Cancer is increasingly ubiquitous–what’s behind that trend? I agree that the use of so many more carcinogenics in our products, and increased EMG radiation play a big role. However, these are influences that increase the likelihood of a cancerous (irregular) cell forming. A little known fact is that everyone of us has irregular cells forming in our bodies. A healthy functioning immune system has the ability to seek out these irregular cells and dispose of them neatly (amazing, isn’t it?).
So why is it that some of us are no longer able to detect and rid ourselves of irregular cells? Well, the simple answer is that depleted immune systems can’t do their job. We have all experienced how stress affects our immune systems; increased stress, increased colds. Similarly, stress induced immunodeficiency allows latent viruses (e.g. Herpes) great opportunity to come out and play. (I had a client recently tell me “if I over-anything, I get a Herpes attack.”)
A fascinating area of medical research surrounds the high association of viral infection (e.g. Epstein-Barr, Human Papilloma Virus) and cancer. The Western take on this is that viruses likely play a role in the etiology of cancer. From an ayurvedic perspective, both conditions are the result of immune deficiency.
So does stress lead to cancer? My answer is “yes, if it’s chronic.” The more chronic your state of depletion, the less your immune system is able to protect. From an ayurvedic perspective, I’m talking about long-standing vata imbalance.
Of course there are a host of other factors, two major physical ones being cellular memory (a.k.a. genetic predisposition), and carcinogen exposure. Yet, these are still secondary influences. There are millions of people out there with first degree relatives with cancer, that are cancer-free. Similarly, there are millions of people with significant carcinogen exposure that are also cancer-free.
In addition, each person has there own unique threshold for how stress affects them. This is due to our unique constitution. So a vata predominant person may be more susceptible to depletion. Similary, someone with a very vata lifestyle may be more susceptible. We each have our own way of internalizing our stress, or depletion. This highlights the importance of yogic practices as cancer prevention.
Once there is long-standing vata imbalance, then the body turns on signals to “hold on to” or accumulate as a protective response. These signals can result in the accumulation of tissue (e.g. pannus formation in rheumatioid arthritis, cholesterol plaque accumulation in the arteries, and cancerous tumors in vulnerable tissues). This innate protective response can be described as a secondary kaphic imbalance.
Ayurveda teaches tumor growth as a manifestation of kapha imbalance. However, I’ve yet to meet someone who has a primary kapha imbalance behind their cancer. I’ve only seen this in the context of vata pushing kapha (primary vata imbalance and secondary kaphic imbalance). In plain language, I’ve only seen cancer in the setting of long-standing depletion.
How do you know if you have long-term depletion? Well, check -in with yourself. Are you seemingly always reacting to life, and stressed about it? Do you have long-term issues in one or more organ systems (usually the digestive and musculoskeletal systems show symptoms first and for women, long-standing irregularities in moon cycle). Long-term “any condition” has an association with cancer in the same tissue system (e.g. hepatitis and liver cancer; chronic anemia and leukemia; chronic lung inflammation and lung cancer; chronic HPV infection and cervical cancer, and the list goes on), validating the “depletion hypothesis.”
So what is the best cancer prevention? Feeling good and repleted. How that happens and what that means in each of our lives will be different.
What I didn’t touch on here is the psychospiritual aspects of cancer pathogenesis. That’s another post! This whole topic could easily fill a book. If you’d like to learn more, please check out my upcoming workshop on Ayurveda and Cancer.
Can cancer be cured by ayurveda? Well, I’ve definitely worked with people with active cancer. Each person has their own comfort level with various approaches to cancer; there are many differen combos of radiation, chemotherapy and ayurvedic herbs and lifestyle changes. One of my favorite journeys is helping cancer survivors figure out how they came to cancer in the first place, and what lifestyle (diet, yoga, herbs, etc.) is best for them to prevent a recurrence.
So why is cancer on the rise? Because we are increasingly choosing to live in states of chronic depletion and disconnection with our spirit. On the bright side, every time you choose to meditate, really connect with yourself, and nurture yourself, you are practicing the best prevention.