Chronic inflammation feeds a smorgasbord of chronic diseases. If you don’t have a chronic disease yourself, you know someone who does. An estimated 80 percent of visits to doctor’s offices are for issues relating to chronic disease. The CDC tells us 7 of every 10 Americans die of a chronic disease.
• Persistent or recurring disease, usually affecting a person for three months or longer
• Generally triggered by diet and environmental contaminants
• Standard medicine believes such diseases can be managed but rarely cured
• Includes allergies, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, Crohn’s, chronic fatigue, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, emphysema, fibromyalgia, Gulf War Syndrome, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, Lyme, lupus, multiple sclerosis, obesity, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more
Chronic inflammation gradually destroys an otherwise beautiful machine.
If you hit your thumb with a hammer, the resulting swelling and inflammation is obvious, painful, and short lived. Your immune system sends white blood cells and other hormone-like substances to help start the healing process. Inflammation here serves a healthy purpose.
Inflammation is the life-saving component of your immune system that helps fend off bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbial invaders. Without inflammation we would be sitting ducks in a very hostile world, with no way to repair the damage constantly inflicted on us.
The Persistent Stimulus
Inflammation goes chronic when there is a persistent stimulus. The stimulus might come from an army of free radicals launched every day when we eat foods made with processed vegetable oils – French fries, fried food, non-fat dried milk, powdered coffee creamer, most salad dressings, crackers, cookies, chips, and a plethora of other processed and convenience foods. The stimulus might be an allergy to wheat (gluten) which inflames the gut. Or a low-grade, lingering infection. Or a growing body burden of heavy metals, pesticides, and chemicals. Or a low-grade, lingering infection from an old injury or from a root canal. There is a lot of opportunity in today’s contaminated, junk food-filled world for a combination of factors to constantly irritate the body’s normal functions.
Chronic inflammation falls below the threshold of perceived pain. You don’t think you feel sick, but a fire is quietly smoldering within you, upsetting the delicate balance among all of the major systems: endocrine, central nervous, digestive, and cardiovascular/respiratory. In a healthy body, these systems communicate with each another. With chronic inflammation, that communication becomes distorted.
Medical schools don’t teach much about the inflammatory effects of food, toxic chemicals, or EMF so the medical profession has been slow to appreciate the extent of the problem. “Researchers are linking inflammation to an ever-wider array of chronic illnesses,” reported Newsweek’s Anne Underwood in 2005. “Suddenly medical puzzles seem to be fitting together, such as why hypertension puts patients at increased risk of Alzheimer’s, or why rheumatoid-arthritis sufferers have higher rates of sudden cardiac death. They’re all connected on some fundamental level.”
Heart Attacks, Cancer, Alzheimers, Arthritis…
Dr. Barry Marshall and Dr. Robin Warren turned medical dogma on its head by proving that bacteria – not stress – caused ulcers. The pair proved the bacterium Helicobacter pylori causes inflammation, then ulcers.
Some 20 years after their discovery, and having endured a storm of criticism from the medical establishment, the pair was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Their work has stimulated research into microbes as possible reasons for other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis, the Nobel assembly said in its citation.
Chronic inflammation has a damaging effect on arteries, which can lead to high cholesterol, heart attacks and strokes. Microorganisms cause inflammation within blood vessels. The inside of the arteries come under attack. Immune cells are dispatched to fight the inflammation, and then cholesterol is laid down over the wound like a Band-Aid. However, the inflammation is still active under that Band-Aid. In time, the Band-Aid bulges. In time, maybe a small part of the blood vessel gives way. Whoops! Now the body has to put a finger in the dyke. It uses a blood clot to do that. But if the clot breaks loose and goes to the brain, you have a stroke. If it goes to the heart, you have a heart attack.
Statin drugs, the best selling drugs worldwide, were developed to limit cholesterol. Now you can see why suppressing cholesterol production is not a good way to address the problem. Recently, we are hearing that statins’ best asset may be their anti-inflammatory properties. That would be a better approach, but there are better ways to reduce inflammation. Statins’ side effects include muscle weakness and mental problems. And, although drugs can suppress the inflammation, they do not put out the fire. They don’t bring a cure.
