Overview Of Natural Medicines Biology Essay


Natural medicines which include herbs, vitamins, minerals and other supplement products have been and are still used for a variety of purposes in all human cultures; food, medical, cosmetics etc. Natural medicines are currently being primarily used as complementary alternative medicine which plays an important role in the maintenance of health and are widely utilised in the treatment of minor ailments. In the 1990s, WHO ( World health organisation) has estimated that 80% of the world population in developing countries relies mainly on traditional practitioners and medicine to meet their primary health care needs (Afifi et al., 2010). WHO further states that although modern medicine may be available in those countries, natural medicine has often maintained popularity for historical and cultural reasons (Afifi et al., 2010). Currently more and more people in developed and developing countries are claiming that natural medicine is an effective and comparatively inexpensive form of health care. An increasing number of individuals prefer to take personal control over their health in prevention and treatment of diseases. This is particularly true for incurable diseases.

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Natural medicine has become a topic of global importance and the use of alternative methods by the public has grown enormously. Many patients with cancer use alternative methods either in addition to conventional medicine (complementary) or on their own (alter- native) (Afifi et al., 2010)

2.2 Cancer development

Cancer is a broad term which encompasses over hundred different types of cancer. Every individual's body organs are made of cells. Cells divide and multiply as the body needs them (Fayed, 2009). When these cells continue to multiply when the body doesn't need them, the result is a mass growth or a tumor.

2.3 Cancer Symptoms

Cancer generally only show symptoms when a patient is in the advanced stage (Fayed, 2009). A broad spectrum of cancer symptoms may include (Fayed, 2009):

Unintentional weight loss

Persistent fatigue



Bowel changes

Chronic cough

2.4 Promotional techniques for curing cancer: conventional therapies

The four main conventional cancer cures are:

Surgery - is the oldest form of cancer treatment. This form of therapy is used in cancer treatment either to remove only the tumor, or the entire organ.

Chemotherapy- Is designed to kill cancer cells. The treatment can be administrated through a vein, injected into a body cavity, or delivered orally in the form of a pill.

Hormonal therapy- is drugs that block hormone production or change the way hormones work.

Radiation- is the use of ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can be administered externally or internally (Riddle, 2010)

2.4.1 Risks associated with conventional cancer cures (Riddle, 2010)


Risk of wound infection.

Damage to internal organs and blood vessels during surgery.

Blood clots can form in the deep veins of the legs after surgery, especially if a person remains in bed for a long time.

Problems with other organs, such as the lungs, heart, or kidneys


Radiation can cause severe blood changes including drop in production of new blood cells, nausea, and anaemia and vomiting.

Irritation and burning of the skin



Brain disorder

Skin disorder

Second cancers


This therapy works by destroying cancer cells. However it cannot tell the difference between a cancer cell and healthy cell such as white blood cell. Chemotherapy therefore removes not only the cancer growing cancer cells but also all other fast growing cells in the body. This therefore leads to hair loss, alopecia, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and lesions in the mouth (Riddle, 2010)

Hormone therapy

Hormone drugs deprive cancer cells of estrogens. The drugs can cause hot flashes, irritation, nausea etc.

2.5 Complementary/alternative therapy

Sewitch et al defines complementary alternative medicine as any "unconventional treatment that could be used instead of (i.e. alternative) or in addition to (i.e. complementary) or as "an approach to the diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer that falls outside conventional cancer therapies widely used (i.e. surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, hormone)"

2.5.1 Alternative cancer medicine (Bauma et al., 2006)

• Treatment not offered within conventional cancer care.

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• Treatments with a theoretical basis which, in part or in total, is incongruent with the common scientific model.

• Treatment aimed as an alternative to conventional medical cancer treatment, without accepted evidence for its efficacy.

2.5.2 Complementary cancer medicine (Bauma et al., 2006)

• Supportive treatment that complements conventional cancer medicine.

2.6 Adoption of complementary/alternative medicine for curing cancer

A study conducted by Afifi et al on the use of herbal preparations as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in a sample of patients with cancer has proved that complementary alternative medicines is widely used among cancer patients throughout the world. Several population-based studies revealed the wide spread use of herbal medicine as the most preferred complementary alternative medicine. Patients, especially those suffering from life-threatening or hard- to-cure diseases such as cancer, where the orthodox therapy may cause some discomfort and does not achieve a quick relief of symptoms ,may be easily influenced by the strong reputation of the herbal products and seek at least psychological comfort (Afifi et al., 2010).

The use of complementary alternative medicine by cancer patients is growing rapidly. The motivation of many patients to try alternative therapies is based on the assumption that natural always means safe. Patients also consider complementary alternative approaches for many other reasons: to avoid the adverse effects of conventional treatments and to improve the quality of life or to alleviate symptoms. In some rural areas after diagnosis of cancer, patients generally seek help from herbalists to recommend plants that have anti cancer properties.

