Chronic Inflammation and Cancer – Dietary Factors

Abstract: Most of us rarely think about food’s purpose other than that it tastes good and that it fills our hungry stomachs. What we eat has powerful effects on our bodies. In fact, food is one of the most valuable tools for maintaining inflammation balance. Scientists have discovered that some types of foods are PRO-INFLAMMATORY and other types of foods are ANTI-INFLAMMATORY. Once we are aware whether a food causes or reduces inflammation in the body, we can then decide which foods to eat more of and which foods to avoid.

Yeong Sek Yee

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Most of us rarely think about food’s purpose other than that it tastes good and that it fills our hungry stomachs. What we eat has powerful effects on our bodies. In fact, food is one of the most valuable tools for maintaining inflammation balance.

Scientists have discovered that some types of foods are PRO-INFLAMMATORY (able to increase inflammation), and other types of foods are ANTI-INFLAMMATORY (able to reduce inflammation). Once we are aware whether a food causes or reduces inflammation in the body, we can then decide which foods to eat more of and which foods to avoid. However, the sad truth is that most people eat a diet that puts them in a constant pro-inflammatory state. With every meal, we have the option of increasing inflammation or decreasing inflammation, increasing or decreasing our risk of heart attacks and cancer, increasing or decreasing the amount of pain in our lives. In fact, Dr. Andrew Weil (in Healthy Aging) sums this up very clearly … “CHRONIC INFLAMMATION BEGINS AT THE END OF YOUR FORK.”

In this article/compilation, we examined some books/publications by leading authorities on the subject of how dietary factors can contribute to chronic inflammation and eventually cancer. Certain dietary factors, called promoters, feed cancer growth and other dietary factors, called anti-promoters, slow cancer growth (for more information, read The China Study by Dr Colin Campbell).

AT CACARE, we always advise all cancer patients to abstain from consuming certain harmful foods such as meat, as in animal proteins, dairy products, saturated fats, refined sugar, fried and fast foods which are all  PRO-INFLAMMATORY FOODS. At the same time, we advise all cancer patients to eat plenty of fresh vegetables, either raw or cooked; consume plenty of fresh juices and fruits and to eat whole grains, cereals, seeds and nuts in as unprocessed a form as possible…this is essentially ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS.

After reading this article, you would realise that your doctor’s/oncologist’s advice to eat more meat, animal proteins, keep up the calories, etc (or eat anything you like) is extremely PRO-INFLAMMATORY and will only lead you to the path of disaster.

In the ensuing pages are summaries/excerpts from books written by various prominent MEDICAL DOCTORS (ranging from a neuroscientist, neurosurgeon, Professors of Medicine/Toxicology, Oncologist, Cardiologist, Breast Surgeon, etc) from various prominent medical institutions (like the Harvard Medical School, Cornell University, Yale Cancer Centre, University of Pittsburgh, etc) And their message is very simple …  AVOID ALL PRO-INFLAMMATORY FOODS AND EAT ONLY ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS.

So read on …

1) ANTI CANCER: A NEW WAY OF LIFE by Dr David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD, a neuroscientist and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and a brain-cancer survivor himself.

In the book, Dr Servan delves quite extensively into the subject of inflammation and cancer – describing it as “the double face of inflammation: Whereas it is meant to heal by helping create new tissue, it can also be diverted to promote cancerous growth.”

Elaborating on the dietary factors for chronic inflammation and its influence on cancer, Dr Servan drew up a table on the principal influences on inflammation – these are tabulated below as:

a) Inflammation aggravators (which can lead to cancer)

  • Traditional Western diet
  • White bread and pasta
  • Red meat, raised industrially
  • Oils rich in Omega-6 fatty acids (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy)
  • Dairy products from industrially raised livestock (especially full fat)
  • Eggs from industrial farming, hens fed corn and soy beans.

b) Inflammation reducers

  • Mediterranean, Indian and Asian cuisine
  • Whole wheat bread and pasta
  • Organic meat from animals fed on grass or with flax meal , eaten at most three times a week
  • Olive oil
  • Dairy products mainly from animals fed on grass
  • Eggs of hens raised in a natural environment or fed flax meal