Chronic inflammation depresses the immune system and helps promote the formation of cancerous tumors. A substantial body of evidence supports the conclusion that chronic inflammation can predispose an individual to cancer as demonstrated by the association between chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and the increased risk of colon carcinoma. The longer the inflammation persists, the higher the risk of associated carcinogenesis.
Chronic inflammation destroys nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. The inflammation in a joint can eat away at cartilage and you’ve got a serious case of arthritis. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, the inflammation is systemic, eating away at the entire body, an autoimmune disorder. Inflammation of kidneys is known as nephritis and may cause kidney failure or high blood pressure. Unchecked inflammation in the pancreas can cause both pancreatitis, a potentially fatal disease, and type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin are destroyed. Inflammation of the small airways that transport air to the lungs may cause an asthma attack or chronic bronchitis.
What determines how inflammation will affect you? Your genes play a part. If arthritis runs in your family, then you very possibly have a genetic weak link in that regard and you are likely prone to arthritis. For someone else, the genetic weak link may make them prone to cancer or Crohn’s Disease.
The Obesity Connection
The correlation between type 2 diabetes and obesity is so well established that some researchers refer to the two collectively as “diabesity.” When you gain weight, fat cells become more biochemically active, churning out inflammatory compounds. As obesity ratchets up inflammation, inflammation in turn promotes insulin resistance, a central feature of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome that precedes it.
Some of the excess weight comes from excess calories, and some comes from toxins stored in our fat cells.
Our bodies have become virtual dumping grounds for the tens of thousands of toxic compounds that invade our everyday world, setting the stage for a slow decline in health. The EPA estimates there are more than 20,000 chemicals that our bodies cannot metabolize. Unable to be excreted from the body, chemicals find their way into our liver, and then migrate to fat cells throughout the body where they are stored. Studies show that most of us have between 400 and 800 chemical residues stored in our cells.
Exercise and weight loss work to reduce inflammation in the fat cells and liver. But it gets complicated – no wonder so many people have trouble shedding pounds.
In a 2004 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 15 obese people lost an average of 23 pounds on a 15-week diet. When researchers compared blood samples at the end of the diet with ones taken before the diet began, they found two differences: Concentrations of leptin – the hormone that usually keeps hunger in check – were 33% lower. And concentrations of industrial chemicals called organochlorines were 23% higher.
Organochlorine is a generic term to include all insecticides containing phosphorus. Includes DDT, lindane, dioxin. Many organochlorines are known or suspected hormone disruptors. They resist metabolism and are readily stored in fatty tissue. Studies have found a correlation between organochlorine exposure and various types of cancer, neurological damage, Parkinson’s disease, birth defects, respiratory illness, and abnormal immune system function.
Leptin is known to raise metabolic rates, so a decrease would slow metabolic rates. The team hypothesized that organochlorines, which are stored in fat cells, get squeezed into the blood as the fat cells shrink during dieting. Then the body, worried about being poisoned, lowers its metabolic rate to keep the cells from letting any more out.
Detoxification is something best done under skilled medical supervision. Toxins not only need to be released, but they have to be “escorted” out of the body or they merely resettle. Additionally, the various organs of the body need to be well supported throughout the process.
Cytokines are a tool of the immune system, dispatched during inflammatory reactions. Cytokines are thought to play a central role in the occurrence of disease.
Cytokines are a diverse group of soluble proteins and peptides that mediate interactions between cells directly, and regulate processes taking place in the extracellular environment.
Pro-inflammatory cytokines that feed chronic diseases:
• TNF-a tumor necrosis factor-alpha
• IL-6 interleukin-6
• IL-1(b) interleukin-1 beta
• IL-8 interleukin-6
A critical inflammatory marker is C-reactive protein. This marker measures inflammation in the arteries that can cause heart attacks. A New England Journal of Medicine study showed that people with high levels of C-reactive protein were almost three times as likely to die from a heart attack [2a]. C-reactive protein is regulated by proinflammatory cytokines, such as interleukins 1b and 6.