A patient from the United States in 1995 was diagnosed with brain tumor, a difficult cancer to fight. The patient was told by doctors that the odd of beating this type of cancer is very slim. After using complementary medicine in conjunction with conventional therapy the patient is cancer free. In this treatment complementary medicine helped to eliminate almost all side effects associated with conventional treatment such as pain, nausea, fatigue and depression. It helped to offset the side effects of chemotherapy and tolerate higher doses. The patient complementary treatment included antioxidant vitamins and supplements, Essiac formula, maitake mushroom extract, aloe vera juice, colloidal silver and herbal medicine (Ernst. 2000).

2.7 Promotional techniques for curing cancer: Complementary alternative cancer treatments

2.7.1 Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves the insertion of needle into the skin and underlying tissues in special sites, known as points, for preventive purposes (Eugene, 2006). Acupuncture is practiced worldwide and is known for its origin in China. It is a powerful tool for general pain control (Eugene, 2006). It helps as a nutritional support which aids in boosting the immune response in cancer patients. It also assists with the immune and white blood suppression.

Essiac tea

Essiac tea is one of the most popular alternative cancer cure treatment. It contains four essential herbs that have proved to exhibit anti cancer properties. These herbs are:

Burdock root

Sheep sorrel

Slippery elm inner bard

Turkish rhubarb root

The benefits associated with Essaic tea are (Dummert, 2006):

Strengthen immune function

Improve the well being

Relieve pain

Increase appetite

Reduce tumor size

Extend survival

Cleanse the blood

Promote cell repair

Restore energy levels

Detoxify the body

Maitake mushroom

Maitake is an edible mushroom or it comes in the form of tablet, capsule, and liquid extract. It is said that maitake mushroom boosts the immune system and limits or reverses tumor growth. It is also said to enhance the benefits of chemotherapy and lessen some side effects of anti-cancer drugs, such as hair loss, pain, and nausea (Author Unknown, 2008). Maitake contains Beta glucan which is believed to stimulate the immune system and activate certain cells and proteins that attack cancer. It also appears to slow the growth of cancer in some cell cultures (Author Unknown, 2008).


According to the National cancer institute; "Aromatherapy is the therapeutic use of essential oils from plants (flowers, herbs, or trees) for the improvement of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being" (National cancer institute, 2010). Aromatherapy is used by cancer patients as a supportive care for the general well-being, which can be used with other complementary treatments (massage) or standard treatments.

2.7.5 Herbal medicine

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Herbal medicine includes ayurvedic, botanical medicine, Chinese herbalism, European herbalism, phyto-medicine etc. It can further defined as the medical use of preparations that contain exclusively plant material.

2.7.6 Homoeopathy

Homoeopathy is defined as a therapeutic method using preparations of substances whose effects when administrated to healthy subjects correspond to the manifestations of the disorder in the un-well patients. Homoeopathy medicines can remove discomforts caused by cancer, such as anorexia, nausea, weaknesses, fever, and vomiting. This therapy can be used with or without conventional cancer treatment. Homeopaths in general search for a cause in trying to find the appropriate remedy. For example physical trauma to the breast leading to cancer, points to a specific remedy (Monteleone, 2010).

2.7.7 Reflexology

A therapeutic method that uses manual pressure applied to specific areas, or zones of the feet (and sometimes the hands or ears) that are believed to correspond to areas of the body, in order to relieve stress and prevent and treat physical disorders. A study conducted by Kunz and Kunz in England indicated that reflexology improved the quality of life of twelve British cancer patients and studies has also concluded that one third of cancer patients use reflexology as an alternative medical approach . Patients receive comfort from reflexology for their symptoms in some form.

2.7.8. Tai chi

A system of movements and postures rooted in ancient Chinese philosophy and martial arts used to enhance mental and physical health. Tai chi is a mind and body practice in complementary and alternative medicine. For cancer patients tai chi is an energy therapy. In general tai chi helps to cleanse the body therefore improving the bioenergetics of the blood and body. It prevents the spread of cancer by working on the cell walls and provides cancer patients with relief from pain, elimination of anxiety and stress (Woolams, 2010)

2.7.9 Yoga

Yoga is a practice of gentle non aerobic stretching exercises for breath control and meditation as a mind-body intervention. It can be a useful method to help relieve some symptoms of chronic diseases such as cancer and can lead to increased relaxation and physical fitness (Reynolds, 2009). Recent scientific studies do not support yoga as an effective stand-alone treatment for cancer so therefore it is used as a complementary treatment in cancer. However for cancer patient's yoga can enhance quality of life by relieving the stress and anxiety associated with disease progression or treatment. A study conducted by the college of medicine on the effects of yoga found that patients who did yoga saw improvements in social and emotional well-being compared with those who didn't (Reynolds, 2009). The benefits that cancer patients can experience from yoga are the following (Reynolds, 2009):

Combating the side effects of the treatment

Anxiety relief

Reduction in stress

Immune system response

Decreases insomnia

Relief of chronic pain

2.7.10 Green tea

The regular consumption of green tea reduces cancer risk by inhibiting an enzyme required for cancer cell growth and also killing cancer cells with no ill effect on healthy cells. Laboratory studies indicate that green tea has anti tumor effects.

Consumer awareness of complementary/alternative therapies for curing cancer

A large percentage of cancer patients use some form of complementary alternative medicine. Patients generally look for information themselves via the internet or hearing by word of mouth. Ernst, 2009