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Cancer Answers: Kelsey McCourt

QUESTION: Are there foods that fight inflammation?

Chronic inflammation has been recognized as a contributing factor to cancer development and therefore, inflammation prevention has become a hot topic to discuss. Inflammation within the body is a natural occurrence, designed to quickly fight off infection, viruses and other specific and harmful invaders. Unfortunately, inflammatory diseases like cancer do not give a response that is quick or specific. Instead, the inflammation will linger causing more harm than good to the cells. 

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is a natural, biological process that can become dangerous if the body does not respond as designed. When an invader enters the immune system and/or a tissue is damaged, the body will produce chemicals to respond to the threat. These chemicals will go to work, signaling the white blood cells to cause cell division, growth and repair. Once that portion of the body is healed, the inflammatory process is halted.

With chronic inflammation, the process of dividing, growing and rebuilding does not stop with healing nor does it need an injury or foreign body to begin. Although the exact causation is not always understood, ongoing infections, abnormal immune responses and conditions like obesity are a few factors that have been linked to increase risk of chronic inflammation. As chronic inflammation continues, it damages DNA which can lead to cancer.

Dietary, lifestyle interventions

Our diets play an important role in both prevention and promotion of inflammation in our bodies. Consuming excess calories and large amounts of added sugars, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and saturated fats are a recipe for inflammation. Conversely, consuming the right types of foods can help reduce inflammation and aid in prevention of chronic disease.

Antioxidants, phytochemicals

Consume a diet rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals. Eat the rainbow! Choosing a variety of plant based foods with rich colors ensures a diet full of antioxidants and phytochemicals. These substances occur naturally in foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, herbs, spices and teas. Consuming plenty of these types of foods has not only been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, but also has been linked to decreased incidence of cancer.

Omega 3 fatty acids

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There has been data to suggest an inverse relationship between the intake of omega 3 fatty acids and the development of a number of malignancies. Omega 3 fatty acids found in fish oils have also been shown to reduce inflammation. Consume a variety of fatty fish (salmon, tuna and mackerel), nuts and seeds.

Overall, eating a balanced diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables and limited in processed foods can help fight cancer-causing inflammation.

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Join Kelsey McCourt, registered dietitian, and John Malinowski, certified exercise trainer, for the “HEAL: Healthy Eating and Activity for Living” class on Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. at the Mission Hope Cancer Center Conference Room. The class combines the powerful synergy of food and fitness to help you reach your best possible quality of life. Free recipes and food will be provided. To reserve a seat, call 805-219-4673.

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Your Cancer Answers is a weekly column produced by Marian Regional Medical Center, Cancer Program. Have a question? Email it to

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