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Oncology and Traditional Oriental Medicine

By Shihan Mary Bolz
Licensed Acupuncturist
Master of Science Oriental Medicine
Doctoral Fellow, FBU
Master Martial Arts Instructor

The West views diseases as caused by an outside invader (pathogens, viruses, bacteria), autoimmune (the body’s own immune system going awry), or genetic (inherited through the genes). The Western science then blames those factors and searches for a way to kill the invaders or the cells, tissues, or systems that have gone against the normal processes of the body. That is why we have antibiotics and that is why we have powerful drugs such as those used in chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a method of “bombing the enemy” in a massive attack, one big bombs no matter what the “collateral damage.” The other method is to cut out the enemy or the weaker parts of the body that have become diseased or are not functioning well. Another method of destruction. “Cut out the enemy.” Yet another method of treatment is to boss nature around by creating “smart” drugs that can fool the natural senses, nerves and functions of the body. One such type is pain medication; another classification of drugs that affect the information or functional systems of the body and brain. All of these methods are similar to our method of politics and relationships with other nations. Rather than working in cooperation, we have to prove to others our power, cut out the perceived evil or get them to see things our way and convince them that “they” are not doing things right.

Eastern thought traditionally looks at each person’s role in society and emphasizes how to work together in a cooperative effort for the good of the whole. That is especially the way Eastern medicine looks at the natural being (the body, mind, spirit). It looks at all of the individual cells, tissues, and organs as all being equally important and working together in balanced harmony. Eastern medicine also looks as the human organism then being one of the parts of the entire external environment. As the cells work in a cooperative manner with each other inside of the body, the body must cooperate with the air, the earth and other individual beings. Our entire body inside of the environment (the earth, the air, the universe) is like one of the cells in our own body operating inside of a larger environment to form a system or a being. Therefore, when things are “out of whack” i.e. the organism is diseased, such as cancer growth, the East looks to the internal environment more than to the external. The Eastern medicine thought is to restore cooperation and balance, not to kill, injure or cut out anything. Eastern thought also concentrates on restoring this internal environment to make it uncomfortable for any invaders or excesses to stay where they normally should not be residing.

In Eastern medicine, cancererous parts of the body are mainly considered areas where excesses start to accumulate in the body. Tumors are thought of as accumulations, accumulations that consist of excess dampness and phlegm and stagnated areas of blood. Areas of the body which are blocked and do not have good QI (life energy) flow and blood flow and where the normal physiological processes are blocked are areas where these accumulations gather. Areas of phlegm, dampness and stagnated blood are excellent breeding grounds for abnormal cell build-up.

At one time, cancer was not that prevalent in the United States and was considered a disease of old age. Cancer now afflicts around one-third of the population and is found among people of all ages, including infants. Evidence suggests that the recent spread of cancer to all sections of the population is due to the increase in sedentary lifestyles, overeating of rich food, depletion of the soil, modern food processing, omnipresent low-level radiation, increased susceptibility to infections and environmental toxins. Better diagnostic methods also account for part of the statistical increase in cancer cases. The traditional Eastern diet, especially the Japanese diet is probably one of the best anticancer diets in the world. Unfortunately, the modern Japanese diet mimics too much the Western diet and cancer rates of all kinds have risen considerably since the adoption of the American diet. The traditional Chinese diet of the older peasant class also seems to be a very good diet, as cancer and other disease rates among the farming population are very low. However, alas, once again, with China modernizing and becoming very rapidly the latest economic powerhouse and manufacturing regime, the women living in the cities who are eating larger quantities of meat, dairy and rich foods are rapidly accumulating a high rate of breast cancer to compete with that of America’s. Why, oh why, does the East yearn to be the West? They are paying the price.

