Orthodox vs. Natural: Not all immunotherapy is equal
There is nothing as frustrating as trying everything you know to do to keep your immune system boosted — superfoods, supplements, new exercise routines, and more — only to end up getting sick.
Immunotherapy helps restore or improve the immune system to where it can attack cancer cells. The goal of immunotherapy is for the body to knock out cancer. But if the immune system is unable to eradicate cancer cells, slowing or stopping the growth of cancer — and preventing it from spreading to other parts of the body — will make a significant difference in the quality of life.
You may be wondering: What is preventing the immune system from functioning properly? After you understand what is taking a toll on your immune system, there are a few immunotherapy options to consider.
One of the first things that could be affecting your immune system is stress. You may think you don't have that much stress in your life or that you have it all covered. What you may be overlooking are the daily stresses that can build into one major stress-filled reaction causing your immune system to be less effective.
Lack of hydration
If your body does not have the proper hydration, then it can't function properly. This puts stress on your organs, on your weight loss efforts, and on your immune system. Without proper hydration, your immune system basically is having to work without the key components it needs to function.
You may think you are getting at least six hours of sleep a night, but just because you are sleeping does not mean you are sleeping well. You need to make sure you are getting deep sleep. If you are not getting solid, deep sleep this could be the reason your immune system is not working properly.
Still, there are cancer cases in which immunotherapy — manufactured immune system-boosting drugs or natural supplements — come into play. And these are not created equal, as you can imagine.
‘A turning point in cancer immunotherapy’
The National Cancer Institute defines immunotherapy as “a type of therapy that uses substances to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body fight cancer, infection and other diseases.”
Of course, the “substances” used to stimulate or suppress generally are subject to legal restriction; these are controlled substances, regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA).
A search for “cancer immunotherapy” in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) database returns more than 81,000 results. One of the most relevant research papers is “Cancer immunotherapy: harnessing the immune system to battle cancer” by Yiping Yang, MD, Ph.D. He is a professor of medicine and immunology and a member of the Duke Cancer Institute.
As Dr. Yang noted in 2015: “The concept that the immune system can recognize and control tumor growth can be traced back to 1893 when William Coley used live bacteria as an immune stimulant to treat cancer, but the enthusiasm for cancer immunotherapy has been moderate due to limited clinical efficacy.
“The recent clinical successes of immune checkpoint blockade and chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapies represent a turning point in cancer immunotherapy.”
Fast forward three years. The efficacy of Big Pharma immunotherapy drugs – the ability to produce a desired or intended result – has been a mixed (but extremely profitable) bag.
Curing Cancer with Immunotherapy
Types of orthodox cancer immunotherapy
Adoptive Cell transfer
This type of immunotherapy is relatively new, and researchers are looking into how well it works as a treatment for cancer.
Checkpoint inhibitors are used to treat cancers such as melanoma skin cancer and lung cancer. Researchers also are looking at them in clinical trials for other types of cancer.
Cytokines are a group of proteins that are found naturally in the body and help to boost the immune system. Man-made versions of these proteins have been developed as a treatment for cancer.
Monoclonal antibodies (MABs)
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-produced molecules engineered to serve as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance, or mimic the immune system's attack on cancer cells.
Vaccines to treat cancer
Cancer vaccines are a type of immunotherapy. Research in this area is at an early stage and vaccines are mainly available as part of clinical trials.
There also are numerous side effects of manufactured immunotherapy drugs:
- Skin reactions
- Flu-like symptoms
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath (trouble breathing)
- Swelling of legs (edema)
- Sinus congestion
- Weight gain from retaining fluid
- Hormone changes, including hypothyroidism
Keytruda is a drug that may treat melanoma or lung cancer or head and neck cancer by working with the immune system. Keytruda can cause the immune system to attack normal organs and tissues in many areas of the body and can affect the way they work. These problems can sometimes become serious or life-threatening and can lead to death. In fact, a commercial for Keytruda spends 56 percent of its time — 50 of 90 seconds — reeling off side effects of the drug.
Merck and a smaller biotechnology company, Incyte, collaborated on testing Keytruda with epacadostat, Incyte’s experimental drug.
The drug sought to target a pathway, hijacked by cancer cells, that the developing fetus uses to protect itself against its mother’s immune system. It made scientific sense to combine the two drugs, but the companies revealed in April that it did not help patients.
