More and more of us are letting our bodies become our worst cancer enemy – in a way that’s pretty obvious if you take a look around you at a mall, a sporting event or any other public gathering. Too many of us are growing extra fat cells that encourage the body to develop cancer.
Obesity greatly increases your risk of cancer. In fact, even a few extra pounds are a bad idea. But you don’t have to let this happen.
As scientists begin to better understand how one part of the body can foment cancer in another part, they are uncovering important clues to how we can stop cancer in its tracks. . .
The body’s internal medicine show
Researchers have found out that a specific area of the body sends out dangerous chemical messengers that may set off cancer. The culprit is the bulge around your waistline. As fat tissue accumulates there, an increasing number of inflammatory molecules are released that can lead cells in other sections of the body to become tumors.
Originally, researchers thought the main culprit in this process was estrogen released by fat cells. But then they realized that even after doctors treated women with anti-estrogen therapy, women who were obese, with large amounts of fat. were still suffering from more aggressive tumors than women who were thinner.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center have discovered the apparent answer to this puzzle: Fat tissue releases an inflammatory chemical called IL-6 (interleukin 6). You may have heard of it. This molecule is pretty familiar to those who have done a bit of reading about inflammation.
It turns out that the IL-6 spewed into the body makes many breast cancer cells react to testosterone, growing faster and spreading more quickly in response to this hormone.1
As the researchers note, these days just about four out of every ten American women are heavy enough to be classified as obese. Around three of every four breast cancers are spurred on by estrogen released by fat tissue. But in those women whose breast cancers keep growing even when deprived of estrogen, something needs to be done about the testosterone that is making their cancers more dangerous.
In their investigations, the Colorado researchers at first were puzzled why breast cancer cells deprived of estrogen were still being stimulated to grow aggressively.
To find the answer, they ticked through all the ways that being overweight affects your health. “When you talk about what’s different between lean and obese individuals there are a lot of things – resistance to insulin, high sugar, and an elevated inflammatory response, what we call chronic low-grade inflammation, to name a few,” says researcher Steven Anderson. “In a lot of ways, you can walk through these differences looking for what may be causing this androgen (testosterone) receptor sensitivity.”
In their lab tests, the scientists had found that the amount of IL-6 traveling in your blood is significantly higher when you’re obese. Then they found that the IL-6 makes breast cancer cells respond to testosterone.
Their work shows that:
- When you gain large amounts of body fat, inflammation in your body can skyrocket.
- Much of this inflammation is spurred on by IL-6.
- IL-6 makes testosterone receptors in cancer cells (and other cells) much more sensitive and active.
- The sensitized testosterone receptors in cancer cells accelerates their growth and spread.
Nutrients to the rescue
Obviously, anything you can do to lose weight can help your body reduce inflammation and release less IL-6. The fewer fat cells you have, the fewer sources of IL-6 you possess.
And there are other natural ways you can help your body resist the inflammatory effects of IL-6.
For instance, researchers at Linkoping University, in Sweden, have found that lutein, a dark-green nutrient found in fruits and vegetables like spinach and kale as well as eggs, can fight the harmful inflammation that originates with IL-6.2
The Swedish scientists were studying how limiting inflammation could help prevent heart disease, but their results seem to be equally appropriate for fighting back against cancer.
In their studies, these researchers decided to focus on carotenoids, a group of natural pigments that include the beta-carotene that makes carrots orange and the lycopene that makes tomatoes red. Other research had shown that the more carotenoids you consume, the less inflammation you have in your body.
“Our study confirms that one particular carotenoid, lutein, can suppress long-term inflammation in patients with coronary artery disease. We have also shown that lutein is absorbed and stored by the cells of the immune system in the blood,” says researcher Rosanna Chung.
When the Swedes focused on how lutein affected IL-6 in the body, they found that lutein was the only carotenoid that seemed to drop levels of IL-6. The more lutein you take in, the lower your levels of IL-6.
And that should help lower the risk of both heart disease and cancer. While food sources are preferred, you can take lutein as a supplement.
Take a rest from IL-6
Other researchers have discovered that you can take your inflammatory problems with IL-6 lying down, because getting better sleep every night can reduce the IL-6 in your body.
A review study by scientists at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience demonstrates that staying up too late and cutting back on sleep leads to extra inflammation in your body and can spike your blood levels of IL-6. Plus, getting too much sleep, according to this study, can also cause problems.3
“It is important to highlight that both too much and too little sleep appears to be associated with inflammation, a process that contributes to depression as well as many medical illnesses,” warns John Krystal, who edits the journal Biological Psychiatry where the study appeared.
According to the California researchers, the best amount of sleep to get is around seven to eight hours a night. Sleeping more or less than that – or having your sleep interrupted at night – was linked to higher levels of IL-6.
In addition to better sleep, you may also be able to use a stress-reducing therapy like yoga to hold down your IL-6.
Tests at the University of Ohio show that stress, which increases your levels of IL-6, can have less effect if you do yoga exercises every week. The study shows that while stress still increases levels of IL-6 in those who do yoga, the increases are much less than the IL-6 boost that takes place in folks who don’t do yoga poses.4
Our old friend exercise changes IL-6
Exercise also helps the body deal with IL-6. A study at the University of Copenhagen reveals that, although exercise seems to stimulate the production of extra IL-6, other hormones released during exercise make the IL-6 into a cancer-fighter rather than promoter.
According to the researchers, when you exercise, you release more adrenaline and the adrenaline causes IL-6 to wake up immune cells called natural killer cells that attack cancer cells.5
“That was actually a big surprise to us,” says researcher Pernille Hojman. “In this study we show that the exercise-induced IL-6 seems to play a role in homing of NK (natural killers) cells to the tumor and also in the activation of those NK cells.”
To me, even though all this research hasn’t yet explained all the ins and outs of how IL-6 affects cancer, it does confirm that natural health recommendations like getting better sleep, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising every week and keeping stress under control improves your body’s anti-cancer defenses.
The best thing about these cancer-control tools is that you can implement them right now, on your own, and improve your chances of avoiding life-threatening tumors.