Complete Healing Systems

The primary complete healing systems in alternative medicine include Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda. These systems have treated cancer patients for centuries and continue to today.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda focus on the patient more than the disease. The disease is viewed as an expression of a deeper imbalance. Various modalities are used to restore balance and whole body health, such as herbalism, energy therapies and mind-body therapies. Herbal medicine is the primary mode of cancer treatment in both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

The systems date back so far that pinpointing their origins is difficult. Ayurvedic texts from India date back to sometime between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D. Chinese medical texts trace back to the Shang dynasty around 1400 to 1100 B.C.

Centuries of medical observation back these traditional healing systems. In recent decades, a rise in clinical trials examining the healing modalities used in Ayurveda and TCM has provided evidence for their effectiveness. Few studies have included mesothelioma patients, but many have included lung cancer patients. The herbs and medicines used in these trials may offer benefits to people with mesothelioma.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine is widely used in cancer care in China. Approximately 72 percent of cancer clinical trials conducted in China since the 1900s have combined conventional therapies with TCM. In many cases, conventional treatments like chemotherapy are combined with herbal medicines, acupuncture, dietary changes or mind-body therapies.

In the studies that used TCM, the most commonly reported benefits of using TCM therapies included reduction of tumor size and treatment side effects, and improvement in symptoms, quality of life, and biomarker levels.

Chinese Herbs for Cancer

Of the thousands of herbs used in TCM, at least 133 have been used to treat lung cancer. Many of them have direct anti-cancer effects, while others address symptoms of the cancer or side effects caused by traditional treatments.

Herbs Evidence of Therapeutic Use
Astragalus The herb halts tumor growth, inhibits tumor spread, lessens harmful effects of chemotherapy, and enhances platinum-base chemo drugs (like cisplatin for mesothelioma).
Asparagus root Studies offer evidence of anti-cancer effects against lung cancer.
Licorice root Studies show the root is an expectorant that improves the release of mucus, which is beneficial for lung disease.
Jin fu kang Decades of clinical trials on this herbal blend of 12 extracts show it increases survival rates of lung cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Nan sha shen This herb has antibacterial effects and helps a dry cough with minor mucus. A study that injected nan sha shen into the peritoneum showed reduced inflammation and less cancer-promoting compounds.
Oldenlandia diffusa Studies show the herb induces cancer cell death and stimulates the immune system to attack cancer.
Poria This herb helps edema, is a diuretic, reduces mucus production and helps sleeplessness.
Yangzheng xiaoji Recent studies of this formula of 14 herbs show it benefits chemotherapy and inhibits the spread and adhesion of cancer cells.

In addition to medicinal herbs, TCM practitioners may recommend other therapies to bring the body back into balanced health. Other therapies may include acupuncture, special diet or foods, massage, qigong or psychological interventions.

Ayurveda

The two earliest Ayurvedic texts refer to cancer as granthi (minor tumor) and arbuda (major tumor). Ayurveda -- which comes from the Indo-European Sanskrit words ayur (life, vital power) and veda (knowledge) -- believes that cancer develops when the body-control systems are out of balance. These body-control systems are known as doshas and include the nervous system (vata), the venous system (Pitta) and the arterial system (Kapha). In the case of mesothelioma, they believe an outside force (asbestos) caused an imbalance to develop in the doshas.

Ayurvedic treatments for cancer include herbal medicines, purification therapies, lifestyle improvements, dietary changes and surgery. In general, natural therapies are used before surgery is considered. An overarching goal of restoring whole body health is central to the medicines and therapies prescribed.

Ayurvedic Herbs for Cancer

Herbal decoctions containing a blend of plant medicines are common in Ayurvedic cancer care. The formulations reportedly impact multiple organ systems simultaneously, as well as several biochemical pathways involved in cancer development, growth and spread.

Herbs Evidence of Therapeutic Use for Cancer
Andrographis paniculata The extract diterpenes from the herb protects against tumor formation and promotes detoxification of carcinogens.
Annona atemoya An extract from the fruit can cause cancer cell death.
Phyllanthus niruri An extract of the herb increased the life span of rats with cancer.
Podophyllum hexandrum linn. Known for inhibiting mitosis and being cytotoxic to cancer cells, this herb is used to treat lung cancer, sarcomas and melanoma. A chemically modified version is used in conventional liver cancer treatment.
Tinspora cordifolia The herb enhances the immune system and reduces tumor volume.
Semecarpus anacardium An extract of this plant's nut increased life span against leukemia, melanoma and glioma. Milk extract of the nut stimulates the immune system and normalizes tumor marker levels.

In addition to treating the cancer itself, Ayurvedic herbs are also used to treat the symptoms of cancer and can be used to ease the side effects of modern cancer therapies.

Symptoms and Side Effects Healing Herbs
Cough or shortness of breath Curcuma longa, Zingiber officinale, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Terminalia chebula, Ocimum sanctum, Adhatoda vasica
Anorexia or weight loss Withania somnifera, Sida cordifolia, Asparagus racemosa, Vitis vinifera, Plumbago zeylenica, Tinospora cordifolia, Zingiber officinale, Coptidis rhizoma
Diarrhea Aegle marmelos, Holarrhena antidysenterica, Punica granatum, Cyperus rotundus, Emblica offininalis, Plumbago zeylanica
Chronic constipation Terminalia chebula
Nausea or vomiting Eclipta prostrata, Emblica officinalis, Withania somnifera, Piper longum
Pain or ache Allium sativum (garlic)
Insomnia Bacopa monniera
Stress or depression Ocimum sanctum
Anxiety, stress or insomnia Herbal blend of Withania sominifera, Asparagus racemosa, Hydrocotyle asiatica, Nardostachys jatamamsi, Elettaria cardamomum, Tribulus terrestris, Zingiber officinalis, Eclipta alba

Work with Licensed Professionals

In Western medicine, a focus on disease treatment lends to the perspective that a particular standard of treatment should work best for the disease at hand regardless of the patient. Both Ayurveda and TCM take an opposing perspective, in that the patient's overall health is the focus rather than the disease.

As a result, treatment is individualized in complete healing systems. The herbal medicines and therapies recommended will vary even among patients with the same diagnosis. A set of herbs prescribed to one mesothelioma patient may not be beneficial to another person with mesothelioma even if their condition appears the same. This element makes it important to work with an experienced and licensed TCM health professional as opposed to self-prescribing.

Additional Resources


Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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