I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some of the most beautiful and exotic places on Earth.
But one of my favorites is Uganda. My wife is from Kampala, and almost every year we spend time there with her family.
|I was fortunate enough to get up close to an elephant in Africa.|
Uganda has by far the most incredible landscape I’ve ever seen. It’s in the heart of Africa and it’s unique because it’s where the dense, Western forest meets the dry savannah.
West are the mountain forests and east are the volcanic mountains… and just a bit south and east is the Serengeti.
It’s one of the only locations in the world you can see monkeys, baboons, chimps and gorillas all in one place.
I’ve seen giraffes, white rhinos — which are now extinct in the wild — hippos, water buffalos, crocodiles and warthogs.
But one of my favorite animals to see in the wild is the elephant…
I’ve always been fascinated by their human-like behavior. They have a strong family bond, love to play and have real empathy toward each other.
But it was only recently that I found out that these magnificent animals have a lot to teach us about our own health.
Let me explain…
Elephants have nearly 100 times more cells than humans do. And they live a long time — up to 70 years. That should mean that all these cells have a long time to mutate and become malignant cancer cells.
But elephants almost never get cancer.
Researchers believe the answer lies in a rare gene that provides elephants with special genetic protection against cancer. And it may explain why elephants have only a 4% rate of cancer compared to a 20% rate in humans.
Scientists believe elephants have a “zombie” gene that helps them avoid cancer. Over the course of evolution, the animals resurrected a gene that was functionally dead.
They call LIF6 the “zombie” gene because the other 10 LIF genes are inactive. Only LIF6 seems to wake from the dead to protect against cancer.
Humans actually have their own “zombie” defenses against cancer. We just have to wake them up and activate more of them.
I’m talking about natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are a type of lymphocytes. They are formed in your bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, and thymus. They remain in a resting phase until they are needed. Then they wake to become the most aggressive killer cells in your body.
About two billion NK cells flow through your blood looking for bacteria, fungi, viruses and cancer cells. They are also present in all tissues throughout your body, waiting to deal with any threats.
If you have high NK levels, you don’t get sick. Studies show healthy seniors and centenarians have thriving populations of NK cells. But younger people with chronic diseases are low in NK cells.1
When NK cells find a cancer cell they squirt out a toxic substance called performin. That pierces the cancer cell membrane to cause cell death. Studies show NK cells can control both local tumor growth and metastases.2
But your store of NK cells drops as you get older. They also get depleted with a diet of processed foods, chronic stress, environmental toxins, smoking, and excess alcohol. Eventually you may not have enough NK cells to beat back cancer and other diseases.
The good news is that you can rebuild your supply of NK cells. Here are three things I recommend to my patients to wake up their own “zombie” cancer fighters.
Wake up your own zombie cells
1. Boost your body’s master antioxidant. Glutathione is an essential antioxidant found in all cells. It optimizes the killing power of NK cells. Low glutathione reduces the function of NK cells.
But you can’t just take a glutathione supplement. It would get destroyed in your digestive system long before it got to your cells.3 I nstead look for N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC). It’s a precursor to glutathione. Studies show it can stop DNA damage linked to the development of cancer cells. It also reduces the harmful effects from chemo and radiation treatments.
Food sources of NAC include poultry, yogurt, red peppers, garlic, egg yolks, onions, and broccoli. But to protect against cancer you’ll want to supplement. Take at least 250 mg per day up to 1,500 mg.
2. Eat this ancient superfood. Cordycep mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for 5,000 years. They are grown on the backs of special caterpillars in the Himalayas.
Studies show cordyceps stimulate NK cells and other white blood cells. They’ve been shown to have anti-tumor powers. And they increase the effect of chemo drugs against lung cancer cells.
You can find cordyceps tablets, powders and capsules from most health food stores. Use the powder in teas, soups and stews. Take two to three grams once or twice a day. Cordycep are generally considered safe. But if you are pregnant or breast-feeding or take blood thinners or diabetes meds, talk to your doctor first.
3. Take this unique herb. Ashwagandha is an adaptogen. Animal studies show that it decreases the incidence and progression of ovarian cancer by boosting NK cells.5
Look for ashwagandha powder that’s 100% organic with no artificial flavors or colors. I like to mix ¼ teaspoon up to a full teaspoon of the powder with a cup of warm milk and a teaspoon of honey. Drink a cup just before bed. You can also drink another cup during the day.
You can also supplement. I recommend 300 to 500 mg twice a day. But don’t overdo it. Too much can cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. P Sansoni, A Cossarizza, V Brianti, et al. “Lymphocyte subsets and natural killer cell activity in healthy old people and centenarians.” Blood. 1993.
2. Levy EM, Roberti MP, Mordoh J. “Natural Killer Cells in Human Cancer: From Biological Functions to Clinical Applications.” Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2011.
3. De Flora S, Izzotti A, D’Agostini F, Balansky RM. “Mechanisms of N-acetylcysteine in the prevention of DNA damage and cancer, with special reference to smoking-related end-points.” Carcinogenesis. 2001.
4. Wu WC, Hsiao JR, Lian YY, et al. “The apoptotic effect of cordycepin on human OEC-M1 oral cancer cell line.” Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2007.
5. Barua A, Bradaric MJ, Bitterman P et al. “Dietary supplementation of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera, Dunal) enhances NK cell function in ovarian tumors in the laying hen model of spontaneous ovarian cancer.” Am J Reprod Immunol. 2013.