Breast cancer and inflammation

Breast cancer is probably the greatest fear women have, even though they are 10 times more likely to die from heart disease. Yet both diseases are driven by cellular inflammation.

Cellular inflammation occurs when the most primitive part of your immune system (the innate immune system) is activated. The key player in the innate immune system is a gene transcription protein known as nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB). Once activated, NF-κB moves into the cell’s nucleus and causes the expression of a wide variety of pro-inflammatory mediators that accelerate the growth of the tumor. A recent publication in Cancer Research has demonstrated that complete inhibition of the NF-κB in the breast tissue prevents the development of breast cancer in animal models (1).

Of course, there is one slight problem with this approach. If you inhibit NF-κB too much, you make yourself a sitting target for microbial invasion. So the question is what activates the NF-κB in the first place? The answer is the diet, and specifically how the diet increases the levels of arachidonic acid, as I described in my most recent book, “Toxic Fat” (2). As the levels of arachidonic acid increase in the cell, there is an increased formation of inflammatory compounds (i.e. leukotrienes) that activate NF-κB (3).

So what might the best approach be for reducing the risk of breast cancer? The obvious answer is to decrease the levels of arachidonic acid in the breast tissue. The best way would be to follow a strict anti inflammatory diet to reduce the formation of arachidonic acid in the first place (4).

Unfortunately, most women (and men) are not willing to take that step. That being the case, then what other dietary approach can be used? I would suggest that supplementing the diet with high-purity omega-3 fatty acid concentrates rich in EPA and DHA is the one approach that everyone can follow. This is especially true since it takes only 15 seconds a day. The benefits of this approach was recently demonstrated in another article published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that demonstrated supplementation with purified omega-3 concentrates can dramatically increase the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the breast tissue of women who have a high-risk potential of developing breast cancer (5).

Of course, if you not only take high-purity omega-3 fatty acid concentrates, but also follow the anti inflammatory diet, then you will have done every possible dietary intervention to reduce the activation of NF-κB in the target tissue for breast cancer (not to mention also reducing the risk for heart disease). Of course, there are some side effects to this dietary approach: You become thinner, smarter and happier in the process.


  1. Liu M, Sakamaki T, Casimiro MC, Willmarth NE, Quong AA, Ju X, Ojeifo J, Jiao X, Yeow WS, Katiyar S, Shirley LA, Joyce D, Lisanti MP, Albanese C, and Pestell RG. “The canonical NF-kappaB pathway governs mammary tumorigenesis in transgenic mice and tumor stem cell expansion.” Cancer Res 24: 10464-10473 (2010)
  2. Sears B. “Toxic Fat.” Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN. (2008)
  3. Sanchez-Galan E, Gomez-Hernandez A, Vidal C, Martin-Ventura JL, Blanco-Colio LM, Munoz-Garcia B. Ortega L, Egido J, and Tunon J. “Leukotriene B4 enhances the activity of nuclear factor-kappaB pathway through BLT1 and BLT2 receptors in atherosclerosis.” Cardiovasc Res 81: 216-225 (2009)
  4. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)
  5. Yee LD, Lester JL, Cole RM, Richardson JR, Hsu JC, Li Y, Lehman A, Belury MA, and Clinton SK. “Omega-3 fatty acid supplements in women at high risk of breast cancer have dose-dependent effects on breast adipose tissue fatty acid composition.” Am J Clin Nutr 91:1185–1194 (2010)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Coffee and diabetes: What’s the connection?

One of the great controversies in nutrition is the role of coffee and human health. On the one hand, coffee is the primary source of polyphenols in the American diet because of the lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, coffee is rich in caffeine, an alkaloid that acts as a stimulant on the central nervous system and is known to be an addictive agent (1). In fact, Roland Griffiths, professor of Behavioral Biology at the John Hopkins School of Medicine (and my old college roommate), says, “Caffeine is the world’s most widely used mood-altering drug.” So the question remains is caffeine good for you?

