Inflammation- A Culprit in Auto-immune Disease and Breast Cancer

What exactly is inflammation?

Fortunately, most of us aren’t forced to walk around thinking about inflammation as part of our daily lives. While we may experience some level of inflammation occasionally, it’s usually mild enough that it passes under our radar.

That changes the minute you are diagnosed with a complex medical illness such as breast cancer or an autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. You see, inflammation is a major contributor to both of these, and I’ll go so far as to say it contributes to all chronic diseases.

There are many things that can cause your body to move into an inflammatory state as a response to injury or attack: trauma, physical or emotional; bacteria or viral infection; parasites, toxins, even just heat.

When exposed to injury, the body responds automatically, and this causes the immune system to protect itself against a perceived harm, activating specific, protective, biochemical pathways – what we know as “inflammation.”


The Ins and Outs of Inflammation

There are three external signs of inflammation we often see: redness, warmth, and swelling. But it’s important to understand that the external signs are the result of internal biochemical reactions.

Chemicals from white blood cells are released into the blood or tissues to protect the body from what it identifies as a foreign invader. The release of the white blood cells and increased blood flow into the area is what causes redness and warmth.

Other chemicals – histamine, bradykinins and prostaglandins – are also released, resulting in fluid leaking into the tissues from blood vessels. Again, this happens as a protective measure, resulting in the swelling we see after an injury or a bee sting.

While this is our body’s innate response, or first line of immune defense, we also have an adaptive immune response, consisting of antibodies and immune cells, such as monocytes and macrophages.

Under ideal circumstances, this immune response functions as it should, protecting our bodies from external attack. Unfortunately, our immune system can go “rogue,” and instead of focusing on external threats, it attacks its own body. This is the beginning of what is known as autoimmune disease.

To understand this phenomenon, we need to learn about cytokines. The word cytokine comes from Greek; cyto means cell and kinos means movement. Cytokines are a class of immunoregulatory proteins that are secreted by cells of the immune system that are involved in cell signaling. When there is a trauma such as infection or inflammation, cytokines “call” or “signal” cells to come to the affected area and protect it.

Breast cancer and the autoimmune thyroid disease known as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis have cytokines involved, Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) being one cytokine both have in common. When the body perceives an injury, monocytes and macrophages are called upon, and they make, or synthesize, TNF-alpha. TNF-alpha is a “gatekeeper” cytokine. If it’s prevented from doing its job, several biochemical responses occur which increase inflammation.

Cytokines are mediators that govern many different processes involved in the development of cancer and autoimmunity. There are many checks and balances in the body that need to be turned off or on, depending where in the pathway we look, to create cancer.

Decreasing inflammation

It’s unclear whether inflammation causes cancer or if cancer causes inflammation and there is research to support both aspects. Systemic inflammation has been shown to potentially be an important long-term prognostic factor for breast cancer, and inflammation contributes to the severity and length of autoimmune disease.

The good news is, there is a great deal you can do to decrease and manage your body’s inflammation!

Here are a few important aspects you can easily do to impact your inflammatory quotient:

Change Your Diet

Nutrition has the ability to profoundly impact how your genes are expressed, as well as prevent and repair cell damage. Here are some nutritional guidelines to follow which will decrease your body’s inflammation.

  • Eat organic and whole foods whenever possible: Food grown in organic soil provides more direct nutrition to your body, and just as importantly, has not been sprayed with the chemicals of pesticides.
  • Eat with the seasons: A Chinese Medicine approach reflects the changing of seasons and this is mirrored in the types of vegetables available throughout the seasons. In the Spring and Summer, you tend to eat cooler foods, such as salads and melons. In the fall and winter months, there are soups, stews and baked apples and pears.
  • Eat for your genetics: The field of Nutrigenomics studies the relationship between nutrients in food and how they influence gene expression and molecular pathways. Eating in a manner that reflects the genetics of your culture supports your metabolism and genetics. For example, there was a very low rate of Breast Cancer for Japanese women while they ate the diet of their culture. As they began to incorporate more “American style” food into their diet, the incidence of breast cancer dramatically increased.