In a study published in the July 18, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group from the famous Women’s Health Study was evaluated to ascertain what risk factors could predict future development of Type II diabetes [2b]. The findings showed that baseline levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 were significantly higher among those who subsequently developed diabetes compared to those who did not.
In January, 2003, the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) jointly endorsed the C-reactive protein test to screen for coronary-artery inflammation to identify those at risk for heart attack.
At the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, we regularly test for C-reactive protein. However, those who partake of medicine as dictated by insurance companies usually do not get tested. Insurance companies have been reluctant to reimburse for the test so it is not widely used. The test is not 100% accurate; the fact you don’t have an elevated C does not mean you don’t have inflammation in the body.
Food is Information
Food is the real key to chronic inflammation.
Consider what our great-grandmother had to eat; she lived in a time when chronic inflammation and chronic diseases were not rampant. Everything came from a farmer’s field, nothing from a food chemist’s laboratory. Nothing was homogenized, refined, or processed. There was no need for “nutrition labels” because food was not so altered and compromised it had to have labels.
Your great-grandmother’s food had information. Eat the wrong information and you give your genes instructions to make you fat. Eat the right information and you give your genes instructions to lose weight. Our great-grandmother ate lots of butter, eggs, raw milk, and grass-fed meats. Fat and cholesterol? If she lived on a farm, she ate a lot of it. She did not eat a lot of French fries, crackers, pasta, cookies, donuts, cheese “spread” and other processed foods. Her pantry bore almost no resemblance to the modern pantry full of food “products” in bags with a long shelf life. She did not use a microwave which alters proteins. And she got lots of sunshine – vitamin D is anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer.
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and omega-3 fatty acids tones down inflammation. One anti-inflammatory compound in food that has been studied extensively is curcumin, the yellow pigment in the curry spice turmeric. Greg Cole, professor of medicine and neurology at UCLA, has found that small doses reduce TNF-alpha and IL-1. Ginger and tumeric are also anti inflammatory spices. Cole considers curcumin a far safer Cox-2 inhibitor than, say, Vioxx. While drugs usually block a single target molecule and reduce its activity dramatically, he says, natural anti-inflammatories gently tweak a broader range of inflammatory compounds. “You’ll get greater safety and efficacy reducing five inflammatory mediators by 30 percent than reducing one by 100 percent.”
Antioxidants protect the body from the inflammatory effects of free radicals. If you snack on wild blueberries and goji berries, you are snacking on foods high in antioxidants. Vitamin C is a wonderful antioxidant. Some of the best foods for vitamin C: guava, bell peppers, oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, pineapple, kohlrabi, papayas, lemons, broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, kidney beans, kiwi, cantaloupe, cauliflower, red cabbage, mangos, and mustard greens.
Transition to gluten free grains. Gluten grains are wheat, rye, and barley. Spelt has much less gluten than wheat, although it does still contain some gluten. Rice and tapioca have no gluten. If you do not have celiac disease or significant gluten sensitivity, try spelt bread and spelt spaghetti; a brand called “Pamelas” makes a good array of gluten-free flours.
Wheat grown today is extremely hybridized. It is higher in starch, and lower in protein and trace minerals. Wheat today is also high in glutamine, an amino acid that has an inflammatory effect on the body.
Transition away from inflammatory foods like sugar, refined carbs (pasta, chips, crackers, cookies), and store-bought milk. Commercial dairy cows are fed an unnatural diet of grain that produces excessive omega-6 fats. If you are allergic to dairy, as many are, that allergic reaction feeds chronic inflammation. Supermarket beef generally comes from cattle fed an unnatural diet of grain, meaning unwanted residues of hormones, steroids, antibiotics – and meat that is acid. Find out where you can buy grassfed meats. Break the habit of consuming acid foods like coffee and soda. Acidity is thought to be one of the major causes of chronic inflammation. Sodas contain phosphoric acid, a major contributor to the development of osteoporosis.
