Cancer has become a leading cause of death all over the world now. The number of cancer cases is increasing day by day. There are almost 19 million cases of cancer globally. The cancer treatment used often involves chemotherapy and radiotherapy which means harsh and toxic chemicals which might have numerous side effects on the body. So, efforts to find an alternative solution to treat cancer have already started. One such alternative is an ayurvedic cancer treatment.
Ayurveda is an ancient way of treating diseases and ailments. It originated in India about 5000 years ago. It’s just not a treatment or some herbal medicinal cure but a way of living our lives. It stresses the oneness of soul, mind, and body. There should be balance and harmony among them to stay healthy. In fact, Ayurveda can be thought of as the “science of life” according to this traditional system of medicine and cure.
Major targets in cancer therapy
There have been studies conducted on cancer in the last 50 years and many targets have been identified so far. One important thing is the understanding of cell signalling pathways which play a vital role in suppressing tumour formation. Let’s discuss some of the signalling pathways.
NF-κB activation pathway and its role in tumour formation
NF-κB is the protein that acts as a binder to a common sequence motif in DNA. It plays a crucial role in many cellular processes such as survival of the cells, adhesion of the cells, inflammation, growth, and so on. It is affected by a number of factors including carcinogens like cigarette smoke.
AP-1 activation pathway and role in chemoprevention
Activated protein-1 (AP-1) is another target factor that affects and regulates the expression of several genes linked with cell formation and differentiation while the growth and development of any organism. Its activation is seen in tumour formation as well as in malignant transformation.
Proliferation and apoptosis
It has been found the role of NF-κB in tumour formation and proliferation. Activation of NF-κB leads to cell survival and while suppressing it means cell death due to apoptosis (normal cell death in course of growth and development of the organism).
Other pathways and factors
Apart from these pathways, several other factors might play a key role in tumour formation and proliferation. These are the growth factor pathway, JAK-STAT pathway, multi-drug resistance, role of angiogenesis, and cyclins.
How can Ayurveda be helpful?
Most of the therapeutic drugs used for cancer treatment work by blocking the cell signalling for stopping the cell growth, or disturbing the production of prostaglandin, also for reducing inflammation. On the other hand, Ayurveda works by modulating these growth factors. Several Ayurvedic plants and herbs regulate these therapeutic factors. Ayurvedic treatment has its own way of classification, depicting causes, pathogenesis, and possible ways to prevent, even removing the tumours, specific herbs, lifestyle changes, and spiritual treatment.
What is cancer according to Ayurveda?
Ayurveda identifies cancer as granthi (benign or minor neoplasm) and arbuda (malignant or major neoplasm) in ancient texts of Sushruta and Charak Samhita. The cause of cancer is due to any balance in the doshas. The dosha is a system that presides over our body and mind and also their interaction with the environment. Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are the three doshas in our bodies. Ayurvedic treatment focuses on restoring the lost balance among these doshas and establishing much-needed harmony once again.
Anticancer drugs in Ayurveda
There are numerous plants and herbs described in Ayurveda with medicinal and healing properties. Intense research work is already going on to find herbs with anticancer properties. We will list down a few of them here.
Guggulsterone [4,17(20)-pregnadiene-3,16-dione], commonly known as guggul, is obtained from the resin of camiphora mukul. It has been used for ages for treating many illnesses and conditions like obesity, inflammation, arthritis, etc. Guggulsterone is shown to downregulate NF-κB activation in tumour cells. It also suppresses the activation of the genes linked with anti-apoptosis of the cells.
Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is the active component found commonly in turmeric. Turmeric has been used as both spice and ayurvedic medicine in the Indian subcontinent for a long time. It has been shown to stop tumour cells from proliferating in so many varieties of cancers.
Zerumbone (2,6,9,9-tetramethyl-[2E,6E,10E]-cycloundeca2,6,10-trien-1-one) is a compound found in wild ginger. It can suppress the formation and growth of colon cancer cells, and breast cancer cells with very little effect on normal cells. It also suppresses NF-κB-regulated genes and hence can be used for cancer treatment and prevention.
Withania somnifera (ashwagandha), an ayurvedic medicine, has also been shown to suppress NF-κB activation due to a variety of reasons like carcinogenic agents. It enhanced apoptosis of the cells induced by chemotherapeutic reasons while leaving the healthy cells unscathed.
Ayurveda drugs as chemosensitizers and radiosensitizers
One of the major challenges in chemotherapy or radiotherapy is the development of resistance of cancer cells to the treatment itself. According to recent studies, there are herbs in Ayurveda that can be used as sensitisers. Plus point is that these herbs are not toxic and totally safe. For example, we can use plumbagin (extracted from Plumbago zeylanica), withaferin-A (derived from Withania somnifera), and so on as sensitisers.
Ayurveda can become an alternative way to cancer treatment. There are many practices to treat cancer in Ayurveda. Also, a plethora of herbs is mentioned in Ayurveda to heal and balance all the doshas. This approach is surely promising for treating cancer in the coming days.