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Adaptogens are a key component of the traditional Indian system of medicine known as Ayurveda which takes a holistic approach to healing that centers around the interconnected nature of mind, body, and soul. While this medicine system has been around for centuries, only fairly recently has it caught the attention of Westerners looking for solutions to the failed system of endless drugs and surgery.
One thing that many people don’t know about adaptogens is that they’re good for a lot more than just keeping stress at bay. Many cancer patients are finding that combining the right types and dosages of adaptogenic herbs under the guidance of a qualified health practitioner is helping them to heal more quickly.
Let’s take a closer look at what they have to offer, and how you can benefit from these unique healing herbs.
Disease Treatment and Prevention: The Herbal Way
The primary goal when using adaptogens is to achieve balance throughout the body. Most diseases start out as an imbalance of some sort that gradually worsens over time. Adaptogens can help to nip these abnormalities in the bud before they have the chance to spiral into full-blown disease.
It’s important to note that adaptogens aren’t unique to Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Adaptogens are used in folk medicine all throughout the Orient, as well as in Russia and Europe. More recently they’ve become popular in North America.
One of the reasons why many people still don’t know about them, however, is because their mode of action stands in stark opposition to the Western model of medicine – the model in which pharmaceutical drugs are used to manage disease symptoms after a disease has already formed.
Western medicine also applies a one-size-fits-all approach centered around symptom management. In contrast, Ayurveda and systems like it tend to individualize herbal applications based on the specialized needs of each patient. Herbs tend to assist the body in naturally achieving and maintaining proper balance, which helps to support the healing process. Pharmaceutical drugs generally only help people to feel better in the short term, and in the process, neglect to bring about an actual cure.1
The point I’m really trying to drive home here is that the use of natural herbs to bring about body balance and maintain a disease-free state of existence is at the heart of what it means to live healthy. It’s a far better and much more holistic approach than to simply throw chemical drugs at a problem in the hopes of covering it up. And as you’re about to see, adaptogenic herbs are one of the keys to making this happen. Not only for preventing disease, but also for treating it in some of its worst forms – cancer.
What Are Adaptogens?
You might be thinking to yourself: so what makes an herb an adaptogen? It’s pretty simple, really. Adaptogens, like their name suggests, help the body adapt to whatever it might be facing, whether it be chronic stress, fatigue, or some kind of chemical or physical imbalance. They exert particular influence on the body’s adrenal glands, aiding in the proper manufacture and function of vital life hormones that help to maintain a constant state of homeostasis throughout the body.
This ends up translating into benefits for all sorts of areas throughout the body, including the immune system, the brain, the cellular system, and vital organs. The amazing power of adaptogens affects the body’s entire physiological essence.
One published study refers to adaptogens as natural substances that enhance the body’s “state of non-specific resistance” when it deals with stress. As you likely already know, stress is directly linked to a host of modern, chronic illnesses that have reached near-epidemic status. Peer-reviewed research suggests that adaptogens have the ability to eliminate stress by balancing the neuroendocrine and immune systems. Adaptogens also support the central nervous system in correcting any imbalances in brain chemistry that might lead to anxiety, depression, and other destructive states of mind.2
Adaptogens help to bring balance and equilibrium to the systems of the mind, which in turn directly affect the systems of the body. It all starts with what’s known as the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which is where the body’s central nervous and endocrine systems intersect to create uniquely human existence.
This complex network of interconnected modulatory systems is what keeps the body in as constant a state of normalcy as possible, despite facing continued challenges both internally and externally. You can think of the HPA axis kind of like a pilot. The pilot’s job it is to not only make sure that the airplane (your body) makes it from point A to point B in one piece, but also that every passenger (your organs, cells, and other necessary systems) has enough food, water, and oxygen to survive along the way.
Adaptogens play a key role in ensuring that the HPA axis is optimally functional at all times, allowing it to tackle any malignant force that might come its way.
Adaptogens and Cancer: Rediscovering Your Life Force
In traditional Ayurveda, there are four therapeutic approaches to disease that make use of adaptogens. Three of them deal with physical health in its various stages (listed in descending order from best to worst), and these include:3
- Prakritisthapani chikitsa: Maintaining optimal health (the healthiest state)
- Rasayana chikitsa: Restoring healthy balance (minor imbalances that need correcting)
- Roganashani chikitsa: Curing a specific disease or ailment (already diseased)
Despite these classifications, the end goal of each remains the same: to bring the body back into optimal alignment, no matter what ails it. The beauty of adaptogens is that they’re capable of doing precisely that, without actually having to exert direct influence on any particular organ or system.