It would be helpful if we would cook our foods at lower temperatures. Cooking foods at high temperatures causes AGEs – advanced glycation end products. (Also called glycotoxins.) AGEs are naturally in our bodies, but we drastically add to them by eating foods cooked at high temperatures. AGEs are excreted by the kidneys, whose capacity may be easily exceeded. As the level of AGEs buildup, cells start to signal the production of inflammatory cytokines. In general, frying, roasting, broiling, and “blackened” BBQ result in the most AGEs.
Good Fats Are Anti-Inflammatory
The popular mantra today is: “Eat a low fat diet.” Well, good fats in our diet inhibit a negative immune response. Good fats also cleanse and lubricate the body. They provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances which we need.
People on low fat diets typically suffer from symptoms of depression, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, constant and insatiable hunger, gall bladder problems (gas, bloating, “acid-reflux,” loose stools), hormonal imbalances, dry and brittle hair and dry and wrinkly skin.
With thanks to the Weston A. Price Foundation, experts on nutrition, here is an easy chart to go by:
|Good Fats||Bad Fats|
|Butter, tallow (from beef), and coconut oil are the best anti-inflammatory fats.||Shortening, margarine, and “spreads.”|
|Lard (from pork). This is what grandma cooked with before the vegetable oil industry kicked into gear. She did not use the kind that is preserved with BHT.||Anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Higher levels of trans fatty acids are strongly associated with systemic inflammation in patients with heart disease. Have also been implicated in cancer.|
|Traditional vegetable oils – coconut oil and palm oil are both rich sources of lauric acid, which has strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties. Extremely stable with high smoking points, so they can be used in baking, frying, sautéing.Also sesame oil, another traditional vegetable oil.||Vegetable oils (corn, soy, canola, safflower, cottonseed). Produced with toxic chemicals and high temperatures. High in inflammatory omega-6s.Canola oil and soy oils – lots of negative research. Most of these products are extracted from genetically modified plants.|
|The monounsaturated oils (olive, avocado) in small amounts – can be inflammatory if there is too much.Olive oil – a good base for salad dressings, not good for cooking at high temperatures – smoking point is too low.||Commercial salad dressings are typically made from processed vegetable oils. (Make your own with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a dollop of honey mustard.)|
|Cod liver oil – omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks of anti-inflammatory hormones.Flax oil – good source of omega-3 fatty acids, but take in small amounts. Not good for cooking.||Fish oil – usually an industrial product.|
|Whole cheeses, eggs, grass-fed meat.||Skim milk cheeses, low fat yogurt, soybean imitation products.|
|Nuts – walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts have a mix of good fats.||Peanuts – often carry a mold that causes allergies, generally roasted in a vegetable oil.|
For years, we’ve been given inaccurate nutrition advice on fats. In the 1940’s, researchers thought they found a strong correlation between cancer and the consumption of fat, and fat became demonized. However, the fats studied were hydrogenated fats, yet the results were presented as though the culprit were saturated fats. Until recently saturated fats were usually lumped together with trans fats in the various U.S. data bases that researchers use to correlate dietary trends with disease conditions.
Altered partially hydrogenated fats made from vegetable oils block utilization of essential fatty acids, causing sexual dysfunction, increased blood cholesterol, and paralysis of the immune system. Consumption of hydrogenated fats is associated with a host of other serious diseases including cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, low-birth-weight babies, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation, and problems with bones and tendons.
Omega-3s are a particularly important part of the anti-inflammatory diet. They form the building blocks of a number of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body. Dozens of studies have shown that the omega-3s can help prevent heart attacks and sudden cardiac death by preventing arrhythmias, making blood less likely to clot in arteries, improving the balance of good and bad cholesterol and limiting inflammation. But the modern diet is generally deficient in them.
The ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 has been shifting over the decades. Our ancestors had a diet that gave them about equal proportions of both. Today however, our diets typically give us 20 times more omega-6 than omega-3. Today’s diets contain a large amount of salad dressings and processed foods made with vegetable oils, and these provide an overdose of omega-6 fatty acids.
