There is no such thing as a Magic Bullet when it comes to health…or is there? More and more evidence is accumulating that attributes many chronic diseases and ailments to one common condition – chronic inflammation. As people age it is rare to find someone afflicted with only one chronic illness or condition and not another.
Inflammation is a normal process in the body that defends against infection and foreign invaders. Some products recruited in response to inflammation include cytokines (tiny proteins that are important in cell signaling) that interact with cells of the immune system in order to regulate the body’s response to disease and infection.
Other terms associated with inflammation include C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor (TNF), macrophages, and various interleukins (IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-8). When an overactive chronic inflammatory response happens, it can become damaging to the body. Sometimes the normally protective immune system causes damage to its own tissues in what is known as an autoimmune disease.
Some symptoms of chronic inflammation include fatigue, headache, muscle stiffness, joint pain, and fluid retention. Chronic, low-level inflammation contributes to common conditions like heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, osteoporosis, depression, bowel diseases, as well as arthritis and lupus.
A diet high in saturated fat is associated with higher pro-inflammatory markers, particularly in diabetic or overweight individuals. Diets high in trans-fats like those artificially produced by hydrogenation have been associated with increased inflammatory processes. This effect may be more notable in obese individuals.
A high-calorie intake is a major contributor to inflammation as well as other harmful age-related processes. On the other hand, eating a calorie-restricted diet is an effective way to minimize physiologic stressors.
High glycemic index (GI) foods cause rapid increases in blood sugars. When excess blood sugars come in contact with blood proteins and lipids a damaging oxidizing reaction occurs that makes low-density lipoproteins (LDL) associated with heart disease. A high GI diet can also lead to an extreme pro-inflammatory cascade of reactions that can eventually advance to uncontrolled cell growth found in cancer.
Fat tissue, especially in the abdomen, is an endocrine organ that stores and secretes hormones and cytokines into the circulation that affects metabolism throughout the body. Fat tissue can also be infiltrated by macrophages (type of white blood cell), which secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Cigarette smoke contains chemicals that promote inflammation and triggers an immunologic response to vascular injury leading to atherosclerosis. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and lung cancer are other diseases related to inflammatory processes brought on by smoking.
Low sex hormones
Sex hormones also regulate the inflammatory immune response. The male hormone testosterone and female hormone estrogen can inhibit the production and secretion of several pro-inflammatory markers. After menopause, lower estrogen levels cause the formation of osteoclasts, the macrophages that are responsible for breaking down and recycling bone, which leads to osteoporosis.
A decrease in the production of sex hormones also increases the risk of several inflammatory diseases, including atherosclerosis, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), an adrenal steroid hormone, is a precursor to the sex steroids testosterone and estrogen. DHEA is abundant in youth, but steadily declines with advancing age and may be partially responsible for age-related decreases sex steroids. Chronic inflammation may itself reduce DHEA levels.
The production of inflammatory cytokines appears to follow a circadian rhythm and may be involved in the regulation of sleep in humans and animals by interfering with the production or use of melatonin (a hormone that acts on the body as it gets dark to cause sleep). A disruption of normal sleep, due to conditions like sleep apnea and narcolepsy, can lead to daytime elevations of these pro-inflammatory molecules.
Even working night-shifts may have an effect on health in this way. In addition, exposure to electronic screens such as with computers, tablets and smartphones have been shown to interfere with melatonin production.
Older adults, even when healthy, can have consistently elevated levels of several inflammatory molecules. This may be due to a cumulative oxidative damage over time, and other risk factors associated with age such as increased in abdominal body fat or reduced sex hormones.
Stress, both physical and emotional, can trigger inflammation that, if left unchecked, can contribute to disease and age-related deterioration. Prolonged stress decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone cortisol that has a regulatory effect in inflammatory processes. Stress can also affect sleep, lead to overeating and obesity, and increase blood sugars, which are all independent causes of inflammation.
Periodontal disease can produce a systemic inflammatory response that may affect several other systems, such as the heart and kidneys. It is by this mechanism that periodontal disease is thought to be a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Some common medications used to treat a variety of diseases or conditions have anti-inflammatory effects. These include:
Pentoxifylline (Trental): Used to improve blood flow in patients with circulation problems to reduce aching, cramping, and tiredness in the hands and feet.
Metformin: An antihyperglycemic agent which improves glucose tolerance by decreasing hepatic (liver) glucose production, decreases intestinal absorption of glucose, and improves insulin sensitivity by increasing peripheral glucose uptake and utilization.
Aspirin: Often used as a mild anticoagulant, also is effective and an anti-inflammatory by modifying the function of an enzyme, cyclooxygenase (COX), and prevents it from producing pro-inflammatory compounds.
Low-dose statin drugs: Used to lower cholesterol, it is also thought to reduce inflammation by a mechanism distinct from their effects on cholesterol metabolism by interfering with the function of cytokine receptors on the surface of white blood cells.