Even in the treatment of something as severe as cancer, adaptogens primarily help to facilitate a wide array of actions and energetics that the body is capable of performing on its own: stimulating or relaxing, up-regulating or down-regulating, and enhancing or suppressing, as necessary.
Since cancer is our main focus, I’d like to delve into some of the details about how adaptogens are being used to target cancer at the molecular level via its balancing properties. Believe it or not, the use of adaptogens as cancer therapeutics dates back to at least the 6th century BC, as the concept is mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit text known as the Sushruta Samhita.4
In this work, a man by the name of Sushruta (considered to be the “father of surgery”), wrote about health conditions marked by chronic and systemic inflammation, one of which is cancer. He explained a phenomenon that can only be surmised as cancer tumors, which he observed were causing prolific damage to body tissue and dis-coordination between the body’s many parts.
Adaptogenic Herbs Used to Fight Cancer
Sushruta further outlined a series of adaptogenic herbs that he found were helpful in addressing this problem, particularly with regards to cancer. These included:
Also known as the “white-tailed leg” or “king of bitters,” this annual herbaceous plant is native to India and Sri Lanka and possesses antibiotic, antiviral, anti-parasitic, anti-diabetic, and hepatoprotective (liver-protecting) effects. The adaptogenic properties of this herb have been shown to aid the body’s natural ability to increase tumor necrosis factor and natural killer cell function; prevent the formation of tumor-feeding blood vessels (angiogenesis); and encourage cancer cells to commit suicide (apoptosis).5
A hybrid of the sugar apple and the cherimoya (a fruit from South America), the seeds of this hybrid fruit contain powerful anti-angiogenic agents that studies suggest are highly beneficial in immunomodulating anti-cancer therapeutics.6
Oral administration of 1,000 milligrams per kilogram of body weight of the pure extract of this coastal weed was shown in one study to help reduce the number and size of cancer tumors in cancerous mice. This same herb possesses hepatoprotective, antiviral, antibacterial, analgesic, antispasmodic, and anti-diabetic properties that are helpful in optimizing immune function.7
This spicy Indian pepper contains a biochemical compound known as piperlongumine (PL) that research shows is active against many different types of cancer, including cancer of the prostate, breast, colon, lung, brain, gastrointestinal tract, blood, and skin. Upon being ingested, PL turns into a substance known as hPL that tells the body to silence a gene that causes tumors to grow and thrive.8
Also known as the “foot leaf,” this endangered fruit contains numerous biochemical compounds with immunostimulatory, anti-mitotic, anti-fungal, and anti-viral properties. This plant is also powerfully anti-cancer, containing key constituents like podophyllotoxin from which several FDA-approved chemotherapeutic drugs are derived.9
The active constituents in this herbaceous vine demonstrate a unique ability to up-regulate the body’s natural ability to fight tumors and tumor-associated macrophages. These same constituents are also powerfully antineoplastic, meaning they have the ability to ward off human glioblastoma, which represents one of the most aggressive forms of human cancer.10
A close cousin to the cashew, this nut has proven itself to be a powerful weapon in the fight against breast cancer.11 It’s also been shown effective against many other types of cancer, as well as supportive of liver health.12
Also known as grape seed extract, this potent adaptogen is a powerful chemoprotective agent loaded with anti-cancer phytonutrients. Multiple clinical and pre-clinical trials suggest that compounds in grape seed extract like resveratrol are highly effective in supporting the body’s ability to inhibit certain cancer cell lines from multiplying and spreading.13
Also known as the red psychic nut or wild castor, this low-growing shrub is both a powerful antioxidant and a clinically proven anti-cancer medicine. One study found that extracts of the plant are aggressively toxic against colon cancer cells.14 Another revealed that Baliospermum montanum helps to keep prostate cancer cells from spreading while simultaneously killing them.15
The seeds of this tropical Indian tree show incredible promise against an array of human cancers. They contain sapogenins, triterpenoids, saponins, steroids, flavonoids, and glycosides that studies suggest help the body to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.16
The roots and leaves of this palm-like shrub contain substances that science has pinpointed as bearing unique anti-cancer properties. Tests conducted on brine shrimp revealed that extracts of Pandanus odoratissimus are highly toxic against non-small cell lung cancer cells, peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and lung fibroblast cells – working alongside the body’s natural defense systems to stop these cancer cells from dividing and reproducing, only to then kill them.17
