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Using herbs and foods to treat and prevent cancer

Medical herbalist, and nutrition and wellness coach Geo Derick gave a presentation at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank Friday on the uses of herbs and food to treat and prevent cancer.

Derick was trained to work with modern medicine but instead, she prefers to use herbs because it is a more natural and holistic means of staying healthy.

“There’s just about nothing that the plant world doesn’t offer us in terms of support with all health issues,” she said. “Plant medicine is the only thing we’ve had on the planet in the entirety of human kind until 1945 when we first made synthetic chemicals. If it didn’t work, we wouldn’t be here as a species because it’s all we’ve ever had.”

Along with discussing using herbs during treatment for cancer or as a treatment, Derick also focused on holistic ways to prevent cancer.

“There are people in modern medicine now that are starting to question whether there is such a thing as a cure and whether or not it may be prudent to prevent it in the first place,” she said. “What we do know is that there are two families of genes involved in tumor growth. One is the oncogenes. They’re cancer genes that promote cancer growth.

“There are tumor suppressor genes,” she continued. “They suppress tumor growth and they are in us all the time. If they are knocked out of the game, which they can be, that actually causes more dangerous and more complicated cancers. When our defenses are down, we get worse scenarios that happen.”

One way to support tumor suppressor genes and to ensure cancer cells do not grow is to change the pH balance of your blood.

“Cancer needs an acid environment to grow in,” Derick said. “There are foods and lifestyles that cause acidic blood. Even diet soda is implicated in this but stress in another thing, trans fats is another thing. If you just neutralize your pH and become more alkaline, you will probably prevent cancer. That’s what we’ve been saying for many, many years. Every herb can help with this.”

Adding alkaline foods – colorful and non-starchy produce – to your diet, along with drinking alkalinized water can also help with pH balance.

Derick explained that we may already have cancer cells in our bodies and the body is continuously fighting the growth of the cells and trying to destroy them completely. Many herbs – namely cinnamon – assist with making the cancer cells self-destructive.

“Cancer Research Center shows that it induces apoptosis in human leukemia cells,’ Derick said. “Apoptosis is the word for self-destructing cells. Cells know when to die at the proper times. We have to have cell death. Cancer is simply a cell that has not matured properly and doesn’t know when to die. Apoptosis is the word for when a cell kills itself or self-destructs. Cinnamon helps to educate leukemia cells as to when it’s time to die. I encourage people to eat a teaspoon of cinnamon a day.”

Botanicals – fruits, vegetables and herbs – provide the antioxidants and nutrition the body needs to build an army against cancer.

“I like to say that phytonutrients, which are nutrients from plants, herbs or food, they’re like ninjas in the body,” Derick said. “They have spent billions of years fending off bacteria, fungus, predators – pathogens of all kinds, and they have made so many chemical messengers for themselves and those chemicals help us fight off those same things.”

The phytonutrients fight off free radical scavengers, prevent the formation of carcinogens, increase detoxification of carcinogens and reduce DNA damage at the cellular membrane. Dark leafy greens, broccoli and bitter foods are especially full of phytonutrients.

The phytonutrients – ninjas – are joined by killer cells and neutrophils inside the body, which attack and destroy cancer cells.

“Natural killer cells are the first line of defense,” Derick said. “They release interferon into the cells and they kill the cancer cells. Your body will do this on its own but if our natural killer cells are not prolific, you can make them more prolific by eating garlic, by taking ginseng, taking licorice root, mistletoe, mushrooms, echinacea. Every one of these will enhance your internal militia, as I call it.

“The neutrophils are kind of the kamakzes of the body,” she continued. “They live in the bone marrow and they destroy cancer. They are a short term intervention and they are increased by the oil of garlic, ginseng, mushrooms, mistletoe and black cumin seeds.”

Plant and herbs also enhance the immune system. A weak immune system makes it easier for cancer to spread and thrive. Black cumin seeds, mistletoe and echinacea are good herbs for those who are currently undergoing treatment for cancer.

One plant Derick swears by is the dandelion, which is fortunate because they are easy to obtain.

“I would start with dandelion with any cancer,” she said. “When I was ten-years-old, I said to my mom, ‘I bet some day we’re going to discover that the dandelion is the cure for caner.’ She said, ‘why would you think that?’ And I said as a ten-year-old, ‘because it’s everywhere and so is cancer.’ Needless to say I am thrilled whenever I discover anything about dandelion and it’s anti-cancer properties. The whole plant is edible. The blooms are best just pulled apart and sprinkled on things. I’ve eaten a whole one and it’s not fun.”

As far as meals, Derick said it is important to fill your plate with vegetables/plant material. She showed a diagram by Harvard University called the “Healthy Plate.” In the illustration two-thirds of the plate consisted of vegetables. Whole grains and protein were a quarter each and the rest of the plate was fruits.

Derick added that the To Quiet Inflammation diet, consisting of colorful fruits and vegetables and items rich in anti-oxidants, is great for cancer patients. It is a way to eliminate unneeded sugars and other allergens.

Although it is still considered “alternative” medicine, a bad word to Derick, original medicine is becoming more common and doctors are beginning to work with nutritionists in what is called integrative medicine.

“Integrative oncology – simply integrating modern and traditional domains together – is a very large part of our oncology landscape right now,” she said. “Integrative medicine is the future. It’s happening all over the world and they’re having great success with it.”

While integrative medicine is making headway and modern medical doctors are working with holistic practitioners, there is still a disconnect with other doctors who believe modern medicine is the only type of medicine.

“Many doctors tell their clients, ‘you shouldn’t use herbs because there’s no science behind it,’ and actually there is more science behind the herbs than there are synthetic medicines,” Derick said. “We are making headway, though.”

Derick provided a table with a list of foods and herbs that are useful in the treatment and prevention of cancer. She gathered the information from the book, “Herbal Medicine, Health & Cancer,” by Donald Yance.

Blocking agents that inhibit carcinogenisis: broccoli, turmeric, red clover, dong quai, Brussel sprouts, pomegranates, berries, nuts, licorice, gingko, onions, cabbage, garlic, green tea, aromatic oils, orange and lemon peels, rosemary and low doses of meat, dairy, whole milk yogurt.

Blocking agents effective against tumor production: turmeric, quercetin, grape seed extract, hawthorn, licorice, ginger, boswellan, omega-3 fatty acids, garlic, onions, green tea, soy, legumes and black tea.

Suppressing agents effective against exposure to carcinogens: broccoli, green tea, turmeric, legumes, grains, soy products and orange peel.

Herbs to strengthen an individual’s constitution and vitality: pulsatilla, St. John’s wort and gotu kola.

Tonic herbs, adaptogens and immune enhancers: ginseng, uno de gato and Virginia snakeroot.

Anti-inflammatory, fibrinogenic and anti-angiogenic herbs: Turmeric, bupleurum, schisandra and green tea.

Alternative and lymphatics, herbs that detoxify: turkey corn, thuja, poke and burdock.

Gene repairing, enzyme inhibitors and cytotoxic herbs: sundew, mistletoe, periwinkle, isatis and camptotheca acuminatea.

Herbs that can alter the action of hormonal receptor-type cancers: red clover, licorice and Chinese skullcap.

For more information, visit Derick’s website at

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at

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