2) THE INFLAMMATION CURE by Dr William Joel Meggs, MD, PhD, a Professor and chief of the division of toxicology at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

According to Dr Meggs, anti-inflammatory eating can be classified into 7 simple Inflammation-Fighting guidelines:

a) Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

  • A mountain of research has made it clear that eating lots of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease and many types of cancers. The healthful benefits of eating lots of fruits and vegetables come from the full collection of phytochemicals.
  • Some of the top inflammation-fighting foods are cruciferous vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits, berries, and beta-carotene rich foods.

b) Eat fish 3 – 5 times/week

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fish and fish oils (and they are also present in flaxseed oils, borage, evening primrose oil) and have been shown to be anti-inflammatory.
  • (On the other hand, Omega-6 fatty acids are found in most vegetable oils and are pro-inflammatory)

c)Add olive oil to your diet Studies have suggested that olive oil influences inflammation, and may improve immune functioning over time.

d) Eat very little meat, poultry, cheese, butter, milk, and other animal products.

  • Meats and other animal products are among the top inflammation triggers

e) Take supplements daily

  • Because… our diets are haphazard, Dr Meggs recommends taking a multivitamin but cautioned against high dosages of any particular vitamins.

f) Eat less

  • Eating less… calorie restriction has been shown to increase life span, slow the progression of arteriosclerosis, prevent tumor growth, limits the damage done by free radicals, etc.
  • Start by eliminating sugary snack foods. Sugary foods tend to be high in calories and unhealthy fats… eliminate pure sugar, sweet foods (such as candy, cakes, cookies) and baked foods made with white flour.

3) NATURAL STRATEGIES FOR CANCER PATIENTS by Dr Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon and Clinical Asst. Professor of Neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi.

In the above book, as well as in his newsletters (The Blaylock Wellness Reports – Vol. 5 No. 6 and 10), Dr Blaylock states  very clearly that “inflammation is the key to understanding cancer, that is there is a strong connection between inflammation and cancer …  the more inflammation, the poorer the outlook for recovery.”

Many inflammatory chemicals act as growth factors – they actually ‘fertilize’ the cancer. What are some of these growth factors?

a)     It is known that diets high in Omega-6 oils increase estradiol production of fat cells and this can drive estrogen-sensitive cancer cells. Omega-6 oils are also major generators of inflammation in the body.

b)     Diets high in red meat content are another problem… the high iron content. Iron act as a catalyst for free-radical production and this increases inflammation. Excess iron also promotes cancer development and especially the growth and spread of existing cancers!

c)     Sugar, refined carbohydrates and Omega-6 fats stimulate the inflammation pathways via the prostaglandin system and the immune system.

d)     Artificial sweeteners are also harmful especially aspartame, which contains an excitoxin and breaks down into toxic formaldehyde and methanol – in other words, sweeteners is a brain toxin and promotes cancer.

e)     The common vegetable oils, which include corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, all promote inflammation and have been shown to encourage the development, growth and spread of cancer.

f)       Food additives can promote cancer development, growth and spread – these include nitrites, MSG, aspartame, carrageenan, etc.

According to Dr Blaylock, the most powerful anti-inflammatory foods include vegetables (the most potent anti cancer vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, celery and greens – mustard, collard, and turnips and garlic). Vegetables contain a number of vitamins, minerals and thousands of flavonoids that protect the body. EATING AT LEAST TEN SERVINGS OF NUTRIENT-DENSE VEGETABLES IS ESSENTIAL.

Sources: The Blaylock Wellness Reports

  • Vol. 5 No. 6 – Inflammation: The Real Cause of Most Diseases.
  • Vol. 5 No. 10 – The Great Cancer Lie. It is Preventable and Beatable.

