Why would you want to know what are the top 10 cancer-fighting herbs? Cancer statistics are getting scary – it is the second most common cause of death in the Western world and, according to Macmillan Cancer Research, an estimated 2.5 million people in the UK have had a cancer diagnosis in 2015. This is an increase of almost half a million in the last five years.
On a more positive note, more people are surviving cancer as treatments and diagnostic techniques improve. A lot more can be done, in terms of prevention and nutrition education, both for improving treatment outcomes and to protect against cancer. This is an area that needs to be taken seriously.
Cancer is a result of interactions between our genetics, epigenetics and our environment.
Environmental factors, which account for about 85-90% of risk, include poor diet – usually high in sugar, social poisons – such as alcohol and tobacco, stress and environmental pollutants and known carcinogens – such as glysophate, a herbicide commonly used by farmers.
There is a lot of nutritional advice I could give about this subject but I am focusing on the herbal aspects. Many plants that contain phytochemicals that have specific effects against cancer and are useful alongside conventional treatment, provided all potential interactions have been checked.
- Protect your liver with milk thistle, whose active ingredient is silymarin. It is a wonderful bitter digestive and impedes entrance of toxins into liver membrane cells. It scavenges free radicals and improves intracellular concentration of glutathione, our body’s natural antioxidant.
- Green tea inhibits angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels which is crucial for tumour growth and metastasis) and helps to regulate blood sugar. It also promotes DNA repair and encourages apoptosis (cell death) of damaged cells.
- Digestive and bitter herbs such as burdock to cleanse and heal the gut, encourage bile enzyme secretion and promote a good uptake of nutrients. Burdock is one of the ingredients in Essiac tea, a formula used widely in breast cancer treatment. It is a herb that is high in minerals and is also useful for blood sugar regulation.
- Turmeric is my favourite herb, has been used safety in China and India for thousands of years and is a wonderful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It enhances chemotherapy actions while protecting against damage to healthy cells, induces apoptosis and inhibits angiogenesis in cancer cells. It also plays a significant role in epigenetic processes and may reverse induced changes.
- Medicinal mushrooms such as ganoderma, cordyceps, shiitake contain beta-glucans, immunomodulators which enhance immune activity and increase proliferation and activation of monocytes, a type of white blood cell which plays an important role in the immune system.
- Adaptogens such as Siberian ginseng, which has immunomodulating properties, helps to balance blood sugar, increases energy and stamina and improves depressive symptoms common in cancer patients. It also helps to build resilience to stress, be it emotional or physical.
- Ginger has also been used since ancient times as an anti-emetic. Nausea and vomiting are a common side effect of cancer treatments, so it is great fresh as tea to alleviate these symptoms. Ginger is also useful in the treatment of diarrhoea, another common side effect of cancer treatment. It relieves inflammation and pain and also has angiogenic properties. A recent study has demonstrated it to be highly effective against ovarian cancer.
- Japanese knotweed has the greatest concentration of resveratrol than any other plant. Resveratrol is an antioxidant which reduces inflammation so it’s useful in cancer treatment. It also improves insulin sensitivity and activates sirtuin, which increases production of mitochondria and can help to improve energy levels. Resveratrol has been shown to inhibit pro-proliferative activity and may enhance radiotherapy. It is also traditionally used in Chinese medicine to strengthen liver and kidney function.
- Lymph cleansers and tonics such as cleavers, which grows widely around the UK in hedgerows and is great as a tea. It eliminates excess fluid from the body, purifies the blood and helps to reduce inflammation. It also has anti-neoplastic properties and is used externally and topically in the form of a poultice for cancerous growths and tumours. It is also very high in vitamins and minerals.
- Garlic enhances natural killer cell function and plays a powerful role in the immune system. It is a wonderful antimicrobial, which is important as often cancer treatments leave the immune system completely weakened and prone to opportunistic infections or colonisation. Garlic’s antifungal properties can be very useful as cancer patients often suffer from Candida albicans. It has strong anti-cancer benefits and supports the liver detox pathways. Cut it and leave it for 10 minutes before adding to food to activate its immunoprotective properties. Try to add it at the end of food preparation.