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The Best Diet Against Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Continuing my series of articles on dietary recommendations for particular types of breast cancer, this one is directed towards those who have been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.
What Exactly is Inflammatory Breast Cancer?
Inflammatory breast cancer ( or “IBC”) is a more unusual form of invasive breast cancer that affects the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast, causing the breast to become red and inflamed.
Where most breast cancers form a lump (known as the tumor) IBC spreads along and blocks the lymphatic vessels in the skin of the breast. Lymphatic vessels are responsible for removing excess fluids and waste products from the body to help prevent infections. When lymphatic vessels become blocked, the breast becomes red and swollen, similar to an infection. This is what gives IBC its name.
Only about 1-2% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have IBC, so it’s reasonably rare and often misdiagnosed. The majority of women diagnosed with IBC range in age between 40-59.
Diet and Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Because IBC tends to be a more rare form of breast cancer, few studies on people have investigated the effectiveness of a certain type of diet for its beneficial effects on IBC. Having said that, a few studies have demonstrated the impact of food extracts on IBC cells in the laboratory and those studies have indicated these three foods to have benefit for IBC patients:
Despite the lack of studies on humans, it only makes sense that by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet you will be helping to heal IBC. Cancer is inflammation, after all. Prof Fran Balkwill of Cancer Research UK states “If genetic damage is the match that lights the fire, inflammation may provide the fuel that feeds the flames.”
Food That You Should Include In Your Diet If You Have Inflammatory Breast Cancer
Wherever possible, try to ensure that the items from the list below are organic, because if you are trying to heal from cancer you need to stay away from conventionally grown produce and meats as much as possible due to pesticide residues in produce and, in the case of meats, growth stimulators and antibiotics. You really need to keep the toxin load at a minimum to give your body the best chance to heal. If you are unable to obtain organically grown produce, just make sure to wash it extremely well. Soak produce in a tub or pail of fresh water with a little white vinegar for a few minutes, then rinse well.
Here’s the list of foods and spices (or their components) which have been found to decrease inflammation:
- Oily fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation;
- Freshly ground flaxseed – for the same reason as above – the omega 3 fatty acids and flaxseed’s lignans with their uncanny ability to decrease the growth of breast cancer4;
- Whole grains – in moderation. Quinoa, brown rice, steel cut oats, bulgur wheat are good. Consuming whole grains can be helpful for keeping inflammation at bay. Avoid refined, white bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. Whole grains have more fiber, which has been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood, and they usually have less sugar;
- Dark, leafy greens – full of vitamin E which is key for protecting the body from pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines. Spinach, kale, broccoli, collard greens, etc are great, they also tend to have higher concentrations of key vitamins and minerals and natural phytochemicals which fight disease than veggies with lighter-colored leaves;
- Bell peppers contain high quantities of antioxidant vitamins. Hot chilies are also useful – they are rich in capsaicin, a chemical used in topical creams that reduce pain and inflammation;
- Beets and their juice (raw of course) have excellent antioxidant properties, vitamins, fiber and plant pigments which have been shown to reduce inflammation, as well as protect against cancer;
- Fresh basil and peppermint – full of antioxidants, highly anti-inflammatory;
- Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have linked ginger to lowered post-exercise inflammation and a decrease in joint pain caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. They aren’t sure why this happens, only that it is beneficial for inflammation;
- Turmeric is potently anti-inflammatory. Research indicates it is able to turn off a NF-kappa B, a protein that regulates the immune system and triggers the process of inflammation;
- Garlic shuts off the pathways that lead to inflammation in the body;
- Onions contain quercetin and allicin, which breaks down to produce free radical-fighting sulfenic acid;
- Orange food – sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, pumpkin, apricots – all high in vitamins C and E and the carotenoids, alpha- and beta-carotene, which are potent anti-inflammatories;
- Extra virgin olive oil contains oleocanthal (it’s a phytochemical that gives olive oil its taste) and it has been shown to have a similar effect as NSAID painkillers in the body;
- Coconut oil has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties 5;
- Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, bilberries, etc) are a rich source of anthocyanins, powerful phytochemicals that give the berries their rich colors and are potent anti-inflammatories;
- Raisins – eating raisins helps to reduce a marker of inflammation known as TNF-alpha;
- Tart cherries – a 2012 study found that tart cherries have the “highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.”6 The study indicated that tart cherry juice can reduce inflammation in the blood of lab rats by up to 50%. In humans, tart cherries have been shown to help athletes improve performance and reduce their use of anti-inflammatory pain medications. They contain high levels of anthocyanins 1 and 2. A therapeutic dose is 1-1/2 cups of tart cherries per day – or 1 cup of tart cherry juice. Sweet cherries don’t have the same effects;
- Cruciferous vegetables such as arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, kale and wasabi, because they are rich in sulfur, which helps your liver detox;
- Vitamin D – research indicates that adequate levels of vitamin D are important for inhibiting the metastasis of IBC 7
This is not an exhaustive list – indeed, there are many other foods which are known to have anti-cancer benefits. See my page Diet and Cancer for a list of other foods that have anti-cancer activity.
I recommend that breast cancer patients and survivors with IBC include as many as they can of the things on the “good” list above and limit or avoid the “please avoid” things that appear below.
Please Avoid These
No food list is complete without mentioning the things that should be avoided for inflammatory breast cancer because they have been shown to promote breast cancer growth. Those things are:
White and other highly processed breads, cereals, white rice, pasta, sugar in all its forms, most fruit (because of the fruit sugars), most dairy products, alcohol, cigarette smoking.
A Warning About Copper
According to the website foodforbreastcancer.com, “Circulating copper levels have been shown to correlate with tumor incidence and burden. Inducing copper deficiency reduced tumor growth and angiogenesis in a mouse model of IBC.” It was recommended to avoid the following high-copper foods:
Calf’s liver or veal liver
Shellfish, especially oysters & lobster
Soybean products made with defatted soy flour, soybeans
Chocolate, dark & cocoa powder
Nuts, especially cashews, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, and pistachio nuts
Cooked shiitake mushrooms
Sunflower seeds & pumpkin seeds
Sun dried tomatoes
Special note: kale also contains plenty of copper but the good benefits of kale – its detoxification and anti-cancer properties – I feel outweigh the copper concern. If you were worried about it, you could take an antacid after eating kale or the foods listed above because the stomach requires an acid environment to properly absorb copper. Antacids interfere with this absorption.
Essential Oils May Play a Role In Anti-Inflammatory Process
One last item – there are also quite a number of essential oils which research has indicated may be helpful for inflammatory conditions. Nearly every single essential oil has anti-inflammatory benefits. I have been writing articles about essential oils for The Truth About Cancer website, so head on over there and put “essential oils” into the search field.
Thanks in part to http://foodforbreastcancer.com/ for some of the dietary recommendations in this article. Written by Sarah Charles, also a breast cancer survivor and a woman of sharp intellect, Sarah has a mathematics degree from UCLA and is a Harvard graduate.
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I see kale listed as a food to eat, but then when researching foods highest in copper, I see that it comes in number 2, second only to Oysters. Is that because kales positive effects outweigh the negative of the copper? thanks for all the great information, Marnie.
Dear Wendee, thanks for your comment and good for you for checking on this. You are indeed correct about kale containing copper, but yes – because kale is such a potent detoxifier and cancer-fighter, the positive aspects of kale outweigh this. Here’s a neat little tip though – and I will add it to my article – for someone with inflammatory breast cancer who wanted to consume foods containing copper, just have an antacid afterward as antacids interfere with the absorption of copper. Hope that helps to clear up any confusion!