Inflammation and Cancer
I know I mentioned Mary Shenouda’s Phat Fudge in my previous post, but I wanted to focus on digging into three of her key ingredients in regard to inflammation. You see, Phat Fudge is now packaged almost like a nut butter. When Mary originally published the recipe, she had frozen it into silicone ice cube trays - like, well, fudge. How did she come about this recipe? Well, originally it was “unicorn fuel” that she added to her morning coffee, and one morning, the recipe got a little out of hand, and she ended up making it into fudge instead of a beverage enhancer. As I worked to tweak the recipe for my own taste, I removed the maca and substituted in ginger (and on some days I love to blend in cardamom too!) For reference, the recipe: https://paleochef.com/2014/11/19/phat-fudge-recipe/
So why does this miraculous phat fudge “work”? Well, it’s sort of like a fat bomb/keto bomb. There’s a little bit of honey, but the key ingredients that attracted me from the beginning were: raw cacao powder, turmeric, cayenne, and in my case, ginger. While cayenne is an anti-inflammatory, for the purposes of this post, I’ll leave it out. In addition, as we know, many cancer patients are struggling with autoimmune conditions (diagnosed or not), and some autoimmune patients do better with the elimination of nightshades, and cayenne being a nightshade just echoes the removal for the focus of this particular post.
Since most of the people (especially women) I know are chocolate lovers, and we’ve all been told chocolate is good for cramps (thanks, magnesium!), let’s start with diving into why cacao powder (or 100% cocoa powder) is such a wonderful anti-inflammatory superfood. I found the article, Impact of Cocoa Consumption on Inflammation Processes—A Critical Review of Randomized Controlled Trials, interesting as the article DOES highlight a lot of the positives of cocoa specifically. It’s blanketly stated that cocoa does contain anti-inflammatory principles due to flavanols, and the study assessed the impact of cocoa on particular subjects. While findings did vary in, for example, cardiovascular patients, vs Type 2 Diabetes patients, this particular study highlights exactly why studies MUST be reviewed thoroughly. The ultimate conclusion did lend the thought to agreement that cocoa may reduce inflammation, more than likely due to reduced activation of monocytes and neutrophils. HOWEVER, the study is flawed. In reviewing the TYPES of cocoa used with patients, Mars bars like Dove Dark Chocolate and beverages like Nestle Noir intense were used. This is not 100% raw cacao powder, and I do not believe these products source the nutrient dense organic cacao we are discussing. The cocoa they are using in Randomized Controlled Trials is potentially poorly sourced and chemically laden cocoa mixed with sugar of unknown sources. We already know sugar is highly inflammatory, so again, while the study did present some interesting findings, it’s flawed as they didn’t isolate the particular superfood they were aiming to study.
Dr. Andrew Weil goes on to address this specific concern in his post, Is Cocoa As Healthy As Dark Chocolate?, addressing that quality is what really matters, stating that most commercially available cocoa products have been so heavily processed that most flavanoids are removed. To address the specific question, he goes on to explain that drinking cocoa may be correlated with “low incidence of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer among Kuna Islanders”, who were said to consume 5 cups of cocoa per day (concentration of cocoa not disclosed). He ultimately goes on to recommend an ounce or two of 70% or higher dark chocolate several times a week, noting you should not be concerned with the amount of fat in dark chocolate, and 70% or higher lends to much lower amounts of sugar. Authors of Dark Chocolate Effect on Serum Adiponectin, Biochemical and Inflammatory Parameters in Diabetic Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial go on to explore a better controlled RCT focused specifically on the effect of cocoa in Type 2 diabetic patients. They specifically used 84% dark chocolate in combination with therapeutic lifestyle changes (undisclosed). The results showed that “fasting blood sugar, hemoglobin A1C, low-density lipoprotein, and triglyceride levels declined significantly <in the dark chocolate group>. Tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-6, and a high sensitive C-reactive protein were significantly decreased <in the dark chocolate group>”.
So if we know the higher the concentration of cocoa (and lower concentrations of sugar) prove to show anti-inflammatory results, let’s talk about turmeric. My favorite way to consume turmeric is with cacao, but there are numerous ways to incorporate it into a daily diet - but let’s look at why. While this particular article didn’t focus on a study, Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health does a great job of highlighting the benefits and components of turmeric. Curcumin, a polyphenol, is found predominately in turmeric, and is shown to aide in the management of oxidative stress, inflammatory conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, etc. In focusing on specifically oxidative stress, the article notes that it’s been observed in many chronic diseases, and that pathologically it’s very closely related to inflammation. What does that mean for curcumin? Well, they’ve observed that curcumin has been shown to “block NF-kB activation increased by several different inflammatory stimuli…<and it has> also been shown to suppress inflammation through many different mechanisms beyond the scope of this study”. Sebastien Noel echoes the impact of turmeric in his article, Turmeric and Curcumin: How to Get the Anti-Inflammatory Benefits, noting that it’s been observed as a powerful cure for everything from “general inflammation to diabetes to cancer”. One key observation he includes is that it may be thought that humans don’t readily absorb curcumin, and may need a supplement enhancer. He comments that black pepper acts as an enhancer, so either in real food or supplement form, you may see the two combined frequently.
