The Anti-cancer Gene

Our built-in super hero

In all humans, there is a special gene which creates a protein called “Tumor protein p53“. This little protein is sometimes referred to as the “guardian gene” because it protects DNA from the mutations which cause cancer. It does this by activating DNA repair proteins and pausing the cell growth cycle for long enough that problems in the DNA can be discovered and corrected. If the DNA is damaged beyond repair, then this protein will ‘push the self-destruct button’ of the cell; a process called apoptosis, thus preventing the damaged DNA from being passed on to the cell’s offspring.

In order for Cancer to develop, there needs to be a bunch of specific changes to the DNA which accumulate over multiple cell divisions as mutations. These changes activate what are referred to as “oncogenes“, which are genes that cause the cancerous behaviour of cells. Now, when the guardian protein is doing its job, these dangerous changes to the DNA are not allowed to continue. Conversely, when cancer does develop, often this gene is one of the first things to be switched off.

So how do we switch it back on?

The “On” Switch

The beauty of natural medicine is that it supports health. Thus, rather than trying to kill cancer cells with harsh radiation, or poisonous chemotherapy, a naturopathic approach assists the body in strengthening the natural defences against cancer. In the case of damage to the DNA resulting in the deactivation of our guardian gene, there are some natural ways to reactivate it, effectively “flipping the on switch”.

Some examples of botanicals which have this ability are:

  • Capsaicin, the active component in chilli peppers [1].
  • Green Tea Polyphenols (EGCG) [2].
  • Curcumin, the active compound in Turmeric [3].

Another problem that should be addressed is the suppression of the guardian gene in the first place. Often, this gene is switched off by the MDM2 protein. Luckily for us, there are also some natural ways to prevent this.

Some examples of botanicals which prevent the MDM2-p53 interaction are:

Closing Remarks

Whilst naturopathic medicine is very useful in both preventing and treating cancer, some important points should be kept in mind. Firstly, you should not rely on Naturopathic medicine to cure cancer alone. It can be very useful in conjunction with conventional treatments or used by itself when conventional medicine has run out of options. Secondly, do not try and self-medicate with natural products. There are naturopaths out there that specialise in oncology. Seek out expert guidance. 

There is a common misconception that natural medicine is safe. This is not at all true. For example, with EGCG in Green Tea, you would need to drink five cups of green tea to get a therapeutic dose of EGCG. However, this would be quite bad for your health due to the high caffeine content and the potential depletion of Vitamin E in the liver and kidneys. A trained naturopath can assist you in using these natural products correctly, and in a safe way.


  1. Reactivation of mutant p53 by capsaicin
  2. Pro-apoptotic and migration-suppressing potential of EGCG, and the involvement of AMPK in the p53-mediated modulation of VEGF and MMP-9 expression
  3. The effects of turmeric (curcumin) on tumour suppressor protein (p53) and estrogen receptor (ERα) in breast cancer cells
  4. Natural products targeting the p53-MDM2 pathway and mutant p53: Recent advances and implications in cancer medicine

Conquering the Common Cold

The common cold – such an innocent-sounding ailment – is to blame for around 40% of all time off from work, and about 30% of school absenteeism. And it certainly is quite common; adults can expect to get between 4 to 6 colds per year, and children about 6 to 8. Despite the pervasiveness of this disease, there is little consensus on how to define, diagnose and treat it. [1] In this post I’d like to talk about what exactly is the Common Cold, discuss some common misconceptions and then look at what we can do about it from a Naturopathic perspective.

What is a Cold?

I notice that there is a lot of uncertainty about what is the difference between a cold and the flu. Quite simply, the flu is an infection by an influenza virus (from where the common name “flu” comes from). The “common cold”, on the other hand, is also a viral infection, but it could be one of hundreds of different viruses which cause the infection (rhinoviruses being the most common). It is generally understood that a cold occurs when the body is run down and the immune system is weakened to the extent that viruses which normally are no threat are able to overcome the body’s normal defence systems and cause an infection.