(In this article, as in the book you will learn that… “A number of chemotherapy agents actually increase inflammation and generate free radicals. Cancer researchers admit that, based on these new discoveries, conventional cancer treatments have little chance of success against most common cancers…”)

4) STOP INFLAMMATION NOW by Dr Richard H. Fleming, MD, FICA, FACA, FASWC who is an Internist and Nuclear Cardiologist. He is the Director of Cardiovascular and Breast Cancer Research at the Camelot Foundation and the Fleming Heart & Health Institute, USA and is also a member of the National Credentials Committee for the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology

In this groundbreaking book, nuclear cardiologist and research scientist Dr. Fleming exposes the devastating impact of arterial inflammation on the heart and what can be done to douse the fire within. Arterial inflammation triggers a dangerous chain reaction, wreaking havoc throughout the body. Dr Fleming’s action plan explain which tests your doctor should be performing to assess heart disease risk and tells why an angiogram is not always an accurate indicator of heart health. He also reveals a complete picture of the 12 causes of inflammation and how to defeat them.

According to Dr Fleming, these factors, which include high blood cholesterol level (over 150), excess weight, elevated homocysteine (resulting from eating too much animal protein) and oxidants in the blood stream, trigger an inflammatory reaction that causes heart disease and may also be responsible for diabetes, arthritis and other serious conditions such as cancer. Dismissing bypass surgery and angioplasty as short-term solutions, Dr Fleming claims that his suggested diet, combined with regular exercise such as daily walking, will reverse heart disease without medication or surgery. He recommends that his diet be adopted in 2 phases: – Phase 1 is composed solely of fruits and vegetables; after consistent improvement of cardiac health has been accomplished, Phase 2, which adds whole grains, low-fat dairy and moderate servings of protein may be undertaken.

Although the emphasis of the book is mainly on inflammation and heart disease, Dr Fleming also wrote about inflammation and cancer in chapter 12 –  CANCER IS ALSO AN INFLAMMATORY DISEASE. It is Dr Fleming’s contention that the damage caused by chronic inflammation is so widespread that it becomes the basis for a whole host of serious illnesses– including the common cancers, the same factors that causes heart diseases also causes cancers. An interesting observation made by researchers is that…. people who are diagnosed with cancer frequently have a high homocysteine level ( an amino acid that causes changes in the arteries and the blood that significantly increases a person’s chances of suffering a heart attack or stroke) A high homocysteine level suggests chronic inflammation and attendant enormous stress on the immune system. In such cases, the immune system simply cannot cope with all the inflammatory reactions taking place throughout the body and simultaneously battle incipient cancer

Homocysteine is associated with high oxidative stress as well as high inflammation. A diet that is rich in fat and protein but low in fiber and anti oxidants elevates both homocysteine and oxidation. Such a diet can trigger the onset of cancer and support its growth, meaning that the diet that elevates homocysteine also creates the foundation for malignancy . Therefore, it’s no wonder that people who are diagnosed with cancer often show high homocysteine levels as well.

The best way to protect yourself against the harmful effects of homocysteine is by eating a diet rich in plant foods comprising a wide variety of vegetables, beans, whole grains, & fruit. All the harmful effects of homocysteine are mitigated, and in many cases prevented entirely, by eating these foods in abundance. With them, you will get optimal amount of immune system-boosting and cancer-fighting antioxidants, carotenoids, and phytochemicals.

According to Dr Fleming, the anti-inflammatory diet for cancer should be: –

a) extremely low in fat, especially saturated fat,

b) low in calories,

c) composed entirely of plant foods, which means it has an abundance   of   vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals,

d) rich in fiber,

e) include both soy foods & soy protein,

g) include gentle exercise which is anti-inflammatory,

Essentially, the Fleming diet is primarily plant-based … it is  high in fiber, and has plenty of fruits and vegetables, legume, and whole-grain foods. In short, it has more of what most people’s diets are missing.

The following Pro-inflammatory Foods should be avoided:

a) Foods that contain saturated fats,

b) Foods that contain omega -6 polyunsaturated fats, such as corn oils, safflower oils and sunflower oils,

c) Foods that contain trans-fatty acids such as margarine, shortening,

d) Dairy foods- cow’s milk, cheese– these foods are highly inflammatory,

e) All foods that contain refined sugar,

f) All processed foods, which are rich in calories & consequently promote inflammation – these include bread, muffins, cookies, cakes, chips, and soft drinks.