No one knows for sure, but one interesting point has been made that it appears the more coffee you drink, the lower your risk for developing diabetes (2). In fact, if you drink more than four cups of coffee per day, you decrease your risk of diabetes by 50 percent. This new research demonstrates that coffee increases the levels of sex hormone-binding globlin (SHBG) in the blood. As I pointed out in my book “The Anti-Aging Zone,” SHBG plays an important role in sequestering the levels of estrogen and testosterone in the blood so that levels of these unbound sex hormones that can interact with their receptors are tightly regulated (3). Usually as insulin resistance increases, the levels of SHBG decrease in the blood (4). This can lead to an over-stimulation of the receptors by the unbound sex hormones resulting in increased risk for breast and prostate cancer development.

What in the coffee actually causes the increase in SHBG is unknown, but what is known is that once you decaffeinate the coffee, all its benefits on the elevation of SHBG levels and any reduction in risk for diabetes disappear.

It is highly unlikely that caffeine by itself is beneficial for reducing type 2 diabetes, since there were no benefits related to drinking tea or to total daily caffeine intake (2). Perhaps some other compound that was also extracted with the caffeine may play a role in the reduction of type 2 diabetes.

So what really happens when you decaffeinate coffee? First, you soak the beans in water to remove the caffeine and flavors as well as the polyphenols. Then you treat the water with organic solvents (methylene chloride or ethyl acetate) to remove the caffeine (as well as many of the polyphenols and much of the flavor). Then (assuming you have removed all of the organic solvent), you add back the treated water extract to the beans to hopefully reabsorb some of the flavors back into them. Obviously, not all the flavors or polyphenols return since the resulting taste is far less robust than the original coffee bean.

So it seems to me that exploring what else has been extracted in addition to the caffeine may lead to new dietary treatments for diabetes. Whether that will be done is highly unlikely. Instead of waiting for such experiments, you might as well follow the best treatment for preventing diabetes, which is following the anti inflammatory diet for a lifetime. That is how you control cellular inflammation, which is the driving force for development of type 2 diabetes (5,6).


1. Juliano LM and Griffiths RR. “A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features.” Psychopharmacology 176: 1-29 (2004)

2. Goto A, Song Y, Chen BH, Manson JE, Buring JE, and Liu S. “Coffee and caffeine consumption in relation to sex hormone-binding globulin and risk of type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal women.” Diabetes 60: 269-275 (2011)

3. Sears B. “The Anti-Aging Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1999)

4. Akin F, Bastemir M, and Alkis E. “Effect of insulin sensitivity on SHBG levels in premenopausal versus postmenopausal obese women.” Adv Ther 24: 1210-1220 (2007)

5. Sears B. “Anti-inflammatory diets for obesity and diabetes.” J Coll Amer Nutr 28: 482S-491S (2009)

6. Sears B. “The Anti-Inflammation Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2005)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Aspirin…not just for heart disease

As I pointed in my first book, “The Zone,” more than 15 years ago, aspirin remains a wonder drug because of its ability to reduce inflammation (1). The medical community now uses aspirin for the prevention of strokes and heart attacks, but a recent study may extend its anti-inflammatory benefits to cancer survivors.

A study pre-published online from The Lancet examined various clinical trials comparing the long-term mortality of those individuals who used aspirin or didn’t (2). This meta-analysis study indicated that relatively low-dose aspirin (about 75 mg or a baby aspirin a day) reduced cancer deaths in various long-term cancer survivors by about 20 percent. So should all of us be taking a baby aspirin daily? Possibly, but aspirin does have side effects, especially in terms of bleeding.