Common Misconceptions

1 – Inflammation is the enemy

When we are sick with a cold and flu, the symptoms are as a result of the inflammatory processes in the body. Something I consistently see in the medical community is a reflex of suppressing these inflammatory processes. A patient arrives at their family doctor with a cough, and the doctor prescribes cough syrup. A patient has a sore throat, and the doctor prescribes a throat spray. What these “treatments” accomplish is to suppress healthy systems in the body. For example, throat sprays often constrict blood vessels in the throat so that the immune cells cannot get into the infected tissue which then traps the killed microbes in mucus to be taken out of the body through coughing. So you use these “cold and flu treatments” and feel better because the inflammatory processes are suppressed. However, it is those same inflammatory processes which are trying to get rid of the bad microbes trying to overtake your body. Suppressing inflammation just serves to temporarily make you feel better whilst at the same time prolonging the illness in many cases. It does not address the underlying causes: weak immune system and microbial infection. We need to understand that these symptoms are our friends, not our enemies! [4]

2 – Vitamin C to the rescue!

When people (including many Medical Doctors) think of treating the common cold, the first thing that comes to mind is Vitamin C, and lots of it. This is, in part, due to the Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling, publishing a book in 1970 where he argued that megadoses of vitamin C should be used for treating colds. Despite a lot of research to the contrary, this idea is still in the public consciousness. Although regularly taking Vitamin C has been shown to reduce the severity of colds, it’s therapeutic use at the time of illness has been scientifically shown to be of no value [5].

3 – Good Ol’ Antibiotics

Unfortunately, a disturbing number of people (including many Medical Doctors) turn to antibiotics at the first hint of infection. However, it is a well-established fact [2] that antibiotics are of no use for treating the common cold. Unfortunately, this common practice is highly dangerous, with risks for both the individual patient (such as Dysbiosis) as well as for society at large [3].

What can be done?

Thankfully there are a number of things that can be done if we use a bit of logical reasoning and solid scientific research.

1 – Rest and Hydration

The first goal should be to help out your immune system to do its job. For this, you should rest as much as possible once the symptoms of a cold have started. Most colds will go away on their own within a few days (some symptoms may last around 3 weeks), so have patience with yourself and remember that the more you rest, the better your body can fight the infection.

You should also try and keep your throat hydrated. Note that it is not about consuming liquid, but rather about keeping your throat moist. You are essentially trying to flush away microbes from the infected areas. So for this, you can regularly sip water or herbal teas. There are some useful things to add to your drinks, such as lemon and honey. Lemon is an amazing natural disinfectant, and honey is a very versatile natural anti-microbial.

2 – Zinc

It has been discovered that Zinc lozenges have been very useful in fighting throat infections involved in the common cold [6]. It is important to use the lozenges, and not syrup or tablets, as interaction with saliva is essential for activating the zinc to exert a direct antiviral activity. The recommended lozenges to use are those containing zinc acetate or gluconate and try and avoid those containing citric acid, sorbitol or mannitol. You can take one lozenge up to every 2 hours whilst the symptoms persist.

3 – Botanical Medicine

Two herbal remedies which have proven to be of great benefit are Echinacea and South African Geranium. Echinacea is better early on in the infection, and I personally prefer to take it as a tincture with 20 drops in a small amount of water every two hours. It exerts direct local effects and is useful in all upper respiratory infections.With South African Geranium (also referred to as pelargonium), you can also take this as a tincture and has been shown to significantly reduce both the symptoms, as well as the duration of common colds [7].


[1] PubMed: Common Cold
[2] Center for Disease Control. “Antibiotic use for the Common Cold
[3] Llor & Bjerrum (2014). “Antimicrobial resistance
[4] Ptizzoccaro (2016). “The Symptom as Ally, not Enemy
[5] Hemila & Chalker (2013). “Vitamin C for preventing and treating the Common Cold
[6] Singh M, Das RR. “Zinc for the common cold“.
[7] Lizogub, Riley & Heger (2007). “Efficacy of a pelargonium sidoides preparation in patients with the common cold: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.

