Diet, Inflammation and Breast Cancer. Inflammation is a complex process that is necessary for health maintenance. Its response to injury is part of the reparative process and its response to infection is life-preserving. Inflammatory surveillance cells are constantly detecting and eliminating threats from infectious, toxic agents and abnormal cells (cancer precursor cells). This said, the inflammatory process does have its downsides. It can become excessive and lead to illness and chronic disease.
Toxic agents come from two main areas: our environment and the foods we eat. The most obvious forms of toxicity through diet come from food contamination, inappropriate preparation, preservatives, and residual pesticides. Examples of foods that support this pro-inflammatory (toxic) state include those high in saturated fats, trans-fats, refined carbohydrates (sugars), alcohol, and processed or conventionally raised animal products. Just as unhealthy foods can cause inflammation, the lack of healthy foods in our diet contributes as well.
A normal inflammatory response is typically short-lived and diminishes once a threat is resolved. However, chronic inflammation develops when an acute inflammatory problem is inadequately resolved. It is a process that usually takes place outside of our awareness. One example of this, an infection, can become chronic and recurrent.
Toxic burden, in general, can be excessive and persistent and is important to be able to measure. If not, cancer cells can break through the restraining mechanisms and proliferate. Some of the problems that are related to chronic inflammation include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries with consequent heart attack and or stroke), dementia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and cancer.
One of the many markers for inflammation that we can measure is C-reactive protein (CRP). CRP is the easiest and least expensive marker to measure and is elevated in both acute and chronic inflammation. Ferritin is another easily accessible marker. Measured level elevations typically suggest injury to cells.
Chronic inflammation creates an environment permissive to cancer initiation and growth, and spreads through a variety of mechanisms:
- Inflammatory messenger molecules trigger cell proliferation in a primitive attempt to repair a perceived injury. An increase in cell division increases the chance that there will be an error in the genetic material that a new cell acquires.
- Inflammatory molecules suppress the surveillance mechanism of the immune system that would typically destroy abnormal cells.
- Apoptosis (programmed cell death) is a mechanism that destroys abnormal cells. This mechanism is suppressed in an environment of chronic inflammation.
- Inflammation supports new blood vessel growth (angiogenesis) that may allow a small tumor to grow.
Inflammation has been shown to be an important factor in the initiation, growth and spread of breast cancer. Cyclooxygenase-2 enzyme (COX-2) is one of the inflammatory markers used by researchers. Research supports that COX-2 has been over-expressed in more than 40% of human breast cancer cases. In addition, it is over-expressed in up to 70% of pre-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ, (thought by many to be a pre-cancer). This suggests the potential benefit of strategies to reduce this aspect of inflammation in order to prevent breast cancer. The common drug that inhibits COX-2, Celebrex, has adverse effects on heart and blood vessel health. Thankfully, dietary changes, nutritional supplements and herbal therapies provide a beneficial alternative to dealing with chronic inflammation.
There is one more component of this complex process that is worth mentioning because it is pertinent to aging, chronic inflammation, and chronic degenerative diseases including cancer. Advanced-Glycation-End-Products (AGES), are formed when carbohydrates complex with protein are created through a passive chemical reaction. This causes stiffening and decreased function of the proteins involved in energy production and repair. AGES attach to receptors on cells in our body and initiate the complex response that leads to chronic inflammation. This is a normal part of aging. It is accelerated when we eat too many sugars and simple starches.
The Mediterranean diet remains the model for healthy eating in general. It is the framework on which we build an Anti-Inflammatory diet.
- Whole grains over refined grains are recommended except when an individual has a history of health problems related to certain grains, such as those containing gluten, or difficulty digesting the disaccharides in the grains.
- Fruits and vegetables are broadly recommended and, most important, color and variety are emphasized. Sulphorophanes that come from the cruciferous family of vegetables have an anti-COX-2 (anti-inflammatory) effect. Plants with red, purple, and blue hues are rich in anti-inflammatory anthocyanins. Modifications in fruit and vegetable recommendations are made for people who have problems such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (i.e. low fermentable fibers, “low FODMAP”)
- Healthy fats are very important in an anti-inflammatory diet. Mono-unsaturated fats found in olives and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are the preferred fats. Omega-3s derived from marine sources and some nuts like walnuts have an anti-COX-2 effect. These sources of fat are shown to have cholesterol-lowering effects as well.
- Healthy dairy products are recommended in moderation for those who can tolerate them. Aged cheeses, yogurt and kefir are emphasized due to their probiotic content. Probiotics have the ability to modulate inflammation and are often recommended in inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Animal protein raised on grass, (i.e. grass-fed) is recommended in moderation. General recommendations include 1-2 servings of lean red meat, 1-2 servings of poultry, and 2-4 servings of fish per week. Grass fed animal protein contains lower levels of saturated fats and higher levels of anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Processed meats are strongly discouraged.
- Nuts, seeds, and legumes are non-animal protein sources and are encouraged daily. Walnuts, flax, and chia are especially high in anti-inflammatory compounds. Legumes contain a significant portion of dietary fiber, which also has anti-inflammatory potential.
- Red wines with a high proanthocyanidin content are included in the Mediterranean diet. The anti-oxidant resveratrol, also found in concord grapes, provides cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory benefits. The daily intake is 4 ounces per day for females and 4-8 ounces per day for males to achieve the benefits from the polyphenols. Consulting with your physician before enjoying this perk is recommended.
Supplements that have an anti-inflammatory effect include bromelain, sulphorophane, fish oil, pine seed oil, grape seed extract and zinc.
Herbs that have an anti-inflammatory effect include curcumin (derived from turmeric), ginger, rosemary, oregano, American ginseng, scutellaria, pau d’arco, propolis, licorice, honokiol, (magnolia), quercetin, sage (ursolic acid) and white willow bark.
Creating an anti-inflammatory program that is right for you is not easy. Our licensed nutritionists at Crossroads , Keri Connell and Sara Cooper are available for one-on-one consultations in addition to our group cooking demonstrations held regularly in our teaching kitchen. We are offering a brand new 7-session course on the Anti-Inflammatory diet. Each class in the series highlights a component of balanced diet and shows you how to increase the anti-inflammatory potential via herbs, spices, color, variety, and healthy fats. Learn everything from breakfast to dinner.
JOIN US for
The Anti- Inflammatory Diet Series
in our Teaching Kitchen
Creating an anti-inflammatory program that is right for you is not easy. Our licensed nutritionists at Crossroads Teaching Kitchen, Keri Connell and Sara Cooper are available for one-on-one consultations in addition to our group cooking demonstrations held regularly in our teaching kitchen. We are offering a brand new 7-session course on the Anti-Inflammatory diet. Each class in the series highlights a component of balanced diet and shows you how to increase the anti-inflammatory potential via herbs, spices, color, variety, and healthy fats. Learn everything from breakfast to dinner. Visit our Crossroads Teaching any time or sign up today for the one or all of the different cooking classes below. Please visit us at our website: www.crossroadsteachingkitchen.com for more information and to register for classes or call 410-997-5191.