Herbal therapy gives cancer patient hope
Alternative medicine is proving the answer for one Taranaki cancer patient who claims his immune system was wrecked by chemotherapy.
Hari Nath, a chemical engineer from New Plymouth, was 20 kilograms underweight and in a wheelchair when he travelled to India to find a solution to the painful recurring throat ulcers he developed after being treated with intravenous chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
He said he tried everything modern medicine had to offer, including controversial drug thalidomide, at hospitals in Bangalore and Kerala, but nothing worked apart from high doses of the steroid prednisone, which worsened his diabetes, and left him prone to infection and in an emotional tailspin.
Every time he tried to reduce his dosage of the steroid his ulcers would return – making it so painful to eat even liquidised food that he had to numb his throat with an anaesthetic before he could get anything down.
“Even to watch him eat was a torture,” his wife Geetha Nath said.
Mr Nath turned to alternative medicine, but with equally little success.
He tried several traditional Indian Ayurvedic remedies, but abandoned them when he found no improvement.
“After a year of unsuccessful struggle and a life with pain killers and antidepressants, the feeling of hopelessness crept in and I googled to search for a naturally occurring steroid equivalent and stumbled across a herb called ashwagandha (witheria somnifera) used in Indian Ayurvedic medicine over thousands of years for improving immune system,” he said.
He did some more research and found on the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre’s website that studies had been done where the herb had killed cancerous cells in mice.
“I decided to make myself the mouse,” he said.
Mr Nath consulted both an Ayurvedic doctor and his oncologist before beginning treatment with ashwagandha, and got the go-ahead from both of them. They were out of other ideas.
Being a chemical engineer, Mr Nath had a keen scientific interest in his health.
“I took the results of all my blood tests since I was diagnosed in 2002 and plotted them on a graph.”
Shortly after starting to take the herb, Mr Nath began to feel better.
Within a week he was able to halve his steroid dose without the ulcers coming back, and a month later his blood tests began to show a remarkable improvement.
“A blood test showed a sharp jump in total white cell counts with my lymphocytes increased from previous level of 600-700 to a whopping 2500-2800. Interestingly my ESR [indication of inflammation/infection] also had a sharp dip from 80 to below 20, ” he said.
Three months later he was able to stop taking the steroids altogether and got back to a healthy weight and state of mind.
Mr Nath said that if a year before someone had suggested he take a herb to treat his problem he would’ve dismissed it out of hand.
“It got to the point where I had no choice, I had to do something.”
Since then he’s discovered that clinical trials using ashwagandha to treat cancer patients were in progress in the United States and India, and patents pending in the US and Japan.
“I had contacted the concerned head of clinical trials and was told that they had several positive feedbacks from cancer patients on ashwagandha,” he said.
In November last year he was finally able to return home to New Plymouth and has been ulcer and cancer-free since.
“Now I am hoping for a long remission and possibly a complete cure,” he said.