Also known as the karnikara tree, this evergreen shrub is a pharmacological treasure. It contains active molecules that help fight ulcers, inflammation, pain, and damaging free radicals. Extracts from the plant’s flowers have long been used in Ayurveda to treat cancer. Its constituents cause the DNA of cancer cells to fragment, ultimately leading to cancer cell death.18
You’ll better recognize this one if I simply refer to it as a radish of the Thai variety. This cruciferous vegetable contains a number of pharmacological and therapeutic properties that are antagonistic to cancer. Extracts of this root food have been shown to trigger growth arrest and apoptosis in various human cancer cell lines.19 Raphanus sativus is further able to inhibit the expression of certain genes and proteins specifically associated with breast cancer.20
Known in many areas as the porcupine flower, the juice of this leafy plant is rich in antioxidants that are highly effective at preventing cellular damage throughout the body. Free radicals, as you may well know, are a common pathway through which cancer and other serious health conditions are able to develop and spread.21
This flowering tree from the Middle East has been shown to be powerfully effective at treating Ehrlich cell carcinoma. Researchers from India published a cohort of data revealing that extracts from the leaf and bark of this mystical botanical bear strong cytotoxic potential against tumor cells.22
Also known as elephant foot yam, this potato-like tuber was shown in one study to help prevent the formation of aberrant crypt foci (ACF) in the colon and rectum.23 ACF are abnormal glands that develop prior to polyps, and are considered to be strongly associated with the formation of cancer. Elephant foot yam has further been shown to help in the fight against liver cancer.24
Despite its unusual name, the broken bones tree won’t damage your skeletal structure, but it just might tell any lingering cancer cells inside your body to self-destruct.25 Extracts from the plant may also help in the fight against breast cancer, as its constituents have been shown in the scientific literature to target ER-negative breast cancer cells, while at the same time protecting healthy cells from damage.26
Native to the East Indies, this tropical vine produces edible spinach-like stems and leaves that are highly nourishing to the body, which is always a good thing for keeping cancer at bay. This plant also produces a fruit that’s rich in both phenolic and flavonoid compounds that have been shown to help protect against many types of cancer, including both cervical carcinoma27 and colon cancer.28
Flacourtia ramontchi (indica)
Also known as the Madagascar or Indian plum, this flowering plant has long been used in Ayurveda as a remedy for chronic inflammation. More recently, it’s gained recognition as a powerful weapon against colon cancer, as in vitro tests show that just 24 hours’ worth of treatment with Flacourtia ramontchi extract significantly reduced cancer cell viability while simultaneously bringing about cancer cell apoptosis.29
The “miracle tree,” moringa oleifera as it’s often called, has received quite a bit of attention in recent years as a trendy new “superfood” with anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and tissue-protective properties. And like the other herbs listed here, it also possesses anti-cancer properties. Its leaves and bark, in particular, contain bioactive compounds like eugenol and D-allose that contribute to the coordinated destruction of cancer cells throughout the body.30
You’ve probably seen the more domesticated version of this robust evergreen plant inside offices and homes, since it’s a common houseplant. But what you probably didn’t know is that the banyan tree, as it’s called in India, produces bark that’s loaded with anti-cancer compounds like pelargonidin that studies show possess anti-angiogenic properties. These compounds have been shown useful in addressing neovascular conditions as well as tumors.31
Curcuma domestica (longa)
If you’ve been hanging around The Truth About Cancer for a while, you’ll immediately recognize this plant as the incredible and awe-inspiring turmeric. One of the most well-studied of the adaptogenic herbs, turmeric represents the cream of the crop when it comes to anti-cancer botanicals. Its high levels of curcumin and other active constituents have been shown to help stop many different types of cancer cells from spreading throughout the body. Curcumin has also proven itself capable of stopping tumors from growing and developing their own blood supplies.32
