Thursday, July 28, 2005

Death by Inflammation

HealthSentinal reported yesterday about Newsweek's Summer 2005 Special Edition article highlighting the detriments of chronic low-level inflammation on health and well-being.

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:
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • IBS
  • Allergies
  • Atherosclerosis
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Insulin Resistance/Metabolic Syndrome
  • PCOs
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer's Disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Kidney failure
  • Lupus
  • Stroke
  • Pancreatitis
  • Psoriasis
  • 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.


  1. Anonymous4:23 PM

    I hope the cod liver oil, the co-enzyme Q10, the hawthorne berries, the high-dose folic acid and other B vitamins saves my ass from any grief awaiting me down the road.
    I'm nervous about daily aspirin therapy, although it's been touted as a miracle drug.

  2. Regina, I'm wondering whether exercise is actually a cause for inflamation. In other words you are stressing your body, though perhaps not your mind. Also, when I lift weights and my body gets sore as it is trying to heal the muscle damage and built new muscle - is this inflamation? Is it considered different from the inflamation from the other sources or is all inflamation the same in its effect? Does aerobic excercise produce more or less inflamation than anaerobic? This has gotten be thinking much more in terms of ways to lessen inflamation, since I've already taken care of the diet part of this picture a while ago...

  3. >>>I'm wondering whether exercise is actually a cause for inflamation<<<

    It is, however, the benefit far outweighs the risk in the case of physical activity which provides so many benefits including the ability of the body to rid itself of toxins!

    >>>when I lift weights and my body gets sore as it is trying to heal the muscle damage and built new muscle - is this inflamation<<<

    The soreness is due to a measure of inflammation naturally triggered by injury - it signals you to reduce the activity level and allow the body to repair this instance such inflammation is protective - it stops you from "over-doing" it.

    >>>Is it considered different from the inflamation from the other sources or is all inflamation the same in its effect?<<<

    All inflammation is triggered as a means to protect the body and ensure survival. That said, the inflammation from exercise is your body telling you when enough is enough - that it needs time to rejuvenate now. In my opinion, that's a good thing...and if you're listening carefully to your body, it tells you clearly when your exercise isn't really doing much and when it is too much.

    >>>Does aerobic excercise produce more or less inflamation than anaerobic?<<<

    I wouldn't worry much about it - both produce a benefit in the body.

    >>>This has gotten be thinking much more in terms of ways to lessen inflamation, since I've already taken care of the diet part of this picture a while ago... <<<

    The inflammation that is detrimental is the inflammation you don't feel or see - the kind that happens from poor diet, lack of adequate nutrients, poor sleep and too much stress.

    Exercise can create inflammation but its benefits greatly outweigh the temporary inflammation by increasing blood flow, building muscle, maintaining a healthy heart, increasing kidney & liver function, maintaining and building strong bones, etc. - the key is to feed your body the nutrients it needs to repair and build when you do cause some temporary inflammation. What you want to avoid is setting up a situation of chronic, low-level inflammation!

    1. As a former distance runner I was in agony because of the pain in my knees. Even walking was hard. Three weeks into Paleo eating and that inflammation simply disappeared. I think that eliminating ALL grains, and ALL processed foods is the key to good health. It's hard, but in time you will wonder how you could ever go back to eating as you once did. The benefits are amazing.

  4. So is this the only connection between fibromyalgia (FMS) chronic fatigue (CFS) and the metabolic syndrome? Someone suggested that I should investigate metabolic syndrome is the cause of my FMS/CFS -type symptoms.
    -Bella and Blessing at