Fatigue In Breast Cancer Survivors Linked To Inflammation

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Marin

Image source: freedigitalphotos.net / Marin

Fatigue In Breast Cancer Survivors Linked To Inflammation

A common complaint amongst breast cancer survivors, especially if they have been through the gamut of conventional medicine treatments, is fatigue.  I hear this all of the time and, indeed, suffered through it myself after going through 6 months of chemotherapy.

The Link Between Fatigue, Inflammation and Chemotherapy

An interesting study reported in 2012 [1] found that high levels of inflammation may promote fatigue in women treated for breast cancer.

The study followed 633 women, all breast cancer survivors with an average age of 56 years and treated for stage I, II or III breast cancer.  It was discovered that 40% of the women in the study had elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in their blood, which is a marker of inflammation.  40% of the women also suffered from fatigue.  Interestingly, women with elevated CRP levels were 1.8 times more likely to feel fatigue.

“Fatigue is common among breast cancer survivors and may persist for years after cancer treatment, clustering with comorbid symptoms such as depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and pain that reduce participation in life activities and quality of life”, researchers reported.

This makes sense, especially in view of the fact that chemotherapy and radiation are both associated with increasing inflammation in the body.  In fact, a recent study [2] indicated that chemotherapy leaves a long-lasting epigenetic imprint in the DNA of the blood cells of breast cancer patients and that imprint is associated with inflammation up to 6 months after treatment is completed!

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fats Play A Role In Inflammation

Going back to the first study and those 633 women [1] the researchers investigated the intake of omega-3 fats, which are highly anti-inflammatory, as well as omega-6 fat intake, which tends to be pro-inflammatory.  It was found that a higher intake of omega-6 fats (found in most cooking oils and processed foods) was associated with both higher CRP levels and a 2.6 greater likelihood of feeling fatigued.

Conversely, women who were including omega-3 fats in their diet had the lowest levels of CRP and reported feeling less fatigue.

Inflammation Is Associated With Reduced Survival

It is well known that inflammation is associated with reduced survival among women with breast cancer [3] and inflammation also increases the risk of atherosclerosis and development of further cancers.  Cancer is, after all, an inflammatory condition.

The good thing is there is something we can do about all of this.

Good Nutrition and Omega-3s Are Helpful

Both inflammation and fatigue can be improved with simple dietary changes.  Follow the recommendations on my page Diet And Cancer and include plenty of fresh salads, vegetables, whole grains and modest amounts of fruit in your diet. And most especially, get those healing omega-3 fats into you!

Omega-3 fats are easily included in the diet and the best source is freshly ground organic flaxseed.  Freshly ground is best because the fats have not degenerated as with some commercially prepared flaxseed oils and freshly ground includes the best quality fiber and lignans.

The 15 Best Reasons To Take Flaxseed

Flaxseed has been shown to have wonderful health benefits – here are 15 of the best things it does for us:

  1. May protect against primary breast cancer [4], [6] 
  2. Decreases incidence of hot flashes [6]
  3. Increases cancer cell death [6]
  4. Decreases HER2 expression (a protein associated with breast cancer malignancy) [6] 
  5. Decreases breast cancer cell proliferation [5], [6]
  6. Improves normal cell membranes
  7. Improves breast density
  8. Exhibits anti-invasive properties [5] 
  9. Decreases risk of primary breast cancer [4], [5], [6]
  10. Reduces risk of breast cancer mortality by 33-70 percent [5], [6]
  11. Increases effectiveness of tamoxifen [5]
  12. Increases effectiveness of Herceptin [5]
  13. Improves mental health and depression [6], [7]
  14. Good for bowel health due to high fiber content
  15. Great for cardiovascular health

16 Tips For Including More Flaxseed Into Your Diet

A common complaint among breast cancer survivors is that they simply forget or can’t be bothered grinding up the flaxseed and finding ways to incorporate it into their diet, so here are my best tips on delicious ways you can use it:

  1. Sprinkle it on salads
  2. Add it to freshly prepared juices
  3. Put it in smoothies
  4. Put it in sandwiches by mixing it with mustard, mayo or mashed avocado (that way it doesn’t fall out!)
  5. Mix it into muesli, granola, or oatmeal
  6. Mix it into hummus or dips
  7. Mix it into guacamole
  8. Mix it into protein shakes
  9. Add it to organic yogurt
  10. Combine it with organic cottage cheese for some extra special anti-cancer properties (see the Budwig Diet)
  11. Sprinkle it on vegetables
  12. Sprinkle it on soup just before serving
  13. Mix it into baked goods
  14. Mix it in with any nut butter
  15. Sprinkle it into casseroles
  16. Mix it into pancake batter

References:
1. Fatigue, Inflammation, and Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acid Intake Among Breast Cancer Survivors — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341143/
2. Epigenetic changes associated with inflammation in breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy — http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0889159114000567
3. Elevated biomarkers of inflammation are associated with reduced survival among breast cancer patients — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2717751/
4. Consumption of flaxseed, a rich source of lignans, is associated with reduced breast cancer risk — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23354422
5. Flaxseed and its lignan and oil components: can they play a role in reducing the risk of and improving the treatment of breast cancer — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24869971
6. Flax and Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review — http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24013641
7. Omega-3 fatty acids and major depression: A primer for the mental health professional — http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1476-511X-3-25.pdfDoesYou

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