Great Natural Medicine Resources Online

Here are some of my favourite online resources for natural medicine.

Natural Medicine Journal

The Natural Medicine Journal is a free, online, medical journal which publishes peer-reviewed articles and reviews of scientific research into natural medicine. This is by far my favourite online source of information for natural medicine!

Naturopathic Doctor News & Review

Another excellent resource with frequently published articles on a wide range of topics. This is a rich resource for both practitioners and patients. NDNR includes current protocols, practice management, business development, marketing, clinical research, news and more.

Online Homeopathic Materia Medica

When looking up details of homoeopathic remedies, I find the online materia medica by the International Academy of Classical Homeopathy particularly useful as it allows you to compare entries across multiple resources.

Naturopathy Books I love

There are a seemingly endless plethora of books on medicinal plants, herbalism, healing foods, traditional remedies, and so forth. However, most of these books lack strong scientific evidence supporting their recommendations. Thankfully there are a few gems among these with a wealth of knowledge and based on current scientific research. Here are some of my favourites.

The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine Third Edition by Michael T. Murray and‎ Joseph Pizzorno

This book is a great resource for both practitioners as well as the general public. The authors do an amazing job of discussing each pathology, the conventional treatments and the possible treatment options. What I really appreciate is that they also deal with herbal treatments which are common but ineffective and explain as much. I think this is extremely useful, as often people will say “I saw on the internet that I should be taking x”, or “This person told me about x”. At the end of each chapter (the pathologies are ordered alphabetically and each has a dedicated chapter) is a treatment summary with a recommended treatment plan. I really love this book, and it is quite comprehensive.

Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices Of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffmann

This book beautifully blends western traditional herbalism with a modern scientific understanding of biochemistry. The introductory chapter is almost poetic and followed by very succinct and easy to understand chapters on phytochemistry, pharmacology, and toxicity and safety. After establishing this needed background knowledge, the author then goes on to examine the preparation of herbal formulations for various disorders grouped by body system. This is another great resource to deepen one’s understanding and appreciation of Vis Medicatrix Naturae.

Naturopathic Oncology Third edition by Neil McKinney

In this detailed, encyclopedic text on natural treatments for cancer, Niel McKinney ND reviews a wide variety of natural treatments of varying efficacy, from the down-right dangerous to those that are so versatile they can simultaneously attack the cancer cells, enhance the effectiveness of the chemotherapy drug and reduce its toxicity. The book begins with a very detailed overview of the pathogenesis of cancer, the biochemical and genetic abnormalities, and then goes on to provide a broad overview of conventional therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation, surgery and immunotherapy. In the second half of the book, there are recommended protocols for many specific forms of cancer, as well as protocols for concurrent use with specific chemotherapies. This book brings a lot of clarity to the important and very misunderstood subject of natural treatments for cancer.

Disillusionment with the Medical Industry

Child-like Naivety

We all grow up with the idea that to be truly successful in life you need a professional job like that of a lawyer or doctor. MD’s (Medical Doctors) are highly respected, not only for the important life-saving work that they do, but also in part due to the many years of study and training that they receive. There is the inherent assumption that they hold all the knowledge and all the answers to our health problems, and it is unthinkable for the rest of us mere mortals to question them. In recent years, however, I have become increasingly disturbed by the way in which MD’s practice medicine. Having studied naturopathy, I realise that there are many very basic things that these doctors do not seem to realise.

I am not saying, however, that one should not go see your local physician when sick. There are many times when it is completely necessary. However, I am convinced that in the vast majority of cases where people go to see MD’s with common or chronic conditions (such as hypertension, high cholesterol, respiratory infections, and so on), the treatment offered is damaging and does not address the underlying cause.


