The Healing Power of Nature for Cancer Patients

Connections between cancer, nature and healing.

Nature has the power to heal, but not all natural products have healing power.

In the following article roundup, you will find articles on truly promising, effective influences of nature on health and healing; you'll also find coverage of certain products that are marketed as having benefits based on flimsy or absent evidence.

The first two stories highlight the potential for animals and plants to contribute to health and well being.

The next two articles cover items from nature that are fascinating, yet questionable in terms of their proven benefits. The last story is about a potentially risky long-term exposure that nature lovers, growers, and gardeners should know about.

Animals with Big Hearts

For people battling cancer, furry friends can help in more ways than one. This is the amazing story of a miniature Schnauzer named Sissy, who showed up at the hospital where her owner was receiving cancer treatment. She went on a personal escapade, or mission, if you will, running away from home, trotting some 20 blocks down town to reach her owner. Availing herself of the hospital's automatically opening doors, Sissy successfully found her master, Nancy Franck, at Mercy Medical Center in in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. More here on Sissy, as well as some coverage of cancer therapy dogs.

Promising Plants

The plant kingdom is rich and diverse, promising answers to scientific questions and solutions to biological quandaries that scientists might never have dreamed up on their own.

  In this article you can explore a promising plant compound called lupeol. A variety of different plants are  known to be good sources of this substance, and it is even found in vegetables such as white cabbage, pepper, cucumber, tomato; and in fruits such as olive, fig, mango, strawberry, and red grapes.

Studies suggest potentially beneficial biologic activity of lupeol could relate to pathways involved in inflammation and cancer. Could compounds from nature someday be used to coax cancer cells into entering programmed cell death, or apoptosis?

Venus Fly Trap

Did you know? The insect trapped inside a Venus flytrap is digested slowly, over about 6 days, after which the trap begins to re-open? Seemingly exotic, the Venus flytrap, or Dionaea muscipula, is actually a North American plant native to low-lying swampy areas of the southeastern United States. Some folks do more than admire this plant, however. If you or someone you know has lymphoma, you may have encountered products containing Venus flytrap extract that claim to have anticancer properties. While the Venus flytrap is certainly a marvel of creation, you might want to read about what the American Cancer Society says about Venus flytrap-based products before making your purchase.

Jellyfish Protein for Chemobrain?

Chemobrain is a mental fog or loss of mental sharpness that may come with cancer -- and especially during and after cancer therapy. According to MD Anderson, a leading cancer center, the symptoms of chemo brain include “difficulty concentrating on a single task, problems with short-term memory, forgetting details of recent events, feeling mentally slower than usual, having confusion about dates and appointments, misplacing objects, and fumbling for the right word or phrase.” Research about taking jellyfish protein to improve memory is preliminary, and there seems to be a need not to be too dismissive, to avoid dashing hopes for no reason -- but there’s also plenty of room for healthy scientific skepticism.

Roundup Weed Killer and GMOs

Even nature lovers, gardeners and green types of all sorts are not necessarily so loving or tolerant when it comes to the weeds in their life -- and products like Roundup are widely available. What is more, in the world of agriculture, Roundup has been used for years, with “Roundup-ready” varieties of corn or soybeans – genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, that are designed to defy the herbicidal effects of this weed killer, so that it can be used and weeds in the field can be kept down. Agricultural concentrations are quite low compared to residential applications, but there is concern about entry into drinking water and the effects of long-term exposure over years and decades.

Some authorities have advanced the idea that glyphosate, the agent in Roundup that kills weeds, has the potential to cause cancer with exposure over the long term. That said, regulatory agencies don’t seem to be willing to make a firm ruling, issuing proclamations that don't put them out on a limb, saying it is likely that glyphosate “may be used without unreasonable risk” instead.

A Word From Verywell

Herbal and botanical remedies have become increasingly popular, and when properly used, can be quite effective and complementary to established Western biomedical therapies. These agents are, however, not regulated by the FDA in the same way as medications, which must meet requirements for safety and efficacy prior to approval. Thus, two things are important to keep in mind: 1) buyer beware; and 2) always tell your doctor about your use of complementary or botanical remedies, as some of them may be ill-advised or have interactions with other medications. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has an online resource for more information about complementary therapies including botanical preparations and herbs.

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