Researchers who have looked into how cancer grows in the body have made a disturbing discovery.
Although a tumor can be life-threatening, your immune cells may be egging the cancer cells on. They may even be causing a tumor to be more deadly than it would be on its own.
Yes, the very system in your body that’s supposed to protect you may be aiding and abetting your killer.
So you need to take steps – which I’ll explain – that keep your immune cells from becoming cancer enablers. . .
As my longtime readers know, your immune system has to perform a lot of different functions. It is tasked with identifying invading microbes and destroying them so they don’t cause infection and illness. Certain immune cells are also supposed to I.D. cells that are starting to become cancerous and make sure they are terminated.
Of course, if this anti-cancer process always came off without a hitch, nobody would get cancer.
But it doesn’t.
One of the problems is Industrial toxins and pollution. These constitute a big monkey wrench that’s often tossed into the immune system machinery. Cancer writers often focus on the chemicals in our food and drink, but we also have to be wary of the air we breathe. Our lungs are often the entry site for troublesome chemicals.
According to research conducted at Ohio State University, if you live in a big city or some other area with polluted air, mere breathing often sets off the release of white blood cells from bone marrow that leads to widespread inflammation in your body.1 This inflammation can be a precursor to cancer, or make it worse if you’ve already got it.
The white blood cells – which are immune cells – work their way into the bloodstream and eventually accumulate in fat tissue where they secrete chemicals that set off inflammation.
Pollution mistaken for micro-organisms
Now, the inflammation process is primarily designed to fight off the invasion of bacteria, fungi and other nasty organisms that can threaten your health. But when widespread inflammation starts because of inhaled pollution — and the immune cells can’t find an invading pathogen to attack — the inflammation can ramp up and damage the body’s own tissues.
While inflammation damage can occur just about anywhere in the body, the Ohio State researchers note that air pollution issues often start in the fluid that lines the lungs. As part of this damaging process, the pollution instigates the release of a cellular receptor called toll-like receptor 4 (TL4)
I won’t bore you with all the intricate details of how TLR4 functions. The main thing you need to know is that it’s designed to signal the immune system to get busy warding off a threat. To immune cells that are harmlessly waiting on standby, the release of TLR4 is an alarm bell that signifies “All hands on deck!”
When the alerted immune cells swing into action, many of them release caustic free radicals intended to zap invaders that have entered the body. But since there are no invaders to fight, the free radicals can harm healthy tissue. And that damage can initiate cancerous developments.
Makes cancer more aggressive
Along with this type of cancer-initiating injury, other studies have produced evidence that immune cells can lead slow-growing tumors to speed up their growth and increase their lethal aggressiveness.
For example, research at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center shows that brain tumors can be spurred on by macrophages and microglia, immune cells that, under normal circumstances, are meant to protect us from life-threatening tumors and infections.
Instead, the researchers found, these immune cells can accelerate the spread of glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and deadliest adult brain tumor. This type of cancer usually kills within about one year.2
In the Sloan-Kettering lab tests, when the immune cells were blocked off from the tumor, an increased number of cancer cells died off in the self-destruction process called apoptosis. At the same time, the brain tumors shrank to some degree – although they were not totally eliminated in these experiments.
All this points to the fact that we’d all be smart to lead an “anti-inflammatory lifestyle.” This means making choices that increase our chances of keeping our immune system in the proper lane.
Calm the Immune System
One of the first, most obvious ways of protecting your immune system is to avoid toxins and pollutants whenever possible.
That includes being careful where you exercise outside. Exercise can lower inflammation. But if you exercise right next to a busy road or somewhere else that is dirty and noisy you negate the potential anti-inflammatory benefits.3
Another strategy for keeping your immune cells in line is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Strawberries and cranberries are particularly good ones to fight digestive tract inflammation.
Laboratory research at the University of Massachusetts shows that daily helpings of strawberries can insulate the colon from becoming inflamed.4 The tests show that consuming about ¾ of a cup of strawberries reduces inflammation in the digestive tract and also helps nurture beneficial probiotic bacteria that help keep the immune system under control.
And another study at U Mass demonstrates that cranberries similarly reduce inflammation in the intestines and colon. Plus, the researchers found that consuming cranberries may even help shrink colon cancer tumors.5
A nice hot bath reduces inflammation
You may also be able to rein in misbehaving immune cells with a nice, relaxing hot bath.
According to a study in England, immersing yourself in hot water can reduce inflammation – and, as a side benefit, it also increases the body’s production of nitric oxide, which helps control your blood sugar.
The volunteers who participated in this investigation took a daily bath for two weeks. An analysis of the inflammatory markers in their blood following a warm soak showed that their inflammation had come down significantly.6 And a study at the University of Iowa found that using a sauna has similar beneficial effects.7
My vote would be an infrared sauna, if you can afford one or get access to one. These have multiple health benefits besides fighting inflammation. But the bath has the advantage of being cheap and available to all.
The last measure I’d recommend to support a healthier immune system is to get your stress under control. I know I’ve discussed the harmful effects of stress in the past, but inflammation is yet another area where stress can mess with your life.
Many studies have shown how stress can both increase inflammation and push tumors to grow faster and more dangerously. Researchers have not yet teased out exactly how stress affects the way immune cells interact with cancer cells, but they are looking into how it plays out in the “microenviroment” that surrounds tumors.8