Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Natural Ways To Prevent And Help Heal Cancer: Part 1. How Cancer Develops

In the book Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, Dr David Servan-Schreiber looks at life-style factors that can prevent and help heal cancer, and gives the science behind them. A neuropsychiatrist who developed brain cancer at the age of 31, Servan-Schreiber was treated and went into remission. It was only when his cancer recurred that he questioned his oncologist’s comment that there was nothing that Servan-Schreiber could do personally to enhance his chance of healing. A search of the medical literature revealed numerous scientific studies that when considered together showed the opposite – people can enhance their chance of both preventing and healing cancer.

We all have dormant cancer cells inside us that may take five to forty years to develop into tumours. But not everyone develops cancer. Why not? Servan-Schreiber found that the body has natural defenses that prevent cancer development and that these same defenses can be used to help the body heal from cancer.

Servan-Schreiber put the information he found into practice during his second round of chemotherapy and afterwards. He has survived 15 years since his first diagnosis, and in the process his life changed and has more meaning and value for him than it did before. His book is a holistic wellness guide for those trying to heal from cancer and for those who want to prevent cancer.

Lifestyle Affects Cancer Risk And Recovery
An estimated 80 per cent of the common cancers (breast, colon, and prostate) are due to lifestyle and the environment. These three cancers are 7 - 60 times more frequent in North America and other Westernized countries than they are in Asia, though Asians who emigrate to the West develop the risk-level of their new country.

Studies of people who try to take charge of their cancer by changing their lifestyle on several fronts, show that they generally live two to three times longer than others with cancer at the same stage of development who did not make a change.

A one-year study by Dr. Dean Ornish provides proof that lifestyle changes have an effect on cancer. He randomly assigned 95 men who had chosen not to have traditional treatment for their prostate cancer into two groups, one (the control group) which had surveillance and regular PSA tests, the other which underwent a specially-designed radical change in lifestyle involving dietary change, supplements, exercise, stress management and participation in a support group.

The results of this study? Of the 49 men in the control group, the cancer worsened in six, who had to have their prostates removed, followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The remainder of this group saw a six percent average increase in PSA, which indicated that their cancer was growing.

None of the 41 men in the other group required treatment, and the this group showed an average decline in PSA of four percent - their tumours were shrinking. Even better, their blood was shown to be seven times better at inhibiting the growth of the cancer cells than the blood of those in the control group was. And the men who had put Dr. Ornish's treatment most diligently into practice were the ones whose blood was the most active against the cancer cells.

Factors Helping Cancer Develop:
Cancers require three things in order to develop into a tumour and then to become larger, spread and overwhelm the body’s defenses. These things are:

  1. A compromised immune-system that is unable to respond to the presence of cancer cells and kill them.
  2. Chronic inflammation in the body that helps cancer cells to quickly invade adjacent tissues. The cancer cells themselves then create more inflammation and spread like wildfire.
  3. An increase in the number of new blood vessels in the area where cancer cells have lodged. These new vessels feed the cells and can turn a small harmless cluster of abnormal cells into a large cancerous tumour that can spread to other organs.

Cancer From Seed To Weed
Servan-Schreiber likens the development of cancer to the growth of a plant from a seed to a weed. First comes the initation stage when the seed settles into the soil - in the case of cancer, an abnorml cell forms in the body tissue.

Then comes the stage of growth. If the soil is fertile, the seed will start to grow and develop into a plant. Similarly, if the body tissues where the abnormal cell settles are inflamed, the cancer will start to grow sooner and faster than when there is no inflammation. It will then create its own inflammation so it can invade adjoining tissues, and will create new blood vessels to feed it as it grows into a tumour and from a small tumour to a large one.

Lastly comes the stage where the plant does not stop at a certain size but gets out of control and becomes a weed. This is the stage where the cancer spreads locally and to other parts of the body to form metastases.

Cancer Promoters and Anti-Promoters
To naturally prevent or help cancer heal, it is necessary to decrease the cancer promoters, those things which help cancer grow, and increase the anti-promoters that either block the mechanisms necessary for cancer growth, or actively kill cancer cells.

What factors promote cancer? As with almost every other chronic disease it comes down to diet, lack of exercise, stress and toxic contaminants. And the anti-promoters are - diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

Diet: In the western world diet has changed substantially over the past 70 years. Over half the calories in the average Western diet now come from sugars, refined grains and vegetable oils. Not only is the body unable to get nutrition from these substances (with the exception of olive oil and perhaps canola oil), but they promote chronic illness, including cancer.

