The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1175: How to Mix Conventional and Ayurvedic Medicine for Cancer

Hear how an American physician decided to mix allopathic and Ayurvedic medicine to treat his metastatic neck cancer. Should we all learn to combine them?
Timothy McCall, MD, Medical editor of Yoga Journal
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How to Mix Conventional and Ayurvedic Medicine for Cancer

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When a doctor is diagnosed with cancer, you can bet he will try to find the best possible treatments for the disease. Dr. Timothy McCall has long added yoga and Ayurvedic medicine to his standard medical toolkit. So when he was diagnosed with neck cancer and couldn’t schedule the first allopathic (Western medicine) treatment right away, he found it natural to visit his friends in India. How did he mix allopathic and Ayurvedic medicine to treat oropharyngeal squamous cell cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes?

Ayurvedic Medicine to Strengthen the System:

Dr. McCall spent a month in India before he began chemoradiation in the US. The Ayurvedic treatments he got there were not intended to cure his neck cancer. For that, he would rely largely on his oncologist’s recommendations. Instead, he turned to Ayurveda to strengthen and balance his system before he started a potentially grueling cancer treatment in the US.

Negotiating with the Oncologist:

Many people don’t realize that they have a say in the cancer treatment they get. Dr. McCall had done research on the treatment of the neck cancer he had. It was caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) rather than by environmental insults like tobacco or alcohol. He negotiated with the radiation oncologist regarding the exact extent of radiation.

He took several steps to mix allopathic and Ayurvedic medicine to treat his neck cancer. Among other things, he found that an over-the-counter turmeric cream from India was helpful in counteracting the effects of radiation on his skin. In addition, yoga helped him maintain his energy throughout the treatment. Acupuncture was also helpful.

Starving the Cancer:

Another approach that Dr. McCall found useful was intermittent fasting. Fasting before his chemo infusions helped reduce the nausea that is usually associated with this treatment. He also used an informal type of hyperthermia–soaking in a hot tub to help heat up the lymph nodes affected by the cancer. While cancer cells are known to be sensitive to heat, this was not part of a clinical trial. Consequently, we don’t know whether it made a difference for his treatment.  

Should You Mix Allopathic and Ayurvedic Medicine?

Conventional medicine in comparison to holistic medicine is similar, he found, to conventional agriculture compared to organic gardening. Rather than choose one or the other, however, we might all benefit from considering how to mix allopathic and Ayurvedic or other therapies when faced with a health crisis.

This Week’s Guest:

Timothy McCall, MD, is a board-certified internist, Yoga Journal’s Medical Editor since 2002 and the bestselling author of Yoga as Medicine and Examining Your Doctor: A Patient’s Guide to Avoiding Harmful Medical Care. His latest book is Saving My Neck: A Doctor’s East/West Journey Through Cancer. He teaches yoga therapy seminars in the US and around the world.

His website is

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I would also like to know more about the turmeric cream. Brand and, if known, where it can be purchased. Thank you.

I would like to get information on the turmeric cream. Is it available over the counter in the U.S.?
Thank you for this very informative program.

Dr. McCall said he purchased it in India. We don’t think it is available in the US.

I am a retired physician who 13 years ago began having recurrent diverticulitis episodes. They became so frequent that I was referred to a colo-rectal surgeon for possible removal of the colon. The diverticulitis was so widespread throughout the colon that the surgeon felt that 2/3 would have to be removed. I learned then about anthroposophy and its approach to medicine and saw a wonderful physician who combines anthroposophical and traditional medicine. My diverticulitis episodes are now much less frequent (reduced from 6 to 2 times/year) and much milder. I am now a firm believer in integrative medicine and hope that our medical education will soon be more aware and scientific studies funded to support what populations have experienced. Thanks for this program!

An alternative way to combine Ayurvedic & Allopathic medicine is to have a model that explains how each work.

My model for how each work is as follows:

NF-kB and Nrf2 are two nuclear factors that when upregulated or downregulated create intracellular and extracellular signals (i.e., participate together in manipulating signal transduction, signaling pathways and redox balance) that modulates the following (and more) dualisms:

Pro Redox Imbalance vs. Pro Redox balance

Pro-inflammation vs Anti-inflammation

Pro-oxidative stress vs Anti-oxidative stress

Pro-apoptosis vs Anti-apoptosis

Pro-carcinogenesis vs Anti-carcinogenesis

Pro-mitochondrial function vs Anti-mitochodrial function and high energy molecule production

Pro-endothelial function vs Anti-endothelial function (= Pro-endothelial dysfunction)

Pro-normal regional blood flow vs Anti-normal regional blood flow

Pro-Viral replication vs Anti-Viral replication

Pro-intracellular parasite replication vs Anti-intracellular parasite replication

Pro-infection complications vs Anti-infection complication

Pro-disease progression vs Anti-disease progression

Pro-bounce back from progressed disease vs Anti-bounce back from progressed disease

Pro-metastasis vs. Anti-metastasis

Pro neuropsychiatric complication (as from drug side effect) vs Anti-neuropsychiatric complication

Pro risk of disease vs Pro-protection from disease onset

Pro-resistance to antibiotic vs Anti-resistance to antibiotic

Pro-inflammasome activation vs Anti-inflammasome activation

Pro-immune system dysfunction (e.g., pro-autoimmune disease) vs Anti-imune system dysfunction

Pro-constructive handling of stress vs Anti-constructive handling of stress

Pro progression of psychiatric illness vs Anti-progression of psychiatric illness


We should not think in terms of on and off switch dualisms. The above apparent “dualisms” are not actually dualisms. Rather, they like the benefits vs non-benefits vs harms of Ayurvedic Medicine “versus” Allopathic Medicine AND are continuous rather than on / off (“dualistic” or “reductionistic”) variables.

As sometimes implied as well as stated in this podcast, a thoughtful “integrated” application of Allopathic and Ayurvedic Medicine can be the most productive means of practicing acute, chronic, peventative & palliative care while realizing the omnipotence of the interaction between NF-kB (Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta) and Nrf2 (Nurf-2) nuclear factors being determinant of many aspects of wellness and sickness in 100’s if not 1000’s of diseases.

For instance one can propose that acupuncture works distally via a pathway that involves signal transduction going from the site of needle stimulation through the hypothalamus to areas of neuromicrovacular and neuronal activity that is influenced by upregulation vs down regulation of NF-kB and Nrf2. The effect of black raspberry could be to downregulate NF-kB. The effect of Yoga could be due to an enhancement of a positive versus negative response to “stress” translation into vascular dysregulation versus vascular normoregulationion.

When all goes well with integration of Ayurvedic and Allopathic Medicine there can be decreased cost-ineffectiveness and increased cost-benefit, the Gordian Knot and Holy Grail, respectively, of healthcare.

Great story. Thx for posting

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