Exercise, prostaglandins & immunity

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Prostaglandins are essentially involved in the healing process of our body. They are biologically active healthy lipids generated from arachidonic acid via the enzyme cyclo-oxidase (COX).  The COX-1 subtype is activated in response to trauma, infective or chemical injury producing prostaglandins which contribute to the inflammatory response causing the inflammatory response we are all familiar with, for example following wasp stink or healing from a skin cut - vasodilatation and fenestration of the tiny blood vessels leading to redness, swelling and pain. Prostaglandins created by activation of COX-1 are also involved in several important physiological processes including protection of the lining of the stomach and stickiness of blood platelets which ensure we stop bleeding when cut. The COX-2 subtype has very interesting implications in the cancer process.

Many malignant cells have been shown over-express COX-2, which is integrally involved in the fundamentals of cancer progression, namely; reduced apoptosis (immortality), adjacent organ invasion, development of new blood vessel formation (angiogenesis) and spread to other areas of the body (metastases). This over expression of COX-2 has been demonstrated in cancer but not normal cells in laboratory experiments and in patients with bowel, prostate and ovarian cancers. Anti-inflammatory drugs and salicylates found in pain killers and more importantly fresh vegetables can block COX 2 over expression and hence may have an important role in blocking the malignant process.


People who exercise regularly have been found to produce a favourable response in their prostaglandin levels. The theory is, therefore, that this could improve both the immunity and positively influence the malignant process through the COX pathway. Many are eagerly awaiting the results of further research in this area.

Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.

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