After completing my health coaching training I found myself shouting from the hills about the importance of an anti-inflammatory diet. Then my first coaching client asked me “what is inflammation?” and I got tongue-tied…
Acute and Chronic Inflammation
4 Facts About Inflammation and How It Can Promote Cancer Development
- It seems like the word “inflammation” is everywhere these days. It is a basic bodily process that has gotten a lot of press lately for its role in heart disease, diabetes and even cancer
- Inflammation is caused by bodily injury. Read FACT #1 below for the types of events that cause inflammation
- Chronic inflammation is when inflammation never is resolved. This is what increases the risk of cancer development. Read FACTS #3 and #4 below for more info
After completing my health coaching training I found myself shouting from the hills about the importance of an anti-inflammatory diet. It was a topic that was covered during my program and I discovered quite a bit of science-based evidence to support its benefits on human health. One of my first coaching clients asked me a pointed question one day: “what is inflammation?” I found myself unable to give a succinct and coherent response. Inflammation involves many different bodily activities, how I can explain that to her?
Well, as they say, every obstacle creates an opportunity for growth. From then on, I resolved to have a coherent response to this question if someone should ask again. Here is that response.
FACT #1 – Inflammation is a normal response to bodily injury.
Before we go any further let’s answer the question “what is inflammation?” Inflammation occurs when the body is injured, and it takes action and sends certain cells to the injured area in order to repair it. What types of events cause injury to the body? Here are the top 3:
- Invasion of bacteria or viruses
- Injury (e.g. sprained ankle, burn)
The cells involved in repair release chemicals around the injury in order to 1) remove the bacteria or virus that caused the injury, and/or 2) repair the tissue.
Inflammation is a normal bodily process, as normal as breathing. You want your body to create inflammation in order to heal. Think about the many injuries that are inflicted on our bodies during our lifetimes, from the flu to minor burns, and binging on fried foods! All of these things create inflammation which helps in the repairing of damaged cells and tissues. What you don’t want to happen is the body to stay in chronic inflammation.
The cells and chemicals involved in the repair of tissue should not stick around forever. In fact, once the injury is repaired, a new group of cells (i.e. anti-inflammatory) arrive to help lower the inflammation. These anti-inflammatory cells are like the rescue squad that also help rejuvenate the cells and tissue.
FACT #2 – Infection leads to inflammation, and possibly cancer growth.
It is estimated that 15% of all cancers worldwide are caused by chronic inflammation. From infections such as mononucleosis (which may lead to Burkitt’s lymphoma), stomach ulcers caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (which can lead to stomach cancer), to HIV infection (which could lead to Kaposi’s sarcoma), chronic infections can lead to certain types of cancer developing.
When the body sends cells to a site of injury (e.g. white blood cells) they go to work to seek and destroy any invading bacteria or viruses. Some of these cells release chemicals that help repair damaged cells and tissues. These chemicals may also help to destroy the invading bacteria or virus as well as repair damaged cells and tissues.
Compounds such as reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide are produced during inflammation which damages the invading pathogen. Unfortunately, healthy cells may also be damaged by these compounds and could result in permanent DNA damage in the cell. And as you may know, DNA damage is a major reason healthy cells turn into cancerous cells. The inflammation at the site of injury, with all of its inflammatory cells and chemicals, could also suppress proteins that help prevent cancerous cells from growing (e.g. p53 protein).
FACT #3 – Inflammation is short-lived.
The good news is that inflammation does not have to last forever. Once the site of injury has been repaired, the body should produce anti-inflammatory cells to come in and stop the inflammation. For various reasons, there are instances when these anti-inflammatory cells are not released or are unable to stop inflammation. In this case, chronic inflammation is the result which could lead to chronic diseases (e.g. type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer)
FACT #4 – Chronic inflammation suggests underlying issues persist.
We know that the body can produce anti-inflammatory cells, as well as chemicals, to stop inflammation at the site of injury. So why does chronic inflammation occur? Chronic inflammation is inflammation that does not resolve on its own. For whatever reason, the inflammatory cells and chemicals that were released when the injury first occurred do not subside, or the anti-inflammatory cells do not have an effect on inflammation.
It is this chronic inflammation that can create an environment where DNA damage in healthy cells occurs, resulting in pre-cancerous as well as cancerous cell growth.
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To Your Best Health!
Dee Grace, PhD
Hi! I am Dee Grace, PhD Scientist and Cancer Coach. I help cancer patients get better care from their doctors and support their health with cancer-fighting foods and self-care. Schedule a complimentary call with me and get our FREE guides.