Aloe vera and cancer

Administration of Aloe Vera in various forms has been shown to inhibit the growth of animal cancers or to actually bring about shrinkage of already-grown tumours. From all the other knowledge we have about the actions of Aloe, it appears that the effects of Aloe upon tumours is mediated via the immune system.This newsletter presents a general discussion of the formation and growth of cancers from the standpoint of Aloe and one other plant extract substance, bromelain, whose actions may well synergize usefully with those of Aloe.

The Nature of Tumours, of Malignancy and of Tumour Cells

Malignant neoplasms or cancers have several distinguishing features that enable them to be characterized as abnormal. The commonest types of human cancers derive from epithelium, that is, the cells covering internal or external surfaces of the body. These cells have a supportive stroma of blood vessels and connective tissue. Malignant tumour tissues may resemble norma! tissues; at least in the early phases of their growth and development. Cancer cells can develop In any tissue of the body that contains cells capable of cell division. Though they may grow fast or slowly their growth rate frequently exceeds that of the surrounding normal tissue. This is not an invariant property, however, because the rate of cell renewal in a number of normal tissues (eg. gastrointestinal tract epithelium, bone marrow, and hair follicles) is as rapid as that of a rapidly growing tumour.

The term “neoplasm”, meaning new growth, is often used interchangeably with the term “tumour” to signify a cancerous growth. It is important to keep in mind, however, that tumours are of two basic types: benign and malignant. The ability to distinguish between benign and malignant is crucial in determining the appropriate treatment and prognosis of a patient who has a tumour. The following are features that differentiate a malignant tumour from a benign tumour:

1.  Malignant tumours invade and destroy adjacent normal tissue; benign tumours grow by expansion, are usually encapsulated, and do not invade surrounding tissue. Benign tumours may, however, push aside normal tissue and may become life-threatening if they press on nerves or blood vessels or if they secrete biologically active substances, such as hormones that alter normal homeostatic mechanisms.

2.  Malignant tumours metastasize (a word which means breaking off pieces that are then transported to other parts of the body, where they lodge and resume growth) through lymphatic channels or blood vessels to lymph nodes, bones, lungs and other tissues in the body. Benign tumours remain localised and do not metastasize.

3.  Malignant tumour ceils tend to be “anaplastic” (a word which means less well differentiated than normal cells into recognisable cell types of the tissue in which they arise). Malignant cells may actually show varying degrees of “anaplasticity” or “undifferentiatedness”. Correlations are often drawn between the degree of anaplasticity and the degree of aggressive invasiveness which a tumour displays. The more differentiated, the less invasive, the more anaplastic, the more invasive. Benign tumours usually resemble normal tissue more closely than malignant tumours do.

Some malignant neoplasm progresses, it invades surrounding tissues, and metastasizes, and the malignant cells may then bear less resemblance to the normal cell of origin. The development of a less well differentiated malignant cell in a population of differentiated normal cells is sometimes called “dedifferentiation.” This term is probably a misnomer for the process, because it implies that a differentiated cell goes backwards in its development process after carcinogenic insult, it is more likely that the anaplastic malignant cell type, arises from the progeny of a tissue “stem cell” (one that still has a capacity for renewal and is not yet fully differentiated), which has been blocked or diverted, in its usual pathway towards forming a fully differentiated functional cell.

Lack of Clear Evidence of Anti-Carcinogenic Effect with Aloe

The Scientific Literature does not appear to offer us clear evidence at the present time, of any direct effect of Aloe in preventing carcinogenesis itself. That is to say, Aloe is not known to prevent the initial transformation which produces cells with tumour-forming potential, by affecting either the initiation or promotion processes. That does not mean that Aloe has no such effect, but it has not been shown. Therefore, on present knowledge it would seem best to rely, for avoidance of the carcinogenic process, on keeping the cell metabolism in good trim generally by excellent nutrition, by cleansing and avoiding intoxication, particularly exposure to carcinogens. Over and above this, the indications are that the generous use of anti-oxidants can be very helpful to help to keep the carcinogens in inactive forms. This is true of those anti-oxidants which are essential nutrients, such as the anti-oxidant vitamins, but also many important plant substances not necessarily recognised as essential nutrients, such as the carotenoids and flavonoids.

