Research recently published in the Lancet offers another reason to shed excess fat: to possibly reduce your cancer risk.
The large study observed the health changes of 5.24 million British adults and found that a higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with 17 different cancers and raised the risk of 10 especially common ones. This included cancers of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, cervix, and thyroid, as well as leukemia. Higher BMI may also increase the risk of cancers of the liver, color, ovaries, and breast.
The authors estimate that if body mass continues to rise, the result could be an additional 3500 cancers every year – cancers that might otherwise be avoided.
As startling as these numbers might seem, though, they aren’t entirely surprising. Obesity and cancer have a common denominator: inflammation.
For instance, a 2010 study in Mediators of Inflammation observed that obesity factors and diet trigger inflammation pathways which may stay activated. This results in a condition known as chronic inflammation, which itself is associated with a host of medical problems and illnesses.
More recently, research out of Brandeis University showed that being obese not only results in chronic inflammation but also stress-related inflammation, which one of the study’s authors called “a double hit.”
The researchers observed both lean and overweight participants for levels of a stress-related inflammatory agent called IL-6 during two stress tests. Both groups had the same results during the first test.
Then it got interesting.
On the first day of testing, lean and overweight individuals reacted similarly to stress, despite higher starting levels of IL-6 in overweight participants. On the second day of testing, however, the IL-6 levels of overweight participants nearly doubled, while the levels of lean participants remained the same as on the first day.
The researchers observed that the relationship between BMI and IL-6 levels was linear—the higher the BMI, even among lean individuals, the higher the IL-6.
Translation: The heavier the individual, the greater their degree of inflammation. Or, to put it another way, increased weight can decrease the body’s ability to respond to stress.
Chronic inflammation may explain why being overweight/obese is associated with other inflammatory diseases.
Chronic inflammation, as one writer aptly describes it, is “like starting a small camp fire meant to keep you warm that doesn’t get put out and grows into an out of control forest fire, burning 100,000 acres.”
Your body constantly thinks it’s on the offensive, so it never relaxes. Your immune system is compromised, making it harder to fight off the damaged cells.
And what is so deceptive about all this is that while chronic inflammation is causing progressive gradual damage inside the body, we cannot feel this on the outside until things break down on a much larger scale.
So how do we prevent this naturally?
Daily exercise and a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet help your body reduce inflammation and reduces the risks of chronic disease. Plus, these habits help you maintain a healthy weight, which in turn helps you stay healthier and have more energy. If you have more energy, you not only can exercise more but may want to exercise more!
Exercise also helps your body release chemicals through your pores and sweat, thus reducing some chemical buildups that could also negatively affect your health.
Like most chronic illnesses, cancer is complex and multifactorial, triggered by both genetic predispositions and environmental factors. Unfortunately, there’s no magic way to prevent cancer, but a healthy lifestyle puts you at an advantage. Setting goals of getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly – even 10 minutes of modest exercise a day – and being conscious of good food choices can do wonders for you.
Take a few steps today for a healthier tomorrow.
Image by Sean MacEntee