Years ago oxidation was being considered as the main culprit in many diseases. Now oxidation is grabbing more of the attention. According to neuroscientist James Joseph of Tufts University, “Inflammation is the evil twin of oxidation. Where you find one, you find the other.” This discovery is solving “medical puzzles” such as [why] people with high blood pressure have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s or why people with rheumatoid arthritis have higher rates of sudden cardiac death. All these conditions are tied with a connecting thread of inflammation.
Many view inflammation as a "problem" to be "fixed" in the body. Often the "fix" is a pharmaceutical to reduce the inflammation. This is simply masking the problem and is not eliminating the cause of the inflammation. To restore health, the cause of the inflammation must be addressed.
To understand how chronic inflammation wrecks havoc in the body, we must understand what is causing the inflammation. This means understanding the protective function of inflammation and then looking at what the immune system is trying desperately to protect itself from when inflammation is low level and chronic in the body and not caused by an obvious injury or infection. From this perspective, inflammation is now a "red flag" to alert us of an underlying assult on the body that must be addressed, not masked since "band-aid" remedies are not solving the underlying cause of the inflammation.
Inflammation is always due to an injury or infection of some sort. For example, if you bang your finger while hammering a nail, the body's response is inflammation to the injury - resulting in pain, swelling, redness, warmth and often a temporary loss of funtion of the finger. This response is protective to allow for healing time by the immune system and protecting the injured finger from further injury while healing.
Low-level inflammation - the kind you often do not visibly see or feel - is caused by similar assults on the body that are just less obvious. This inflammation is still an immune response by the body trying to protect itself and heal. Over time, if the root cause of the inflammation is not eliminated, the inflammation remains and is then chronic, which causes progressive damage to the affected organ systems. This type of inflammation is systemic and deadly!
Chronic low-level inflammation is associated with:
- Heart Disease
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- High Blood Pressure
- Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome
- Alzheimer's Disease
- Kidney failure
- Surgical Complications
As Life Extention Magazine noted, [a] critical inflammatory marker is C-reactive protein. This marker indicates an increased risk for destabilized atherosclerotic plaque and abnormal arterial clotting. When arterial plaque becomes destabilized, it can burst open and block the flow of blood through a coronary artery, resulting in an acute heart attack. One of the New England Journal of Medicine studies showed that people with high levels of C-reactive protein were almost three times as likely to die from a heart attack (Ridker et al. 1997).
C-Reactive Protein is one marker - but what is the cause?
There are a number of things that are found in the literature, and not surprisingly, all but two are associated with our dietary habits:
- Advanced Glycation End (AGE) products, are formed when food is cooked at high temperatures. AGE's are toxins in the body and some are now calling them "glycotoxins". According to a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, consuming foods cooked at high temperature accelerates the glycation process, and the subsequent formation of advanced glycation end products. When you eat foods with AGE's your body responds with inflammation to try to protect itself.
- Sleep Deprivation. In 2002, researchers at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society held in San Francisco reported that sleep deprivation markedly increases inflammatory cytokines. Getting a good night sleep allows your body time to build and repair tissue - a process that is inhibited during waking hours.
- Damaged Fats. Oil starts to degrade upon heating and over a relatively short period of time, within 30-minutes, 4-hydroxy-trans-2-nonenal (HNE) begins to reach critical levels. HNE's are toxic in the human body.
- Trans-Fatty Acids. Man-made trans-fats are disruptive in the body since they are not natural and the body does not know what to do with them.
- High Blood Sugars and/or Insulin Levels. It is well documented that high blood sugar and/or insulin levels produce inflammation in the body. Quite frankly, our bodies are simply not designed to handle the excessive amount of sugars we eat daily. Prolonged elevated insulin levels disrupt cellular metabolism and spread inflammation.
- Nutrient Deficiency from any number of vitamins, minerals and elements along with essential fatty acids (specifically omega-3) and essential amino acids. When your body does not have all the ingredients it needs for health, it makes do with what it has for survival and makes compromises. In that compromise process, it also works to protect itself and inflammation is one result of a nutrient-poor diet.
- Stress, an often over-looked component in chronic inflammation. When you are stressed, your body releases a number of hormones and chemicals to try to counteract the affects of the stress. Chronic stress means constant elevated levels of stress hormones and inflammation. Relaxation, meditation, exercise and simple general activity all help to reduce stress and thus reduce stress hormones in the body.
If you look carefully at the above list, every last item you control. You choose what you eat, how you cook your food, how much sleep you allow yourself each night and even if you proactively seek to relax and help yourself relieve stress.
While there may be instances where pharmaceutical intervention may help in the short-term - you must look at the long-term and work to eliminate what is causing the inflammation in the first place! By modifying your diet to be nutrient-dense, being careful with your cooking methods, choosing carbohydrates carefully, getting enough sleep and relaxing, you can make a difference in your health.