How does inflammation relate to cancer and how much is truly within our control? Dr. Sarah Lee of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance joined the Nutrition and Wellness for Myeloma Chapter to share information on this subject.
The Role and Reality of Inflammation
While inflammation normally gets a bad reputation, it's actually a sign that the body it's doing its job. It's also important to note that there are different types of inflammation, including acute and chronic. The body uses acute inflammation in order to heal the body and restore damaged tissue.
On the other hand, chronic inflammation causes damage to tissues as a long-term immune response and can lead to unwanted consequences such as autoimmune diseases or cancers. Chronic inflammation can be caused by lifestyle choices such as lack of sleep, poor diet, obesity, and others factors.
The Relationship Between Cancer and Inflammation
We know that 1 in 5 cancers are caused or influenced by inflammation. Key cancers that we know are connected with inflammation are colorectal, stomach, liver, lymphoma, and lung cancer. Currently, myeloma is not proven to be one of those cancers that are directly caused by inflammation, however, there are hypotheses that chronic inflammation or an autoimmune disease might predispose someone to myeloma.
So how does inflammation cause or directly influence cancer? Chronic inflammation can cause damage to DNA and produce free radicals. These free radicals along with damaged DNA can create an environment that provides more fuel for tumors to grow and rapidly duplicate. This creates a higher risk of mutated cells becoming cancerous and reproducing cancerous tumors or tumor-like burden in the blood.
The Interesting Paradox
Ironically, there is a paradox in which cancer simulates an anti-inflammatory state. Essentially, the tumor tricks the body instead of allowing it to do its job and uses what would be used to heal the body as means to feed itself and continue to reproduce. Then, because the body is working full time to fight the cancer cells, the immune system is compromised, leaving the patient more at risk for other infections and diseases.
So what can you do to decrease inflammation? What is in your control?
There are several different factors that you can take into account.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get good sleep
- Manage stress well
- Be physically active
- Improve your eating habits
Improving Your Diet to Decrease Bad Inflammation
We are just realizing how truly important diet is in terms of immune health. The gut is actually an immune organ and there is a bidirectional relationship between the GI microbiome and the innate immune system. It is essential to feed your microbiome by eating different colors (think colorful fruits and vegetables, legumes and spices), and making sure you eat a fiber-filled diet.
There are foods that increase inflammation that is important are important to limit:
- sugary sodas
- sugary foods
- refined oils
- strong alcohol
- fried food
- processed meats (bacon, sausage, salami)
- red meat
- white flour
- fast food
and there are plentiful choices that decrease inflammation in the body such as:
- cilantro, parsley, and other herbs
- good water intake
- whole grains
Dr. Lee mentioned a study that proved those who ate fiber-rich filled foods benefitted from that fiber much more than those who were taking a fiber supplement.
You should aim to get your essential vitamins and nutrients through the actual consumption of food instead of depending on vitamin or supplement pills to fulfill that purpose.
What habits will you change in order to decrease bad inflammation in your body?
You can learn more from the presentation (including the question and answer session) of Dr. Lee's event below:
Thank you to our sponsors, without whom these events would not be possible:
about the author
Audrey is the Editor for the HealthTree Foundation for Multiple Myeloma. She originally joined the HealthTree Foundation in 2020 as the Myeloma Community Program Director. While not knowing much about myeloma initially, she worked hard to educate herself, empathize and learn from others' experiences. She loves this job. Audrey is passionate about serving others, loves learning, and enjoys iced chais from Dutch Bros. She also loves spending time with her supportive husband and energetic three-year-old.