Inflammation is a normal and important process created naturally by our bodies and serves an important role. It helps to get rid of unwanted bacteria, and other invaders. It also assists our bodies in cleaning up dead cells from trauma or infections. When inflammation rises to assist our inner healing intelligence during these special circumstances and then quietly quells when it is no longer needed, no harm is done. But, if the inflammation remains beyond its useful purpose and becomes “chronic” — meaning it stays as an ongoing process in our body over time — it turns into a lethal firestorm, breaking down cells and destroying the natural architectural boundaries of the body’s tissues which makes it easier for tumors to invade and grow. Researchers have found that chronic inflammation not only plays a key role in the commencement and progression of many types of cancers, but it also fuels a wide variety of chronic disorders, including heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease.
One main reason why chronic inflammation can be so devastating to our health is because it doesn’t act alone. It creates additional destructive ammunition: oxygen free radicals. The cells in our immune system use oxygen free radicals like cosmic ray guns to shoot bacteria and other offenders. In the presence of inflammation, these cells release showers of oxygen free radicals and excess oxygen free radicals can cause damage to DNA that can lead to cancer.
Certain foods and stress promote inflammation. Refined carbohydrates, sugar and certain fats (especially trans-fats) are some of the worst offenders. On the other hand, a diet rich in antioxidants found in fresh organically grown fruits and vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids reduces inflammation. Taking supplemental antioxidants and practicing stress reduction techniques are also very beneficial in preventing and reducing inflammation.
INFLAMMATION AND THE COX-2 ENZYME
There’s another way to reduce inflammation. It involves blocking the activity of a key enzyme essential to the process of inflammation. The enzyme is called cyclo-oxygenase 2 or COX-2. A relatively new class of pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories targets the COX-2 enzyme and blocks it or inhibits it. Celebrex and Vioxx are two examples. But pharmaceutical medications, as you are probably aware, are hard on the body and create imbalances that result in potentially serious side effects. When reaching for COX-2 anti-inflammatories, the wisest choice is to choose those made by Nature. Herbal COX-2 inhibitors not only block the “evil” enzyme with equal force, but they also import a fantastic amount of extraordinary intelligence and balance into the body.
Nature’s COX-2 inhibiting pharmacy includes dozens of herbs. The standouts are green tea, turmeric, holy basil, rosemary, ginger, oregano, Scutellaria, barberry, and the Chinese herbs Hu Zhang and Chinese Goldenthread. Researchers at Columbia University are currently studying the effectiveness of an herbal product, called Zyflamend, composed of a mixture of all of these potent herbal anti-inflammatories against prostate and breast cancer. The details of the study will be discussed in the upcoming section on “Zyflamend and Cancer.”
Leading complementary and alternative physicians, like Dr. Andrew Weil, prescribe Zyflamend for their patients with inflammatory conditions. It is also used at the Cleveland Clinic Spine Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If you want learn more about the properties of the herbs in Zyflamend, there’s an excellent book I recommend called Beyond Aspirin (Newmark and Schulick, Hohm Press 2000).
CANCER AND THE COX-2 ENZYME
Researchers have found that inflammation isn’t the only thing that the COX-2 enzyme takes part in. It also plays a key role in the initiation and growth of several cancers including cancers of the colon, prostate, and breast. The COX-2 enzyme stimulates breast cells to start dividing and growing. It also prevents tumor cells from undergoing normal cell death, so more tumor cells stay alive, accelerating the growth of the tumor. The more tumor cells there are — the faster and bigger the tumor grows. The COX-2 enzyme also encourages new blood vessels to grow. New blood vessels are continually required to deliver enough nutrients and oxygen-laden blood to feed an expanding tumor. The more nutrients and oxygen the tumor gets — the bigger and faster it will grow.
Tumor cells are able to invade normal tissue more aggressively as a response to COX-2. COX-2 also increases the tumor’s ability to metastasize or spread to other parts of the body and suppresses the immune system so that it can’t fight off cancer cells as well. It also increases the production of mutagens — substances that cause mutations in our DNA that can lead to cancer. When you add them all up, all these nasty effects of the COX-2 enzyme powerfully promote tumor growth in our body. It’s no wonder studies show taking anti-inflammatories that blocks all the ill effects of the COX-2 enzyme can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 50%.
Some tumors show an “over-expression” of the COX-2 enzyme. What this means is that these tumor cells have a lot more active COX-2 enzymes than normal tissue usually does. The tumors that frequently show over-expression of the COX-2 enzyme include cancers of the colon, prostate and breast. Not all breast cancers over-express the COX-2 enzyme. Researchers found about 50% of breast cancers do.
According to a study published in the Austria British Journal of Cancer in 2003, women with breast tumors that over-express COX-2 are more likely to have their tumors recur, or come back, in a short period of time after treatment. Patients with these types of tumors also have an overall poorer survival.
COX-2 INHIBITORS AND BREAST CANCER
As discussed above, certain anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical medications, like Celebrex, are designed to work by blocking or inhibiting the COX-2 enzyme. All the herbs found in Zyflamend inhibit the COX-2 enzyme too. Research shows all COX-2 inhibitors, not surprisingly, have powerful anti-cancer properties. In experimental animals, they have been found to significantly reduce the formation of breast tumors and the number of tumors that grow in response to a carcinogen. They also inhibit the growth of tumors once they have formed. Researchers at Ohio State University in a study published in 2001, found a direct relationship between the amount of COX-2 inhibitor that was given and the number of breast tumors that formed in the test animals. The higher the dose of a COX-2 inhibitor that was given, the lower the incidence of breast tumors that formed.
COX-2 INHIBITORS AND CANCER RISK FACTORS COX-2 inhibitors lower the risk of cancer in 2 major ways. They reduce inflammation and they block the COX-2 enzyme expression in tumors. As you learned above, inflammation creates copious amounts of oxygen free radicals and destroys natural tissue boundaries making it easier for tumors to grow. The COX-2 enzyme has a multitude of ways that it promotes the inception and cultivation of tumors. COX-2 enzyme inhibitors block every one of these tumor fostering processes.
This information is used with permission by Christine Horner, MD www.drchristinehorner.com