This post is the sixth in the series exploring the 9 key factors that Dr Kelly Turner PhD found were present in the recoveries from advanced cancer that she studied in her book Radical Remission. Those 9 factors were:
- Radically changing your diet (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)
- Taking control of your health (here)
- Following your intuition (here)
- Using herbs and supplements (here)
- Releasing suppressed emotions (here)
- Increasing positive emotions (here)
- Embracing social support (here)
- Deepening your spiritual connection (here)
- Having strong reasons for living (here).
Up for discussion today are herbs and supplements, what I take and why. To find out more about the book Radical Remission, go to the post “Being Radical – Introduction” here.
I just want to get something off my chest. I’m a lover, not a hater. And I’m definitely not a fighter!
I never want it to be said that I “battled” or “fought” cancer. I have never thought of it this way. When we fight or resist things, we continue to give them power. Remember the saying “What you resist, persists”?
Instead, the approach I’ve taken has been to love myself, and in particular my body and my mind, in ways that I never have before. This has been one big exercise in self-love. And what that means is I want to give my body only things that nourish it. Just like meditation nourishes the mind and the soul.
Although the follicular lymphoma statistics indicate that there is no cure, and therefore it will return, I am convinced (for me) that if I take care of my body and mind and love them back to health, I am here for the long haul. At the very least I will know that I’ve done everything I can and will have peace of mind.
Seeing sickness as our own love that needs to be reclaimed, is a more positive approach
to healing than is seeing the sickness as something hideous we must get rid of.
Energy cannot be destroyed. It can, however, be miraculously transformed
Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
And so we come to why radical remission survivors use herbs and supplements in their healing regimes. Conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation “kill” the cancer and any other fast dividing cells in the body. On the other hand, herbs and supplements (and nutritious food and meditation) provide support to, and strengthen the body, and in particular, the immune system, which creates natural killer cells. These natural killer cells are fully capable of removing cancer from the body. That is what they are designed to do. And in fact, do do in healthy people.
Not only do herbs and supplements help to boost and strengthen the immune system, they can also assist in detoxifying the body of bacteria, parasites, fungii, pesticides and chemicals and heavy metals. As the name “supplements” suggests, they are not meant to be a substitute for a good diet. Of themselves, they are not enough. They only supplement diet. However, even the best diet in the world comprising mostly fresh fruits and vegetables may be lacking in all the necessary nutrients. Our farming practices over the last century have depleted soils and the nutritional content of produce is close to 40% less than it was 100 years ago.
In my experience, parasites and toxins in the body can also inhibit the ability of the digestive system to properly absorb nutrients. I recently saw a naturopath who tested me for heavy metals and chemicals etc and gave me some homoeopathic remedies to remove them from my body. I’ve never really been one for homoeopathics, but what I do know is that after starting the drops, I felt extremely ill for a few days. Last week, three months after our initial appointment, she tested me again. Most of the toxins that seemed to have been present, came up negative and I was reassured to see that my body is now absorbing the vitamins and minerals I’m putting into it.
You may also recall my post about gut health. If our digestive system is not functioning properly, and in many cancer patients it isn’t, again we may not be able to get everything we need from food. So we need to SUPPLEMENT our diet.
The reality is that now I am feeling better than I have felt in a decade, and perhaps even in my whole adult life. Whatever I’ve been doing is working. I walk about 4 km a day and have been riding my bike around. And I’m starting to work. Just when I thought that might never happen again. And supplements have been consistently present on this journey, although the ones I take have changed from time to time.
I’m going to share with you those I consider instrumental to my recovery. If you like the sound of any, I recommend consulting with a naturopath or an integrative doctor just to make sure you’re on the right track before you take them. I should also point out that unfortunately I am not being paid by anyone to spruik their products. Some cash could come in handy at this stage but just so you know, if I mention a brand, it’s because I’ve been using it. And love it!
So what do I take? Here are my top 11. It’s a lot I know. And I can’t get them all down at once.
Vitamin D. There is mounting evidence linking vitamin D deficiency to not only cancer, but also many other chronic illnesses. Vitamin D is integral to a well functioning immune system and bone health. And more relevantly to me, increased levels of vitamin D seem to be associated with longer survival rates for lymphoma.
