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Ayurveda and other Ancient Healing Practices

Many people become interested in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as a supplement to traditional medical treatment for a variety of illnesses and symptoms. For people living with mesothelioma, these alternatives can provide a way to get relief from pain and fatigue, to find relaxation and calm, and even to promote better health and healing while going through cancer treatments.

There are individual CAM treatments that patients can try after speaking about it with their doctors, but there are entire healing systems to which some people choose to ascribe. Ayurveda, for example, is an ancient practice and has been used by people for healing for thousands of years. If you have mesothelioma and are interested in alternative therapies to supplement your treatments, an ancient healing system like Ayurveda could provide benefits.

Ancient Medicine Philosophy and Practice

There are many ways in which ancient healing systems like Ayurveda are similar to modern medicine, but more ways in which they are different. They also have a lot of similarities to each other. Ancient healing practices are more of a combination of guiding principles and philosophies for living and healing than strictly medical practices. They combine healthy living, herbal medicine, mind and body therapies, and other strategies for wellness with treatments for specific illnesses and symptoms.

Ayurveda, which comes from ancient India, but also Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approaches healing and wellness with a holistic philosophy. Unlike modern, western medicine, they do not simply focus on treating an illness; practitioners focus on the whole patient and everything that is affecting his or her health. They view illness and disease as imbalances that have occurred in a person’s life, mind, and body. The expression of that imbalance is a physical illness or symptoms. Herbal medicines make up an important part of both systems of healing.


Ayurveda or Ayurvedic medicine is another ancient healing system that comes from India and is at least 3,000 years old. Like TCM, Ayurveda combines ancient beliefs about the universe with healing. Also similar to TCM, Ayurvedic practitioners treat the whole person and believe that disease results from an imbalance in mind, body, and spirit. Ayurveda combines herbal medicines, special diets, massage therapy, meditation, yoga, and other breathing and relaxation techniques to help people heal and achieve overall wellness.

A visit to an Ayurvedic practitioner will involve a thorough physical examination as well as a lot of questions about all areas of your life, not just mesothelioma and symptoms related to having cancer. Once the practitioner has gotten to know you and what your needs are, he or she will recommend a course of treatments, diet changes, herbal medicines, and other strategies to promote healing.

Most of the practices used in Ayurveda are safe, and even known to be beneficial, such as yoga and meditation. Herbal medicines may also be safe, but again, your doctor needs to know about any herbs you plan to try.

Ayurveda and Cancer

Some of the practices that may be prescribed by Ayurveda are known to be useful for cancer patients. Yoga, meditation, and massage therapy, when done with the guidance of a trained professional, can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and even relieve pain and other side effects that you experience from traditional cancer treatments.

Some of the herbal medicines used in Ayurveda have been studied for effectiveness in killing cancer cells or treating cancer with interesting results. Some of these were found to reduce the growth of cancer cells in a laboratory setting. Some, including Indian frankincense and mangosteen, were also shown to reduce the growth of tumors in lab animals. Studies of these herbs in human trials is limited, but the other studies show that there is clearly some reason to consider that Ayurvedic medicines could potentially be developed into anti-cancer drugs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

TCM is a group of medical practices and a philosophy of treatment that has origins in ancient China. It has been in use and has been developing and evolving over thousands of years. The system of beliefs that TCM is based on is very complex and involves ideas about the universe, energy, and how the body and mind interact with the natural world and other factors. Some of the strategies practitioners use to treat patients include herbal medicine, massage therapy, acupuncture, dietary changes, tai chi, feng shui, and a practice that involves burning herbs.

If you visit with a practitioner of TCM you can expect to be evaluated completely, not just for your cancer symptoms. The practitioner will ask a lot of questions and will focus on healing you as a whole person rather than simply treating one symptom or another. You may also undergo a physical examination. Your practitioner will recommend several things for you from sessions of acupuncture to changes to what you eat and specific herbal teas. Much of what is involved with TCM is considered safe, although you should be cautious about any kind of herbal medicine and always clear it with your doctor before trying it. Some herbs cause side effects or may interact with your medications.

TCM and Cancer

TCM is not considered a substitute for traditional cancer treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy. However, it can be used as a supplement to help you feel better, to improve overall wellness, and to relieve symptoms and side effects. Research into how TCM can help cancer patients is limited, but specific TCM practices have been studied, like acupuncture. Studies of acupuncture have proven that it can help relieve pain, nausea, and dry mouth, all common symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments.

In China it is typical for cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, to use both western and traditional Chinese medicine for healing. Chinese studies show positive results of combining traditional medicine with treatments like chemotherapy, but because they are always combined it is hard to determine the effectiveness of traditional treatments on treating cancer.

One of the treatments often used today in China, along with western treatments, is a compound kushen injection, or CKI. It is approved in China as a treatment for cancer and is made up of a mix of compounds derived from herbs. A recent study conducted in Australia looked at CKI to try to figure out how it may help treat cancer. The found that the mixture is key and that it is therapeutic and can kill cancer cells while causing few side effects.

Some people are skeptical of ancient healing systems, like TCM and Ayurveda, and of the claims that they can help cancer patients. Others embrace the possibilities that alternatives to western medicine are valid treatment options. A great attitude to have is to be willing to try alternatives, but with a few precautions: Always talk to your doctor or medical team before trying any new kind of treatment. They need to know everything you are doing that could affect your illness. Always work only with trained professionals with good recommendations. Not all alternative treatments are harmless, so proceed with caution, but be willing to explore.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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