In Japan, there is the highest number of healthy, active centenarians than anywhere else in the world. NHK television (Japan) news features programs on a regular basis interviewing and peering into the lives of these people. A recent interview was with a 100-year-old cabbage farmer who is still farming by hand, the way he has his whole life. He plants, he hoes, and he cuts off the cabbages with a sickle when they are ripe, packs them in boxes, puts them in his pickup and delivers them himself to the wholesaler. He is not operating a tractor or farm machinery; he is doing all of this by hand with hand farm tools. In Japan, the traditional and common scale of farming is like this. In the northern most island of Hokkaido, one can see the machine-dominated way of farming on a scale similar to that of our farmers in the U.S. There are quite a significant number of these centenarians like this man. However, today’s younger generation of Japanese will not be in that good of shape. These centenarians now were born before WW II, before the Western diet and ways were forced upon them by the United States. They were living a traditional Japanese life with the traditional Japanese diet when they were growing up. They created strong, healthy bodies, minds, and immune systems. They learned to enjoy work, appreciated their families, and thought small. They were and still are not after the big economic status dream. They are happy to be alive and doing their normal daily activities and loving their families and friends.

The best medicine is prevention and that takes place through proper food intake, clean air, and positive thinking, in general. Besides the modern diet, the modern emotional stress level and modern ideals of economic success (all of which are self-imposed), are also among the main culprits in the cause of cancer. However, that which can prevent cancer can also be the treatment of cancer itself, even advanced cancer. Of course, the approach of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) in treatment is diet, meditation, acupuncture and medicinal herbs. Medicinal herbs are not to be under rated. The drug companies do not want you to know it, probably, but the cure is right here, before your very eyes. There will never be a drug that is as effective and safe at the same time as the original therapies. It is being researched for, of course, because that is the only way the big business of the pharmaceutical companies can carry on with their billions in profit. If common herbs, which cannot be patented by the pharmaceuticals, can cure, the drug companies certainly will be losing their profits, along with the majority of their stockholders. How many years have they been researching for a cure for multiple sclerosis, for cancer, for diabetes, etc….? Far too long without any safe “cures.” They may not even care. The old adage that only you care enough to take care of yourself is true. Big pharmacy does not have your health in mind. They have in mind the health of their financial sheets and reports to the stockholders.

Anyone studying modern cancer treatment by diet must consider the work of Max Gerson (d. 1959), not only the traditional Eastern diets. He had more than thirty years of successful and extensive clinical experience in the treatment of advanced cancer solely by diet. Albert Schweitzer, the renowned philanthropist, physician and Nobel laureate, called Max Gerson “one of the most eminent geniuses in medical history.” Gersonʼs complete cancer theory and systematic- recommendations are recorded in A Cancer Therapy and The Cure of Advanced Cancer by Diet Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases. Gerson’s treatments were developed from his experience. He drew from ancient and modern therapies, but applied only those methods clinically proven to lead to renewal of the internal organs. In this way, the degenerations that cause cancer are eliminated and the body heals itself. This is the key. Cancer is an accumulation of excesses in the body and a degeneration of the body’s own cells and tissues. In addition, indeed, the body heals itself. However, one must know what to do to help it. The standard macrobiotic diet as developed by George Ohsawa of Japan is one of these diets based on the traditional Oriental medicine theories and upon Japan’s own traditional diet.

Oriental medicine diagnosis looks at the base constitution and the imbalance in each person and is individualized and personalized in nature. The foods chosen in therapy match closely the individual’s condition and constitution. Each person has a different condition even though they all have the Western diagnosis of cancer. In addition, certain foods are emphasized because of their specific anticancer properties in the Chinese systems. In addition, many Chinese herbs have anticancer properties while at the same time they promote the natural healing ability of the body’s own cells and tissues, and the entire human organism. Natural medicine (natural herbs and plants) never kill the organisms own cells or weaken the organism’s natural immune system even though they are good at destroying the cancer or making it difficult for the cancer cells to proliferate.

The radical treatment therapies of Western medicine are best utilized on the strong person with excess signs (robust constitution, ruddy complexion, strong pulses, and active, outward personality), whose cancer is growing rapidly. X-rays, chemotherapy and surgery further weaken the organism and those with excess conditions can better afford this.

The traditional oriental approach is to build up the system so that it can naturally overcome the cancer. However, because many Americans are overly built-up already, with layer upon layers of excess, extreme therapies that tear down the organism in general at the same time that they destroy the heart of the excess–the cancerous growth–are sometimes successful. Certainly, the fruit-and-vegetable-juice therapies have a reducing effect as well. When oxygenation therapies and purgative herbs are added, the net result is a nontoxic type of chemotherapy that destroys the cancer in stages by gradually reabsorbing it into the blood (parenteral digestion). Tumors in the digestive tract may simply break up and be excreted. Thus, cancer therapies should not only be seen in terms of dualities such as “natural” versus “unnatural.” A more accurate view is a continuum of therapies, starting with the gentlest and progressing to the most drastically purging.

