“Rubor, tumor, calor, dolor”, it’s red, swollen, warm and painful. That’s what the medical world uses to describe inflammation. Inflammation is an immune response to infection or injury. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases including some kinds of cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
As much as it pains me to talk about cancer, “knowledge is bliss” and we cannot ignore that it exists and that we can, to a great extent, do something about it. We all carry cancerous cells, but luckily, our body has its own defenses to prevent these cells from turning into the malignant disease. These defenses include immune processes, foods and lifestyle factors that reduce inflammation.
What are the causes that have been found to aggravate inflammation and inhibit immune cells?
- Consumption of a traditional Western diet including fried foods, high fat meats, refined sugars and flours (white sugar, corn syrup, bagels, donuts…)…
- Depression, stress, feeling of helplessness, holding grudges, repressing emotions, social isolation,
- Sedentary lifestyle where you engage in less than 2o minutes of physical activity per day
- Cigarette smoking and pollution
What are the factors that have been linked to protect against inflammation and encourage the immune system?
- Following a Mediterranean diet, Indian and Asian cuisine, which are high in fruits and vegetables, olive oil, legumes, anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, and omega-3 rich foods.
- Taking control of one’s own life and managing stress
- Active lifestyle that includes a minimum of a 30 minute walk 6 times a week
- Living in a clean environment
What do all these mean and how can we implement an anti-inflammatory lifestyle?
Clean up your diet
- Reduce the consumption of sugar which feeds the inflammation including refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, desserts, soft drinks, and other hidden sources of sugars such as sauces and ketchup…
- Replace white flour, white rice and white pasta with whole-wheat varieties and whole grains (quinoa, buckwheat, spelt,…)
- Reduce consumption of omega-6 fatty acids present in sunflower oil, corn oil, margarines, hydrogenated fats,…
- Increase consumption of omega-3 fatty acids including fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, canola oil, walnuts, flaxseed and purslane…
- Try to consume organic products including meat, eggs, poultry, vegetables, fruits and grains. The vegetables and fruits that are most important to be consumed organic were discussed in an earlier post. The meat should be used as an “accessory” to dishes and not take center stage.
- Include daily any of the anticancer foods: herbs and spices ( turmeric mixed with black pepper and olive oil for maximum absorption, mint, thyme, oregano, marjoram, basil, rosemary, curry, ginger, cinnamon), onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, parsley, celery, mushrooms ( shiitake, cremini, enoki, portobellos,…) cruciferous vegetables ( broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage), vegetables rich in beta-carotene ( carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, beets,..), spinach, fruits ( berries, cherries, oranges, mandarins, lemons, grapefruit, apricots, pomegranate juice…), green tea and red wine in moderation.
- For desserts, prefer dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), fruits and if you want to add some sweetness use agave nectar or stevia.
- Practice breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques.
- Practice yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi,..
- Reach out to family and friends. Don’t underestimate the human need for social bonding. Facebook is OK but physical contact is so much better .
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity most of the days.
- Get in the sun for 20 minutes each day for vitamin D. Be careful not to sit in for more without proper protection.
Clean your environment
- Avoid pesticides and insecticides.
- Avoid as much as possible chemical cleaning products.
- Avoid parabens and phthalates in cosmetics.
- Avoid exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA) that can leak from linings of cans and when heating certain plastic containers.
- Throw away scratched Teflon pots and pans.
- Aerate your clothes once you bring them home from the dry-cleaning.
- Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke and industrial pollutants.
- Lower as much as possible your exposure to the radiomagnetic fields of cell phones. Use a headset instead.
Lifestyle changes can win over your genes. You owe it to yourself at least to live a long and healthy life. Even though at a first glance the above list can be daunting and intimidating, taking small steps and changing one or few things at a time till they are second nature will work just fine.
The above tips are all taken from Dr. David Servan- Schreiber’s Anticancer book (which I highly recommend) where he combined his own experience with hundreds of research articles about the cancer epidemic, inflammation and the diet and lifestyle changes that could have an effect on our quality of life.