While undergoing radiation for a uterine cancer, Sadhana (name changed), a professor at a South Mumbai college, suffered from severe cramps and diarrhoea which were not relieved by antibiotics and other medication. At her wits' end, she approached nutritionist Dr Vijaya Venkat, who advised her a carefully worked out diet such as a differently coloured fruit every hour, one tomato and one carrot for lunch, and for indigestion, limejuice with ginger. Dr Venkat's daughter, Anju, also a nutritionist, guided her as well. But the cramps continued.
After three days, Venkats found Sadhana was drinking water. She was promptly told not to. "I was aghast. How can I not drink water? But I listened to them,'' she says. Two days later, her cramps vanished and her haemoglobin count shot up instead of going down as usually happens with radiation. Her body seemed to be under her control once again.
Experts believe diet goes a long way in complementing any treatment, let alone cancer. "Cancer, like common cold, is the body's way of reacting to the toxins we stuff it with,'' says Venkat, a staunch advocate of natural living. "Every person has cancer cells in the body. They remain undetectable till they are sizeable in number,'' she says.
Vehemently against the conventional line of treatment for cancer, Venkat believes too much toxic burden from medicines and radiation compromises or destroys the immune system, making it susceptible to various kinds of infections and complications.
A well-balanced diet and positive thinking, on the other hand, can prevent a host of complicated ailments like cancer and at the very least, work as a complementary therapy. "When a person has a problem, it indicates he has nutritional deficiencies, either due to genetic, environmental, food and lifestyle factors,'' she claims. It's imperative to starve these cells by not feeding it with the "foods it needs to multiply,'' she said.
As cancer cells feed on "sugar, milk and meat, among other things,'' these should be avoided, she believes. "Milk causes the body to produce mucous, especially in the gastro-intestinal tract. Cancer feeds on mucous.''
Instead, a diet comprising fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and sprouts would put the body in an alkaline environment, which is imperative for most ailments. These, she insists, are the real `fast' foods. "Fresh vegetable juice provide live enzymes that nourish healthy cells within 15 minutes,'' she says.
By enhancing the growth of healthy cells, the body's immunity improves and is then equipped to tackle cancerous or injured cells,'' says Anju. Though Dr Venkat's USP is food, she insists it's a synthesis of diet, breath and thought. "The first thing I tell a person who comes to me is, when was the last time you took a deep breath and sent up a thank-you for what you have?'' The mind clearly has a huge role to play. "Exercise, because cancer cells hate an oxygenated environment. Meditate and be happy,'' are the other two of Venkat's three-point formula of throwing disease to the winds.
Experts accept the importance of dietary discipline but emphasise that dietary care can only complement conventional treatment but never substitute it. Head of surgical oncology, Tata Memorial Hospital, Dr Rajendra Badwe, says, "There isn't much direct evidence of a reduction in recurrence of cancer and diet control. The idea that food alone can cure cancer needs to be tested. In general, some foods like those with sugar can cause weight gain, which is not good for cancer patients,'' he says.
Says Dr Narendra Nair, head of radiation medicine, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, "It helps to have some regimen in place but there is no verifiable data for claims that food alone can combat cancer. Whereas western science is based on rigorous tests to evolve hardcore data. So we know its effects and side-effects well,'' he says.
As for the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation, Nair says, "Both are common treatment across the world. It is well-known that lymphomas can often be cured by two sessions of chemotherapy alone,'' he contends.