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Systemic Inflammation? – Yes, it’s probably doing you harm at this very moment

We all get inflamed joints from time to time – it’s a good thing and it helps us heal. Inflammation or ‘swelling’, as it is often referred to, happens when specialized cells and chemicals in our blood protect us from foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. The problem we are increasingly seeing, however, is that our bodies’ inflammatory response can get out of hand. This is definitely not good.

Some of the commonest and deadliest conditions rampant in our modern economies are triggered by our body mistakenly mounting an inflammatory response.  Asthma, allergies, autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer and disease of pretty much any organ – all conditions brought on by excess inflammation.

Pretty much any word ending ‘…..itis’ means inflammation.  So just think of all the disease conditions that end in ‘….itis’. Hepatitis (liver), Pancreatitis (pancreas), Myocarditis (heart), Nephritis (kidneys), Colitis (colon), Encephalitis (brain), Bronchitis (bronchi / lungs) etc. – these are all inflammatory conditions.

 

Acute Inflammation

Of course at times of injury or infection, inflammation is necessary for protection and to speed healing. Complicated and well-coordinated biochemical reactions cause white blood cells and other beneficial chemicals to be mobilized and delivered to the injured tissue in the blood to fight off infection and unwanted foreign bodies.  This is the acute response and is recognized by the familiar symptoms of swelling, heat, redness, pain and loss of movement and function. We have all experienced this and usually after the body has repaired the damage, the inflammation disappears.

 

Chronic Inflammation

Unfortunately, more and more we are seeing inflammation becoming a chronic, very serious and systemic (body wide) problem. It can be relatively symptom free while silently it causes destruction of your cells, tissues and organs. Unabated it eventually leads to breakdown and disease.

Many of the well-known disease processes are caused to the greater part by this process. It can be quietly present for years or even decades, until eventually a recognized disease like Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, or one of many autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or multiple sclerosis develops.

 

What Causes Chronic Inflammation?

Chronic inflammation, now a problem of epidemic proportions, can be largely blamed on the unhealthy lifestyles adopted by most of us. It is generally the result of an over-reactive immune system, or the body’s attempts to fight off some underlying problem.

It is also now well accepted that certain foods we ingest are often the culprits and are ‘pro-inflammatory’ whilst other foods are ‘anti-inflammatory’. Eating oxidized or ‘bad’ fats, many processed foods, meat products and sugar will increase inflammation in your body, whereas eating healthy fats such as omega-3 or the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) will help to reduce them.

There are many factors that can increase our risk of chronic inflammation:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Eating a poor diet
  • An existing heart condition
  • A family history of heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Long-term infections
  • Gum disease
  • Stress

Chronic inflammation is without doubt a 21st century epidemic and most people won’t even be aware it is present. Indeed many of the symptoms are ‘silent’, and because it is such a serious health issue it becomes important to know that you can test to determine whether or not it is building in your body?

Conventional medicine tests the blood for C-Reactive Protein (CRP), which is a protein that is present any time there is any type of inflammation present in the body. What we don’t know though is that if we reduce the presence of this marker artificially, is it actually doing any good – probably not! 

Another second blood test that I believe to be more effective is the ESR (sedimentation rate) test, which checks for non-specific indicators of inflammation.

You can also check insulin levels as in screening for diabetes – the presence of insulin in the fasting test is also a marker for inflammation. Basically, the higher your insulin levels are, the higher your levels of inflammation tend to be.

 

Conventional Medical Treatments for Systemic Chronic Inflammation

The problem with treating inflammation is that it has many sources and western medicine only has one primary treatment for it: anti-inflammatory drugs. Non-steroidal and steroid anti-inflammatory drugs both pack a whole boat load of side-effects, which many times outstrip the inflammation itself in terms of impact on the body.

This, almost certainly is not your safest approach and in the late ‘90s Vioxx caused the deaths of more than 60,000 people from strokes and heart attacks.

Worryingly, medical doctors are now being encouraged to prescribe statins to people who, despite having normal cholesterol, may have elevated CRP levels, to supposedly fight inflammation and reduce the risk of heart disease.  This is extremely bad science and does nothing to tackle the underlying problem whilst you risk all the terrible side effects of the statins.

Another medication prescribed for inflammation is prednisone, the corticosteroid. This drug suppresses the immune system, and although its use is necessary in some serious cases, if used long-term it can lead to serious side effects such as bone loss and immune system compromise, both of which can lead to many other serious conditions. If the bone loss causes osteoporosis then obviously there is serious danger of fracture.

Prednisone can have life-saving effects but unfortunately hardly ever cures the disease merely covering up the problem. Of course it is the underlying dysfunction, the actual cause of the disease that must be corrected.

 

How to Treat Inflammation at its Source, Naturally

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So how do we prevent inflammation? First, become aware of the many causes of it so you can then begin to prevent each one.

Most of the causing factors are lifestyle related.  It follows therefore that making some simple lifestyle changes can indeed go a long way to solving the problem. Some of the changes you can easily make include the following:

 

1. Focus on eating a healthy diet. Avoid foods that promote inflammation, for example heavily processed foods, trans fats, fried foods, sugars and grains and foods cooked at very high temperatures.

2. Ensure you don’t suffer food allergies. Get tested if you are not sure or if you suspect you may have food hypersensitivity.

3. Avoid bacterial overgrown in the bowel. Simple sugars and complex carbohydrates that are quickly digested such as refined flour and white potatoes will certainly encourage bacterial growth. Take probiotics to help normalize the ratio of beneficial flora.

