Ayurveda distinguishes between Vata, Pitta
and Kapha type cancers and the treatment needs to be adjusted
accordingly. While a Pitta type cancer may respond well to
a raw food diet or juice fasting, such a program could worsen
the condition for Kapha and especially Vata type cancers.
In most cases this type of cancer involves emotional factors
such as depression, fear and anxiety. The large intestines
and lower abdomen are common sites for Vata type cancers.
There may be pain in the in the neck and head and the patient
feels cold. There are usually signs of digestive discomfort
such as constipation, bloating, or gas. The mouth and skin
are usually dry. Patients usually lose weight as the condition
progresses. The skin, nails, and eyes typically become dark
or gray. Pain is throbbing or stabbing. The tumor may appear
to move about and change in size and shape. Often symptoms
are worse on an empty stomach and during the Vata times of
Vata cancer benefits from anuvasana basti (Ayurvedic oil enema)
if the tumor is below the umbilicus. A Vata type tumor above
the umbilicus requires oral oleation such as castor oil taken
in warm milk. Cleansing bastis with Ayurvedic herbs may also
be performed in accordance with the principles governing such
This type of cancer may involve heated emotions such as anger,
jealousy or resentment. The small intestines, liver and skin
are common Pitta cancer sites. Tumors often become inflamed,
infected and associated with burning sensation or bleeding,
or are aggressive in nature. Patients feel greater Pitta type
digestive discomforts such as hyperacidity and diarrhea. Patients
run fever and the skin, nails, and eyes may become yellow.
Pain at the site of the tumor may be described as burning.
Pain is naturally worse during the Pitta times of day and
shortly after eating. Pitta cancers benefit from the intake
of bitter medicated ghee as the preferred method of oleation.
This should be followed by svedana (Ayurvdedic steam bath)
and virechana (purgation). Milk bastis prepared with bitter
herbs help to reduce the size of the tumors.
This type of cancer may involve depression, fatigue, excess
sleep and lethargy. Cancers in the chest or stomach such as
lung or breast cancers are often Kapha type cancers. Those
cancers often afflict individuals who are overweight, who
overindulge in rich foods and are more sluggish or lethargic
in nature. Patients present with typical symptoms of Kapha
vitiation such as loss of appetite and nausea. There maybe
a low-grade fever alternating with feeling cold. The skin,
nails, and eyes take on a whitish hue. The tumor appears deep,
hard, and heavy, does not move or produce much pain and grows
slowly in size. Symptoms are worse during Kapha times and
immediately after eating.
Recommended are fasting, no internal oleation, Dashmoola basti,
castor oil virechana (purgation) and the application of a
paste of castor or mustard seed oil to the site of the tumor
followed by svedana or steam treatment. Herbs taken should
have a strong pungent and/or bitter quality.
Detoxification and Tonification
The practitioner will determine a nutritional program based
on the constitution and overall strength of the patient, and
also decide if the patient requires tonification or purification
therapy. Strong patients with ama (toxins) require purification
therapies in accordance with their prakruti (constitution)
and their vikruti (imbalances). By detoxifying the body through
diet and gentle cleansing procedures prana can flow freely
and support the healing process.
Patients who are weak should undergo strengthening or tonification
therapy. These therapies attempt to build up the ojas (immune
system) of the patient. Consisting primarily of oil therapies
and rejuvenative herbs, these therapies invigorate the immune
system and stimulate the self-healing properties of the body.
A strong immune system is required for controlling the growth
of cancer cells.
According to Ayurvedic wisdom cancer patients should follow
a diet appropriate to their prakruti (constitution) and vikruti
(imbalances), state of ama (toxins), agni (digestive fire)
and ojas (immune system). They should avoid all processed,
genetically engineered foods, refined sugars, and foods that
contain additives and need to also avoid over-eating.
For someone undergoing chemo or radiation a nourishing, warm,
slightly oily diet is more appropriate.
Ayurvedic Herbs for Cancer
In the classical Ayurvedic literature there are hundreds of
herbs listed that may have the potential to heal cancer. They
are strongly purifying, and detoxifying. Most of these purifying
and reducing herbs are bitter in taste. Several examples of
strongly reducing, anti-carcinogenic herbs include red clover,
burdock root, dandelion root, guggul, turmeric and chaparral.