Nutrition to the rescue:
The battle to beat chronic inflammation must start with good nutrition and eating habits. A good rule of thumb is to go back to basics: 1 – eat a good variety of mostly whole, fresh, natural foods – as close to the earth as you can get; 2 – spread foods out through the day in moderate amounts; and 3 – include lots of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Healthy fats and fatty foods.
– Monounsaturated fats found in olive oil, canola oil, avocado.
– Omega-3 Fatty Acids: fish oil, flax seed, nuts.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties especially related to the heart and lungs. Common food sources include nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C is a vitamin that has many beneficial effects on inflammation throughout your entire body. This water-soluble vitamin is used immediately and any excess is then excreted. Since it is not stored, it is important for you to consume vitamin C-rich foods every day.
Vitamin D, the vitamin that works with calcium to strengthen bones, can also protect against a number of inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and type-1 diabetes. The best source of vitamin D is the skin when exposed to sunlight. It is also found in fish, beef, egg yolks, and some fortified foods.
Vitamin K, found in green vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, kale, and spinach, is best known for its role in blood clotting, but it may also help reduce inflammatory markers throughout the body. Taking supplement forms of vitamin K is not recommended.
Several significant anti-inflammatory minerals are found in foods such as fish, nuts, whole grains and leafy greens.
Magnesium is regarded to be one of the most anti-inflammatory dietary factors found in in food. Other important minerals include zinc and selenium.
Other food components:
Phytonutrients and polyphenols are natural compounds found in foods, herbs and spices that exhibit powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory reactions in the body.
Carotenoids (a form of vitamin A) are a group of phytonutrient compounds that includes beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein, that battle against free-radical damage. Carotenoids are found in colorful orange, yellow, red and green fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, tomatoes and mandarin oranges.
Resveratrol is a powerful polyphenol component of only a few foods including blueberries, dark chocolate, and the skin of red grapes. The most potent source of resveratrol is red wine, which, when taken with a single high-fat, high-carbohydrate meal may prevent sharp post-meal increases in markers of oxidation and inflammation.
Tea polyphenols: the anti-inflammatory effects of green and black tea polyphenols have been well known for quite some time.
Curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, is best known as a spice. It’s one of the main components of curry powder. In India and other parts of Asia, turmeric is used to treat many health conditions. It is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and perhaps even anticancer properties.
Quercetin and allicin are phytonutrients found in garlic and onions.
Genistein is a phytoestrogen (estrogen-like chemical compound present in plants) that binds to estrogen receptors and has both weak estrogenic and weak anti-estrogenic effects. There are three major classes of phytoestrogens that have estrogen-like actions in the human body – lignans, isoflavones, and coumestans.
– Lignans are abundant in seeds such as flax, sesame, sunflower, poppy and pumpkin seeds.
– Genistein is an isoflavone found in soybeans products, garbanzo beans, alfalfa sprouts, mung beans and peanuts. Miso is especially high in genistein.
– Coumestans can be obtained from split peas, pinto beans and lima beans.
Bromelain, found in pineapple, may help reduce the inflammation of muscle and soft tissue, and relieve pain and stiffness associated with carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Bromelain may also help ease digestive distress and fight infections.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that is made in the human body, but decrease with age, when taking certain medications, and may be low in people with certain diseases associated with chronic inflammation. Levels may be increased by taking CoQ10 supplements.
Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid that is the rate-limiting factor of carnosine synthesis. Carnosine is an antioxidant which stabilizes and protects the cell membrane especially in the muscles and brain. Carnosine also helps reduce muscle soreness from high-intensity anaerobic muscle performance by buffering acids in your muscle tissue to reduce inflammation.
DHEA supplementation in elderly volunteers (50 mg/day for 2 years) significantly decreased TNF-α and IL-6 levels, as well as lowered visceral fat mass and improved glucose tolerance.
Melatonin is a potent antioxidant normally produced in the body in the evening when it gets dark causing sleepiness. Studies suggest a link between low melatonin levels and an increased incidence of diabetes.
Essential oils can often be taken topically, inhaled or internally. Some of the antioxidant activities of essential oils include preventing lipid peroxidation and scavenging free radicals. Use the whole original source whenever possible. Some oils with proven anti-inflammatory benefits include:
-Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca)
Putting it All Together:
How much should I eat?
-Increase mono & polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat
-Increase omega-3 fats: fish 2-3 servings/week, flax seed and oil daily
-Nuts/seeds: 2 oz/day
-Soy proteins: 25 g four times per week
-Oats or Water-Soluble Fiber: 3 g/day
-Red Wine: 6 oz/day with meal
-Black/Green Tea: 1-2 cups/day
-Garlic: 1-3 fresh cloves daily
-Natural Cocoa: 2 Tbsp powder per day
-Use herbs and spices whenever possible
|Anti-inflammation super nutrition mix
Makes about 14 – ½ cup servings (25 g) Whey protein powder – 2 cupsNatural cocoa powder – ¾ cupFlax seed ground – ½ cupChia seeds – 2 TbspCinnamon (ground/powdered) – 2 TbspNutritional yeast – ½ cupMix together and use on cereal, in smoothies or with yogurt. (95 Calories, 11 g protein, 3 g fat)