Natural Cancer Remedies: What You Don’t Want To Know (But Should)

Natural cancer remedies have been around for at least 3,000 years and yet it appears that modern science and Western Medicine either ignore these time-tested solutions or are in a conspiracy to keep them from the public. Why is this the case? The truth is much more insidious. But to understand it fully, we need to explore the history of cancer and how these natural cancer remedies are supposed to work.

Historically, cancer has been known since the days of antiquity. Over 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, the ancient Indian civilizational had used heat to treat breast cancer. Yet this once marginal disease has risen so dramatically in the population during our modern time. There are many possible reasons for this, but one exceptionally important reason strands out: we live longer.

Cancer strikes a predominantly older population. It has always been a component of human existence, just as it has with other animal species. But as a result of dramatically increased longevity, we are seeing a lot more of it than ever before in history. Of course, we are also living in a time with increased environmental toxins, and these are affecting a younger demographic as well. It seems that there are more cancers now than ever before. In truth, there are more cancers, or more specifically, more cancers have been identified and classified.

This is astoundingly important.

It is also important to understand that humans are not the only animals who experience cancer in their natural lives. Because most species live just long enough to procreate and nurture their young, it is difficult to identify cancers in wild animal populations. In the simplest terms, just as with humans, once procreation has occurred an animal has outlived its biological usefulness. Past breeding age, animals become a burden to their pack or tribe. And if they are not killed off by predators or their own young, nature has other mechanisms. There is always starvation, or disease; there are viruses, infections and the possibility of a mortal wound; there is cancer.

Scientists noticed in the early half of the 20th Century that some animal populations were less likely to show signs of cancer. By 1966, there were 36 years of study accumulated on the foods these animals ate, and Western Medicine was taking a serious look at the role of nutrients in cancer prevention. The late Dr. Lee Wattenberg published a landmark paper highlighting the importance of certain chemical compounds in a variety of foods ranging from cabbage to coffee. The theory was that most, but not all, cancers could be prevented by a healthy diet. Emphasis needs to remain on the idea of healthy.

[As an aside, I am proof that eating lots of “cancer fighting” foods does not mean a person won’t still end up with cancer. My favorite foods tend to contain the anti-cancer compounds. I eat high amounts of garlic, indulge in dark chocolate and imbibe heavily in coffee; broccoli and Brussels sprouts are my favorite vegetables; I have always enjoyed carrots and berries… I have eaten these natural cancer preventatives my entire life, in abundance, and I still developed lung cancer without any identifiable environmental cause or family history.]

Fad prevention, and certainly fad “cures” tend to rely on an overabundance of certain foods or ingredients. Often these can lead to toxic levels of exposure. In the short term, there may be some perceived health benefits, but long term adherence may prove detrimental as organs suffer under increased duress. Take for example the carrot juice “cure.”

There are web sites touting the evidence that drinking the juice from five pounds of carrots every day will cure cancer. While the anecdotal evidence may seem compelling at first blush, it requires deeper, critical examination. Aside from an astounding lack of scientific reasoning behind the treatment, there is absolutely no proof that the carrot juice itself is responsible for the perceived defeat of the cancer. Dr. Wattenberg had worked on studies intended to show that beta carotene, found in carrots, would prevent cancer. This research even went to clinical trials. However, it turned out that beta carotene increased the risk of lung cancer when administered to humans in high doses. And beta carotene, the natural substance converted by the body to Vitamin A, is not alone in the pantheon of touted cures that were revealed to be potential causes in the cancer research dance. Vitamin E was long thought to be a necessary agent in the prevention of prostate cancer, but is now a suspected culprit as well.

Recent European studies on the antifungal component of carrot skin have also shown cancer fighting potential. The problem here is the high dose required in a Petrie dish, still far outweighing what can be achieved within the context of actual human biology. How to deliver this component to the cancer cell at the macrocellular level is a problem yet to be resolved. And juicing is not a viable means of delivery.

Cancer can, and does, go into remission for a variety of reasons, not all of which are completely understood. However, spontaneous remission is exceedingly rare. Generally, remission comes about only as the result of aggressive therapies that actively fight the cancer cells. This is much easier to achieve in the early stages of cancer, when a tumor can be removed or an narrow range targeted. It is more difficult when the cancer is systemic and requires chemotherapy. Understanding the dangers of natural remedies, and more importantly why they are simply unlikely to work at all, requires a very basic and simple understanding of how chemotherapy or any targeted remedy works.

