Natural Medicine for Cancer Prevention and Treatment

By Dr. Meg Jordan

A mystery that dwells deep in the forest offers a potential healing balm for cancer, which has recently inched past heart disease as the chief killer of our time. When you hike on trails shaded by towering trees, the soil moist and soft underfoot, you can spot large fan-shaped mushrooms attached to felled logs. Here in this quiet kingdom the seamless cycle of life is abundantly clear. Persistent and tenacious, these fungi factories slowly digest decaying matter, making way for new life.

I am awestruck when I consider how not only is nothing in nature wasted, but the ability of certain mushrooms to transform dead cells into life-enhancing compounds is miraculous, and may provide a clue about its anti-cancer effects. In a laboratory experiment, a stubborn tumor suddenly shrinks once dormant natural killer cells are awakened to do their job—all prompted by the action of a uniquely high proportion of beta-glucans/polysaccharides in a single mushroom extract.

Exciting scientific discoveries regarding medical mushrooms (red reishi, shiitake, cordyceps, maitake) over the past 30 years have been confirming what herbalists and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors have purported for centuries. The ability of these medicinal mushrooms to transform dead matter into life-enhancing miracle compounds allows it to provide the most potent, anti-cancer properties known on earth.

Japanese red reishi (Ganoderma lucidum) stands out as the true monarch of the forest, long hailed for its medicinal qualities by physicians serving emperors and royal dynasties in Japan and China for thousands of years.

Red reishi mushrooms are rare in the wild, and require the utmost care when being cultivated. Japanese red reishi essence is the most bio-available form, especially when grown on aged logs in highly controlled environments.

My preferred source comes from a family-owned business in Japan known as Mikei. I have seen too many people disappointed with taking other red reishi supplements. It's important to have a pharmaceutical grade—the highest quality in order to have results that approximate those of laboratory research. Mikei supplies that grade, and although it's not cheap, it's well worth the price.

As a potent immune modulator and adaptogen, red reishi essence can be safely taken on a daily basis, is non-toxic, and improves overall health and longevity. It provides benefits for the immune system, cardiovascular system, liver protection, metabolism, blood sugar balance, and reduces the damaging effects of stress and chronic inflammation.

But it is the cancer-treating applications that have most of us curious. Integrative health experts predict that medicinal mushrooms will play an increasingly important role as a cancer-preventive, as anti-tumor agents, and as adjunctive support for those undergoing chemotherapy since medicinal mushrooms help reduce the toxic effects of conventional therapy.

Just how do they go about this action?

Red reishi essence contains a uniquely high percentage of beta-glucans/polysaccharides that actually "train" the immune system to do a better job. There are many theories about what causes cancer: invasive viral and bacteria, failure to undergo normal cellular death, commandeering genetic material of neighbouring cells and more. Just as a mushroom can engulf and devour decaying matter without harming itself, it seems to be able to trigger similar digestive or at least engulfing actions for cancer cells by reminding our vast array of immune cells about their proper action.

A central theory (proven in certain cancers such as cervical and stomach cancer) centers on inadequate immune system surveillance. This theory proposes that we are all making cancer cells everyday—cells that are not quite right for one reason or another. But a healthy immune system sweeps them away, engulfing them in macrophages or vanquishing them by the swift action of killer cells and T cells. When the immune system is overburdened fighting off a modern assault of chemical toxins, petrochemicals, pesticide-laden foods, stress from poor diets, smoking, busy schedules, chronic fatigue and more, then monitoring of aberrant cells is jeopardized. Taking a red reishi supplement on a regular basis can help clear these toxins, train the immune system to be more robust, and help reduce the risk of cancer.

Another theory of cancer causes points to the failure of cellular apoptosis (cellular death). Investigated by Robert Nagourney, MD, a well respected, pioneering cancer researcher at the Malcom C. Todd, MD Cancer Institute, this theory states that all normal cells have suicide instructions within them—they're supposed to die off naturally at a certain age. But cancer cells behave differently. They just keep on ticking; they seem to either ignore their suicide instructions, or have faulty genetic mechanisms for manifesting them. Their unchecked growth and dissemination creates havoc for neighbouring cells, tissues and organs. Compounds within medicinal mushrooms may reawaken the proper life cycle of cells.

To be cautious, encouraging results in a lab don't always translate into positive clinical outcomes. Always follow your doctor's advice when it comes to cancer treatment, and seek second opinions from medical oncologists who understand the supportive nature of medicinal mushrooms in complementary care protocols.

And remember—not all Reishi is created equally. Japanese Red Reishi essence captures the most potent qualities of Ganoderma lucidum.

Dr. Meg Jordan, PhD, RN, CWP, is a medical anthropologist known as the Global Medicine Hunter®. She is an integrative health specialist, international health journalist, and a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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