The Biology behind Inflammation that leads to Cancer - and Why the Anti-inflammatory Diet can help
Inflammation is a response to heightened tissue damage resulting from physical injury, exposure to environmental toxins, infection (more on this later), or other types of stressors. Inflammation can help suppress development of a cancerous tumor by stimulating an anti-tumor immune response but more often than not it appears to encourage tumor development.
An extensive body of population-based research indicates an increased risk of certain cancers in the setting of chronic inflammation. For example, the two inflammatory bowel diseases, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, predispose people to cancers of the intestinal tract, like colorectal cancer.
In the laboratory, research has shown that many of the biological processes involved in inflammation (e.g., leukocyte migration/movement of white blood cells, dilation of local blood vessels with increased permeability and blood flow, angiogenesis/ growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels), when found in association with cancerous tumors, are more likely to contribute to tumor growth, progression, and cancer spread (metastasis) than to bring out an effective anti-tumor response in the tissue being overtaken by cancerous cells.
In short, inflammation fans the flames of cancerous cell growth in tissue that is already afflicted with cancer, and spurs the development of tumors in tissues that harbor pre-cancerous cells.
At all three stages of tumor development (initiation, progression and metastasis), inflammation is there, spurring on DNA mutations, secretion of pro-inflammatory hormones and a host of other damaging cellular processes. In a sense, chronic inflammation creates a cellular environment that encourages cells that already have a cancerous tendency to go haywire.
While chronic inflammation appears to the increase the likelihood of development of several different cancers, the exact mechanisms by which this happens remains to be determined. As a common cause of inflammation, infection is one plausible mechanism. Numerous studies show the presence of microbial infections can conspire with inflammation to promote tumor growth.
In addition to over-replicating themselves, new research shows tumors cells also produce many compounds that attract inflamed cells, which then secrete an array of biological signals to further stimulate cancerous cell division. As like attracts like, defective tumor cells draw more defective, inflammatory cells to it, and thus, the cancer growth is imminent.
Once the cancer spreads to other parts of the body, inflammation continues to play a role as the perfect environment to support tumor growth at the metastatic sites.
An understanding and appreciation of the strong association between chronic inflammation and cancer has led to many clinical drug trials involving anti-inflammatory drugs like Vioxx and aspirin. Unlike pharmaceutical remedies, which often alleviate one symptom only to cause another, nutraceutical remedies from natural foods heal the damage done by inflammation without adverse side effects. It’s also rare to suffer toxicity from consuming too much of one nutraceutical food.
In their 2005 book entitled Foods that Fight Cancer, Beliveau and Gingras nicely summed up the advantages of natural food remedies (nutratherapy) versus artificial pharmaceutical remedies. Cancer-fighting compounds found in food have been naturally selected over the course of evolution to target the same biological processes that anti-cancer drugs seek to treat. One major advantage is that the natural compounds in foods are synergistic – meaning they work together – to create a healing environment that soothes, rather than aggravates, inflammation. Synergy is rarely observed with pharmaceutical agents.
Cancer is a formidable opponent and once someone has been diagnosed, anti-cancer drugs cannot and should not be avoided. Instead, they should take advantage of the synergistic nature of cancer-fighting compounds available in foods and eat more phytochemicals to deprive cancer cells of the pro-inflammatory environment they crave. Anti-cancer food therapy compliments anti-cancer drug therapy, and once the cancer is conquered, eating an anti-inflammatory diet will help keep it from returning.
Everyone is unique, and if you would like specific suggestions relating to the type of cancer you have and the lifestyle you lead, please contact me and we can set up an appointment where I can give you specific recommendations tailored to you.
In the meantime, I suggest these basic changes:
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