“Does anyone know anything about the use of ayurveda in treating cancer?” says caregiver auberon. “My brother-in-law has cancer…I just want to know all alternatives.”
Ayurvedic medicine is no magic bullet for curing cancer, but it may help some cancer patients better manage side effects. An ancient system of medicine that originated in India over 5,000 years ago, ayurveda (meaning science or knowledge of life) is a holistic way of diagnosing illness and bringing the body and mind back into balance to help restore health. Treatments and techniques can include special diets, medications, detoxification, herbal medicines, massage, meditation, Yoga, and breathing and relaxation techniques.
In the United States, ayurvedic medicine is considered complementary and alternative medicine, and is still in its infant stages, as far as research goes. A few small clinical trials have shown some effectiveness, but studies on overall ayurvedic medicine, according to the National Institutes of Health, have had problems with research design, lacked appropriate control groups, or had other issues affecting results. Therefore, more research needs to be done before we can be sure of any positive effects.
However, some studies on particular aspects of ayurveda have shown some promise. Laboratory studies on a traditional ayurvedic herbal formula called “amrit nector” showed that it protected normal cells from chemotherapy injury. (We don’t know yet if this would transfer to the human body.) Studies from India show a recently released ayurvedic medicine reduced side effects of chemotherapy and improved blood-platelet count among patients. Other studies on curcuma longa (curcumin), boswellia serrata, and camellia-three ayurvedic botanicals-also showed some positive results. Curcumin displayed powerful antioxidant activity, and the potential to protect against cancer-causing chemicals like cigarette smoke. Boswellia serrata showed the ability to fend off cancer, and to reduce inflammation, and camellia (found in green tea) helped protect cells from DNA mutation.
Massage, yoga, and meditation-also part of ayurveda-are now accepted therapies in helping cancer patients to relax, reduce stress, and increase circulation. However, other common ayurvedic remedies-such as some herbal and cleansing treatments-have had harmful effects. Using enemas, for instance, or forced vomiting, can do more harm than good, depending on the patient’s condition, and aren’t typically recommended. In addition, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, caution is necessary when purchasing ayurvedic herbs, as many (especially those imported from Southeast Asia) have been found to contain contaminants such as lead and mercury. A 2004 study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that of 70 ayurvedic remedies purchased over-the-counter, 14 contained lead, mercury, and/or arsenic at levels that could be harmful-underlying the importance of finding quality brands.
What to do? Check with your doctor first, then if you’d like to try ayurveda, find a well-trained practitioner who can help guide you to quality supplements and treatments that will best help your condition. For qualified practitioners in your area, go to the National Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine (NIAM) and ask them for a list. There are no licenses offered in the U.S. to practice ayurveda, but there are several institutions with educational programs that issue certificates. Many practitioners educated and licensed in India come to practice in the U.S. as well.
Have you tried ayurvedic medicine for help during cancer treatments? What did you think?
Photo courtesy Biji Kurian via Flickr.com.