The right foods, supplements and herbs can greatly reduce inflammation, which is strongly linked to cancer and other diseases.

Your body’s ability to heal and repair itself is largely due to the process of inflammation: when you are injured, a co-ordinated response of cells targets the area, creating pain, redness and heat, which cleans up the site. So, some inflammation is beneficial – but what happens when it occurs for too long or in too much of the body?

Evidence suggests that chronic inflammation can initiate cancer and promote tumour growth. This “fire within” increases nitric oxide, prostaglandins and thromboxanes in the body, inflammatory by-products that elevate your susceptibility to a variety of cancers, including gastrointestinal, oesophageal, gastric, liver, pancreatic and colorectal. One study showed that one in every 10 patients with ulcerative colitis (inflammatory bowel disease) will eventually develop colorectal cancer, while other estimates are that chronic inflammation is evident in at least one-third of all cancers.

An initial indicator of inflammation in the body is a blood measure of c-reactive protein (CRP). High CRP levels indicate potential for certain cancers as well as cardiovascular disease. Additional signs of inflammation include a raised ESR (the rate in which red blood cells stick to each other), swelling, oedema, and pain. Sources of persistent trauma that exacerbate inflammation include smoking, alcohol, pollutants, extreme exercise, lack of sleep, excess abdominal fat, and a diet high in saturated and trans fats and excess carbohydrates. Here’s how to eat to beat inflammation.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Inflammation is triggered by an imbalance of fatty acids – specifically, too many omega-6s and too few of the healthy omega-3s, which help the body make hormone-like substances called eicosanoids, which regulate inflammation. Most foods in the Western diet – sugar, red meat, dairy, most fast food, refined and processed foods like white flour, and food additives – are to blame. Avoid margarine, baked goods, fast food, biscuits, sweets and anything that has “hydrogenated” on the label. To restore balance, choose flaxseed, olive and walnut oils, and aim for 2-3 servings of fresh coldwater fish – salmon, mackerel, sardines – per week. It’s also a good idea to take at least 1,000mg of fish oil daily.


Vitamins A, C, E, and the minerals zinc and selenium are abundant in colourful fruits and vegetables and assist in neutralising harmful free radicals by preventing their oxidation and minimising inflammation. Eat red, yellow and orange foods like sweet potato and carrots for their beta-carotene, tomatoes for lycopene, leafy greens like kale for lutein, and blue-red berries for their anthocyanidins.


Cruciferous vegetables – broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, watercress – contain sulphoraphane and indole-3-carbinol which neutralise chemicals and promote their disposal. Just 3-5 servings a week will have an anti-inflammatory effect.


Studies consistently show that turmeric has anti-inflammatory effects on cells, as do garlic, rosemary, and ginger. When eaten often, antioxidant levels can be improved, cancer progression can be delayed, and detoxification is boosted.


Green tea contains powerful catechins and polyphenols that have shown to reduce cancerous tumours, plus, it blocks mutagens (factors that damage cell DNA), acts as an antioxidant, antibacterial, and antiviral, and protects against chemicals and radiation. For best therapeutic benefit, have five or more cups daily. You can also take supplements of concentrated extracts of green tea.


This flavonoid is found in red wine, grapefruit, onions, apples, black tea and the herbs garlic and ginkgo biloba. Quercetin has several anticancer actions, including inhibiting the flow of histamines, the chemicals your immune system sends towards perceived allergens, that causes inflamed tissue; it also acts as an antioxidant.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has proven the best defence against the development of cancer. When activated, vitamin D is a hormone that regulates the immune system, reduces inflammation and stops cancer cell proliferation by encouraging apoptosis (programmed cell death). Low serum levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk for developing cancer. Aim for 2000–5000IU per day.

O for an onion

Onions are rich in quercetin, a powerful type of antioxidant flavonoid that reduces cancer risk. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Italian researchers analysed diet and health data from thousands of people. They found a consistent pattern of protection – the more onions in the diet, the less cancer. Specifically, they found that, compared with those who ate the fewest onions, those who ate the most onions had lower risks for developing:
* Colon cancer: 56 percent lower risk
* Breast cancer: 25 percent lower risk
* Prostate cancer: 71 percent lower risk
* Ovarian cancer: 73 percent lower risk
* Oesophageal cancer: 82 percent lower risk
* Oral cancer: *4 percent lower risk
* Kidney cancer: 38 percent lower risk

Nicola Howell in a naturopath, herbalist and iridologist.