‘The science of cancer started back in the 1920s, when it was understood to be due to uncontrolled cell division. Since cells divide at the nucleus first, the pharmaceutical industry targeted the nucleus. But progress was slow. By 1960, the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) had approved only six anti-cancer drugs – all of them artificial chemicals. But they were aiming at the wrong target and fighting the wrong war ... All along, nature has provided us with multitudes of chemicals in plants that specialise in attacking the mitochondria of cancer cells, triggering the death program. Everybody missed that until now because they were looking in the wrong direction.’ So speaks Dr Elliot Lindell in The Eden Prescription.
A medical thriller may not be the genre of fiction expected from an engineer turned writer, but as the author, Canadian-born Ethan Evers explains, the novel’s underlying message is one that is close to his heart. ‘My inspiration started a long time ago,’ says Evers. ‘I had a family member who developed breast cancer. She was first treated with surgery, and then used various types of natural medicine, which kept her cancer-free for several more years than expected. Unfortunately it did return, but the extra years she gained from the natural remedies sparked my interest in that area.’
Evers’s belief in the power of natural medicine in the war against cancer clearly forms the basis of the novel. The Eden Prescription – Evers’s first novel – sees protagonist Lindell pitted against a ruthless pharmaceutical giant when he develops a natural cocktail that proves to be more effective than the top chemotherapy drug.
In real life, natural cancer treatments also encounter a lot of resistance, often being viewed as ineffective placebos peddled by opportunistic ‘quacks’. Evers argues that although such ‘snake-oil merchants’ do exist, much scientific research has been carried out and continues to be carried out on the use of natural substances.
‘That’s why I based the story around Dr Lindell – a maverick researcher with a solid history in research,’ explains Evers. ‘I wanted to show that the idea of using natural extracts in cancer treatment is not just something pulled out of a hat. There’s years of solid research behind it. I based the extracts in Dr Lindell’s cancer-treatment cocktail on substances such as intravenous vitamin C, vitamin D, green tea and curcumin because these are all undergoing real-life clinical trials at the moment – some with remarkable success.’ Cancer is indeed an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. These cells often invade other parts of the body and cause damage. Cancer treatments therefore aim to stop the growth and spread of these abnormal cells. Scientists have long focused on developing artificial drugs to fight the war against cancer, but along the way, some have noticed that natural substances also have a role to play.
The real-life progress of natural anti-cancer treatment makes a regular appearance throughout the plot of The Eden Prescription. The reader learns that more than 47 studies with vitamin D, 26 with green tea extract, nine with pomegranate juice and six with high-dose intravenous vitamin C have been performed across the world to date.
Andreas Gescher – a professor of biochemical toxicology at the Department of Cancer Studies, University of Leicester, UK – is a real-life Dr Lindell. Having spent more than 30 years in the field of cancer research, Professor Gescher has grown increasingly aware of the cancer-preventing potential of substances found in the average diet. He and his team have spent the last ten years carefully investigating the way these natural substances act in people with cancer. Professor Gescher says: ‘The expectation is that these agents, when given in low doses, may have a more acceptable safety record than pharmaceuticals.’
He emphasises, however, that like pharmaceutical drugs, dietary extracts must also be rigorously tested before being recommended to cancer patients. Research, ranging from a 1997 study published in the journal Science to a 2006 study conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers, has shown that resveratrol – an antioxidant found in red wine and grapes – may help to prevent cancer. Encouraged by the positive results from these studies, Professor Gescher and his colleagues have spent the last five years investigating the safety and effectiveness of resveratrol in bowel-cancer patients.
Their findings, published in the January 2012 issue of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, appear promising. However, as these findings are preliminary, well-designed large-scale studies are now needed to determine if resveratrol really has a place in cancer prevention.
The anti-cancer potential of curcumin – a key ingredient in Dr Lindell’s fictional cocktail – has also caught the attention of Gescher and his team. They are currently examining the effects of the spice when applied alongside traditional chemotherapy in bowel-cancer patients, in a small trial sponsored by Cancer Research UK. Such research reflects a growing scientific appreciation for natural remedies in cancer treatment. But haven’t we heard it all before? Lycopene, found in tomatoes, and green tea are just two of the many dietary wonder agents that generated exciting headlines years ago. But that excitement has since died down.
Overenthusiastic reporting and poor interpretation of study findings may be to blame, says Professor Gescher. ‘There are many circumstances where preclinical work is published and causes a lot of media attention, but this is before the real efficacy of these substances has been proven. It isn’t necessarily the science that is misleading.’
‘My colleagues and I dedicate a lot of time to researching these dietary extracts because we want to be sure that we support only the use of substances with a proven scientific basis.’ So as work continues on finding the perfect natural cancer treatment, what can the one in three people affected by cancer today expect from natural remedies? Switzerland-based naturopath Stewart Mitchell is the founder of the UK School of Complementary Health in Devon. He regularly sees people who have been diagnosed with cancer, and he uses natural remedies to support them through chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
‘In people with cancer, there are two issues to treat: the cancer itself and the stress the body is put under by the cancer treatment. My aim is to use natural remedies to keep people in the best health possible throughout what is often a very gruelling treatment process,’ he explains. The Eden Prescription tells a David-and-Goliath tale of natural remedies versus pharmaceuticals, but Evers believes that this doesn’t have to be the case in real life. Instead, he says that cancer patients should work closely with their doctors.
He adds: ‘I also advocate that oncologists incorporate natural medicine in their clinical practice as a way of augmenting conventional therapies and, at the very least, improving their patients’ quality of life.’
The Eden Prescription by Ethan Evers is out now and available online from Amazon.