The history and meaning of Ayurvedic medicine
In 2017, 9.6 million people died from cancer in the world, making it the second cause of death in the world, after cardiovascular diseases. It goes without saying that the entire medical community is preoccupied more and more to find better treatments for this unmerciful disease. However though, there might be something that the medical scientific community and evidence-based medicine might be missing, and that is the role of Ayurveda in curing cancer. This is what we will concentrate our focus on in the next paragraphs.
What is ayurvedic medicine? Where does it come from? What it’s its history? Well, to put it shortly, Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that appeared about 5,000 years ago.
It is not just one treatment. It is a way of diagnosing illness and using a wide range of treatments and techniques. but there is way more to this. Ayurveda is actually a word in Indian, where “ayur” means life and “veda” means knowledge. It has to be known that Ayurveda doesn’t mean just one form of include, but actually, it does include more forms, some examples being: meditation, massage, yoga, herbal medicine, or specific Ayurvedic medications.
It also has to be mentioned the fact that Ayurvedic practitioners are stating that we are made from 3 main elements which are known as doshas:
fire and water (pitta dosha) — handles digestion and metabolism
air and space (vata dosha) — movement
water and earth (kapha dosha) — gives cohesion and structure.
What Ayurvedic practitioners are saying is simply that all the three doshas need to be in complete harmony and balance for the human body to work at its full potential and to be perfectly healthy.
How does Ayurveda aim to treat cancer? Modern research on this matter
Ayurveda defines cancer as a chronic imbalance of Tridosha (pathophysiological entities), dhatus (tissue), and Triguna (mental qualities) and can be treated without any side effect. The first step is to control the Tridosha and Triguna. Hundreds of years back in India, herbal medicines have been used successfully, and in the previous few decades, it has been consumed throughout the world. In 2004, the pharmaceutical market was worth the US $550 billion, and by the year 2009, the prediction was $900 billion. The current requirement for medicinal plants in the US is $14 billion per year, and it would be increased to $5 trillion by 2050. After knowing the dangerous side effects of synthetic drugs and their high costs, people start using herbal drugs in developing countries as well as in developed countries ( Koul, 2019).
So, as you probably see, the main method through which Ayurveda aims to cure cancer is through herbal medicine. So, in the next part we will briefly check some of the most-known herbal plants used in Ayurvedic medicine:
Pomegranate (Punica granatum), seen as a sacred fruit in some religions, research showed that might have anti-cancer properties for different types of cancer
the Mangosteen fruit. Some studies showed that it might kill different types of cancer cells. As an example, it slowed the growth of breast cancer in mice
Sanjeevani ( Selaginella bryopteris), a traditional Indian herb, showed that this plant stopped the growth of cancer cells in test tubes along with reducing ovarian cancer cells in mice
Withaferin A (Withania somnifera), like Sanjeevabu, US researchers have found that it stopped the growth of breast cancer cells in test tubes. Another study from 2017 found that it could help make a certain type of chemotherapy (cisplatin) more efficient. And fresher, in 2018, researchers have discovered that it could kill melanoma cancer cells through a well-known cell death mechanism called apoptosis.
It should be however noted the fact that some of the Ayurvedic medicine methods are certainly safe, like massage and yoga, but, when it comes to ingestion of certain herbs, things require for sure more attention from the patient’s side. The problem mostly comes from the fact that still, many herbal medicines used in Ayurvedic medicine have not been tested or well researched yet so that the patient’s safety could be assured. There have indeed been reported cases of poisoning with herbal medicines used in Ayurvedic medicine.
However, before anyone jumps to conclusions, keep in mind that in those cases there were also other “ingredients” added to the herbs, like arsenic and mercury. To be the safest you can be, someone should buy these treatments only from qualified herbal practitioners, and, of course, everyone should check with their doctor before taking any herbal medicine.
Energy change therapy
Well, as we stated before, Ayurvedic medicine doesn’t imply only herbal medicine but many other techniques like meditation, relaxation, massage, and so on. Also, we talked about Kapha, Vata, Pitta, the three main energies of the body, and any disease comes from the imbalance of any of these three energies. The primary goal of Ayurvedic medicine is to act in a different way compared to traditional medicine. No pain should come from the treatments, no complex surgeries, no synthetic or chemically produced drugs.