I have never been one for conspiracy theories, but the more I learn about how the whole medical industry operates, the more I feel like I am living in a twisted alternate reality.

When one starts examining the standard treatment for various chronic diseases by MD’s, you start realising that conventional medicine treats these cases by suppressing natural physiological processes to eliminate symptoms, rather than addressing the underlying cause. For infection, they suppress the immune response which results in the symptoms of inflammation and mucus production. For high blood pressure, they suppress the ACE enzymes. For high cholesterol, they suppress the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme. For diabetes, they suppress glucose production by the liver. Surely for infection, you would want to use an antimicrobial? Surely for high blood pressure, you would want to correct the diet and increase exercise? Surely for high cholesterol, you would want to support liver health and correct a problematic diet? Surely for diabetes, you would want to control sugar intake and support the pancreas and balance insulin sensitivity? So why does conventional medicine work in this way? Or at the very least, why not a combination of suppressing symptoms as well as supporting healthy processes?

To understand this, let us consider the training of MD’s. The most widely published medical textbooks are referred to as the Merck Manuals. These are available in a wide array of languages and are seen as the gold standard in medical care. Such an important resource for doctors should surely be produced by a leading university, or perhaps some international health organisation such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). One might think this, but one would be wrong. Oh so wrong. In fact, the Merck Manuals are published by Merck & Co, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. Now, perhaps that makes sense, that a pharmaceutical company would publish a book about pharmaceutical medicine. However, imagine all Engineers were trained using textbooks published by a certain concrete manufacturer. Would it not be in that concrete manufacturer’s best interest to convince the engineers that concrete is much better than wood or steel for almost all structures? After all, the more engineers that choose concrete over other building materials would result in more money in the concrete company’s pocket. But this doesn’t mean that the structures are built in the best way possible. Isn’t the same conflict of interest present in a pharmaceutical company teaching doctors how to treat disease?

“Start ’em young!”

The most common reason children are seen by a paediatrician is for otitis media (ear infections). This is something that will usually resolve by itself within 2 weeks. Despite this, high doses of antibiotics are almost always prescribed and sometimes surgical options are considered for recurrent infections. This is despite much research showing that antibiotic use is no more effective than bed rest and the well-established fact that frequent prescription of antibiotics leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. In fact, the use of antibiotics is much more damaging in most cases than bed rest, as it can lead to dysbiosis within the digestive system (where most of our immune system resides), never mind the superbug apocalypse.

But how would Merck and other such companies make money if doctors just prescribed bed rest? That is simply ridiculous!

War of the Patents

You see, pharmaceutical companies rely on patented drugs to make them money, as this offers them a kind of monopoly for a few years on a particular type of treatment, before other companies are then allowed to develop generics at a reduced cost (due to increased competition). Unfortunately for the pharmaceutical industry, it is almost impossible to patent a natural product. And so, when there is a competing viable treatment using plants that any old person can just go and grab off the hillside, why would Merck mention something like that in their textbook rather than promote their drug which treats the same disease, but also makes them rich?

I think the majority of people have a strong belief that natural medicine is something almost mystical, without scientific proof, and is thus relegated to the realms of druids and hill-folk. Whilst I completely agree that there is an unfortunate amount of con-artistry and mysticism amongst alternative medical practitioners, this does not equate to there being no evidence to support herbal and botanical medicine. That is like saying “because there are so many manufacturers of imitation designer clothes, the whole fashion industry is a sham”. Such a statement would be ludicrous.

