According to the latest medical theory, chronic inflammation is the root cause of almost every disease suffered by human beings.

That’s right. Many doctors believe persistent, low-level inflammation paves the way for chronic disease, including those we usually experience late in life, e.g. arthritis, heart and kidney disease, and cancer.

As a part of our immune response system, inflammation occurs when the body is fighting germs that enter the body through a variety of ways, e.g. injury or inhalation. When you experience redness, swelling, heat, infection, and pain from a variety of ailments, it’s a sign of inflammation. Normally, the inflammation goes away when the body has conquered the infection or injury, but if the body fails to shut off the inflammation process, a more serious condition can occur.

It is generally recognized that heart attacks occur when the blood vessels become clogged with “plaque” (what we usually refer to as the bad LDL cholesterol) that is deposited on the vessel walls. This bad cholesterol also gets embedded inside arteries and our immune system “attacks” it. Persistent inflammation in the arteries can eventually cause plaque to burst. Now many doctors use a simple blood test for inflammation called CRP (short for C-reactive Protein) to help assess a person’s cardiac risk. CRP is an index of inflammation in the arteries and the CRP increases as inflammation increases. For example, test have shown that middle aged men with high CRP levels in their blood were three times more likely to suffer a heart attack in the next 6 years than men with normal levels. Medical experts say that a CRP of 3.0 mg/L or higher triples your heart attack risk. People with CRP less than 0.5 mg/L rarely have heart attacks.

The good news is that we can do something to reduce the risks of persistent inflammation, including losing weight, exercising regularly, and eating the right foods. According to the Center for Human Nutrition at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, some foods can cause inflammation while others can decrease it. Diets that are rich in fruits and vegetables, and foods that offer lots of Omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and walnuts) are best. Further, a diet of such foods has been shown to be instrumental in weight reduction, and lowering CRP and insulin resistance.

You can also take prescription or over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Vioxx, Celebrex, and Bextra), which reduce inflammation but can have dangerous side effects. While these drugs are effective COX-2 inhibitors, the life-threatening side effects from prolonged uninterrupted use (such as gastro-intestinal hemorrhage and kidney and liver failure) make them both dangerous and controversial. One has only to read the literature produced by the companies manufacturing these drugs to know how dangerous they are. In fact, in the United States in the year 2000, more people died from the complications of NSAIDs than died from AIDS! Further, Vioxx was recently withdrawn from the marketplace because it caused heart attacks.

Inflammation is “one of the bad guys.” You need to get it under control, but don’t jump from the “frying pan into the fire” by treating your condition with a “badder guy.” Eat right, exercise regularly, have your blood work done once a year, and listen to your doctor’s advice. May I also suggest you find a natural food supplement to treat your inflammation, rather than just reaching for the pill bottle?

Bruce Bailey, Ph.D.

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