Gluten-free diets are a must for people with celiac disease. When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, a protein found in grains, it triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. But does it also pay to avoid gluten if you have breast cancer or are seeking to prevent it?
Wade Smith, M.D., a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at City of Hope Newport Beach Fashion Island, discusses what to know about how gluten, inflammation, and breast cancer are related.
Q. What is chronic inflammation, and what causes it?
Inflammation is your body’s way of fighting against infections, injuries, toxins, and other things that harm it. occurs when this response lingers, leaving the body in a constant state of alert. Chronic inflammation can last for prolonged periods — several months to years. It can damage tissues and organs, and it is associated with serious medical conditions like cancer and stroke.
Q. Are inflammation and breast cancer connected?
There are several reasons to believe inflammation and many types of cancer are linked, although the exact role inflammation plays in the development of breast cancer remains uncertain. One reason is that inflammation can damage DNA, which can cause cancer. Another is that inflammation produces molecules that stimulate the growth of blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the tumor. This allows the cancer to grow. Researchers are actively investigating whether controlling inflammation can lower breast cancer risk.
Q. Are there ways to avoid chronic inflammation? What role does diet play?
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help avoid chronic inflammation. Eat lean sources of protein and whole foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains like brown rice, and avoid highly processed food. Even if they do not contain gluten, processed foods tend to cause weight gain, which in turn is a cause of chronic inflammation.
Gluten causes inflammation mostly in people with celiac disease or those who have a gluten intolerance. Cutting gluten can be particularly beneficial if you’re already experiencing some symptoms of a gluten-intolerance like stomach pains, fatigue, or skin reactions when you consume gluten products.
Also, leaving causes of acute (sudden onset) inflammation untreated can lead to chronic inflammation, so listen to your body and get injuries checked out promptly.
Q. Should breast cancer patients who don’t have celiac disease go gluten-free anyway? Can it help them feel better, fight side effects, or possibly prevent recurrence?
A. There does not appear to be clear-cut evidence yet that shows whether a gluten-free diet can help fight cancer or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment. What we know for sure is that if people have celiac disease or gluten-intolerance, they should avoid gluten. There is no compelling reason to eliminate gluten completely if you do not have either of those conditions.
Whether gluten-tolerant or gluten-restricted, everyone can enjoy this flavorful gluten-free soup courtesy of City of Hope Executive Chef Christian Eggerling.
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