It’s not always something people consider when taking a daily prescription or over-the-counter pain reliever, but many medications used in the medical field today are derived from plants. For patients, this raises an important question: can herbal medicine help the body fight cancers like mesothelioma?
Botanicals and Cancer Treatment
Patients who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis typically follow a similar treatment plan, which includes a combination of chemotherapy drugs, radiation, and if possible, surgery. This is called first-line therapy and relies on evidence-based research and medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
There is no conclusive research that proves herbal medicine alone can cure cancer. However, there are benefits to consuming botanicals, or substances derived from plants, in our daily meals. Fresh or dried herbs and spices can help calm inflammation in the body, reduce nausea, aid digestion, and add flavor to food.
Dietary Herbs & Spices for Mesothelioma
Herbs and spices are widely available at grocery stores, neighborhood farmer’s markets, or even in a patient’s garden. Read on for a list of botanicals that may be beneficial for mesothelioma patients.
Spices come from the root, bark, seed or fruit of a plant, and are used to add flavor or color to food. Many spices are antimicrobial and may help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Turmeric: This bright orange herb is part of the ginger family. It’s a popular cooking spice used to flavor dishes in countries around the world. Turmeric contains high amounts of curcumin, a substance that has demonstrated anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties in studies using lab rats. While it may reduce inflammation in the body, there is no evidence it prevents cancer in humans, and it could also interact with specific chemotherapy drugs.
- Ginger: Spicy and sweet, raw ginger root and powdered ginger helps reduce nausea and supports digestion. This spice contains compounds shown to increase saliva and the flow of digestive juices. It’s often used to reduce nausea and vomiting, which is helpful for mesothelioma patients receiving chemotherapy treatments. Add a slice of ginger root into a cup of hot water with honey to make a stomach-soothing tea.
Herbs are the leaves, stems, or flowers from plants. Fresh or dried herbs are a natural and healthy way to flavor food, which may make eating easier for patients who are experiencing a loss of appetite as a side effect of mesothelioma treatments. Dried herbs are also available in supplement form for those who want a more concentrated dose. Patients should talk to their medical team to ensure there aren’t any adverse effects when combining herbs with chemotherapy drugs and other medications.
- Rosemary: A common culinary herb used in kitchens around the world, rosemary adds an earthy, pine-scented kick to food and also packs an antioxidant punch. Researchers have found evidence that rosemary extracts contain two active compounds: rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid, which may help slow the growth of certain cancers.
- Basil: This herb is the star of many Italian dishes, and is known for its sweet and pungent flavor. Basil boasts both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. In a 1998 study, basil was labeled an antimutagenic herb, which means it may prevent DNA in healthy cells from mutating and forming into abnormal, or cancerous cells.
Other cancer-fighting botanicals
- Garlic: As part of the allium family, which includes onions, shallots, and scallions, garlic is not technically a spice or an herb. However, this bulb is chock full of powerful antioxidants and is often used as a natural way to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Some lab studies have shown garlic can repair DNA, reduce the growth of specific cancer cells, and alleviate inflammation.
- Moringa Oleifera: Moringa, also called drumstick tree or miracle tree, is a plant grown in parts of South America, Asia, and Africa. Moringa has a high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. The plant is lauded for its antibacterial and antiviral properties, and also contains a cancer-fighting compound called niazimicin. People consume the leaves of the moringa plant in tea or as a supplement in powder form.
Using herbal medicine to alleviate side effects of mesothelioma treatments
Patients who are receiving chemotherapy, radiation, or other types of cancer treatment may experience adverse side effects. For example, chemotherapy can lead to nausea and vomiting and contribute to a general lack of appetite. Adding a spice like ginger to food may help calm the stomach and aid in digestion.
Potential Side Effects of Herbal Medicine
Sprinkling a bit of fresh basil or oregano on a dish is generally safe. However, mesothelioma patients should be cautious when taking concentrated doses of herbs and spices, like those found in supplements, as they may interact with chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
Certain botanicals affect the way a patient’s body processes medication. How? According to researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, it has to do with different mechanisms. Some herbs prevent chemotherapy drugs from metabolizing correctly, making treatments less effective, or even increasing side effects.
There’s also a lack of information surrounding the vast majority of botanicals and the way they interact with chemotherapy drugs. For this reason, oncologists may suggest a patient avoid taking herbs or other dietary supplements during a course of chemotherapy.