High-glycemic foods like refined-grains, sugars, syrups, and the fructose-glucose found in many processed foods and drinks, cause both inflammation and the release of insulin-growth factor (IGF) which enhances cell, including cancer-cell, growth.

The omega-6 vegetable oils cause inflamation and should be correctly balanced with the anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils (which are found in oily fish, and in flaxseed [linseed] which was traditionally used in animal feed.) The huge rise in the use of vegetable oils since the end of WW II, together with changes in how animals are raised and fed, has moved this ratio from 1:1 or 1:3 omega-3 to omega-6 oil, to 1:15 or higher.

There are other problems with the polyunsaturated omega-6 oils used in food as they are refined, degrade when exposed to light or heat, and form trans fats when hydrogenated. They cause other diseases besides cancer.

Lack of Exercise: Bodies are made to move. Exercise strengthens the immune system, reduces blood sugar, lowers inflammation, and moderates the production of hormones that in excess can stimulate certain cancers. Lack of exercise removes these protective effects.

Toxic Contaminants: Since WWII the annual production of synthetic chemicals has risen from one million tons to 200 million tons. Most of these sunstances are carcinogenic. Many find their way into the food chain and all eventually get into the oceans (apparently the polar bear is the most contaminated animal on earth.) Many pollutants accumulate in the body fat of humans and animals.

Meat, milk and dairy products, and large fish at the top of the food chain provide over 90 percent of human exposure to contaminants. The risk of certain cancers increases in those who regularly eat more than one ounce a day of red meat.

Stress: While it is unlikely that stress alone will create a cancerous cell, it can influence the soil in which the cancer grows. Prolonged stress causes the release of hormones that, among other effects, depress the immune system and activate inflammation, while simultaneously taking energy needed for the body's growth and healing functions. Feelings of helplessness appear to be particularly harmful in their effect on the immune system.

All this sounds pretty dire, but evidence shows that decreasing the cancer promoters and increasing the anti-promoters can help both prevent and heal cancer. More on that in the next post.

If you want the book, go here Anticancer: A New Way of Life.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mental Traps: Persistence

Mental Traps, Andre Kukla's book on unproductive thinking skills, describes 11 forms of thinking that produce nothing of value, but sap our energy and waste time. It's not the content of the thoughts, but the way we think about the content that makes a mental trap.

Mental traps tend to stay around because people may be unaware of their thoughts, do not see their thinking as unproductive, or from force of habit. However, once a mental trap is recognized as such, it can be eliminated like any other bad habit. The outcome is generally less stress and more energy.

The first mental trap Kukla addresses is persistence, which he defines as continung to work on projects or be in situations that no longer have value for us. Persistence differs from perseverance where we pursue our aims despite obstacles. To persist is to stubbornly continue without enjoyment in a task or situation simply because we started it. Situations where we may persist range from boring television shows to daily routines, jobs, and relationships.

Why do we persist? Sometimes because we feel that stopping will waste the time that we have already put into an activity. But that time is irretrievable while the time we will save by stopping could be put to something more rewarding. Often though we persist becuase we fail to re-evaluate our goals or because we think that the alternative is even worse. We think that leaving a relationship will lead to being alone for life, or leaving a job will result in penury. Once we buy into our rationalizations we are tied into perpetual persistence, but being aware of the dilemma can lead to breaking free from inertia and making a change.

Persisting in things we are not doing is more difficult to recognize and to change. How long will we persist in not eating olives, which we once tried and disliked, or in not going skiing because we fell down so often on our first lesson? Doing an activity tells us whether it still has value for us, but when we refrain from doing something we cannot tell if the value has changed. Kukla suggests that we never give up on anything forever. Our likes and dislikes, courage and abilities can change over time, and we may be surprised to find value in something that once held no value for us.

To learn about the other mental traps read Mental Traps: Stupid Things That Sane People Do To Mess Up Their Minds or keep checking back here as the other traps will be covered over time.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Guided Meditation -

For those just starting meditation, and even for those with experience, a recorded guided meditation can be very helpful. The site DIY Dharma has a lot of useful information, and many free guided meditations by different people. I find Malcolm Huxter's guided meditations particularly useful. His Body Scan has achieved a star status as it was downloaded from DIY Dharma 45,000 times in the first month it was on the site. However, I have enjoyed all of his recordings on the site, especially the Open Awareness meditation.

