Inflammation “contributes to tumor proliferation, angiogenesis, metastasis and resistance to hormonal and chemotherapy.”—cancer researchers, 2009
THE INFLAMMATION PROCESS
Cut your finger, and watch what happens. Redness, swelling, thumping pain. That’s the process of inflammation– the immune system rushing in, sending growth signals to the skin and blood vessels to help repair damaged tissues.
Think of cancer as a wound that does not heal–an idea first espoused in the mid 1800s.
In fact, many cancers, it turns out, actually arise from sites of chronic irritation, infection and inflammation: hepatitis and liver cancer, H pylori bacteria and stomach, human papilloma virus and cervical (and now oral cancer, too, for obvious reasons.)
But inflammation’s role goes further than that: In most all cancers, the cancer cells also initiate an inflammatory process on their own that enables them to proliferate madly. “It’s like wild fire out of control,” says Dr. William Li, head of an important anti-cancer research foundation.
When the immune system detects cancer, Li explains, it activates the inflammatory response. But tumor cells are sneaky. They mask themselves to keep the immune system from destroying them and instead, feed off the growth signals that inflammation creates. What’s more, they initiate inflammation on their own, secreting inflammatory chemicals that cause more proliferation and growth—and the cascade continues. The cancer cells increase exponentially, refusing to die like normal cells, creating masses of inflammatory chemicals called tumors that, when they’re about the size of a pinhead, start generating blood vessels on their own so they can nourish themselves, grow bigger and spread. That final step of creating blood vessels to take over your body is the process of angiogenesis, which Li’s foundation is dedicated to fighting.
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT IT?
While researchers continue to look for effective drugs to fight inflammation, what can you do personally to help stop this devastating spiral?
The answer: Exercise, reduce stress and eat right—the right fats, for starters.
OMEGA FATS: ANTI-CANCER OR PRO?
You’ve heard of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. What are they exactly? These fatty acids are simply chains of molecules with bends and kinks in the chain. The numbers 3 and 6 identify the location of the bends; “Omega,” the last letter in the Greek alphabet, is used because you count from the end of the chain backwards. Useless info, perhaps, but explanatory.
The fats we eat get incorporated into the membranes of our cells, and in a several step process, signal the cells to secrete chemicals that are either-–you guessed it— inflammatory or anti-inflammatory (or neutral, as in the case of olive oil, an Omega 9.)
Here’s your starter guide to these Omega fats.
Omega 3s: The good guys (as long as they’re not overheated). Primarily in oily fish, flax and chia. Fats get converted into prostaglandin E3s, which reduce inflammation.
Omega 6s: a/ Animal sources and manmade fats: Bad guys. In processed foods and in commercial meat, poultry, dairy and eggs from animals that are traditionally raised on grain (as opposed to grass, which creates more omega 3s). Fats get converted into prostaglandin E2s and other chemicals that promote inflammation.
b/ Plant sources: Beans, grains, nuts, seeds, their oils. Listen up, vegetarians.The problem here is that fat conversion could go either way—either to healthy or unhealthy prostaglandins, depending on your insulin levels and other factors in your body. Because we have very little control over the process, nutritional consultants in the anti-cancer field say to moderate your intake of even these foods. (What’s moderate? We’ll get into that–and lots more on fats– in later posts.)
MORE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
“The growth and spread of cancer cells relies to a large extent on a single proinflammatory factor secreted by the tumor cells,” explains the late Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, in his book “Anti Cancer, A New Way of Life.” The factor he’s referring to are NF-kappa B cells, considered the black knight of cancer cells because they stand guard to ensure that cancer cells become immortal. All of these foods contain molecules that inhibit the monster knights.
So what can you do to help yourself? Slice some ginger, boil it in water and sip the tea profusely while you register for free at www.nutritiondata.com. and look up the nutritional profile of every food, including its omega 3 and 6 content. The website even rates the food’s inflammatory action. Alternatively, you can just keep on drinking and await my summaries in future anti-cancer posts.
Interested in the Top 10 Foods to Decrease Inflammation?