First, natural remedies are rarely tested on human cancer cells beyond a Petrie dish. This is due to multiple factors, including the expense of human trials (and the unwillingness of any company to spend that kind of money knowing it will not likely provide affirmative results). The purveyors of nutritional supplements are able to get around the restrictions imposed on drugs by the FDA by implying supposed benefits without technically making any specific medical claims. And the loose claims they do make, such as “killing cancer cells,” can refer to laboratory experiments that do not reflect human biology at all. So even if “human cancer cells” are used, it does not mean the experiments were conducted on human subjects or even using whatever cancer fighting agent is being promoted at levels which a human could tolerate.

Second, natural remedies may have some general health benefits, but when used to “fight” cancer they may also prevent proven medical therapies from working properly. This is the primary reason that an oncologist will discuss any and all supplements that a patient may be taking during the process of treatment. Chemotherapy works by oxidizing cancer cells. Taking high levels of antioxidants, whether as supplements or by drinking an excessive amount of juice, will directly counter the benefits of the chemotherapy and at the same time offer additional strain on the liver and kidneys. In a way, it is like pouring salt on a wound.

Chemotherapy gets a bad rap for “poisoning” the cancer patient. And in truth, that is what the chemo does; but it is selective poisoning that is monitored and targeted, and is far less deadly than the alternative under most circumstances. Homeopathy is based on the notion that a minute amount of poison brings about a cure. While the notion is mostly harmless (generally speaking, there is no proof that homeopathic remedies work at all), it has been broadly accepted into our culture. Chemotherapy is different in that it uses specific toxic substances in high enough levels to actionably attack the cancer cells and disrupt their ability to divide (and conquer). Also, unlike homeopathy, which is general and approximate at best, there are many chemotherapy drugs approved for specific types of cancers, many of which can be used in concert with one another and also with other agents that perform specific functions like slowing or preventing the growth of new blood vessels to feed developing tumors.

When done right, chemotherapy delivers the right punch to the cancer cells without beating the rest of the body too heavily. It can cause a lot of damage in the process, which is why monitoring is so important. Chemotherapy kills healthy cells along with the cancerous ones, and it can both weaken the bone structure and destroy the marrow. But once the chemo has done its job, marrow can regrow. Healthy tissue can replicate. There is the potential for recovery and a long, healthy life. It is not easy on the body, but then neither is cancer.

Heat and hydrotherapy are also “alternatives” that come up a lot. “Keep your temperature up,” proponents say, believing that heat kills cancer cells. And there is a scientific basis for this theory: high heat has been shown to kill cancer cells before doing too much damage to healthy cells. But this works best when the cancer is limited to a tumor that can be attacked directly though a localized heat source, not by wearing long johns and a heavy coat. And not by sitting in a hot tub. In fact, to be effective, the body temperature must exceed 113 degrees Fahrenheit for a long enough period of time to damage the cancer cells. Trying this safely at home is pretty much impossible, and even generating a fever over 106 Fahrenheit is potentially life threatening. Some clinics have tried a hot bath approach, slowly raising the patient’s body temperature in a tub, but the risks have so far greatly outweighed the largely unproven benefits. Even under “medical supervision,” the evidence of this whole-body heating approach working is sketchy at best, and clearly dangerous. Mild warming, often touted online as a “cure,” where the body is kept over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, does absolutely nothing. However, surgical heating of a tumor or the use of directed radio waves to target and shrink a tumor are viable options in a hospital for some patients.

The biggest test with alternative therapies is understanding their medical history, if any, and why these therapies have not become mainstream. It turns out that some (heat therapy, for example) have a long history of mainstream use that has been split between proven ineffectiveness at one end and surgical application at the other. Many so-called “natural cures” are based on entirely anecdotal evidence but simply cannot be proven to work safely (or at all) under controlled clinical trials. And some, such as “Vitamin B 17,” are clearly not what they claim to be at all, amounting to little more than snake oil and false representation.

While there may be nothing wrong with augmenting a Western approach with homeopathy and sound nutrition, it is unwise to fall into the traps of pseudoscience when making plans for medical care of any sort. Far too people vet the information they come across, especially when it plays into their fears or reaffirms their suspicions, regardless of the validity of these fears and suspicions. When approaching alternative remedies, it is essential to consider this question: would it be a healthy choice, anyway? In the case of a well-rounded, low-toxin diet, for example, the answer would likely be “yes.” Regarding five pounds of juiced carrots daily, not so likely.

A few links on spontaneous regression or remission of various cancers:
http://yalepress.typepad.com/fightingcancer/2009/11/can-cancer-undergo-spontaneous-regression-1.html
http://discovermagazine.com/2007/sep/the-body-can-stave-off-terminal-cancer-sometimes
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3312698/
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-not-so-beautiful-untruth-about-the-gerson-therapy-and-cancer-quackery/
http://www.noetic.org/research/project/spontaneous-remission/faqs/

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