Inflammation plays a necessary role in our health, but is also the real culprit behind most diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia. Let’s explore how inflammation can be good or bad.
Acute inflammation is part of our normal defense mechanism that helps kill invading pathogens and keep us healthy. The classic signs of rubor (red), calor (warm), tumor (swollen) and dolor (painful) are familiar to anyone that has ever sprained an ankle, or had a skin infection. Again, this is part of how the body fights infection or cleans up and repairs damaged body parts. Acute inflammation is a good thing.
Chronic inflammation is like a smoldering fire within. It is a sneaky process, silently damaging our arteries, nerves and organs. It will suppress the immune system and promote the growth of cancers.
Blood markers, such as C – reactive protein (CRP) are good for measuring chronic inflammation. High levels of CRP are very accurate in predicting heart disease. High levels are found in diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancers.
The single most effective way to lower inflammation in the body is to lose excess weight. Extra fat causes inflammation, which by the way, will cause the body to become resistant to the hormone Leptin, a friendly hormone made by fat cells that tells our brain we are full, turns up metabolism, and breaks down fat. Leptin resistance is one reason people with excess weight have a very hard time shedding the extra pounds. I recommend a supplement (Integra-Lean) that will improve Leptin sensitivity, help with weight loss, and lower CRP by 50%.
What we eat can increase or decrease inflammation. There are two fatty-acids that humans can’t make, thus they are “essential” and we must get them through our diet. These essential fatty acids are called omega-6 and omega-3. Omega-6 oils increase inflammation, while Omega-3 oils decrease inflammation. The balance of these two oils is critical and how they control inflammation very interesting…
Omega-6 oils (Linoleic Acid), are found in red meat, egg yolk and shellfish. They break down to a chemical called Arachodonic Acid (AA), which then breaks down by three different pathways to produce chemicals that cause inflammation. You may recognize the names of these chemicals – prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and thromboxanes. Medications such as Ibuprofen and Celebrex work by stopping the breakdown of AA to these inflammation causing chemicals.
Natural supplements such as curcumin (turmeric), gamma-tocopherol (one form of Vit E) and boswellia (gum from African tree) are also very effective at stopping these inflammatory chemicals from being made, without the common side effects of stomach ulcers or kidney failure caused by drugs like Ibuprofen!
Sugar and high glycemic foods will activate the omega-6 pathway leading to more inflammation. So will insulin, and if you are diabetic or overweight you make more insulin.
Omega-3 oils (Alpha-Lineoleic Acid, ALA) are found in foods such as fish, flax, pumpkin seeds and canola oils. They break down to the familiar “good oils” known as EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid), which then break down to anti-inflammatory chemicals.
So, here is the rub. We are supposed to get a 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in our diet, and thus a balance of inflammatory versus anti-inflammatory chemicals in the body. In America we get a 20:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. Combine that with 20-50 times the refined sugar our ancestors ate, plenty of high-glycemic foods, add a dash of insulin, and we have a recipe for inflammation and disease!
Cut back on omega-6 and increase omega-3 in your diet. Supplement with a good quality fish oil or flaxseed capsule. Flax is great, but about 1/3 as potent of a source as fish oil for EPA/DHA oils. Flaxseed meal is delicious added into cereals, oatmeal, etc. You should get 1000mg/day of the active EPA/DHA for prevention, 2000mg/day if you have heart disease. We use doses in this range to lower triglycerides, lower CRP, and increase the size of LDL cholesterol particles (a good thing). My favorite suppliers are Life Extension or Nordic Naturals.
Our ancestors ate lean meat, wild game, and lots more fish. They also had little to no sugar and no processed foods laden with omega-6 oils. Grass fed beef, harvested while on fresh green grass, has a much higher omega-3 fat content. Same for milk from grass fed dairy and eggs from free-range poultry. Wild game, such as venison or buffalo, also has much higher omega-3 levels.