Inflammation: Squelch the Smoldering Fires

In the past few years there has been a growing collection of medical research pointing to inflammation as a common denominator of chronic degenerative diseases.  Medical researchers have known that inflammation plays a key role in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, and asthma.  Now researchers are seeing the involvement of inflammation in disorders as diverse as heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and cancer.

Inflammation is a normal healing response to injury and infection. However, when inflammation goes on too long the smoldering inflammatory reaction itself will damage healthy tissue.  Inflammation can be observed on the surface of the body as redness, swelling, and heat.  Inflammation can be determined to be occurring within the body by various lab tests.  A blood test called C-Reactive Protein, or CRP, is becoming the favored initial test to look for clues of systemic inflammation.  Higher levels of CRP are often found in people with, or at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s.

Now that doctors know the critical role of inflammation in chronic diseases, they are looking for new ways to safely lessen systemic inflammation. For many years cardiologists have recommended that patients with heart disease or stroke take the common anti-inflammatory drug, aspirin.  Early research has indicated a protective effect against colon cancer and Alzheimer’s in people that use anti-inflammatories called COX-2 inhibitors.

Fortunately, there are many other steps we can take to lessen inflammation and to protect against chronic diseases without taking prescription drugs and risking their potential adverse effects. The basic principle is to take away those things causing inflammation, and add things that will help squelch it, going as deep as we can to the root of the problem in as natural and bio-identical manner as possible.

First off, how does one keep inflammation at bay? Back to basics: stop smoking, avoid second-hand smoke and other air-borne pollutants. Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, organic butter and coconut oil. Avoid partially hydrogenated/trans fats that are so common in snack foods like doughnuts, fries, chips, cookies, cereals.

Exercise regularly. A study reported this year in the journal Epidemiology found that levels of C-reactive protein are lower in people who have the most physical exercise.  Maintain a normal weight. CRP is more likely to be elevated in obese people than their normal-weight counterparts, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dec 8 1999. Finally, treat any obvious infections, and consider doing lab tests to look for chronic, less obvious infections especially if you have heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis, or fibromyalgia.

Beyond a healthy lifestyle, but before using prescription drugs, additional anti-inflammatory effects can be found in supplements and herbs.  Fish oil has essential fatty acids that have been well documented to reduce pro-inflammatory chemicals in our bodies. Vitamin K, the hormone DHEA, and GLA, another essential fatty acid, can also squelch systemic inflammation.  Nettle leaf, tumeric, ginger, and boswellia are a few of the most prominent herbs that have anti-inflammatory properties.

In the future we will be learning more and more ways to prevent and abate the ravages of chronic diseases. Some medical pioneers are exploring the role of sub-clinical infections as a source of disease and inflammation. Presently, we are fortunate to have the knowledge of the role chronic, systemic inflammation plays in degenerative diseases. We are even more fortunate if we each have the wisdom to make the everyday choices that will lessen systemic inflammation both today and tomorrow.