The best source of vitamin D is sunlight and the reality is that we are spending more and more time indoors. Not that spending time outside is necessarily a solution. In the winter months, we would have to be outside for hours, naked, before we got the required dosage. When I was first diagnosed with the cancer, my vitamin D levels were through the floor. So I supplement, more religiously during winter and less so in summer.
In the warmer months, I try to spend 10 to 15 minutes outside each day without sunscreen. I also continue to take my supplement a couple of times a week.
Magnesium. This helps with vitamin D absorption and is also integral to the immune system. I originally started taking it because it also works as a muscle relaxant and I’ve suffered with restless leg syndrome for years (when I’m meditating deeply, I start to jerk and jump as if I’m possessed).
But the interesting thing is that in alternative health circles, it’s thought to have very strong anti-cancer properties. One site recommended applying magnesium oil topically to the abdomen which I did for a few months after my diagnosis. I know it works for the restless legs but can’t say one way or another in relation to cancer since I had chemo at the same time. Magnesium also works as an anti-inflammatory.
Vitamin C. This is another one that’s been in my go to pack along this healing journey. Again I have been taking it for two years. There was some concern about it interfering with the chemo so I wasn’t allowed to take it for 48 hours before and after treatment. This advice is controversial with some professionals saying that Vitamin C actually increases the efficacy of chemotherapy. Of course, more will be revealed over time.
Since the Great Immune System Crash of August 2014 (GISC) (more about that here), I have been having high dose vitamin c administered intravenously – up to 45 grams at a time. Interestingly, IV Vitamin C has been used for decades to treat cancer patients and there appears to have been some success. And not only in relation to cancer, but other chronic illnesses as well.
Zinc. Another mineral essential for the immune system, but also DNA synthesis and wound healing. It also balances copper, an oxidant. An excess of copper can lead to adrenal fatigue (see my blog post here), and hormonal imbalances. At one stage, a holistic nutritionist prescribed fresh oysters to me at one stage (isn’t that one of the best prescriptions you’ve ever heard!) but now I just take a capsule of zinc each day. I started doing this while I was having chemo so it’s two years now.
Astragalus. Have we talked yet about supplements for the immune system? I was first introduced to Astragalus in an immune compound with astragalus, shitake mushrooms (more on those below) and olive leaf extract. But since the GISC, I have used 1 tspn a day of powdered astragalus in my smoothies. I managed to find some jars of it at a lovely little raw organic vegan café called Shoku Iku. Go there if you are in Melbourne. Great food and excellent smoothies.
Astragalus is an adaptogen, protecting the body from stresses and disease as needed. It not only boosts immunity, but shines a light on rogue cells such as viruses, bacteria and cancer so that the white blood cells can see what they are dealing with. It is also thought to boost liver function, which helps the body to detox.
Graviola (or Soursop). I first heard of this herb or plant in Byron Bay. My masseuse kept telling me I needed to take it. I did some preliminary reading about it and discovered it is thought to be a miracle cure for cancer. Of course, as with many of these things, there are no specific studies to confirm this. But after finding a jar of it at Shoku Iku, I decided to throw it into the healing kit. Again I put it in my smoothies. And I’ve noticed a huge difference in the way I feel since I started.
Soursop is a fruit similar to custard apple, but is also known as a paw paw. The fruit, leaves, stems and seeds are all used to treat bacterial infections, parasites, viruses and cancer. It does come with a warning though – large doses of extracts from the seeds and roots may induce nerve damage.
Medicinal mushrooms. Certain species of mushrooms are fast becoming known as the super herbs of immunity. Not only this but they can also enhance the effects of chemo and radiation, AND protect against their side-effects. When I was first having chemo, a friend of mine suggested I take turkey tail which had demonstrated success in Japanese breast cancer patients when used in conjunction with chemotherapy. Needless to say, my oncologists were not so keen.
But mushrooms have featured regularly in my post-treatment and post-remission healing plan. I’ve taken shitake in tablet form with astragalus and olive leaf and eaten dried shitake in miso soups. And best of all, I can buy fresh shitake at the Flemington Farmers Market twice a month to throw in stir-fries and my soups. When I have a garden larger than the one I have now, I plan to have a shitake log where this fantastic “fun-guy” can hang out.
And again Shoku Iku has come to the fore with powdered reishi mushroom, another healthy addition to my smoothies. Great for the immune system, an antioxidant and potentially very anti-cancerous. Mushrooms rock my world!