Ayurvedic medicine clearly states the fact that energy is a very important factor when it comes to diseases and can influence the chance of cancer appearing or curing. Ayurvedic practitioners declare that everyone has three main energies inside them, however, every personality is unique, therefore, one or two doshas might be more dominant in a particular person than in another. The most important thing to notice here is that each dosha has physical and cognitive characteristics, therefore Ayurvedic practitioners use these energy pathways to describe the common traits, diagnose the underlying conditions and define the body type and personality. Therefore, as Ayurvedic medicine has started to spread more in the Western world, not only in Asia, also some Ayurvedic centres from Canada have stated the fact that they take every patient as unique, with his energies and needs. Only through this method, the best results can be achieved, the three energies have to be changed and brought to a balance, however, we need to know first with what energies the patient comes, so he will receive the best type of Ayurvedic treatment.
The most researched method to cure cancer of the Ayurveda arsenal
After some research through the main medical scientific databases (e.g. Pubmed), one thing was clear: the most researched therapeutic method and herb of Ayurvedic medicine seem to be Withania somnifera (WS), better known as Ashwagandha. So, what does this medicinal herb actually do? Well, many things, it appears. But first, more about WS. It is one of the most studied Rasayana botanicals used in Ayurveda practice for its immunomodulatory, anti-ageing, apoptogenic, and rejuvenating effects. The botanical is being used for various clinical indications, including cancer. Several studies exploring molecular mechanisms of WS suggest its
possible role in improving clinical outcomes in cancer management. Therefore, research on WS may offer new insights into the rational development of therapeutic adjuvants for cancer (Saggam A, 2020). Saggam et. Al managed to do a pretty complete review of most of the relevant literature on this subject, how does actually WS influences the development of cancer, and how it can cure it. Well, more interesting was the fact that WS does an even better job at preventing cancer than curing it. Through which mechanisms? For the more “nerdy” people out there, through modulation of apoptotic, proliferative, and metastatic markers in cancer. All these modulations seem to take action through withanolides, these withanolides activating tumour suppressor proteins which will stop the proliferation of cancer cells. Even better, it has been proven that WS rises the efficacy of regular cancer therapeutics like the well-known chemotherapy. So, yes, it has been scientifically proven the fact that these withanolides from WS act like a therapeutic adjuvant in controlling cancer, plus enhancing the effect of regular cancer treatments.
Could Ayurveda even treat other diseases excluding cancer?
Well, even if we would love that, not really, but, surprisingly, it does have a certain effect. About Parkinson’s disease, just to keep it short, it is a chronic disease of the nervous system caused by the deficiency of dopamine in the brain. Therefore, characteristic symptoms will appear, as bradykinesia, rigidity, and uncontrolled tremor. Well, it will be amazing when you find out that a plant used in Ayurvedic medicine, Mucuna pruriens, is a natural source of levodopa which will serve as dopamine for the brain (Pathak-Gandhi N, 2017). This will certainly improve the symptoms of poor people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. However, more studies need to be done until safe medicaments will appear based on this study, but it is a promising one, for sure.
Ayurveda and cancer, what comes next?
So, how is the future in this matter? It is clear that Ayurvedic medicine has shown promising results in preventing and treatment of cancer, but, can it take the next step?
Well, for sure the next step to this objective is many randomized controlled clinical trials (RCT). These studies need to be very well designed and funded so that correct and reliable results will come out (Balachandran, 2005). More on this, these studies should not find a hard time searching for funds as more and more people, year after year, get cancer, unfortunately.
The problem is, for sure, the fact that many Ayurvedic drugs are still in the pre-clinical phase, without serious and certain effort being done to overcome this blockage. At least the health professional should try to put more effort into this and contribute more if the pharma companies aren’t willing to yet. It is, surely, for an amazing cause. Not to talk about the many other benefits of Ayurvedic medicine, as stated previously in this article, with dozens of herbal medicine, each one of them with certain benefits, some for insomnia, digestion, anxiety, others for headaches, fever and so on. The potential is huge, only if more attention from the medical world would be focused on this matter.
First of all, congratulations if you made it this far. It certainly shows that you are truly interested in Ayurvedic medicine and this is simply amazing. As it has been shown in the entire article, there are many reasons for a person to be interested in this kind of medicine, being healthy or unhealthy, unfortunately. For sure, for the very interested persons in this matter, more research and information is needed, which is available on the internet, fortunately.
Ayurvedic medicine, on its own, still has a hard time making it in the “standard medicine”, still being seen as alternative medicine, the kind of medicine with fewer scientific proofs and clinical studies. But for sure, this is no reason for which it should be ignored, it just needs to be more studied. As we wrote in the main title of the article, maybe Ayurvedic medicine would not bring so much attention if it could only heal headaches or gastric problems, but the fact that it has to potential to help in preventing and healing this merciless disease called cancer it is simply stunning, And in the future, hopefully, it will.