Just like you, many of my patients are trying to improve their health by doing proactive things like exercising more and eating healthier. As I explain to my patients, one of the best things you can do to improve your health immediately and prevent health problems down the road is to put out the fires of inflammation – here’s why.
Inflammation – Where Disease Begins
Recently, U. S. News and Health Reports stated that “inflammation is the common denominator in developing diseases like cancer, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer disease” and that by reducing, and/or getting rid of inflammation, we can greatly reduce our risk for getting these devastating conditions.
Inflammation is a dual personality, “good guy – bad guy”, kind of condition. On the one hand, “good” or acute inflammation fires up to work in tandem with a normally functioning immune system to heal injuries and fight infections. On the other hand, chronic inflammation is the “bad” guy side who doesn’t know when to quit! Chronic inflammation then actually starts to break down tissues, rather than heal them, and diseases like cancer, or a build up of dangerous unstable plaque in cardiovascular disease can set in.
Here are some things that can fuel chronic inflammation:
- Are you a smoker or do you breathe second hand smoke?
- Do you have chronic high stress lifestyle?
- Do you eat a high sugar, nutrient poor diet?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you drink a lot of alcohol?
- Do you take recreational drugs?
Many people do not know that they have chronic inflammation in their body as there currently isn’t a reliable laboratory test to measure the level of chronic inflammation in your body. Close second, however, is a C-reactive protein, or CRP, and a homocysteine test which can show elevated cardiac inflammatory markers. If these are elevated, it’s very likely that you have widespread inflammation as well. Researchers do know, however, that high inflammation levels can result from poor health habits – including poor diet, lack of exercise, high stress, and lifestyle choices. To decrease inflammation and its risks, these areas need to be dealt with.
How To Decrease Inflammation and Your Risk of Disease
Recent studies out of Harvard have shown that “statins”, or cholesterol-lowering drugs, reduced the risk of stroke and heart attack in people even though they didn’t have high cholesterol. This was due to the anti-inflammatory effect of these drugs. Similarly, another study cited in the Journal of American Medicine showed that colon cancer patients who took a daily aspirin reduced their risk of dying from the disease by 1/3.
However, both these types of drugs have side effects – statins can cause bad muscle aches and long-term safe use of them is unknown; aspirin can cause stomach ulcers and bleeding. Let me tell you what I recommend to my patients to decrease inflammation and your risk of disease:
- Lower your body fat. Fat stored around your middle (most people over age 50 have this issue), releases chemicals called “cytokines” which are highly inflammatory. Reducing the amount of belly fat you have reduces the amount of cytokines you produce. Aim for a waist measurement lower than 35 for women and 40 for a man.
- Lower your stress levels. Highly stressed individuals release too much cortisol. This causes you to gain belly fat. Decompress by getting 7-8 hours of sleep at night, and/or just removing yourself, if only temporarily, from the stressor.
- Limit sugar. Too much sugar in the diet is the number #1 cause of inflammation. Limit fruit juices, high glycemic white potatoes and white rice, and processed foods. Read labels – aim for less than 5 grams sugar per serving. Limit high glycemic fruits like oranges, raisins, dates, watermelon.
- Add good monounsaturated fats. A Mediterranean style diet – legumes, vegetables, nuts, fish, low sugar fruits, olive oil lower inflammatory chemicals in the blood.
- Exercise. Regular moderate aerobic exercise 4 times a week, not more than 60 minutes at a time, helps decrease inflammation by lessening stress levels. Also, 20 minutes of strength training with weights helps to build muscle and decrease fat/cytokines.
- Supplements. Have a few cups of green tea a day or 500 mg of green tea extract, 100 mg of quercetin, 2,000 mg of fish or krill oil, 1/2 cup of berries.
- Take care of your teeth. Frequently, inflammation enters the body through periodontal disease, or gingivitis. This can go on to cause heart, esophageal, stomach and intestinal disease. Floss and brush your teeth regularly. Rinse with an antibacterial mouthwash to kill any bacteria or viruses.
Thankfully, we now know more about inflammation as a cause for disease. Until we develop a specific test for widespread inflammation, however, keep your CRP and homocysteine levels in normal range and you’ll go far in reducing your risk of serious disease.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Chronic Inflammation: Reduce it To Protect Your Health, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/articles/2009/11/02/chronic-inflammation-reduce-it-to-protect-your-health?page=3
How Inflammation Affects Your Health, http://www.myhealthnewsdaily.com/1731-how-inflammation-affects-your-health-.html