Ethics in Medicine

Inflammation as Common Root of Heart Disease and Cancer

Kristen Sparrow • September 29, 2017

This author also wrote the article in the New Yorker cited here.   So insightful!  It makes me realize that I’ve been glib in touting acupuncture to decrease inflammation.  There are (obvious to me now) many types of inflammation.  In my defense, the overall health benefits of lowering stress levels and increasing vagal activity are more widely applicable to inflammation.  In this article they are looking at specific medications, targeting one specific pathway.  But this article still bolsters me efforts to use every safe strategy I can to show stress level improvement and increased HRV.

The key mediator of inflammation discussed here is interleukin-1-beta.  When this was inhibited in patients with coronary artery disease and signs of inflammation, their incidence of stroke and heart attack declined.  So did all cause mortality from cancer, particularly lung cancer.  This is an early study, of course, but perhaps promising.  They go on to make the point that there are many types of inflammation..  Dr James Allison, a pioneer in immunotherapy for cancer says “It’s a response to injury, mediated by immunological cells.  But there are dozens of cell types communicating through even further dozens of signals.”  So inflammation is a sort of “waste basket” term, that is a catch all phrase for the above.  Still, if we take into account Mukherjee’s earlier article discussing “seed and soil” in reference to cancer,  I think we’re on firm footing in attempting to optimize the “soil” through safe interventions to reduce stress which should improve immunity.  We have some evidence that acupuncture decreases pro-inflammatory molecules in particular interleukin-1-beta, at least in mice.  (and here)

We also know from Tracey’s work that vagal enhancement decreases pro-inflammatory molecules also.  So acupuncture may help optimize the “soil” in a number of ways.


“Some element of inflammation that drives plaque formation in coronary disease is also driving cancer progression. It’s a study that needs careful replication; the analysis was designed to suggest a hypothesis, not to prove it. There are questions about drug pricing and the risks of infections and low blood counts. But if the benefit holds up in future trials, interleukin-1-beta inhibition could eventually rank among the most effective prevention strategies in the recent history of cancer.”

Addendum:  Upon reading this article again, today being 6.4.2020, I think this kind of study makes an even stronger case for using an interventions like acupuncture.  Apparently identifying one single interleukin might lead to problems.  Better to let the body itself sort it out with acupuncture.