Vitamin B6. B6 is critical to production of serotonin and immune function. It may also have a role to play in cancer prevention but this is uncertain. I take it in a capsule that also includes B12 and folate.
Vitamin B12. B12 is essential for blood and neurological function. So we are off the immunity/cancer trail. A B12 deficiency can lead to anemia and neurological dysfunction. Supplements of it are a must for those on vegetarian and plant-based diets. Some vegan foods are fortified with it, such as savoury yeast flakes, but being produced by bacteria, B12 occurs naturally in only animal derived foods such as red meats, and milk and dairy products. But even if you consume those things, you may still be deficient, mainly because we simply don’t produce foods the way we used to. I started to supplement with it once I went on a fully plant-based diet. Although I now eat a piece of calves liver, a piece of fish and a couple of eggs a week, I continue to take a supplement.
Maca. Another adaptogen, maca can relieve the psychological symptoms of menopause (I haven’t talked about it at all on the blog but chemo put me into menopause. Quite grateful for this little development although it gets a bit warm sometimes). It is also thought to help balance hormones and reduce sexual dysfunction in men. You can buy raw chocolate with maca (talk about aphrodisiac) or sprinkle some powder on your breakfast.
On top of these 11, I take a supplement to support adrenal function, Adrenoplex, and another, Product B, to support teleomeres, the caps on the ends of our DNA strands.
My preferred plan is not to stay on all these things long term. They are simply aids to recovery and healing. As my gut heals from parasites, toxins and antibiotics I will be able to absorb more and more nutrients from my organic food. I’m looking forward to the day I don’t rattle like a pill jar.
1 peeled lime
½ cup frozen or fresh raspberries
1 handful fresh washed baby spinach
1 pitted date
1 cup liquid (plant based mylk or water or coconut water)
1 tsp maca
1 tsp graviola
1 tsp reishi powder
1 tsp astragalus
1 tbs chia seeds
1 tbs hemp seeds
Blend on high for approximately 60 seconds. Drink. Feel good.
Be happy. Be well. Just be.
And so be it.
I have written this blog post based on information my health professionals have given me and from these links below. I reiterate that I am not a health professional and I urge you to seek your own advice before taking supplements and herbs.
Vitamin D and the Immune System: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/prevention/vitamin-D
Follicular Lymphoma & Vitamin D: http://www.livestrong.com/article/287182-follicular-lymphoma-vitamin-d/
Vitamin D Insufficiency and Prognosis in Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: http://jco.ascopubs.org/content/28/27/4191.full
Magnesium: How This Important Mineral Reduces Your Risk of Cancer: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/01/26/magnesium-reduces-cancer-risk.aspx
Magnesium: its role in nutrition and carcinogenesis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24325082
Magnesium and cancer risk: http://www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=522
Magnesium and Cancer Research: http://drsircus.com/medicine/magnesium/magnesium-and-cancer
High-Dose Vitamin C: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/highdosevitaminc/patient/page2
Copper Toxicity: http://www.tvernonlac.com/copper-toxicity.html
Zinc – Fact Sheet for Health Professionals: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/#h5
Astragalus – The immune booster that may help fight cancer two ways: http://www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=536
Graviola, Natural Cancer Killer: http://www.medindia.net/patients/lifestyleandwellness/graviola-natural-cancer-killer.htm
Anti cancer activity on Graviola, an exciting medicinal plant extract vs various cancer cell lines and a detailed computational study on its potent anti-cancerous leads: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23889049
Graviola, or Annona Muricata (Soursop) (with extensive references to research): http://www.canceractive.com/cancer-active-page-link.aspx?n=850
Six Cancer-Fighting Medicinal Mushrooms: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nalini-chilkov/cancer-foods_b_1192207.html
Turkey Tail Mushrooms Help Immune System Fight Cancer: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-stamets/mushrooms-cancer_b_1560691.html
Reishi Mushroom: http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/reishi-mushroom
Vitamin B12: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/vitamin-b12
Beneficial effects of Lepidium meyenii (Maca) on psychological symptoms and measures of sexual dysfunction in postmenopausal women are not related to estrogen or androgen content: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18784609
A double-blind, randomized, pilot dose-finding study of maca root (L. meyenii) for the management of SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18801111