But one thing you can do with total safety is to boost your intake of fruits and vegetables. It turns out that fruits and vegetables contain salicylates, the group of compounds that represents the major active ingredient in aspirin. In addition, fruits and vegetables also contain other anti-inflammatory polyphenols (the chemicals that give plants their color). Since plants don’t have access to the local pharmacy to protect themselves from microbial invasion, they have to synthesize their own “drugs”. By consuming fruits and vegetables, we are constantly visiting our “food” pharmacy. Their defense mechanisms now become our nutritional allies in silencing inflammatory gene expression that is turned on when certain food components (such as omega-6 and saturated fats) fool the most primitive part of the immune system (the innate immune system) to think it is under microbial attack.

Most of the inflammation that drives cardiovascular disease and cancer starts with this type of cellular inflammation induced by our diet (3). It’s taken new breakthroughs in molecular biology to finally understand that what’s good for the plant is also going to be great for us if we want to live a longer and better life.

1. Sears B. “The Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (1995)
2. Rothwell PM, Fowkes FG, Belch JF, Ogawa H, Warlow CP, and Meade TW. “Effects of daily aspirin on long-term risk of death due to cancer: analysis of individual patient data from randomized trials.” Lancet, Early Online Publication, 7 December (2010)
3. Sears B. “The Anti-Inflammation Zone.” Regan Books. New York, NY (2005)

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Does eating fat make you fat?

The 1990s brought with it an era of people fearing fat. After all, “if no fat touches my lips, then no fat reaches my hips”. Harvard took charge of this debate and declared war against fat, especially saturated fat. Manufacturers created everything from fat-free yogurt to cookies. Overall, fat intake did decrease nationwide during this time, but the waist lines of the U.S. population continued to expand. Despite recent reports about the Mediterranean diet and the benefits of monounsaturated fats, the low-fat craze still has many hardwired to think that eating higher-fat foods will make them fat. Although calorically speaking, fat is more energy dense than carbohydrates and protein, a recent study may help to ease people’s preconceived notions on the role of fat and weight gain.

There have been inconsistent findings in the literature on whether the type of fat consumed influences weight change. Even studies in which poly and monounsaturated fats have been substituted for saturated fat to lower cardiovascular disease were equally wishy-washy (1). In fact, a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition questions whether dietary fat played a role in future weight gain (2). Of the more than 89,000 men and women studied, overall fat consumption ranged from 31.5 percent to 36.5 percent. No matter the total fat intake or the type of fat consumed, there was no effect on weight gain over the long term in either men or women. Maybe fat doesn’t make you fat.

This only proves you can always tell a Harvard man, you just can’t tell him very much.

1) Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jan 20.

2) Forouhi NG, Sharp SJ, Du H, van der A DL, Halkjaer J, Schulze MB, Tjønneland A, Overvad K, Jakobsen MU, Boeing H, Buijsse B, Palli D, Masala G, Feskens EJ, Sørensen TI, Wareham NJ. Dietary fat intake and subsequent weight change in adults: results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohorts. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Dec;90(6):1632-41.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Study: High-dose, high purity omega-3 oil lowers breast-cancer risk

Breast cancer accounts for more than 25 percent of all female cancers. Breast cancer is also strongly linked to obesity. This means as our obesity crisis accelerates, we can expect breast cancer rates to follow. The reason that breast cancer and obesity are linked is due to cellular inflammation caused by the diet.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Biomarker shown to predict Alzheimer risk

The study of the human genome and the potential for routine genetic testing down the road has brought many hotly debated topics to the table. If your genetic make-up predisposed you for a certain disease whether it is cancer or Alzheimer’s, would you want to know? A study published in the August edition of the Archives of Neurology may bring us closer to having to ask ourselves these tough questions. The study measured a specific protein known to be present in those with Alzheimer’s and looked at the amounts of this protein in the cerebrospinal fluid of individuals with Alzheimer’s, those with mild cognitive impairment, and those having normal cognitive function. Without knowing the clinical diagnosis of the individuals being studied, the detection of this protein was accurately able to classify which individuals had Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment and was able to show the presence of this protein even in those who had normal cognitive function, suggesting that it could be detected prior to showing symptoms (1). The question becomes if you had the option to know you might have a disease despite having no symptoms and despite the fact that treatment options may only slow the disease versus curing it, would you want to know? Tell us what you think.
1. De Meyer G, Shapiro F, Vanderstichele H, Vanmechelen E, Engelborghs S, De Deyn PP, Coart E, Hansson O, Minthon L, Zetterberg H, Blennow K, Shaw L, Trojanowski JQ; for the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. Diagnosis-Independent Alzheimer Disease Biomarker Signature in Cognitively Normal Elderly People. Arch Neurol. 2010 Aug;67(8):949-956.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce breast cancer risk