One of the most popular herbs in the world, garlic is a favorite among foodies. It’s also incredibly therapeutic, possessing an extensive array of benefits that include cancer remediation. A review of the science covering garlic found that this bulbous “rose” is packed to the brim with organosulfur compounds that disrupt almost every process associated with the development, growth, and spread of cancer.33
Commonly referred to as the crown flower or “giant milkweed,” this unusual shrub from Southeast Asia is a major natural source of the rubbery material known as latex. It’s also a source of natural anti-tumor compounds that studies show may be effective in targeting certain types of carcinomas.34
With a name like “devil’s trumpet,” this shrub-like annual might not seem all that benevolent. But evidence suggests that extracts taken from the plant contain unique healing compounds with pronounced anti-cancer properties. Cell models in which extracts of Datura metel were applied to human cancers revealed that this powerful herb is capable of supporting the body in stopping cancer cells from spreading, as well as instructing them to commit cell suicide.35
This unique medicinal plant from the tropics is packed with terpenoids, alkaloids, flavonoids, and other amazing compounds that contribute to its many health-promoting properties. It’s long been used in Ayurveda to treat all sorts of health conditions, including cancer. Extracts taken from the root of the plant have been shown to suppress tumors associated with both carcinomas and sarcomas.36
The black juniper plant, which natively grows high up in the Himalayan Mountains, is similarly equipped with an array of impressive phytochemical compounds that function as powerful antimicrobials. Studies show that these same beneficial constituents are also effective at helping the body to destroy cancer cells.37
More commonly referred to as black cumin or black seed, this medicinal plant is a treasure trove of anti-cancer nutrition. Studies suggest that extracts taken from this herb are powerfully cytotoxic, anti-mutagenic, and anti-metastatic. This means they’re not only toxic to cancer cells, but they also help to keep them from spreading and forming new tumors elsewhere throughout the body.38
Another medicinal plant from the Nepalese Himalayas, this perennial herb is one of the oldest adaptogens known to man. Research suggests that it’s a safe and highly effective remedy for treating cancer, as its phytochemical lineup disrupts the deviant signaling pathways that often lead to cancer. Picrorhiza kurroa is also said to work exceptionally well with other treatment approaches that aim to eradicate cancer from the body.39
This perennial climbing plant is perhaps most well known as a purifier of the blood and a “mover” of lymph. But it’s also an incredible inhibitor of cancer, with compounds such as dichloromethane showing potential in keeping cell lines of human leukemia and human histolytic lymphoma from growing, spreading, and forming into malignant tumors.40
Other adaptogenic herbs that we’ve come to find out since Sushruta’s day are similarly equipped as anti-cancer powerhouses include ashwagandha, rhodiola rosea, bacopa monnieri, astragalus, melissa officinalis (lemon balm), ginseng, bilberry, ginkgo biloba, holy basil, rosemary, lion’s mane mushroom, schisandra, and phyllanthus emblica (Indian gooseberry).
Are You Ready to Adapt?
While there are quite literally thousands of other herbs out there that possess unique anti-cancer properties, the herbs mentioned above rank within the “elite” class of adaptogenic herbs that are best suited for non-specific, body-wide cancer support. Remember, adaptogens start by supporting the body’s own anti-cancer systems. They flip the switches at the master command center, so to speak, so the body can tackle the cancer threat all on its own. If and when this is unsuccessful, many of these same adaptogens are capable of adapting themselves, exerting direct anti-tumor effects as needed.
When combined with other immunomodulating herbs that directly stimulate the body’s immune system, these same adaptogenic herbs are able to create a unique type of synergy that further “tunes” the body into learning how best to respond to whatever disease threat comes its way.
That’s what adaptogens are all about, after all. Their purpose is to help the body adapt to whatever problematic scenario it might be facing – whether it’s simply feeling a little under the weather, or dealing with advanced-stage cancer. Whether you’re already healthy, are slightly imbalanced, or are chronically ill, adaptogenic herbs are there to help your body keep everything running as smoothly as possible… in the most optimal state possible.
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Adaptogens are a key component of the traditional Indian system of medicine known as Ayurveda.
The primary goal when using adaptogens is to achieve balance throughout the body.
Adaptogens help the body adapt to whatever it might be facing, whether it be chronic stress, fatigue, or a chemical or physical imbalance.
Adaptogens start by supporting the body’s own anti-cancer systems.