- Incyte’s new immunotherapy drug epacadostat failed to work in conjunction with Merck’s melanoma drug Keytruda.
- Only a small group of patients react to immunotherapy, and cancer researchers argue this study took too broad of a sample.
- The field of immunotherapy needs more research and may still offer value to patients.
Patients who received the combination had their cancer advance at exactly the same rate as those who got Keytruda alone. What’s more, patients who got the combo were 13 percent more likely to die.
However, a Merck-sponsored study showed combining Keytruda with chemotherapy nearly doubled the survival time of some lung cancer patients compared to patients treated with chemotherapy alone. The research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“I only treat lung cancer and I’ve been doing that for about 20 years,” said Dr. Jorge Gomez, director of thoracic oncology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “These drugs are very, very interesting. Now, not everybody benefits, unfortunately, but some of the people who benefit seem to benefit in a way we've never seen.”
Meanwhile, modern science has shown that William Coley’s principles were correct and that some cancers are sensitive to an enhanced immune system.
The “Father of Immunotherapy,” Coley went to Yale and graduated from Harvard Medical School. In 1891, he injected streptococcal organisms into a patient with inoperable cancer. Coley, a bone sarcoma surgeon, thought that the infection he produced would have the side effect of shrinking the malignant tumor. He was successful – and that was one of the first examples of immunotherapy.
“Those who have scrutinized Coley’s results have little doubt that these bacterial toxins were highly effective in some cases,” said Dr. Lloyd J. Old, former associate director of Memorial Sloan Kettering, and also the Cancer Research Institute’s medical director from 1971-2011.
“I was thinking, ‘My God, these tests that are used to drive clinical decision making are not worth a damn.’ These are peoples’ lives here. We are playing with the highest of stakes.”
Dr. Oliver Sartor
‘We are playing with the highest of stakes’
While “cancer immunotherapy” was named as 2013’s Breakthrough of the Year by Science, Dr. Yang said, “the success of these therapies illustrates the importance of careful decoding of basic immunology for successful clinical translation in treating cancer.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Dr. Oliver Sartor, assistant dean for oncology at Tulane Medical School, said that immunotherapy drugs are expensive. A popular drug he uses costs $9,000 per dose if used once every three weeks, and $7,000 if used once every two weeks.
Also, immunotherapy drugs can have severe side effects, including death. Once the immune system is stimulated, it may attack normal tissues as well as tumors. The result can be holes in the intestines, liver failure, nerve damage that can cause paralysis, serious rashes and eye problems, and problems with the pituitary, adrenal or thyroid glands. Side effects can arise during treatment or after the treatment is finished.
“I was thinking, ‘My God, these tests that are used to drive clinical decision making are not worth a damn,’ ” Dr. Sartor said. “These are peoples’ lives here. We are playing with the highest of stakes.
“For certain people, it is like, bingo, you give the drug to them and they have a long-lasting and positive benefit,” he added. “When our knowledge is not sufficient to inform our decisions, then we have an ethical conundrum.”
What does play a major role in Big Pharma’s thinking is money. Novartis is a Swiss multi-national pharmaceutical company. Novartis’ Institutes for BioMedical Research has an $8.93 billion research and development budget. It wasn’t even the world’s largest pharma R&D budget in 2017:
- Roche – $10.15 billion
- Merck – $10.1 billion
- Novartis – $8.93 billion
- Pfizer – $7.9 billion
- J&J – $7 billion
- AstraZeneca – $5.9 billion
- Sanofi – $5.42 billion
- Eli Lilly – $5.24 billion
- Gilead Sciences – $5.1 billion
- Bristol-Myers Squibb –$4.94 billion
That’s more than $70 billion — for only one year — in research and development among the top 10 pharmaceutical behemoths. R&D cost goes a long way toward explaining why Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo and Merck’s Keytruda carry a $150,000-a-year price tag.
According to Forbes, analysts forecast that Keytruda will generate sales of $11.3 billion in 2023, up from $3.8 billion today, while Opdivo will have sales of $9.7 billion that year, up from $4.9 billion today.
Dr. Roy Herbst, a Yale University oncologist, told CNBC there is no one-size-fits-all cancer solution. “You have to personalize immunotherapy,” he said. “You need to know who will benefit from drug A and who will benefit from drug B.”
“Chemotherapy remains the standard of care for the majority of [lung cancer] patients, and is a very poor standard,” said Dr. Leena Gandhi, lead author of a New York University-Langone study. In most cases, she said, chemo prolongs life by just a year or even less.
Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior medical advisor for the American Lung Association, said, “until very recently the treatment of lung cancer has been dismal.”
“Because most lung cancer is detected after it’s already spread, we get 5-year cures in less than 20 percent of patients using chemotherapy alone,” he said.
“But recently we’ve developed drugs that are tailored to the specific genetics of a patient’s tumor … it extended life for a small group of people, about 10 to 15 percent.”
Nonetheless, Nature noted that nearly 20 percent of publicly funded cancer clinical trials in the United States fail because investigators are unable to enroll enough participants in clinical trials for conventional immunotherapy drugs. (Physicians and patients often are frustrated with the sometimes-insurmountable requirements to join a study.)
Key to supplements: Know your body
OK, since Big Pharma’s immunotherapy drugs are a) expensive and b) not ready for prime time for the vast majority of cancer patients, what should you do?
Discuss with your doctor the benefits of naturally boosting your immune system. This is imperative whether you are treating cancer or changing your lifestyle to prevent cancer. A strong immune system is a bedrock for a healthy body.
Most people are aware of the types of things that we need to do in daily life to remain healthy. Eating right, exercise, quality sleep, and having proper elimination are just a few of the activities that come to mind.
But there is another important component – an expansive world inside each person populated by bacteria that have a powerful impact on human health, vitality, and longevity. It is our microbiome.
- Lactobacillus: These bacteria are generally helpful because they are responsible for many of the digestive functions. Modern research has brought advancements with antibiotics, but studies have shown that antibiotics tend to have a harmful effect on the good or helpful populations of gut flora, so it might be necessary to supplement the bacteria by ingesting alternate sources of Lactobacillus. Many of these helpful strains can be found in foods such as yogurt, kefir and other fermented food types. There also are a number of probiotic supplements available.
- Bifido-bacterium: Scientists now believe that more than three-fourths of our immune system is kept in our intestinal tract, with 500-plus species of bacteria. With such a large population of bacteria living in us, it should be of little surprise that we depend on them so heavily for the various functions they serve on a daily basis. Many Bifido bacteria reside within the colon and large intestine. These bacteria play a heavy role in controlling elimination, aiding in digestion, and even have the ability to repair damage from carcinogenic sources in the body.
Supplements can be taken in many forms including pills, liquids, and powders. The key to using supplements is to know your body: what your body is lacking, what it needs and how to achieve that goal without overdoing other vitamins and minerals you may not need.
A few immune-boosting supplements that fight off illness without taxing your body include:
- Probiotics: When you get sick, your body may start to slow down and become sluggish, this includes your digestive tract. This means that toxins are being held in your body and could be harboring bacteria that makes it harder for you to get over the illness you are experiencing. Probiotics will help break down these toxins and flush your system and maintain healthy levels of gut bacteria.
- Omega 3: The main reason to add Omega 3 to your system is due to how it interacts with white cells. The Omega 3 fatty acids help white cells to work at optimal levels to help fight bacteria. If you are taking Vitamin D supplements, the Omega 3 also will help the Vitamin D work at optimal levels. You can boost your Omega 3 supplement during times when you are sick with a cold or flu to help boost the immune system and the white cells working on the bacteria.
- Vitamin C: Though Vitamin C helps build the immune system, it also works to flush your system while maintaining the lining of the stomach and intestines. You can take Vitamin C in many forms, but a juice or smoothie option will get the benefits into your system quickly and easily.
For the purest form of supplements, look for plant-based options (vegan on the label). For non-plant-based options, look for a non-GMO label. This is due to the growing process of GMO foods that can hinder the benefits of the naturally occurring herb, plant or animal supplement you are using.
Immune-boosting essential oils
You may not think of essential oils when you think about your immune system, however, the truth is our bodies to react to quality essential oils. The smell of these oils stimulates your mind and senses which triggers reactions in your body that directly affect your immune system.
- Lemon essential oil is one of the go-to essential oil options that many people use to boost immunity. It is used in detox recipes and can easily be added to foods, juices, and smoothies. With lemon oil, you need to make sure it is food grade to use it properly and safely. Lemon oil is highly concentrated, so it should be used sparingly and not as you would a commercial lemon juice. It helps the body remove toxins from the system and kills bacteria that could cause issues with your immune system.
