THE BLOG
06/06/2011 05:33 pm ET | Updated Aug 06, 2011

Cancer Cells Accelerate Aging

Cancer cells spur inflammation in order to get nutrients from the surrounding tissue for the purpose of fueling tumor growth. This increased inflammation produced by cancer cells also accelerates the aging process. It is crucial to manage inflammation in order to both control the spread and growth of cancer and slow down aging.

It is possible to modulate inflammation by eating an anti-inflammatory diet and by including foods, nutrients and herbs that support your body's own ability to lower inflammation.

Researchers at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson University have shed new light on what makes a tumor grow and how to make it stop. The researchers' findings were published online June 1 in the journal Cell Cycle in three separate papers.

Cancer cells speed up the aging of nearby connective tissue cells to spur inflammation, which will ultimately digest the tissue that surrounds the tumor and provide the "fuel" for tumor growth, according to a press release from Thomas Jefferson University's Kimmel Cancer Center. Chronic inflammation allows our bodies to be the food for the cancer cells.

"People think that inflammation drives cancer, but they never understood the mechanism," said Michael P. Lisanti, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chair of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Jefferson Medical College at the university, in a press release. "What we found is that cancer cells are accelerating aging and inflammation, which is making high-energy nutrients to feed cancer cells."

Chronic inflammation causes increased oxidative stress that leads to increased tissue damage, including damage to DNA, our genetic material, which leads to increased risk of cancer.

With normal aging, the body begins to deteriorate because of oxidative stress, the process by which cells are damaged in the same way that metal rusts and breaks down, according to the press release.

"We are all slowly rusting, like the tin man in the 'Wizard of Oz,'" Dr. Lisanti said in the release. "And there is a very similar process going on in the tumor's local environment."

To extract nutrients, cancer cells induce oxidative stress in normal, healthy connective tissue, according to the release.

"Nobody fully understands the link between aging and cancer," Dr. Lisanti said in the release. "What we see now is that as you age, your whole body becomes more sensitive to this parasitic cancer mechanism, and the cancer cells selectively accelerate the aging process via inflammation in the connective tissue."

Regardless of your age, the physiology of cancer accelerates the aging process. And because inflammation increases with age, this also makes us more susceptible to cancer as we get older. This research shows that if you have cancer, you also age more quickly.

"If lethal cancer is a disease of 'accelerated aging' in the tumor's connective tissue, then cancer patients may benefit from therapy with strong antioxidants and anti-inflammatory drugs," Dr. Lisanti said. "Antioxidant therapy will "cut off the fuel supply" for cancer cells."

Many of the plant foods and plant medicines that are sources of antioxidants have also demonstrated natural anti-inflammatory action. Dr. William Li, M.D., of the Angiogenesis Foundation, said in his lecture "Foods That Starve Cancer", that many of these same food plants also slow cancer growth by inhibiting angiogenesis, the process where cancer cells create their own new blood supply in order to grow into larger tumors and travel to other parts of the body, thereby spreading disease.

When we include nature's medicine chest, we get a multiplicity of functions and benefits, unlike most man-made drugs that have only one target or action, not to mention a margin of safety.

Antioxidants are primarily found in plant foods and plant medicines. Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables and in herbal medicines, and including deeply colored fruits and vegetables in your meals is a way to consume a diet naturally high in antioxidants.

Berries, pomegranates, tomatoes, carrots, yams, kale, brocolli, red cabbage, apricots, plums, spinach, canteloupe, watermelon, bell peppers, tangerines, mangos ... the list is endless. Make sure your plate is full of a rainbow of colors everyday and you will be getting a wealth and variety of potent antioxidants that talk to your cells and can turn off tissue damage.

Culinary herbs and spices are also rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that are also known to have anti-cancer activity. Include a wide variety of herbs and spices in your diet and your food becomes medicine. Use tumeric, ginger, saffron, mint, thyme, oregano, basil, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, lavender and parsley on a regular basis.

In addition, healthy fats and oils support anti-inflammatory function. Include healthy fats in your diet every day. Sources include cold-water fish (salmon, cod, sardines, mackerel), eggs high in omega-3 fatty acids, cold-pressed and unheated olive oil, flax oil, walnuts, almonds, almond butter, tahini (from sesame), sunflower seeds and avocados.

Studies have demonstrated that all of these foods and herbs have anti-cancer properties. Ultimately, your food is your medicine.

For more on the confluence of science and nature, cancer and healing visit Dr. Nalini's Blog.

Any medical information published on this website is not intended as a substitute for informed medical advice and you should not take any action before consulting with a health care professional.

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