Metformin verse Goldenseal

Take, for example, the drug Metformin by BMS which is often used to control blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes type 2. It comes with a host of side effects, as is common in the chronic medication of this kind. Now let’s contrast this with the humble plant Hydrastis canadensis, commonly known as Goldenseal. This plant contains a molecule known as Berberine, which has been extensively researched. In 2009, Yin et al. published a study in which they compared the use of Metformin with Berberine for the treatment of diabetes type 2.  They report that:

Compared with metformin, berberine exhibited an identical effect in the regulation of glucose metabolism, such as HbA1c, FBG, PBG, fasting insulin and postprandial insulin. In the regulation of lipid metabolism, berberine activity is better than metformin. By week 13, triglycerides and total cholesterol in the berberine group had decreased and were significantly lower than in the metformin group (P<0.05).

One need just search PubMed for “berberine diabetes mellitus” to realise that this is not an isolated study.

So why are diabetic patients not told about this by their family physicians and endocrinologists? I think there are a number of reasons. Firstly – and most simply – these MD’s are just not aware of the research into natural medicine. The field of medicine is huge, and there is so much research being generated, that it is almost impossible for doctors to keep up with all the relevant research from all sub-disciplines. Secondly, MD’s are not taught about natural medicine, and their textbooks most certainly will not recommend such treatments. Thirdly, a lot of effort is made to discredit natural medicine. One need only google “Is Natural Medicine Safe?” to see a confusing melange of contradictory opinions and misleading information from both sides. Lastly, it could be dangerous for doctors to recommend treatments which are outside of their scope of practice. Imagine the implications for a doctor if they recommend something natural, and then get sued if something goes wrong. Would their professional insurance cover them in such a case? Would it be more likely that they lose their medical license as a result?

Recently a family member saw an ophthalmologist for normal-tension glaucoma. He mentioned the benefits of Ginkgo Biloba, but in such an apologetic manner one would think he had just told a dirty joke. It is sad that, even when doctors know about the benefits of such natural medicine, they are not entirely free to prescribe this. And of course it would be hard to find a medical aid scheme that would reimburse such a thing!

Questions, questions, and more questions

For the average patient, how can they know what to do amidst this whirlwind of conflicting information about conventional and natural medicine? I have no idea. The best I can come up with is to just try and educate yourself about both sides of the story, and ask a LOT of questions to whomever you choose to treat you. I wish doctors would say something like “I am going to prescribe this because the most recent research supports it for these reasons…”. In reality, MD’s only let patients speak for a few seconds before rushing to scribble out a prescription and then on to the next one in the production line. Despite this, I think patients need to be more firm in demanding an explanation from their doctors. Ask questions, such as “why are you prescribing this?”, “Are there natural alternatives?”…. and the most fear-inspiring question for doctors…. “What is the NNT for this medication?”

Now, the NNT (Number Needed to Treat) is the number of patients who need to take the medication before one person is treated. Wat?

Let’s rephrase. If we take the example of statin drugs used to prevent heart disease, the statistics are fairly frightening. The NNT is 1 in 60. That means that if 60 people take statins, then 1 person will be helped in preventing a heart attack…. But…. but…. But you thought drugs do what they are marketed as doing? Not always. What is worse is that the Number of patients Harmed by taken statins is 1 in 50 (that develop diabetes) and 1 in 10 (that suffer muscle damage). This means that one is more likely to develop diabetes and suffer muscle damage than to have the desired effect of taking the drug.

This is not to say that pharmaceutical drugs do not have their place. My point is that there is so much misinformation, both among professionals as well as patients, that pharmaceutical drugs are overprescribed, and natural medicine is not given a chance.

I don’t see this situation changing anytime soon, but I do think that more and more people every day are starting to educate themselves on these topics and make more informed decisions. Thankfully technology is making this easier to do than ever before. But this is a double-edged sword, as there is also more conflicting “evidence” than ever before. We all need to realise that health is a personal responsibility. We need to educate ourselves in an unbiased manner. We need to be sure that we accept a treatment because we think it is the best for us, not because someone with MD after their name says it is.

If we want to change this situation, we need to change our way of thinking. We need to accept personal responsibility for our decisions and our choice of treatment. We need to take control and not be blindly led along. If we do this, I believe we can be happier and healthier.