Visit and see what you think.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Holistic Healing Tools: Gaining Self-Knowledge Through Self-Inquiry

Once the mind becomes quiet and still in meditation, spontaneous insights and images may arise bringing information that till then had been unconscious. The temptation will be to analyze these images and information, or to somehow interact with them, but if you do you will break the mind's silence and the link to the hitherto unconscious information. It is better to just observe the image or insight, without trying to modify it or work out what it means. Understanding may come later, perhaps when a number of insights combine to provide new meaning to a situation.

If there is a particular issue you wish to explore through accessing your inner wisdom, then the time when the mind is quiet at the end of meditation may be good time to do so. Ask yourself a question about the issue. For example, if you are ill you could ask your illness why it is here, or what you can do to heal. It is important to be open to hearing the answer, and again not to go into analysis mode, but to hold the intention that the answer will come, and to simply observe or listen to it it when it does.

Another method of gaining self-knowledge is to silence your mind and then ask to contact your inner healer. An image will likely arise, and you should check that it is your inner healer by asking the image directly. If it is, then ask if he or she will be willing to give you some information - if the answer is 'no' then leave it for that time, and try again following another meditation session. If your inner healer is willing to give information, ask your question and sit awaiting the answer. Don't force it, just hold the question in your mind. The answer may come as an image, a thought or feeling, or from an inner voice. Once you have the answer, you can continue to ask your inner healer for information as long as he or she is willing.

A quiet mind combined with self-inquiry can lead to a fuller understanding of a situation than is possible through thinking about it. Inner silence gives space for inner wisdom to come forth. The result is a deeper understanding of an issue, which may lead to self-healing physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Coming to Our Senses for Holistic Healing

Jon Kabat Zinn writes about coming to our senses in his recent book of that name. Founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusets, he has helped many patients to access their inner resources and promote healing through mindfulness and meditation. Kabat Zinn sees coming to our senses, and he includes the mind as a sense, as vital to healing both ourselves and the world.

Blessed by a visit from my sister and her friend Jan, I have learned a lot about coming to my senses in the last couple of weeks. From 25 feet, Jan can smell the scent of a flower that I can barely make out even when I bury my nose in it. She can distinguish nuances of flavour in foods that I cannot even taste, and is constantly touching things to feel their texture. Since she has been here I have walked barefoot on beaches and in the grass, things I have not done for years. I an starting to wake up sensually, really just at the point of starting to stir out of my sleep, but with practice I can come to my senses and stay in them.

Coming to our senses brings us into present moment awareness and takes us out of the endless stream of thoughts, 50,000 a day apparently, that keep us out of our senses and out of awareness of ourselves and the present moment. When we are aware we notice things inside as well as outside ourselves. We become aware of patterns of thought or emotion, and how they affect the choices we make. We may develop awareness of physical patterns like habitual posture, rhythms of breathing, or muscular tension that we have not noticed before. We notice our judgments and we notice whether our minds spend most time in the past, the present or the future.

Awareness is the key to wholeness and wholeness is the key to healing. In fact both wholeness and healing come from the same etymological root.To become whole is to heal. Holistic healing means committing to and embracing wholeness, and while physical health is not usually the main focus, illness may be the factor that starts someone on the road to becoming whole. Even when the only desire is to heal physically, healing has to encompass more than a focus on the body alone. But focus on the body through coming to our physical senses, can lead to a greater awareness of neglected aspects of ourselves.

The problem is that we resist present moment awareness. A friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer told me that she did not feel it necessary to explore aspects of herself that she either needed to change or had not paid much attention to in the past, because she prefers t0 play to her strengths. We all do. It's easy to get results quickly and efficiently that way. But when we stick in our comfort zone we tend to focus on what we know and to lose awareness of new data, or of unexplored areas in our life. Just as I have lost awareness of smells and tastes by not coming into my senses, it is also possible to lose awareness of connection with something greater than ourselves, or of the feelings we may have about a relationship.

This week you may want to practice coming into your physical senses and into awareness of the present moment to see how this feels. Perhaps go outside and connect deeply with a plant by using as many senses as possible. Or eat a meal in silence. or with your eyes closed, and focus on how the food tastes and feels in your mouth. Or sit quietly and watch your posture and your breathing pattern without wanting to change either - just notice them for a while.

It may help to keep a journal of your practice and progress in coming to your senses. Writing things down will help you remember what happened and will signal to your subconscious that this is an important activity.