Jeremy Appleton takes a look at the combined benefits of Turmeric and Frankincense in the Natural Medicine Journal. He cites that curcumin has shown to downregulate the COX-2 and iNOS enzymes, noting that this is likely why we also see a decrease in NF-kB, which can inhibit “proliferation of prostate cancer, multiple myeloma, mantel cell lymphoma, bladder cancer, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), ovarian cancer, glioblastoma, and lung cancer.” The other echoing factor through several articles (Natural Medicine Journal included) is that turmeric is a part of the ginger family, so let’s dive a little deeper into ginger itself.
Ginger was a huge part of my diet staple during my first trimester helping control nausea, but it’s also a key component to controlling inflammation. Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence explains that ginger is rich in gingerols, shogal, and paradols, stating that those key ingredients can help prevent cancers. Gingerols specifically have been cited as antioxidants, meaning it may reduce oxidative stress created via free radicals and ROS. It’s also shown that these key compounds inhibit the growth of pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-1 and TNFa, inhibiting prostaglandin synthesis. Several different cancer types such as colorectal and gastric cancer are also cited with external studies, highlighting ginger as a benefit due to the anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer impacts discussed above. One of my favorite sources of ginger (although it typically contains sugar) are the chews and hard candy made by the Ginger People. No, it’s not as healthy as freshly grated ginger, but it’s a good option to have on the go. Interestingly enough, Ginger People published an article by Alexandra Rothwell Kelly, MPH, RD, that happens to discuss the impact of ginger and inflammation. Much like the previous article, Kelly notes that the phytochemicals in ginger (gingerols and shogal) have significant ability to inhibit synthesis of pro-inflammatory molecules. She notes that in relation to cancer, ginger inhibits NF-kB, making it preventative against “cancers of the colon, stomach, ovaries, liver, skin, breast and prostate”. This again echoes much of what was presented in the first ginger-focused article, supporting the continued theme of ginger’s powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. She also suggests using the Ginger People ginger juice blended into smoothies, or blending turmeric root with ginger (there’s that combination!) with cold water for a spicy morning cocktail.
All of the above ingredients can be incorporated into your daily food and beverage intake quite easily. A little cacao in your coffee (or just cacao with hot water and maybe a touch of honey or maple syrup if it needs to be sweetened!), add in turmeric and ginger to coffee as well. Blend any or all of these ingredients into a delicious smoothie, add turmeric to your chicken, ginger to a salad, the options go on infinitely. Freshly grated turmeric and ginger are wonderful options, but many also make supplemental forms (and even blends) with these wonderful roots. They’re also considered 100% safe for preventative purposes, and can help keep inflammation at healthy levels.
1. Sarah Ballantyne, ‘Spices on the AutoImmune Protocol”, July 26, 2012, https://www.thepaleomom.com/spices-on-autoimmune-protocol/
2. Sabine Ellinger, Peter Stehle, ‘ Impact of Cocoa Consumption on Inflammation Processes—A Critical Review of Randomized Controlled Trials’, May 26, 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4924162/
3. Andrew Weil, MD, ‘Is Cocoa As Healthy As Dark Chocolate?’, August 29, 2011, https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/is-cocoa-as-healthy-as-dark-chocolate/
4. Sima Jafarirad, Nina Ayoobi, Majid Karandish, Mohammad-Taha Jalali, Mohammad Hossein Haghighizadeh, and Alireza Jahanshahi, ‘Dark Chocolate Effect on Serum Adiponectin, Biochemical and Inflammatory Parameters in Diabetic Patients: A Randomized Clinical Trial’, October 12, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6202779/
5. Susan J. Hewlings, Douglas S. Kalman, ‘Curcumin: A Review of Its’ Effects on Human Health’, October 22, 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5664031/
6. Sebastien Noel, ‘Turmeric and Curcumin: How to Get the Anti-Inflammatory Benefits’, November 17, 2015, https://paleoleap.com/turmeric-curcumin-anti-inflammatory-benefits/
7. Jeremy Appleton, ND, ‘Turmeric and Frankincense in Inflammation: An Update’, September 2011, https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2011-09/turmeric-and-frankincense-inflammation-update
8. Nafiseh Shokri Mashhadi, Reza Ghiasvand, Gholamreza Askari, Mitra Hariri, Leila Darvishi, Mohammad Reza Mofid, ‘Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence’, April 4, 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
9. Alexandra Rothwell Kelly, MPH, RD, ‘Ginger and Inflammation’, January 2019, https://gingerpeople.com/news/ginger-and-inflammation/