the greatest effect.
In China, Japan and Korea they sometimes use purified mushroom compounds alongside chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
In 2000, a report published by Cancer Research UK and the University of Strathclyde looked at different types of mushroom and cancer. The review found some Japanese studies that used a particular type of exotic mushroom extract a week before people started cancer treatment. The extract appeared to reduce the side effects of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, including sickness and hair loss.
Some studies seemed to show that these mushrooms could stimulate the immune system to fight disease. There is some evidence from a Japanese study that people who eat a particular type of mushroom all their lives have a lower risk of getting cancer. The mushrooms did seem to affect the cancer in some people. But we have to be very cautious about the results because most of these early trials were not randomised or controlled. So, there was no proper comparison made between patients having the mushrooms and similar patients not being treated with mushrooms or drugs developed from mushrooms. As such, the studies cannot really show whether the mushrooms helped or not. 6
Having completed a project on natural products, I strongly believe traditional remedies have been used for centuries for a reason. Their success, however, is very much debatable. Although we know there are benefits, due to the lack of evidence and studies conducted on natural remedies, we have very limited data on side effects. Consequently, we are unaware of what damage they may be causing.
If we were able to cure cancer with natural remedies only, we would not have the need to search for new drugs. However, the drugs we currently have are not a guarantee to cure either. The use of both chemotherapy and natural remedies seem to show some promising effects, and I believe in the future, we will be seeing more of the duo.
Note: Regardless of whether a treatment is ‘holistic’ or ‘medical’ there is always a possibility that it can interact with your current medicines. It is important to speak to healthcare professional before consuming new medicines.