4. Ensure you consume sufficient Fiber: Fiber pulls toxins from the GI tract and acts like a broom to sweep them out.

5. Eat plenty of Phytonutrients: These are primarily found in fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds and act as anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants, which quench inflammation.

6. Correct any Fatty Acid Imbalance: Insufficiency in Omega 3 and 6 fats, along with excesses of saturated fat and trans-fats lead to inflammation. Omega-3 fats especially have a very positive effect on your inflammatory response. Through several mechanisms, they regulate your body’s inflammation cycle, which prevents and relieves painful conditions like arthritis, allergy rhinitis, prostatitis, cystitis and anything else with an “itis” ending.

Sources of Omega 3 fatty acids are fish oils such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna and bluefish.

7. Ensure there is no Vitamin and Mineral deficiency: Especially magnesium, which is seen in 20-40% of the most “industrialized” populations.

8. Optimize your Insulin Levels. Consider limiting or eliminating your intake of grains and sugars.

9. Exercise regularly. We should all exercise regularly, for many reasons. In addition to all the well known benefits it is a great way to lower inflammation without any of the side effects associated with medications.

10. Quit smoking. If you smoke….QUIT!  It hardens the arteries, causes poisons and carcinogens to circulate in the blood, and dangerously it increases your systemic inflammation enormously.  Remember, by quitting smoking you can reverse the damaging effects within about 10 years. The sooner, the better.

11. Keep your weight down. If you are overweight there is a very good chance that your system is stressed and you have excess systemic inflammation.

12. Relieve stress. Engage yourself in stress relieving activities. When you are stressed hormones are produced that cause the release of excess inflammatory chemicals. This is a world where stress is of epidemic proportions and this is a huge health problem.  We strongly advise you to find ways to minimize today’s stresses and resolve previous emotional scars. Find ways that work for you. Yoga, meditation, country walks, exercise, prayer can all help.

13. Optimize your vitamin D levels.  Few are aware of the enormous importance of maintaining adequate vitamin D levels. Your best source is through your skin by exposure to the sun, but if you hide from the sun then you may need to take an oral supplement. Just make sure you’re taking the right form and the right amounts of vitamin D to reap the benefits, and remember to get your vitamin D levels tested regularly

14.  Reduce Xenobiotic/Toxin Accumulation:  A Xenobiotic is a substance found in an organism that basically should not be there or it is in a much greater concentration than would be considered normal.  Commonly, medications such as antibiotics are xenobiotics in humans because the human body does not produce them itself, nor are they part of a normal diet.

Also, some natural compounds can also become xenobiotics if taken up by another organism. For example, hormones given to animals to affect growth or breeding patterns.

Importantly, the term xenobiotics is very often used with pollutants such as dioxins and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl) and their effect on natural life because these are substances foreign to an entire biological system.  These can cause huge disruptions to entire ecosystems.

 

Useful Herbs and Supplements to Fight Inflammation

There are several herbs that have been proven to reduce the effects of inflammation.  These can be taken in conjunction with the lifestyle changes mentioned above.

Turmeric:

Curcumin, the pigment that gives turmeric its yellow-orange color is the magic ingredient behind many of its emerging health benefits.  It is said to help boost appetite, lower blood pressure, improve bile secretion and because of its amazing anti-inflammatory effects, it helps reduce pain.

Over the years turmeric has been extremely helpful in treating a wide range of inflammatory conditions considered the root of most coronary, chronic and autoimmune diseases.  Arthritis, acute sports injuries, irritable bowel syndrome, Chron’s disease and other inflammatory bowel disorders, tendonitis and various autoimmune conditions have been successfully treated with this wonder spice from the east.

Boswellia:

Also known as boswellin or “Indian frankincense,” this herb contains specific active anti-inflammatory ingredients, referred to as boswellic acids that animal studies have shown significantly reduce inflammation.

Bromelain:

This enzyme, found in pineapples, is a natural anti-inflammatory. It can be taken in supplement form, but eating fresh pineapple may also be helpful.

Ginger:

This herb is anti-inflammatory and offers pain relief and stomach-settling properties. Fresh ginger works well steeped in boiling water as a tea or grated into vegetable juice.

Resveratrol:

Resveratrol is a very potent antioxidant found in certain fruits, vegetables and cocoa, and is emerging as a modern-day fountain of youth. It actively prevents inflammation and the science surrounding really is enormously compelling.

Evening Primrose, Black Currant and Borage Oils:

These contain the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which is useful for treating arthritic pain. It is reasonable for many to take these as a supplement, particularly if you struggle with dry skin in the winter, as this is a strong indicator that you are deficient in these fats.

 

Conclusion

I hope this was helpful but please remember that systemic inflammation is a somewhat nebulous state and hard to pin down even with lab tests. Because the maladies associated with it are so connected, feeding off each other, often we feel helpless. Well, my advice is to get the basics right first. You will improve your ultimate health enormously by simply eating better, taking exercise, finding time for relaxation, quality sleep, and avoiding too much stress.  And always remember, don’t fall into the trap of looking for a drug that ‘improves’ the blood markers, instead always go after the cause.

I hope this was helpful but please remember that systemic inflammation is a somewhat nebulous state and hard to pin down even with lab tests. Because the maladies associated with it are so connected, feeding off each other, often we feel helpless. Well, my advice is to get the basics right first. You will improve your ultimate health enormously by simply eating better, taking exercise, finding time for relaxation, quality sleep, and avoiding too much stress.  And always remember, don’t fall into the trap of looking for a drug that ‘improves’ the blood markers, instead always go after the cause.

Useful Links:

Turmeric fights Inflammation

Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin

 

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