Ayurvedic Medicine and Cancer

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Proponents of Ayurveda claim that it is as effective as Western medicine but few, if any, well-designed clinical trials have been conducted using the Ayurvedic approach.
Proponents of Ayurveda claim that it is as effective as Western medicine but few, if any, well-designed clinical trials have been conducted using the Ayurvedic approach.

Ayurveda is a personalized, patient-centered medical approach based on the concept of the union of the body, senses, mind, and spirit.1 The purpose of this approach is to promote health and prevent disease, but also to diagnose and treat conditions. Ayurveda promotes nutrition and a healthy diet and uses complex plant-based formulations for pharmacologic prevention and treatments.

Ayurveda originated thousands of years ago and, although proponents claim that it is as effective as Western medicine, few, if any, well-designed clinical trials have been conducted using the Ayurvedic approach.1,2 Specific herbs or formulations used in Ayurvedic medicine, however, are being studied for their medicinal properties, including for anticancer activity. Proponents of Ayurveda have called for the use of modernized research methodologies to demonstrate that this approach is effective for various disease states.2

Outcomes Using an Ayurvedic Approach

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) maintains the Best Case Series (BCS) Program, which allows individuals to submit case series of unconventional cancer treatment with a goal to identify any potential treatment approaches that may warrant NCI funding for further studies.3

The BCS Program reviews submitted cases and applies a persuasive, supportive, or not evaluable rating based on specific criteria. In addition to a definitive diagnosis established by biopsy and/or appropriate blood markers, identifiable disease at treatment start, and lack of concomitant treatment, persuasive cases demonstrate tumor response and supportive cases demonstrate stable disease to the unconventional treatment. Two Indian practitioners of Ayurveda submitted case series describing the treatment of a variety of solid and hematologic malignancies.

Of the cases submitted by the practitioners, 15% and 62% were rated persuasive and 25% and 15% were rated supportive. Many cases were rated not evaluable because primary source documentation of pathology or radiology could not be provided, or only photographic evidence was submitted for tumor regression.

A small trial of 67 patients with cancer scheduled to receive chemotherapy were randomly assigned to receive no Ayurvedic therapies, Mauktikyukta Kamdudha (MKD) plus Mauktikyukta Praval Panchamruta (MPP) during chemotherapy, MKD plus MPP after chemotherapy, and Suvarnabhasmadi (SBD) plus MKD and MPP after chemotherapy for 16 weeks and with observation for a total of 6 months.4 Patients who received Ayurvedic therapies demonstrated improved nausea, appetite, constipation, fatigue, Karnofsky score, and quality of life measures compared with the control group.

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