WATCH YOUR MOUTH! kombucha and cancer.

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It’s not just “someone you know” that has been diagnosed with cancer anymore.  Unfortunately, today it’s more likely that everyone you know has an immediate connection.  Pharmaceuticals, radiation, and chemo have shown some promise, and recent literature is starting to highlight the benefit of alternative treatments.  In many cases, cutting edge cancer protocols are including acupuncture, herbs/supplements, diet, exercise, and psychological support to their repertoires.  Though not all oncologists or care-takers agree on what works, they mostly agree that if it makes a cancer patient feel better, and it’s not making them sicker, then why not?

The problem with the why not mentality is that these alternative treatments will always be viewed as neutral—leaving them without the notoriety they might deserve.  There are good chunks of people who agree with me (just look online for alternative treatments to cancer) and suggest that WE SHOULD STUDY IT and THEN DECIDE!  The studies are beginning to surface…but…

…It’s tricky.   Big, prospective, well-made studies just can’t be done as effectively with holistic treatments as they are with pharmaceutical drugs. There are plenty of undeniable reasons for this, mostly centered on the variability inherent in alternative treatments.  For example, there are over 100 clinical studies completed in the scientific literature looking at the efficacy of Echinacea on colds.  If you do a “review” on this, you will see that about half the studies show that Echinacea helps and the other half show no change.  So, you might deduce that (like alternative treatments and cancer) it’s probably not going to harm you, but it’s not going to save you either.  ALL my 20 years of education have taught me this is NOT a correct deduction. 

Because no two holistic treatments are identical, we actually don’t know the answer!  The researchers focus on different patient types, hypotheses, formulations, and/or lengths of time.  For example, if we want to see if acupuncture helps cancer, one can’t just rely on a study that looks at 500 patients’ experiences.  Unless they all received the same exact treatment for the same amount of time (which would be impossible), the results will show decreased efficacy no matter what, because this introduction of error will seriously taper outcomes.  Imagine another example, looking at if ‘healthy diets’ can help fight cancer as much as chemo—how can we truly standardize a ‘healthy diet’?  She gets her broccoli from a farmers’ market and he gets his from Kmart.  She also drinks 8 glasses of water a day and he only drinks 1. You see that this difference could very soon become infinite.

To study a drug is much easier—-everyone is the same type of patient, gets the same exact pill, for the same duration of time.  In addition, the drug studies are usually better funded so they have the opportunities to study HUGE groups of people and are designed to be prospective (again, a way to decrease error).  Comparatively, nutrition or holistic studies are usually smaller, not prospective, and clumped together for making conclusions (which significantly increases error, too).  So, the efficacy will ALWAYS look bigger for a drug than for something holistic, even if the alternative measure might actually be better.

 Alas, this is why science to me is limited.  I am a true believer that sickness and disease is in many times best prevented and treated with things holistic.  Unfortunately, the only way we will know the true benefit of treating something like cancer with something alternative is to try it yourself, which almost all the big cancer institutes will never condone, because “there’s just not enough evidence.”  Therein lays the everlasting conundrum for holistic treatment.  It is unlikely that we really will ever know, as long as we rely on traditional western science.

This brings me to the (lack of) science around kombucha and cancer.  Anecdotally, you will see major energy around the benefits: twenty-eight whole books have been written on cancer and kombucha alone, highlighting the real impact this probiotic tea can have!  The reasoning behind their connections is mostly two-fold.  First, kombucha is thought to significantly increase one’s own immune system, allowing the body to fight cancer itself (remember, Hippocrates always claimed that using your own immune system is always the best line of defense.)  Second, kombucha is thought to have anti-oxidants and probiotics that may help keep the body clean of cancer-promoting toxins.  Talk to someone who feels their cancer was healed with the help of kombucha—you’ll see this energy is undeniable.

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On the other hand, as long as there is a lack of scientific study done on the subject, it won’t get support from the medical community.  Even if a study were done, it would be impossible to standardize how each culture infuses each batch of tea with its probiotics and nutrients.  So, as a result of this everlasting conundrum, I don’t suspect kombucha will ever get that support.  Instead, the scientific community loves to warn about the potential harm in drinking it, which again is anecdotal (it’s ok to rely on anecdotal evidence here for some reason).  Often listed are the 5 counts (in the last 200 years) of people who were seriously ill from what their doctor at the time claimed was linked to kombucha. What isn’t shared are the other conditions these people were suffering from that would, in my opinion, be more likely the cause of their illness (like severe acidosis being caused from chronic end stage renal disease in a 97 year old, rather than that he had a cup of kombucha.)   I hope you see my point: that no matter what, we will not likely see the true benefits of anything holistic if we look to the way we currently conduct science.

That said, I am not in denial of the benefits of science or against science in all ways.  Science has allowed for so much progression in the last century that I am very aware of and grateful for.  My blog is not meant to tarnish the efforts of the scientific community at all, after all I am a nutritionist!!   All I wanted to do today was reveal my opinion of its inability to truly assess the benefit of what’s holistic or alternative.  Science can do many things, but I don’t believe it will ever tell us the truth about kombucha (or cancer).  Perhaps for this, we look to design a new way.  At the very least, let’s begin to listen to those who have used it and go from there.  

To see if something holistic would work,let’s start by looking at it holistically :)

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Daina Slekys, MS, MPH is a Nutritionist and co-founder of Health-Ade kombucha, in Los Angeles, CA.  EMAIL Daina your health questions and she’ll be happy to help! daina@health-ade.com

Daina Slekys Health-Ade

HEALTH-ADE KOMBUCHA IS AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AT LOS ANGELES AREA STORES, IN FARMERS’ MARKETS, OR IT CAN BE DELIVERED RIGHT TO YOUR DOOR STEP!

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Health-Ade teamed up with acupuncturist and herbologist, Brigita Slekys, to create special Chinese herb-infused elixirs exclusively for Kreation Juicery.  These drinks combine Health-Ade kombucha and custom-built Chinese herbal tinctures to highlight different benefits inherent to kombucha.

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