The same type of diet and foods cannot be applied to everyone. There is no “cancer diet.” It is important that the individual’s constitution, condition, and underlying pattern imbalance between the organs and the Five Elemental systems be understood first and then the proper dietary recommendations can be made.

The same principles hold true to acupuncture. After understanding each individual’s pattern, then the proper acupoint prescription can be given, which varies between individuals, even though they have the same cancer. Then, also, there are reducing and supplementing techniques with the needling, depending on which points need to be supplemented or reduced in the particular individual.

Likewise, the herbal formula prescriptions are well organized; some herbs supplement the normal Qi, some herbs reduce the excess, different herbs have an affinity for different organs, some herbs heat up the system, some cool it down, some promote blood flow, some stop bleeding, some cleanse, etc. Traditional Oriental Medicine is quite a sensible, effective, yet complicated science and art, and one so well organized and with so many centuries of success continuing through this day, it is truly admirable. An added benefit is that there are no dangerous side effects when used appropriately by experienced practitioners. There is not the toxicity of modern pharmaceutical drugs.

In Oriental medicine, there are different dietary approaches depending on the type of cancer. For excess types, the type of eating is more for gently reducing the toxic excesses that feed the cancer; pathogenic organisms, and degenerative diseases in those who are weak, frail, anemic, cold or otherwise deficient. This type of diet is primarily grains, vegetables, seaweeds, legumes, sprouts, herbs, micro-algae, omega-3 and GLA foods and oils, and small amounts of spices. This diet includes some raw vegetables or sprouts if desired by the patient, but most food is cooked, either moderately for those with signs of severe coldness or deficiency, or lightly cooked for all others. Recommended herbs are mildly cleansing, yet tonifying and immunity enhancing. Seaweeds are taken unless there is diarrhea. Whole fruits (not their juices) are taken in moderation; they can be stewed in cases of extreme weakness, and should be avoided if they exacerbate Candida symptoms or cause loose stools. Some supplementation with fish or other animal food may be necessary. Proportions of foods in the daily diet are: 45% grains, 35% vegetables, 10% fruit, 5% beans and other legumes; 5% of other recommended foods.

Another way of eating eliminates disease-producing toxins more quickly and is appropriate for those who show strength, strong pulses, and have neither loose stools nor signs of coldness (chills, aversion to cold, pallor, and great attraction to warmth). This diet consists of fruits and vegetables and their juices, wheat-grass juice, seaweeds, and the sprouts of seeds, grains, and legumes; also includes omega-3 GLA foods and oils, and appropriate micro-algae, spices and herbs that eliminate toxins and enhance immunity. Cooked grain is eaten once a day, and lightly cooked vegetables and sprouts as well as raw vegetable-sprout salads are on the daily fare. Proportions of foods in the daily diet are: 35% sprouted grains, legumes, and seeds, 45% vegetables and fruits and their juices, 10% other recommended foods.

A third type of dietary regime reduces excess and toxins very rapidly and is most appropriate for the often-constipated, relatively strong individual who exhibits excess signs such as thick tongue coating, loud voice, strong pulses, extroverted personality, and who also may have signs of heat–aversion to heat, red face, great thirst, deep red tongue, and/or yellow tongue coating. The diet is the same basically, as the previous one except for a daily vegetable soup, purgative, highly cleansing herbs and frequent enemas are given. Juice dosage is up to 10 cups of fruit and vegetable juices daily. Wheat grass is 2 ounces of juice three times a day or two heaping teaspoons of wheat- or barley-grass powder three times a day.

The above three types are generalized ways of eating. There are many other factors to consider and other treatments combined with them. This is the first part of this article and the discussion will continue next month. When choosing the diet type correctly, it is important that the person does not self-diagnose their type. An experienced Oriental medicine practitioner is required for the correct diagnosis of the body type and condition because in real life, the picture is not always that clear or obvious. After a correct TCM diagnosis, the Oriental medicine practitioner can then give dietary regimen, herbs. and acupuncture appropriately. Remember, nature is very powerful and there is always hope.

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