Eileen Higgins, MD, FACS
Inflammation produced by the clean up effort of the immune system is necessary for the body to function normally; this healing is a good thing. So, what’s the big deal? The diseases and problems associated with inflammation stem largely from background chronic, systemic inflammation. “Some researchers now believe that low-grade inflammation is associated with everything from heart disease and diabetes to Alzheimer’s and arthritis, and may even be the cause of most chronic diseases.” (UC Berkeley Wellness Letter, January 2008)
The big deal is that dampening the effect of chronic inflammation on your body is well within your control. Why wait for traditional medicine to catch up in decades?
Inflammation from excess fat cells is one reason why obesity greatly increases the state of chronic inflammation, proven by known higher CRP (C-Reactive Protein) levels, an inflammation marker. This is the result of fat cells producing the key cytokine (intercellular mediator of inflammation), IL-6, and in and of themselves providing the antigen, broken down fat cells, to be cleaned up … to fuel the inflammatory reaction. The increased chronic inflammation is the reason obesity complicates, and may cause, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease and many other chronic diseases.
There are literally hundreds of autoimmune diseases, and nearly all of them have inflammation as one of the signs, examples include:
RA, Ankylosing spondylitis, Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, Fibromyalgia, Grave’s disease, Lupus, Ideopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, Psoriasis, Type 1 Diabetes, Addison’s disease, Vasculitis, Allergies
… there are hundreds more. In fact every chronic disease we know about is caused or worsened by inflammation. We can start to understand WHY; and knowing the “why” makes affecting the “how” to fix it, so much easier!
I say it as opinion, but science is starting to back it up: The inciting event in atherosclerotic plaque build up may be damage of the endothelium (lining of the artery) caused by inflammation. ( Endothelial dysfunction in obesity: etiological role in atherosclerosis. [Review] [58 refs]
Some foods are more inflammatory than others. For example, saturated animal fat is an oxidizer, the end result of which is free radicals (FR). FRs cause damage, and inflammation ensues to clean up the mess. Eat some inflammatory food each day, and you can see how chronic, low grade inflammation is set up.
However, diet is not the only aspect of lifestyle that can produce inflammation. Two examples:
Scientists at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, found in a study that sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality raises inflammation, which in turn increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. The authors concluded:
“Poor sleep quality, and short sleep durations are associated with higher levels of inflammation.”
Exercise helps maintain weight loss. It may also have an effect on lowering CRP and IL-6 levels, thereby directly decreasing inflammation. A sedentary lifestyle increases it. The immediate effect of mood elevation via B-endorphins, among other compounds, is well known. Better sleep is also a benefit of regular exercise.
Most anything you were ever told is “good for you” will prevent (chronic) inflammation. Taking as much inflammation out of your life as possible will make you feel better and look younger, just like a miracle drug. So where is Big Pharma, you may ask?
If big pharmaceutical companies had anything to gain from this approach, the large, randomized, prospective studies would have already been done. Mainstream medicine would be buzzing about this huge breakthrough, but it remains on the fringes. It is still considered by most physicians as “alternative and wholistic”, therefore, relatively unimportant. When physicians consider something as anecdotal, they don’t have time for it. I completely understand this; doctors have so many patients to see, and they want to provide evidence based care. I don’t blame them, because they want to do what is proven best for their patients. The drug companies fund studies if there is potentially something new to sell. Then, they market it.
So, the money isn’t there to fund research to better understand the biggest epidemic of our time, and potentially the largest preventative medical approach of our lifetime. This puts the onus on you to open your eyes, learn as much as you can and apply it to feel better than you have in years and to protect your children/grand children into the future.