- You may have heard of thieves’ oil if you have been dabbling in essential oils for any amount of time. This oil is a blended oil that contains cinnamon, cloves, lemon, eucalyptus, and rosemary. This is the go-to oil if you are looking for a superfood-style blend that does it all. You can use it in diffusers and directly on the body. One of the leading ways to use it, however, is for house cleaning. It helps to kill germs and bacteria to help reduce illness and keep your immune system working properly.
- Peppermint oil is one that many people keep on hand because of the multiple ways it can assist your immune system in combating issues in the body. It helps with sinus pressure and pain relief, opening up nasal passages, congestion, cold and flu symptoms, and with easing an upset stomach. Keep in mind this is also a concentrated oil and should be used a drop at a time to achieve the desired effect.
As we now understand, if your digestive system is not running at optimal levels, you could end up with problems. The more sluggish your digestive system, colon, and liver are, then the more likely it is that your body is holding toxins. These toxins can lead to minor issues such as fatigue or major issues such as leaky gut and other gut-related problems. To avoid this, and to boost your immune system, consider natural colon cleansing routines at least once a month. These can be simple superfood-based juices that can help flush your system and deliver vitamins and nutrients in the process.
Total body alignment is vital for your immune system. If you are in pain, experiencing body aches and experiencing joint cramps then you could be taxing your immune system. It may be trying to counteract the issue and that can lead to further problems in your body. Seeing a chiropractor can help align your body, reduce inflammation and reduce joint issues.
An Inflammation Nation
Changing your daily routine and eating habits to restore and maintain your health can be challenging. But compared to surgery or extensive drug regimens with debilitating side effects, the effort is decidedly worth it. Here to make things a bit easier, Dr. Sunil Pai presents a 10-step guide to help you prevent and treat disease through diet and lifestyle changes, as well as through the use of natural anti-inflammatories. With extensive information on the production of food, pharmaceuticals, and dietary supplements, this remarkable resource pulls back the veil on what’s really in the foods and products you consume daily — and how they’re affecting your health.
Natural ways to boost your immune system
Colds and flu are the tip of the iceberg for many illnesses. You become even more exposed to different bacteria and viruses when you go to the grocery store, have children who attend public school or you become part of a community social-based organization. Basically, any kind of exposure to other people can lead to illness.
Keep in mind, you should be eating a healthy diet and maintaining a hygiene routine to help these natural methods work.
If you already have a healthy diet plan in place, consider adding superfoods. Make sure that you have at least a few meals a week, or even one a day, that have immune-boosting superfoods added to them. The easiest way to do this is to change up your morning or lunch routine to include or be limited to a superfoods juice or smoothie. This can be loaded with foods that can boost your immune system.
- Garlic is one of the leading superfoods you should add to your diet if you are trying to boost your immune system. Garlic is used to help with colds, flu, congestion, and infections. You can use minced garlic in your cooking, add it to sauces, and even make it into a tea if you need immediate relief. You can find it in capsule form, though this may not give you the same benefit as raw garlic would.
- Ginger is normally a superfood that is known to help with overall digestion and ease nausea. You may be wondering what the link between ginger and your immune system is. If you have poor digestion, sluggish digestion or issues with ulcers, these can cause your body to work overtime to combat toxins. The part of your body that works the hardest, in this case, is the immune system. Ginger helps soothe the stomach and helps the digestive tract move the toxins through which can take the pressure off your immune system and help boost it.
- Inflammation is commonly recognized as one of the main causes of pain. However, inflammation is a process within the body that can lead to many illnesses and cases of physiological dysfunction. Turmeric, a natural anti-inflammatory, can be made into a paste and added to warm milk. The milk can be taken daily to help reduce inflammation and allow the immune system focus on other issues in the body.
- You may not think of a spice as being a superfood, but basil — a spice or herb depending on how you refer to it — can be vital. Basil offers massive healing properties to the body including soothing the stomach, nervous system, and reducing inflammation. All of these issues are connected directly to the immune system and how it protects the body. By using basil in green smoothies or as an additive in foods, you can help reduce issues in your nervous system and digestive system which in turn help to reduce the impact on your immune system.
Benefits of taking a detox bath
In the busy world of today, people come in contact with an endless amount of impurities, toxins, poisons, pollutants, and other agents. These chemicals land on our skin, absorb into the fabrics we wear and are breathed into our lungs. As inevitable as this may seem, there are a few ways that we can reduce the exposure to these environmental impurities – and one of the best ways is through taking a detox bath.