Dr Fleming lists the following as Anti-inflammatory Foods:

a) A wide assortment of vegetables. In general, plant– based diets are anti-inflammatory and boost the immune system. Cruciferous vegetables, vegetables and the allium family are very anti-inflammatory,

b) Flaxseeds & pumpkin seeds,

c) Foods rich in Vitamin C,

d) Selected fruits including blue berries, grapes, plums & citrus fruits,

e) Foods that contain Vitamin E – whole grains, almonds, etc.

g) High-Fiber foods–whole grains, vegetables & fruits-–lower inflammation by binding with pro-inflammatory substances and eliminating them from your system.

5) THE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET by Dr Christopher P. Cannon, M.D, and Elizabeth Vierck. Dr Cannon is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and an associate physician in the Cardiovascular Division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is a fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.

New research shows that abnormal inflammation may be linked to a variety of diseases and conditions. In this book, you will find what diseases and conditions are caused by inflammation, which foods reduce inflammation and which foods contribute to inflammation. The authors claimed that their advice in the book is based on the latest research from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. The Seven Principles of the Anti-Inflammation Diet are “evidence-based “ which means that Dr Cannon use the very best scientific knowledge, combined with medical know-how, to make the respective recommendations

The Seven Principles of the Anti-Inflammation Diet (as in Chapter 4) are: –

a) Principle 1- Eat a Well-Balanced Variety of Wholesome Foods i.e. a balance diet of macronutrients which include carbohydrates, protein and fat, as well as vitamins, minerals and fiber,

b) Principle 2- Eat only unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are harmful fats. All animal fats such as those in meat, poultry and dairy products are saturated. Processed & fast foods are also saturated. Trans fatty acids, found in fried foods, commercially baked goods (donuts, cookies & crackers), processed foods & margarine, are the worst of the lot. Trans fatty acids are linked to an increase in inflammation throughout the body

c) Principle 3– Eat One Good Source of Omega-3 fatty acids everyday. Omega -3s are essential fatty acids (EPA,DHA and ALA) that the body needs and are found in oily fish from cold waters, leafy greens, certain seeds and nuts, flax, hemp, certain vegetable oils, and sea vegetables. Omega-3s essentially decreases inflammation (On the other hand, althoughOmega -6 fatty acids are necessary for us, they also promote inflammation and blood clotting. One of the components of omega -6 fatty acids is Arachidonic Acid (AA) which plays a key role in inflammatory conditions. Our bodies change AA into inflammation producing hormones. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in safflower, soybean, and corn oils, which are in many processed foods).

d) Principle 4- Eat a lot of whole grains. Whole grains are the intact seed of a plant – made up of the bran, the germ and the endosperm. Whole grains have disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron & fiber (ironically, the word refined means “free from impurities” when, actually, refining grains ends up making them “free from nutrition!”)

e) Principle 5- Eat healthy sources of Protein. Although animal proteins contain all the amino acids that we need, it is extremely high in saturated fats, arachidonic acids… Other sources of protein come from fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts.

f) Principle 6- Eat Plenty of Fruits & Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are critical to good health and the following are particularly important: green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, & mustard greens; Cruciferous vegetable, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, and kale and fruits such as oranges, lemons, apples etc. do make important contributions.

g) Principle 7- Eliminate Refined & Processed Foods. Refined flour, rice and sugar are all empty calories foods. Food processing strips foods of their nutrients. Refined foods are omnipresent in processed foods.

So in summary, Dr Cannon’s advice (to reduce inflammation) is to eat a variety of foods, cut out bad fats (including saturated fats & trans fatty acids), eat more omega- 3s, and other healthy fats, lean proteins, grains, fruits & vegetables and cut out processed and refined foods.

6) THE OMEGA DIET by Dr Artemis Simopoulos, MD, a world authority on essential fatty acids and was nutritional adviser to the Office of Consumer Affairs at the White House, USA.

Good fats – essential fatty acids – influence every aspect of our wellbeing… there are 2 types of essential fatty acids (EFAs), Omega-6 and Omega-3. The problem with our modern diet is that it contains far more Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3s. This hidden imbalance makes us more vulnerable to heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, etc.

Medical researchers have known for some time that Omega-6 fatty acids can provokeinflammation. When tumours were infused with Omega-6 fatty acids, they … promote tumour growth. Even a trace amount of linoleic acid (the ‘parent’ Omega-6 fatty acid), makes tumours grow faster and the more that is added, the faster they grow. Linoleic acid seems to be the preferred diet of malignant tumours.

