When a person is diagnosed with the C word, one assumes one’s time is almost up. Research has come a long way and there are plenty of drugs available to deal with even the deadliest of cancers. However, the thought of the harsh side effects of chemotherapy looms over patients. Granted it works faster and shows positive results in most patients, however the rate of relapse is high and the side effects are so alarming that in many cases, the patient dies of the side effect rather than the cancer itself. Often it is at the treatment stage, when patients decide to adopt Ayurveda into their chemotherapy regimen to help combat side effects.
Ayurveda has shown proven results with diabetes, stroke, skin conditions, but has not entered the realm of cancer to the same extent. Many Ayurveda formulations that come in the form of bhasmas or ashes contain heavy metals in the form of sulphides. These heavy metals can cause a hindrance to the allopathic treatment and the patient's condition deteriorates. This is where extensive research is required to promote integrative medicine. Integrative medicine is two different systems of medicine coming together to allow complete wellness of the patient.
World Cancer Day is marked on February 4 and this year, Tata Medical Centre (TMC), Mumbai, decided to venture into two new Ayurveda clinical trials to develop alternative treatments for ovarian cancer.
Each year India records around two thousand ovarian cancer cases. The standard of care treatment for ovarian cancer is platinum based chemotherapy and surgery and patients respond very well to this treatment but often relapse very quickly. If Ayurveda can be integrated into their ongoing treatment, overall survival or progression-free survival can improve. Progression free survival is where the patient lives with the disease but it does not get worse.
Ayurveda uses more than a 1000 herbs and most of these plants are known to slow down the pace of the cancer growth and spread rather than complete removal. They also interfere with the biochemical pathways in the body that assist a tumour. It also restores the pH of the body that tends to become acidic with chemotherapy. Laboratory based animal studies show that some herbs eradicate the tumours that are induced in mice. Withaferin A is a component of the plant Withania somnifera or popularly known in India as Ashwagandha. This compound showed tumour cell growth inhibition in test tubes and in mice. A study by Henley et al showed that this plant increased the efficacy of Cisplatin. Cisplatin is commonly used in the treatment of cervical and ovarian cancer. The oh-very popular Sanjeevani herb eradicated ovarian cancer in mice. Kanchnaar Guggul is a mixture of herbs that is traditionally known to treat ovarian cancer. It contains black pepper, Terminalia Chebula, Craetaeva religiosa, and Terminalia bellerica. Another herb known as the Indian Frankincence slowed down the growth of Triple-negative Breast cancers (commonly known as TNBC). Pomegranate, a fruit found in almost every household in India is known to be a rich source of Iron and is consumed when Haemoglobin levels fall below normal. A study by Bagheri et al in Iran showed the slow growth and spread of TNBC cells in mice when these cells were exposed to pomegranate peel extracts, by interfering with a metastatic factor known as Beta-catenin.
However, it is not possible to ascertain that these effects can be imitated in humans. Large scale clinical trials are required to confirm them. When this is achieved, its integration with Allopathy can be achieved by understanding how each component works with one another.
Along with Ayurveda trials, Yoga trials has shown tremendous results in boosting the immune status of a patient. Each chemotherapy session drains out every ounce of energy in a person and also burns out the immune system. In dire situations, the patient is confined to an Isolation Ward in a hospital until their immunity is back to normal. There are various asanas that help relax the mind and control the production of stress hormones. Stress hormone Cortisol is high at the beginning of the day and drops throughout the course of the day. However in cancer patients, this hormone is at an all-time high throughout the day. A study was conducted among 100 breast cancer patients where fifty patients were advised Yoga Asanas and Pranayama or breathing exercise along with their usual exercises and fifty patients were advised only their usual exercises. It was observed after four weeks that those patients who performed Yoga Asanas and pranayama were calmer and showed low levels of Cortisol, when compared to those who did not. Psychological well-being of a cancer patient is extremely important to help the patient last the treatment and to maintain a healthy immune status.
A similar study by the TMC, Mumbai was conducted among 850 Breast cancer patients where 425 patients were advised Yoga Asanas along with their daily exercises and the other 425 patients were advised only their daily exercises. At the end of this study, it was observed that those who took up Yoga Asanas showed better tolerance to chemotherapy. The aim of this study was to observe if this inclusion of Yoga could improve the treatment outcome and thereby improve the quality of life.
Cancer develops differently in everyone and as a fellow cancer researcher, I am aware of the need for personalised healthcare. Almost every cancer specialist, researcher, and pharmaceutical company across the globe is striving to achieve personalised healthcare. Personalised healthcare is a tailor made treatment regimen for each patient because the concept of one-size-fits-all is failing. Ayurvedic treatments have always been personalised treatments. According to Ayurveda, there are three doshas or forces- Vata (space and air), Pita (fire and water) and Kapha (Earth and water), that govern the physiological status of the body and when these three are not in balance, disease strikes. Treatments to restore balance is what Ayurveda does. These constitution of these three doshas is different in each body and hence customised treatments are necessary.
The Tata Medical Centre, Mumbai has taken up an excellent initiative along with the Ministry of Ayush to develop clinical trials for Ayurveda treatment for ovarian cancer. The center has acquired land near its Kharghar facility to grow the necessary herbs. With this new initiative, integrative medicine can be accomplished that can improve the overall wellbeing of the patient and also personalised healthcare can be achieved. What can also be achieved along with this initiative is the mindset of many Indians who refuse to accept Ayurveda for the treatment of major illnesses and rely on Allopathy, for the sole reason that it is faster. With this integrative medicine, we can achieve faster results, and eradication of not just the symptoms but of the root of the disease as well.