Getting a Bum Steer on Diet
One reason chronic inflammation is rampant is because for decades, the public has gotten bad nutrition advice. “Butter is bad for you, eat margarine,” says the American Heart Association. Problem is, margarine is a lethal tub of trans fats. But the corn oil industry gave a lot of money to the AHA. In fact, 2007 was “a record corporate sponsorship year,” exceeding goals.
“Corporate Gifts brought in more than $60 million. We renewed eight Pharmaceutical Roundtable members for four-year commitments and a total of nearly $19 million, bringing the membership to nine companies with both Merck and Merck/Schering-Plough renewing under separate memberships. AstraZeneca and Merck also committed to three-year national sponsorships of Start!”
That association with drug makers might be why the AHA gave a big thumbs up to statin drugs based on the 2008 Crestor study funded by AstraZeneca. The AHA did not mention, for example, the report in the July 2008 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings where researchers found that fish oils and yeast rice supplements lowered bad cholesterol better than statins.
We know soda pop is not good for us – the phosphoric acid weakens bones, and the sweeteners are much to blame for the obesity epidemic. Yet the American Dietetic Association proudly states, “PepsiCo: License to Snack. PepsiCo and ADA are working together to develop education programs that help consumers make improved choices and promote healthful, active lifestyles.” For several years, the ADA website had a nutrition fact sheet on “Balancing Calories and Optimizing Fats” sponsored by two makers of mayonnaise. Their fact sheet on canola oil, “Good for Every Body,” was sponsored by the Canola Council. Their fact sheet on dietary fats was sponsored by the company that makes Promise margarine. These drew criticism. In 2009, this kind of over-the-top corporate influence disappeared from their fact sheets.
The American Diabetes Association still blatantly recommends you choose calorie-free “diet” drinks instead of regular soda. Among their corporate sponsors: the makers of Equal Sweetener and the makers of Splenda. There is no mention of the danger of aspartame and other synthetic sweeteners. There is also no mention of the diet soda – obesity connection, despite the presentation to the ADA at its annual meeting in 2005 of eight years of solid research showing how diet soda contributes to weight gain. 
And on it goes.
So don’t confuse objective information with marketing efforts from organizations. Corporate America has many vehicles by which to sell products. Organizations dependent upon sponsorship from food and drug manufacturers are often marketing vehicles for those manufacturers. In the public relations business, this is called a 3rd party endorsement. If you want objective nutritional advice based upon solid expertise, you need to go elsewhere.
Holistic versus Component Approaches to Medicine
Conventional medicine tends to specialize. A cardiologist looks at your heart, a pulmonologist looks at your lung, and so on. Treatment is symptom-specific and targets one component of your body.
Conventional medicine makes use of pharmaceutical drugs to suppress the inflammatory mechanism. Although pain medications can be very effective at providing temporary relief, they are powerless to stop what’s causing the inflammation in the first place.
It takes an integrative approach to put out the fire.
At the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, we test for allergies to food and chemicals. With chelation, we can reduce the chemical buildup in your body. With FirstLine Therapy, we can help you create an anti-inflammatory diet for a lifetime. With acupuncture, we provide a drug-free alternative to alleviate pain. With colonics we can reduce the overall toxic burden by emptying and washing out the colon which then frees it to accept more of what needs to be eliminated.
Sometimes the triggers for chronic disease are on the energetic level. It is often said, for example, that rheumatoid arthritis befalls people who are self critical and heart attacks befall the type A personalities who are always pushing themselves. Depression can occur as the result of in utero exposure to a mother’s depression – the child comes to think that the level of hormones associated with depression are normal and attempts to mirror the same level via its own neurotransmitters.
The Chinese describe fire as one of the five elements in the body that foster life. Just as summer gives way to fall, fire represents the height of activity before a decline and rest. It is a necessary part of a balanced system. But if the balance is upset and fire takes over, your life energy is blocked and you are stuck in the hot zone.
The benefits of reducing inflammation are immediate as well as long term. You’ll notice that your skin looks younger, your joints feel better, and your allergy symptoms improve. At the same time, when you reduce inflammation, you also reduce your risk of chronic disease and complications of aging.