The list just keeps growing for the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and overall health. The newest to the list is breast cancer. A study just published in the journal of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention surveyed approximately 35,000 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 76, for their use of various specialty supplements (1). The 24-page summary took into account past and present use of supplements as well as frequency (days/week) and duration (year). Individuals taking high purity omega-3 oil had a 32 percent reduced risk of developing breast cancer, whereas other supplements typically taken to reduce menopausal symptoms (e.g., black cohosh, dong quai, soy, or St. John’s wort) had no association. Although further research needs to be conducted, this again adds to the growing body of evidence on the benefits of omega-3s for disease prevention.

Of this survey didn’t answer the question about if they had taken more, would they have seen even better results? This is because cancer like all chronic diseases is driven by silent inflammation coming from increasing levels of Toxic Fat (i.e., arachidonic acid). High purity omega-3 oil dilutes Toxic Fat, but only a strict anti inflammatory diet can actually reduce Toxic Fat. Follow an anti-inflammatory program consisting of a strict anti inflammatory diet, ultra-refined high purity omega-3 oil concentrates and anti-inflammatory polyphenols to reduce the driving force for virtually all chronic disease.
1. Brasky TM, Lampe JW, Potter JD, Patterson RE, White E. Specialty supplements and breast cancer risk in the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2010 Jul;19(7):1696-708.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.

Women can reduce stroke risk with physical activity

A few weeks back we blogged about the Journal of the American Medical Association’s new guidelines for physical activity being raised for women. The study suggested that for women to be successful in maintaining normal weight and gaining fewer pounds, they need to exercise for about 60 minutes per day of moderate-intensity activity (1). That’s a whopping 420 minutes per week! It always seems like the more chaotic our lives get, the harder it becomes to implement guidelines like this within it.

The good news is that it doesn’t take as much activity or even the same moderate intensity to reap the benefits of lowering your risk of chronic disease. A study published this month in the Journal Stroke involved 39,315 healthy women who took part in Women’s Healthy Study. It examined their activity levels and risk of stroke. Over an average follow-up of approximately 12 years, 579 women had a stroke. Although there was no association between vigorous physical activity and stroke risk, there was an inverse relationship between walking time and pace with the risk of having a stroke (2). For women who walked more than two hours per week at a brisk pace (3 to 3.9 mph), there was a significant reduction in their risk of suffering a stroke (3). Almost twice as many women in the United States die of heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases than from all forms of cancer (4). This becomes something simple women can do to lessen their risk and can even be broken up into 10 to 15 minute increments a day to make it more realistic to implement.

1. Lee IM, Djoussé L, Sesso HD, Wang L, Buring JE. Physical activity and weight gain prevention. JAMA. 2010 Mar 24;303(12):1173-9.

2. Sattelmair JR, Kurth T, Buring JE, Lee IM. Physical Activity and Risk of Stroke in Women. Stroke. 2010 Apr 6. [Epub ahead of print]

3. Brisk Walking Reduces Stroke Risk. Available at: Accessed: April 6, 2010

4. Women, Heart Disease and Stroke. Available at: Accessed: April 12, 2010.

Nothing contained in this blog is intended to be instructional for medial diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical concern or issue, please consult your personal physician immediately.