Some forms of cancer can also be attributed to inflammation gone awry. Recent research indicates that inflammation plays either a leading or supporting role in many of the most common types of cancer – colon, stomach, lung and breast. Chronic inflammation wreaks havoc in the body by creating an ideal environment for free radicals, rogue molecules that travel through the body leaving a path of destruction in their wake. If a healthy cell’s DNA is damaged by free radicals, it may mutate. As it continues to grow and divide, it may set the stage for a cancerous tumor. Free radicals stimulate inflammation and thereby perpetuate the inflammatory cycle.
Chronic inflammation alone won’t always spark cancer, but left untreated it may create a more hospitable place for cancer cells to thrive, according to Dave Grotto, director of nutrition education at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Chicago.
The good news: Unlike many uncontrollable risk factors for serious illness, such as family history of heart disease or living in a polluted city, chronic inflammation is something you can control and even prevent through diet and exercise. Here’s a closer look at how both can influence inflammation.
Most foods either rev up inflammation or tamp it down. A diet high in trans-fatty acids, carbohydrates and sugar drives the body to create inflammatory chemicals. On the flip side, a diet heavy on vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids puts the brakes on the inflammatory process.
If you have an inflammation-related illness, such as atherosclerosis or arthritis, altering your eating habits may help you tame your symptoms, or even change the course of the disease. And if your genes or a sedentary lifestyle put you at risk for chronic inflammation, eating right may make the difference between staying healthy or drifting downhill.
Next: 5 Ways to Fight Inflammation Through Diet