The Cleansing Action of Aloe

The combined result of the immuno-stimulant effects of Aloe and the effects which Aloe exerts upon the digestive system, is certain to produce an overall cleansing action on the body. We have the stimulation of immune cells in cleaning up debris and toxins all over the body and the beneficial effects of improved bowel conditions – in particular the benefits of reduced putrefaction in the large bowel. The overall benefit to the toxic burden of the patient will inevitably be great. It seems apparent, that any action which cleanses will produce a reduction in the dangers of carcinogenesis, both by promoting the actual removal of carcinogens from the system and by freeing the enzyme systems of the energy producing pathways from toxic inhibitors, making more energy available for self-cleansing. Therefore, it can be relied upon that Aloe, whilst it may not interfere with carcinogenesis directly, will indirectly reduce the likelihood of the carcinogenic change occurring.

Secondary Beneficial Actions of Aloe in Cancer

The existence, growth and spread of cancer puts the body under great strain. The immune system is having to combat the cancer cells, clear away debris left by the death of cancer cells – and many of them do die, by out-stripping their blood supply – and often also in resisting infections which occur as an indirect result of the cancer’s presence. The fighting of bacterial infections which result from the presence of cancer, is certainly a process in which the known actions of Aloe can be most supportive. Moreover, damage caused by the advancing tumour gives rise to inflammation and pain which Aloe can be expected to partially relieve.

The Supportive Action of Bromelain

Whilst this Newsletter is principally about Aloe, but it is recognised that patients and Practitioners who are interested in Aloe are dedicated to, or at least seriously interested in, natural approaches to medicine, and that they may have a bent towards “phytotherapy” or the use of herbs or herbal extracts as medicines. Therefore, most recipients of Aloe Newsletters may well be interested to hear about another plant substance, bromelain, which is also the subject of much informative scientific literature. It is derived from pineapple stem juice, though it is also present in pineapple fruit. Many of the known actions of bromelain are such that it is likely to be distinctly supportive of any attempt to fortify the human immune system with Aloe vera, and if the reason for so doing is cancer treatment or cancer avoidance, then the case for using bromelain in support is very strong. For this purpose bromelain should ideally be given at a substantial dose. Some useful effects have been observed at dose levels of 500-600mg per day (for which 5 to 6 100mg tablets/day might well be used) and greater effects when bromelain is used at levels up to 1000mg – 1500mg/day.

The effects of bromelain on cancer appear to be threefold. Firstly, there is an inhibition of tumour growth in response to bromelain, just as with Aloe vera, so the effects of these two substances acting together are likely to be fortified. Bromelain inhibits tumour growth, just as Aloe does, by stimulating the immune system. Published studies have shown that bromelain stimulates macrophages to phagocytose more actively and to produce “tumour necrosis factor”. One study has shown that other immune system cells, such as neutrophils, are also stimulated to produce tumour necrosis factor. In one study isolated macrophages were treated with bromelain to activate them and then were reinjected to exert their increased anti-tumour potential, within the animal they came from.

Secondly, bromelain has been shown to inhibit the metastasis (spreading to distant parts) of cancers, which is potentially a most important effect for the containment of cancer. Thirdly, in the case of leukaemia cells it has been shown that bromelain affects them, inducing them to “redifferentiate”, that is to say, to take up a form closer to the form of normal lymphatic cells, losing some of their anaplasticity. Obviously, cells which are altered in this way by bromelain become, in the process, more normal and, by implication, less cancerous. Overall, bromelain therefore appears to be a potent factor when dealing with natural cancer therapy or prevention, since it has several different effects which all tend to be anti-tumour in their end result.

Situations in which Aloe and Bromelain are likely to be Used

Obviously, notwithstanding the present lack of human clinical trial, there is a strong case for including Aloe and bromelain in cancer therapy of all kinds. The Orthodox profession is unlikely to choose to use them, however. In the Alternative disciplines we have the clear option of doing so, on the grounds that both substances are harmless and have been shown to exert distinctly favourable biological actions. They are therefore available as a well-indicated adjunct, wherever a decision has been taken to treat active cancer naturopathically or nutritionally, for whatever reason. That reason can be, because the patient prefers it that way on principle, or because Orthodoxy has reached the end of the road with the patient concerned and has withdrawn further treatment. However, a far more common situation in our practices is where a patient has taken orthodox treatment, for example, surgical operation, and then been declared free of cancer so far as anyone knows. Neither orthodox practice, nor the alternatives have any way of seeing the microscopic tumours or cell clusters that are likely to remain in such circumstances. Treatment with Aloe and bromelain seem particularly appropriate in such cases. In still other cases, there may be a particular risk factor for cancer, though no cancer has been discovered. This would be the case with, for example, polycystic breast disease, which is precancerous or when a cervix smear test shows up suspicious or altered cells. The use of Aloe and bromelain in such cases can be offered as a promising adjunct therapy along with other precautionary healing and cleansing treatments.

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