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The Inflammation Syndrome

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Inflammation may be behind much of what ails us, but healthy foods and supplements can quench the fires. Your morning stiffness may not yet qualify as arthritis, but it's likely a sign of inflammation simmering throughout your body.

Inflammation may be behind much of what ails us, but healthy foods and supplements can quench the fires. Your morning stiffness may not yet qualify as arthritis, but it's likely a sign of inflammation simmering throughout your body. Other red flags include elevated blood sugar levels, high cholesterol levels, or a few extra pounds around the middle each of which may help set the stage for serious inflammatory diseases.

When a tissue becomes infected by bacteria, white blood cells migrate to the site of infection and begin to ingest the bacteria. The bacteria, however, may survive and multiply within the white cells, which then burst, releasing the bacteria into the tissues once again, causing severe inflammation. More white cells then enter the area to try to combat the infection.

This startling news comes as medicine is quickly changing its view of inflammation. Just a few years ago, chronic inflammation was pretty much defined as arthritis and other "-itis" diseases. Today, it's also regarded as a likely cause of heart disease, Alzheimer's, and some cancers.

Normally, inflammation helps fight infections and initiate the healing process after an injury. But it doesn't always routinely fade away. Sometimes, inflammation festers in one part of the body, perhaps related to allergies or an injured knee, then spreads out and eventually leads to a cluster of related disorders: the inflammation syndrome.

C-reactive Protein

Over the past 10 years, researchers have found runaway inflammation in most major health problems. For example, white blood cells, which release large amounts of inflammation-causing substances, play an early role in damaging artery walls and setting the stage for cholesterol deposits and heart disease.

The development of a simple, accurate, and inexpensive blood test for measuring inflammation has helped researchers and physicians zero in on one of the key players: C-reactive protein (CRP). In a major study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, people with elevated CRP levels were four and a half times more likely to have a heart attack. Not only is elevated CRP more accurate than cholesterol in predicting heart attack risk, but high CRP levels have turned up in people with diabetes and pre-diabetes and in people who are overweight.

The body makes CRP from interleukin-6 (IL-6), a powerful inflammation-causing immune chemical. IL-6 is a key cell communication molecule, and it tells the body's immune system to go into a full rage, releasing CRP and many other inflammation-causing substances.

Being fat increases inflammation because adipose cells, particularly those around the tummy, make large amounts of IL-6 and CRP. As blood sugar levels increase, so do IL-6 and CRP. Being overweight and having high blood sugar levels increase the risk of heart disease, very likely because of the undercurrent of inflammation.

Good Fats and Antioxidants

Unlike cholesterol, CRP is not found in foods. However, its levels in the body are strongly influenced by diet. A recent study by Simin Liu, MD, PhD, of the Harvard Medical School found that women who ate large amounts of high-glycemic (diabetes promoting) carbohydrates, including potatoes, breakfast cereals, white bread, muffins, and white rice, had very high CRP levels. Women who ate a lot of these foods and were also overweight had the highest and most dangerous CRP levels.

Dietary fats also influence inflammation. Most omega-6 fats, found in margarine and corn and safflower oils, are the basic building blocks of arachidonic acid and prostaglandin E2, two of several key inflammation-causing substances in the body. In contrast, omega-3 fats, found in fish, fish oils, and vegetables, have an inflammation-suppressing effect.

Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fat that enhances the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fats. Both GLA and omega-3 fish oils have been found helpful in arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. GLA is found in leafy green vegetables and dietary supplements. Similarly, oleic acid, an omega-9 fat found in olive oil, avocados, and macadamia nuts, has anti-inflammatory properties.

In addition, antioxidants lower CRP levels. They also curb inflammation by quenching hazardousmolecules called free radicals, which stimulate inflammation. In one study, researchers found that people with high blood levels of carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lutein, had the lowest CRP levels.

Granted, those carotenoids may have simply been a marker for vegetable intake. But other studies have clearly shown that natural vitamin E supplements (800 IU daily) can lower CRP levels from 30 to 50 percent.

Inflammation tends to increase with age, making us more susceptible to disease. However, it is possible to significantly slow this process. The keys are cutting back on inflammation-promoting foods, such as refined carbohydrates and omega-6 fats, and emphasizing anti-inflammatory fats and antioxidants.

The Slippery Steps of Inflammation Syndrome

Inflammation is a normal process that we need to protect against infections and help initiate the healing process. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is abnormal, and leads to the breakdown of tissue,such as in osteoarthritis.

Consumption of a standard American diet (SAD)-high in trans-fats, sugars and refined carbohydrates, leads to:

  • Insulin resistance, high levels of body fat, and high blood pressure
  • Accelerated aging, diabetes, heart disease, and other serious illness

What to Take

Maintaining a gluten-free, dairy-free, hypoallergenic diet may help considerably in avoiding Inflammation Syndrome. Certain supplements are also well-established for their anti-inflammatory properties:

  • Omega-3 fish oils, containing eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), 1-3 grams daily.
  • Gamma-linolenic acid, 200 mg daily.
  • Vitamin E, 400-1,800 IU daily.
  • Supplementing with certain antioxidant nutrients and enzymes may also help: curcumin, rosemary, ginger, quercetin, grape seed extract, L-glutamine, gamma oryzanol, N-acetyl-cysteine and bromelain. See a naturopathic doctor for correct dosages.
  • Wobenzyme or other proteolytic enzymes

Simple Baked Salmon

Try this recipe delicious and full of anti-inflammatory foods!

2 salmon fillets, about 4-6 ounces each
extra-virgin olive oil
basil, to taste oregano, to taste
1-3 teaspoons balsamic vinaigrette, to taste

Coat the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Rinse and pat excess water off salmon fillets, and place them in the baking dish. Thinly coat the fillets with olive oil (to add flavour and to prevent burning). Sprinkle basil and oregano on the fillets. Drizzle the balsamic vinaigrette over the fillets. Bake for approximately 10 minutes at 350°F. The cooking time may vary by a couple of minutes depending on the thickness of the fillets, so examine them after 8 minutes to ensure that they are not burning or undercooked. Side dish: saut?resh mushrooms, spinach, and almond slivers together in a fry pan. Second side dish: short-grain brown rice. Serves two.

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