There are many herbs used reduce tumor growth, alleviate
pain, nausea, stress and anxiety and other symptoms of discomfort.
Herbs can be taken internally or applied over the tumor as
Some herbs are antioxidants such as amla berry or are detoxifying
such as triphala.
Chyavanprash made from Indian gooseberry (amla) and 44 rejuvenating
herbs can be taken for convalescence and tissue healing.
For pain and swelling: boswellia serrata, triphala guggul
Nausea: Ginger tea
Antacid: shatavari, amla
Nerve tonic, anti anxiety, stress adaptogen: brahmi, ashwagandha
Insomnia: ashwagandha, almond and nutmeg in milk
Other specific herbs have been well studied, and include:
Cat's claw (Uncaria tomentosa) has been shown to actually
reduce cancerous cellular growth.
Manjishta (Rubia cordifolia) has been shown to be anti-carcinogenic
and is often used as a part of uterine and ovarian cancer
Triphala is recommended and used more than any other Ayurvedic
herbal formulation. Popular for its unique ability to gently
cleanse and detoxify the system while simultaneously replenishing
and nourishing it, this traditional formula supports the proper
functions of the digestive, circulatory, respiratory and genitourinary
Triphala has been shown to have strong anti-carcinogenic properties.
In a study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
triphala was fed orally to mice grafted with human pancreatic
tumors and showed to be an extremely effective inhibitor of
the cancer process. Triphala triggered the cancerous cells
to die off and significantly reduced the size of the tumors
without causing any toxic side effects.
The svedana (Ayurvedic steam bath) detoxifies and cleanses,
while the body is gently steamed with a variety of purifying
Ayurvedic herbs. The theory behind hyperthermia (heat therapy)
is that raising the temperature of the body increases circulation
and also increases the supply of oxygen to the cancer site.
Cancer cells do not thrive in the presence of oxygen. Tumors
and cells located near the surface of the body are more vulnerable
to heat treatments than those protected deep inside. In the
Ayurvedic steam sauna the head is always kept cool which makes
it easier and more pleasant to endure prolonged high temperatures.
In addition there are localized steam treatments available.
Hyperthermia has produced excellent results in cancer therapy.
Abhyanga oil massage:
Daily self-abhyanga is the most important act of self–love
because it rebuilds ojas (stability) in the mind.
Research suggests that sesame oil may have potential as a
cancer fighter, particularly anti-skin cancer, but also other
cancers as it penetrates the body through the skin during
an Ayurvedic massage and possesses antioxidant qualities which
help fight free radicals. Free radicals are the products of
oxidative reactions in the body that promote cancer development.
The abhyanga self massage also stimulates lymph drainage and
detoxification through the body’s largest organ of elimination
– the skin.
Mental and Emotional Purification
Healing begins with quieting the mind. Meditation, pranayama
(yogic breathing), visualization, yoga asanas, periods of
silence, walks in nature can all help to free up blocked mental
energy and promote healing.
I cannot stress enough the importance of meditation!
Meditation is the king of all sattvic practices. By finding
the inner silence the individual dives deep into the well
of pure consciousness, unlimited potential; unlocking the
body’s self- healing power.
Shirodhara, the pouring of warm sesame oil over the forehead
will deeply relax and rejuvenate the mind and resolve deep-seated
tension and traumas.
In this modern age cancer remains a great threat to society
and Ayurvedic wisdom can significantly help patients cope
with cancer and can be used as an adjunct to alleviate symptoms
associated with conventional therapies, such as nausea, pain,
Obviously, the individual should never attempt self-diagnosis
or self-treatment and needs to consult with an experienced
Ayurvedic practitioner in addition to seeking the appropriate
Western medical treatment.
Ward, L.Ac, Dipl. C.H., CAS
a Licensed Acupuncturist
and Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist in Santa Barbara,
She specializes in nutrition based on the principles
of Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine and Western medical
research. Her treatments focus on Ayurvedic
women's health, and chronic
combines acupuncture, therapeutic massage, cupping,
essential oils, and herbal recommendations in her