What do Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease all have in common? Though these are diverse conditions with multiple contributing factors including genetics and environmental exposure, there is one common denominator — chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation is an essential and protective mechanism in response to irritation, injury, or infection. Symptoms of acute inflammation include swelling, redness and sometimes loss of movement, such as with a sprained ankle. Your body walls off the damaged tissue area with swelling, while sending messages to the rest of the immune system for healing action.
This type of inflammation lasts a few days and ends when the injury has passed the first few stages of healing. If acute inflammation is left unresolved, it can evolve into chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is defined as any inflammatory process persisting beyond two weeks. Causes include persistent nondegradable pathogens, unresolved viral infections, persistent foreign bodies, and overactive immune reactions. Many chronic inflammatory processes are easily undetected because they are typically not as obvious as acute conditions.
The cumulative damage of chronic inflammation contributes to many serious conditions: those mentioned above; anything that ends in “–itis”; external ailments like acne, eczema, and psoriasis; and internal conditions such as asthma, fibromyalgia, celiac disease, and many more.
HEALTH IS WEALTH
Our health is much like your bank accounts — if you start working in your mid-twenties, and spend your entire paycheck, you will have nothing when you reach your retirement years, and your lifestyle will drastically change. Similarly, your health suffers if you do not bank healthful habits.
My patients often report that when they reached their 40s and 50s, their health took a drastic turn for the worse, with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis. But the processes of these diseases started laying their foundation when these patients were in their 20s and 30s.
It is important to be proactive and invest in yourself by incorporating healthful habits. Eating well and exercising regularly improves your immune system, and lowers inflammation to prevent chronic diseases or increased complications.
DIET iS CRITICAL
Avoid anything white. The average American eats 160 pounds of white sugar and 200 pounds of white flour per year. This rule includes white salt, white flour, white rice, white potatoes, and white sugar. These foods create quick spikes in blood sugar causing an elevation in hazardous by-products in the blood stream. The immune system reacts to clear these by-products, which are linked with premature skin wrinkling, cataracts, diabetes, and heart disease.
You are the meat you eat. The diet of conventionally raised livestock is mostly grains. The negative effects of their carbohydrate-based diet are imparted to the consumer as well, and their meat contains 20–30 times more inflammatory fatty acids than their 100 percent grass-fed counterparts. With a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed meat may be supportive of lower inflammation. Other foods high in omega-3s include salmon, walnuts, and freshly ground flaxseeds.
Eat the rainbow. Add lots of colorful, fresh foods to your diet. The color in fruits and vegetables reflects the food’s antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are extremely protective against chronic disease by acting as scavengers searching for inappropriate inflammatory chemicals in our tissues. Foods rich in antioxidants include fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, dark chocolate, and red wine in moderation. Ensure that every meal has at least five different colors.
Fish oil. High fish consumption has become a catch-22 because the heavy metal toxins they often carry sometimes outweigh its health benefits. A high-quality fish oil daily can help maintain the healthful fatty acids you may be missing. Fish oils are high in omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, and DHA. EPA is particularly helpful in reducing general inflammation, while DHA is highly brain specific and an excellent nutrient for preventing memory loss in adults and healthy brain development in children.
Curcumin. Found in the spice turmeric, curcumin is highly researched as a potent antioxidant that fights inflammation in conditions such as inflammatory bowel diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s available in an encapsulated pill form, or you can incorporate turmeric into your daily diet. If you are targeting a particular condition, the best benefit can be achieved via the encapsulated form.
Boswellia. Also known as frankincense, Boswellia is an ancient Ayurvedic herb from India similar to curcumin in its anti-inflammatory effects. It balances the immune response and has been shown to cause death of cancer cells. In day-to-day practice, I see this herb have profound effects in reducing pain and increasing range of motion in my arthritis patients.
With chronic inflammation at the base of all chronic diseases, it is important to reduce our inflammatory load for our long-term benefit. Diet and lifestyle can make a powerful change in the direction of your health. If you are considering adding supplements, consult with your doctor to ensure they are right for you.
Thalia Hale is a naturopathic doctor at Medical Options for Wellness. She can be reached at drthalia.com.