Please click here to find these recommendations, and more, in my Healthy Nutrition Guide.

Phytonutrients from a plant-based diet have the ability to impact and actually decrease inflammation.


Heal Your Gut

Our lives are filled with environmental toxins which impact the health of our gut. Perhaps you’ve taken antibiotics or are on other medications? Or your diet isn’t what it should be for optimal health, and you’re eating too much processed, sugary food, high in “bad” fats, GMOS and chemicals.

These chemicals directly impact the environment of your gut and the health of your intestinal lining. In healthy circumstances, the lining of your gut keeps large molecules and proteins inside. But exposure to chemicals through food and environmental, disrupt the microenvironment of your gut and create a condition known as leaky gut, or increased intestinal permeability. When this occurs, the size of the “holes” in the inner lining of your gut increase and larger molecules are then able to permeate, or pass through, the gut lining. Some items that can now pass through into your system are undigested food particles, gluten proteins, and bacteria. These occurrences, disrupted gut environment and leaky gut, contribute to your inflammatory quotient.

The body “is not happy” when these large proteins cross through the gut lining, and increase production of antibodies, among other things, to compensate for this. This is truly the beginning of inflammatory process, and you can see reactions such as fatigue, arthritis and joint pain, bloating and irregular bowel habits, weight gain or inability to lose weight, headaches, thyroid disease and skin problems like acne and eczema.

Healing your gut is absolutely possible and requires changing your diet, functional medicine diagnostic testing, and using the information gathered from your tests to create a protocol that will reintroduce healthy bacteria into your gut.

Detox Your Home

Your home is your sanctuary and we all spend a great deal of time there. That’s why it’s so important to have your home be as chemical free as possible to support your health and be a healing sanctuary. Thankfully there are many choices of products – so you can stock your pantry, use cleaning products, and self-care products on your body that support your good health.
There’s an undeniable connection between what is in your environment and how it impacts your health. Your environment is an extension of your body; products that you use for cleaning in your home-dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, general cleaning products, enter your body through your skin. Products you use that are applied to your body, such as soap, deodorants, hair products, toothpaste, even make up, can directly impact your estrogen metabolism and over-all health. What you breathe, touch, taste, and consume all greatly influence your body’s metabolism and your health.
Your energy and availability to detox your living spaces will determine what type of changes you need to make and the speed at which you make them. If you are healthy and want to uplift your home environment, it’s fine to replace non-organic items as they are finished. But if you are undergoing cancer treatment, I recommend a complete removal of toxic products and total replacement to create a non-toxic home environment. These adjustments will bring you greater comfort and lessen your toxic load. Changing habits and behavior isn’t easy, but your health is worth it!


Your kitchen makeover

The first place to start when you are ridding your home and kitchen of toxins, is with plastic. Plastics are made up of a string of polymers and chemicals and BPA (Bisphenol-A) is commonly found in the majority of items in your kitchen.

BPA chemicals have been linked to recurring miscarriages, cancer, metabolic disorders such as diabetes, obesity and insulin resistance, behavioral issues and learning disabilities, as well as anxiety and depression. A study found 95% of people tested were positive for BPA and for children 99% came from exposure through food (think plastic bottles as well as plastic plates and sippy cups).

The thing is, the molecules of chemicals found in plastic aren’t tightly bound and they shed. This means the estrogen disrupting* aspects of BPA are actively appearing in your food.

Activities that increase the shedding are:

  • Heat: as in microwaving, washing with hot water, dishwasher and even sunlight (as in water in plastic bottles sitting in your hot car)
  • Scrubbing: washing with the abrasive side of the sponge
  • Acidity: vinegars, tomato or citrus products
  • Oil: high fat foods or oils