Ayurveda, in simple terms is about learning how to cleanse our tissues, organs and mind. Vannoy Gentles Fite writes that ‘for every illness or ailment known to man, God has a plant out here that will heal it. We just need to keep discovering the properties for natural healing.’ The book ‘Natural solutions for cancer’ written by Sudhir Ahluwalia goes a step forward and besides giving us an overview of cancer and the role of plants, explains us at length the various systems of alternative medicine that exist and how they can all come together to solve issues that have been a source of a lot of pain for us.
The author points out that ‘a total of 1.74 million new cases of cancer and 0.61 million deaths from cancer occurred in the United States in 2016’ and that this should be reason enough to pay attention to all that a carefully structured diet can help. According to the author all ayurvedic formulations can have 75-80 percent plant-based ingredients, 10-15 percent may be from animal sources, and 10 percent could be made up of metals and minerals. This science is vital for us because so far as cancer is concerned, it is chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery that continue to be the dominant treatment modes today.
This book with its nearly 600 pages is a virtual treasure for those who want to understand Ayurveda that literally means knowledge of life and is regarded as the fifth branch of the Vedas that ‘gives it a certain degree of religious sanctity’.
Plants, as we already know, have been a major source of medicinal molecules and these include turmeric, red chili, ginger, fennel, kokum, fenugreek, black cumin, among others that are said to have chemicals that prevent cancer. You may not have heard of these chemicals, but curcumin, capasaicin, eugenol, zerumbone, anethole, gambogic acid, diosgenin, and thymoquinone are all derived from the plants that I have just listed and are a part of the powerful cache of ammunition that nature has stored for us.
Natural solutions for cancer isn’t a book that is only cancer specific. The author has taken care to also discuss alternative methods in curing patients and specifies that these include a combination of the Indian Ayurvedic system, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, naturopathy, and even Tibetan medicine that have a role in the treatment of diseases, including cancer. The book also has reasonable explanations of the tenets of Ayurveda which is rather useful for a reader who doesn’t understand the finer nuances of this science. For instance, the book tells me that treatment initiation depends entirely on first identifying the personality type that could be sattva, rajas, or tamas and that this classification of personality types is connected to the nature or prakriti of a person. A few chapters in the book also helpfully inform me that food has four properties – cold, cool, warm, hot and then says that there is another category called Neutral foods that have no energetic temperature. The author tells me that there are five tastes existing in the alternative systems – sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salt. Each has a different function, for instance, pungent foods invigorate the blood, sour foods constrain sweating, stop cough, and relieve diarrhea, bitter foods help expel toxicity, sweet foods harmonize the body, relieve pains and spasms, and salty foods nourish blood and Yin. Even the colour of food has a link to certain body parts as ‘energy flows through meridians in the body nourishing the organs’. Alcohol and greasy fried foods are Yang foods and are really bad as they deplete the Yin. It is important that people who get hold of this book, go through these chapters carefully. No, the book isn’t going to replace consulting an expert… it is just that it is an advantage to know more about a system that one may want to adopt for treatment.
So far as cancer is concerned, the author points out that there is very little research going on in India and that ‘we have just scratched the surface’ while practitioners from Europe, North America, and China have gone deeper into knowing more about these systems. It is these experts who have proclaimed that cancer is a debilitating disease where nutrition management is vital. This isn’t all because cancer treatment in Ayurveda involves medicines and detoxification through panchkarma therapy. Panchkarma, for the uninitiated, includes various types of massages, aromatherapy, purging, and vomiting besides diet, lifestyle management, counselling, treatment with herbal oils, inclusion of yoga and meditation, and the use of mantras and chants. The book does state that currently ‘most of the focus on treating patients is on herbal medicine. A conversation on food and nutrition is often integrated into the treatment. The other two ancient aspects of daiva (chants and mantras) and Sattva (psychotherapy and yoga) are rarely integrated in the treatment practices’.
A vast amount of what this book has can be termed excellent so far as research goes. Almost every issue is backed by references and thus this there are no tales that a reader will read and forget. One keeps coming back to this book even if it is to know more about the medicinal values and the botanical insights into plants. Let me give you an example of turmeric. Turmeric plant is a perennial herbaceous plant from the ginger family. Turmeric is the boiled and dried rhizome of the Curcuma longa plant and curcumin is the yellow pigment in turmeric – poorly absorbed in the blood stream. I loved the fact that black pepper substantially enhances the absorption of curcumin and that the anti-cancer action of curcumin is attributed to its ability to inhibit a cancer master switch, which is called nuclear factor kappa beta. The book informs me that there is an ointment of curcumin available and researched and that curcumin inhibits proliferation and helps kill cancer cells. Ar turmerone isolated from turmeric is said to suppress growth of leukemia cells…, says the author, and he goes on to write that ‘curcumin is non-toxic to humans even at high doses’. Now where else will I get so much (and more) information on turmeric? Even browsing the net for information is going to be a lengthy and painful exercise. There is a series of plants that are discussed at length and their role in the treatment of cancer is derived.
Before any reader of this review concludes that the book is simply some sort of an anthology of medicinal plants, let me hurry and point out that it is much more than just this. Yes, plants are the anchor for the book but then it is treatment of cancer that forms the basis of this book. Sudhir Ahluwalia doesn’t mince his words when he writes that it isn’t just diet that is going to be the only thing to be followed. Diet planning, of course, has to be nature-based, holistic, and personalized. The author says that diet regimens must ‘stems from the belief that the body has a self-healing capacity’ and that medicines and other interventions could impede the body’s auto-healing process. Besides diet, it is lifestyle, exercise, medication, and mental state of the person that matters. Diet though needs to be appropriate to the climate, season, patient’s condition, digestive power, palatable, in the right quantity, and must follow prescribed restrictions. The primary charm of this book is that all facts are written in clear, unambiguous language and without the umbrella of technical obfuscations that such books generally prefer. The book can be read by even those who do not have a background of having studied botany or Ayurveda. I am convinced that such a book deserves a place in the personal library in every home.
For more information, please connect with Sudhor Ahluwalia, an ex-Indian Forest Service officer and an author of books on herbs and natural products. His webpage: http://www.sudhirahluwalia.com
15 April 2019