First off, the most important part of doing a detox bath, is that you have to be hydrated. This will make it possible for you to reap the benefits of the bath and be sure that your systems are hydrated enough to be influenced by the heat of the water. Next, select your water additives. You can always add Epsom salt, apple cider vinegar, or anything else that may have benefits you are looking for.
Bathing for cleanliness is only a small portion of the health benefits from this ancient innovation and pastime. For thousands of years, mankind has known that one of the most relaxing and soothing experiences that can be had is that of taking a warm, or hot bath. Heat loosens muscle tissues that have been clenched by stress, as many people subconsciously carry stress in shoulders, backs, legs, and neck muscles.
In daily modern life, the most common position for people is sitting. This means that toxins and other wastes can easily build up in the body causing blockages and other unpleasant ailments. In order to have a healthy body, it is important to work on clearing out your lymph system. One way this can be accomplished is by heating the body, thus making it easier for the lymph system to flow more freely.
Due to the acidic content of modern foods, swelling or inflammation in adults has reached epidemic levels. A long soak in warm or hot water can provide some relief by greatly reducing inflammation in joints and other tissues. A gentle, but firm rub while submerged can go a long way to improving circulation and arterial health.
How lymphatic massage helps your immune system
The body rids itself of wastes from the digestive system – but did you know the lymphatic system is a major system needed for proper waste removal?
The lymphatic system connects a group of tissues and organs that help carry wastes and foreign agents to locations where they can be eliminated from the body. There is one way you can help stimulate the process: lymphatic massage.
When you get a lymphatic massage, the stimulation of your lymph system causes lymph fluids to flow more efficiently. This allows dead cells, toxins, byproducts, and wastes to be carried from the tissues toward the lymph glands for filtering and purification. What is surprising, is that this action can have an actual effect on the immune system by increasing the production of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.
Exercising on a rebounder promotes the flow of lymph, thereby flushing the toxins.
“There are lymph channels throughout the entire body,” noted Albert Carter, an investigative journalist, professional trampolinist and the world’s foremost authority on rebound exercise. “You have three times as much lymph fluid in the body as you do blood. Lymph fluid has to circulate from the bottom of the feet to the top of the head, but it’s not connected up to the heart.
“The way the lymphatic system works is the lymphocytes, the white blood cells, are moved through the body via one-way valves. You’ve got these valves from the bottom of the feet upwards throughout the entire body – and the valves all point upwards. So when you move the body around, the lymph fluid is always moving in one direction, that is up towards the neck.
“At the top of the chest, you have the lymph valves that allow the lymph fluid to flow into the bloodstream, or back into the lymphatic system where it circulates back down into the body. By activating the one-way valves of the lymphatic system, you cause an increase in lymph circulation by 10 times of what the lymphatic system is able to circulate when you are sitting around doing nothing. So when you bounce on a rebounder, or jump on the floor, or use a jump rope, the one-way valves open and close about 100 times a minute, circulating the lymph fluid, removing toxins and getting the white blood cells to areas of the body they need to be.”
In some cases, surgery, damage from accidents, a sedentary lifestyle, or other disruptions of an otherwise normal amount of healthy activity can cause a buildup of lymph. This can cause a sluggish system, especially for the immune system. A lymphatic massage can help jump-start lymph flow again, by helping to carry toxins that have collected in areas that haven’t been touched frequently.
Generally, when you get a lymphatic massage, it is performed by doing small circular motions in the direction of the heart. This helps the lymph to move with the pumping direction of the heart and can increase the flow of lymph to 10 times what your normal flow would be during rest or relaxation periods. Professionals have emphasized that the care protocol calls for slow, gentle touch, and the skin only needs to be stretched slightly to achieve the desired effect.
Relatively speaking, conventional immunotherapy drugs are in the early stages. Some immunotherapies broadly activate the immune system and side effects can be mild and localized. However, others precisely target distinct tumor antigens and the side effects are more severe and systemic.
Also, the money spent on R&D and administering of some forms of Big Pharma immunotherapy limit their use to patients. Those who are fortunate enough to receive these therapies often pay a high cost, if insurance does not cover the treatment.
Meanwhile, there are natural immunotherapies with minimal cost that you can employ daily. Taking care of your body — eating healthy and exercising — and maximizing the immune system is paramount to treating and preventing cancer.
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