by By Dr. Matthew Marturano, ND
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Few words strike as profound an emotional cord as cancer. It can invoke a strong sense of fear and helplessness, remind us of the strength and courage displayed by those who have faced it and inspire us to look for more solutions.
Cancer Treatment Today
When it comes to cancer treatments, much confusion ensues because all cancers are seemingly clumped together into one category. While this statistical maneuver keeps cancer in our sights as the fourth leading cause of death, the fact is, the various types of cancer are more dissimilar than they’re alike. As a result, there are several treatments often based on very different approaches. Despite all the technological and scientific advancements we’ve developed to treat cancer once it’s been identified, the medical community is largely silent with respect to how to prevent it in the first place.
This lack of clear answers has driven many to look to the alternative medical community for insight. Often it’s even more difficult to sift through and discern between genuinely helpful information and faux “cancer cures” peddled by unscrupulous practitioners. However, in the realm of alternative treatment, one specific therapy has shown promise in fighting several different forms of cancer:probiotics.
The Link Between Probiotics and Cancer
While most people are familiar with the term “antibiotics,” probiotics are a more recent concept. Probiotics are microbes which have co-evolved with the human body and provide many important services to the immune, endocrine and neurological systems. Probiotics are naturally occurring and vital for consistent health — while there are a wide range of probiotic supplements available, probiotics may also be obtained naturally through the consumption of cultured and fermented foods.
However, the diet and lifestyle choices of contemporary society have caused a massive decrease in the amount of natural, healthy bacteria present in the body. In the United States, it’s not uncommon to find people who don’t eat any fermented or cultured foods. Unfortunately, this behavior, coupled with overuse of antibiotic medications, can lead to negative changes in the intestinal ecosystem which can put a person at a higher risk for many diseases, including cancers.
How Probiotics Can Benefit Cancer Patients
Several theories exist as to how probiotics may affect the development of cancer. One idea is probiotics inhibit the growth of harmful microbes which produce carcinogens as byproducts of their metabolism. We also know certain probiotic bacteria ferment special kinds of fiber in our food and produce a molecule called butyric acid (or butyrate) which may help stabilize DNA during the replication process. This action reduces the chances of damage which could lead a cell to turn cancerous.
Using probiotics as an adjunct to chemotherapy treatments can help prevent or treat the potential side effects of these treatments in the gut. Adequate levels of probiotic bacteria may protect the gut cells from damage and improve the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the foods we eat.
Are all probiotics the same?
There are about 20 different strains of probiotic bacteria currently used medically and each has a different effect on the gut. There’s certainly more research to be done regarding the specific actions of probiotics. However, the current research concludes probiotic use is generally safe and doesn’t negatively impact the course of other cancer treatments one may be receiving. As cancers and their treatments vary widely, it’s always prudent to let your oncologist know you’re considering probiotic use and to inquire about any specific contraindications they’re aware of.
There are some studies that have shown benefits of specific strains of probiotic bacteria with certain cancers:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus, found in many cultured milk products, has been shown to inhibit the grown of cancerous tumors in the colon.
- Lactobacillus helveticus, also present in cultured milk products, may be effective in suppressing the development and progression of breast tumors.
- Research into bladder cancer has indicated those who consume the particular probiotic Lactobacillus casei remain in a state of remission longer than patients who don’t.
The simplest way to integrate probiotics into your daily regimen is to consume a range of cultured and fermented foods. There are also several products that allow you to consume probiotics in the form of drinks, powders or capsules, which may be more appropriate for those who may not be ready to expand their palates just yet.