On the other hand, Omega-3 fatty acids can block inflammation… Omega-3 fatty acids can apply the brakes to an immune system that has gotten out of control. When tumours are infused with Omega-3 fatty acids, their growth rate was greatly slowed, it was as if they had been given fat-free blood.

As protective as fruits and vegetables may be, however, eating the right fats may be even more effective in fighting cancer. For decades, there has been a growing suspicion that there is a link between dietary fats and cancer.


a)     Omega-3 fatty acids – found primarily in seafood, green leafy vegetables, fish, canola oil and walnuts.

b)     Omega-6 fatty acids – found primarily in common vegetable oils such as corn, safflower, cottonseed and sunflower oil as well as other saturated fats, trans fats and products made from such fats.

c)     To truly balance dietary inflammation, we should be eating Omega-6 fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids in a 1:1 ratio that is, equal amounts… However, we tend to have a ratio that is 10:1 or greater, because we eat a whole lot more vegetable oils (in fried foods and baked foods) than fish or fish oils. The best way to get the ratio down to 1:1 (or at least closer) is to simultaneously reduce the amount of vegetable oils and increase the amount of fish oil in your diet.

7) THE CANCER RECOVERY PLAN by Dr Barry Boyd, MD, an oncologist and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine and has treated cancer patients for more than a decade. A graduate of the Weil Medical College of Cornell University, he currently teaches at the Yale Cancer Center.

According to Dr Boyd, the presence of systemic, chronic low-grade inflammation may foster the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitate their transformation to cancer. Inflammation stimulates tumour cells to proliferate; it increases the growth of blood vessels that feed the cancer cells. Chronic inflammation adversely affects survival in many cancers (colon, breast, pancreatic, ovarian, lung, NHL, etc.)

Many of the attributes of a Western lifestyle, such as a diet high in sugars and saturated fats, accompanied by little or no exercise, make it easier for the body to become inflamed – and stay inflamed…

8) WAKING THE WARRIOR GODDESS by Dr Christine Horner, MD, FACS, a well known US breast surgeon who is a relentless champion for women’s health.

In Chapter 14, Smothering the Flames, Dr Horner wrote: “Researchers have found that chronic inflammation not only plays a key role in the commencement and progression of many types of cancers, it also fuels a wide variety of disorders …

Stress and certain foods promote inflammation. Refined carbohydrates, sugar and certain fats – especially trans fats are some of the worst offenders. On the other hand, a diet rich in the antioxidants found in fresh, organically grown fruits and vegetables and Omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation”

9) BEATING CANCER WITH NATURAL MEDICINE by Dr Michael Lam, MD, a specialist in Nutritional and Anti-aging Medicine.

Infections, poor dietary habit or high sugar and trans-fat are potential carcinogens that lead to mutational changes and an exaggerated inflammatory response that may be out of control resulting in cancer.

Dr. Lam recommends fish oils as it contains a high dose of Omega-3 fatty acids that help to protect the body… fish oils slow the spread of cancer and stops the formation of new blood vessels as well. It counter-balances the effects of Omega-6 fatty acids’ production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids.

10) HEALING GOURMET- EAT TO FIGHT CANCER by Dr Simin Liu, MD, SC.D., and associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the director of nutrition research, Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Writing against trans-fats, Dr Simin Lin states that… “to reduce the inflammatory factors associated with chronic diseases (including cancer), root out trans fat by looking for the terms partially hydrogenated oils and vegetable shortening on food-labels.

Snacks and most foods we consume tend to be high in Omega-6s, which when left unbalanced by their anti-inflammatory counterpart Omega-3 can lead to health problems… Because foods high in the glycemic index elevate insulin and promote development of IGFs and inflammation, there is good reason to avoid refined carbohydrates if you have cancer.”

In concluding this article we leave you with this famous quote:


Acknowledgement: We could like to thank our nephew Arif Azraei and neice Bibi Nurshuhada for typing this article.

About CA Care

In obedience to God's will and counting on His mercies and blessings, and driven by the desire to care for one another, we seek to provide help, direction and relief to those who suffer from cancer.

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