by Joleen Kraft, Medical Herbalist
This past weekend, I attended a workshop on how to treat cancer with herbal medicine given by Chanchal Cabrera. Chanchal has been working with herbs to treat cancer for many years, and her knowledge base is enormous. It was an incredibly interesting weekend, and I left with many tools about how to work with a patient who's dealing with cancer.
The workshop was dense and technical - we learned about different pathways that cancer can hijack in the body and how we might intervene as medical herbalists; we talked about constituents found in herbs and supplements that can assist during different phases of cancer treatment; we discussed lab results and how to start conversations with patients and their doctors about how to choose the most appropriate and evidence-based treatment for specific cancers. There are so many facets to cancer treatment.
The numbers are staggering - currently about 50% of people will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetime. Hearing this drove home a fairly obvious conclusion: one way of "treating" cancer is to prevent it from flourishing in the first place. There are some very simple and attainable things that anyone can do to help prevent cancer.
After the workshop, I put together a list of things I can do in my life on a daily basis for prevention. Happily, these sorts of lifestyle choices can help prevent a wide variety of other health issues as well (cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, depression, and the list goes on). In no particular order:
- Exercise - move your body everyday, whether you swim, jog, walk, bike, dance, join a sports team, go to the gym, practice qi gong or yoga - it doesn't really matter what you choose, just move in some way.
- Get 8-10 servings of a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day (buy organic when possible to limit your exposure to toxic chemicals, or grow your own if you have the space!)
- Eat grass-fed meat and dairy to ensure you're getting proteins that are already filled with cancer-fighting constituents absorbed by the animals from the food they ate.
- Reduce (or eliminate) refined sugar from your diet.
- Get out into nature! Go do some forest bathing! Every time you inhale the fresh scents of nature, you're getting physiological doses of healing herbs without even doing anything but breathing.
- Get enough sunshine or supplement with Vitamin D if your levels are low.
- Drink green tea.
- Get more omega 3s in your diet to balance the omega 6s most of us have too much of.
- Reduce stress in whatever way works for you - whether it's meditation, practicing mindfulness, joining community groups, gardening... (in other words, go out and have some fun)
- Filter your water to reduce ingestion of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals found in our water supply.
That's your list of ten! At least half of these don't have to cost you anything - sunshine is free, so is meditation, and you don't have to join a gym or buy fancy equipment to exercise. Can't get out into nature? A park still counts as nature time, especially if you can get to a spot where you can't hear the noise of traffic. I know organic fruits and veg, as well as grass-fed meat and dairy, can be expensive, but do what you can - do some research to see if you can find local growers who don't use pesticides or herbicides, learn which foods have the highest chemical exposure and buy low-risk fruits/veg instead. Eliminating refined sugar may even save you money, so you could put that towards better food choices too.
You don't have to do all of these immediately. Try implementing one point each week or even one a month to create lasting change in your life. This is a plan for the long haul, not the quick fix. We're going for sustainable change here. We want to be seeing the benefits for a long time to come.
If you have questions about specific herbal medicine approaches for your unique situation, email Joleen at firstname.lastname@example.org.