• What Is Inflammation?
• Why Is It Dangerous?
• How Does It Relate To Aging?
• What Can You Do About It?
Find Out How To Put Out The Fire.
More than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, pain is the primary reason why people seek the advice of health professionals, and it is also the number one reason people use alternative medicine.
This may be the most important Nutrition News you will ever read. Chronic, low level systemic inflammation is now accepted as the hot bed of degenerative disease.
Called “Silent Inflammation”, early signs include gum disease, muscle loss, and overweight. Stop and think about these indicators right now. Are you aware of any of them in your own body? Or are you already in pain? Known connections include the following:
Allergy Depression Heart valve dysfunction Pancreatitis
Alzheimer’s Diabetes Lupus Parkinson’s
Arthritis Digestive disorders Multiple Sclerosis Periodontal disease
Cancer Fibromyalgia Muscle mass decrease Psoriasis
Cognitive decline Fibrosis Obesity/overweight Stroke
Congestive heart failure Heart attack Osteoporosis Surgical complications
Although children and young people can be affected by Silent Inflammation, in general, this inflammation is caused by the aging immune system run amok.
Normally, inflammation is a defending phenomenon of the immune system. In this case, not just bacterial or viral invaders but naturally occurring molecules stimulate the immune system into action. It begins with symptomless, low level inflammation. Powerful substances, meant to help our bodies heal, injure our tissues.
In 1994, Dr. Claudio Franceschi (Scientific Director, Italian National Research Center on Aging) reported on this condition and coined the term “inflammaging”.
Although alarming, there is persuasive scientific evidence that correcting chronic inflammation is possible. Better yet, according to the editors of Life Extension Foundation’s Disease Prevention and Treatment, healing the condition “will enable many of the infirmities of aging to be prevented or reversed”. A promise worth investigating, isn’t it?
Where There’s Smoke….
If you have any of the “early signs” listed above, if you hurt much of the time, and/or if you don’t believe you’ll ever live another day without taking an OTC pain reliever, you can be pretty sure you have chronic systemic inflammation.
The exact cause of this phenomenon is not known. Both genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices are under investigation – the old nature or nurture question.
Undoubtedly, the answer is some combination. In this issue, we look at healthy nurturing. Some of the nutrients and dietary styles we discuss influence gene signaling. (See Nutrition News, “Nutrigenomics”.)
We consider two interacting systems, which result in inflammation:
1) In our immune system, normal pro-inflammatory substances called cytokines go awry, resulting in chronic systemic inflammation. Nature?
2) The other involves the production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, and concerns an imbalance in our fat intake. Definitely nurture. (See “Pour Fat On The Fire”)
The following information can give you guidance toward effective self care.
Three inflammatory cytokines are produced in the liver. These are C-reactive protein (CRP), fibrinogen, and homocysteine. Heightened amounts of all three are risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Likewise, they announce the presence of smoldering inflammation.
(C-reactive protein) is now considered a more reliable indicator of cardiovascular health than cholesterol measures.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that people with high levels of CRP were almost three times more likely to die from heart attack.
Other research shows that elevated levels are indicators of possible stroke. However, Barry Sears, PhD, (of Zone diet fame) notes that knowing you have inflammation may be helpful, but lowering the numbers doesn’t necessarily decrease the inflammation.1
Fibrogen, also known as Factor I, is a protein used in the blood-clotting process. Elevated levels indicate that the blood is too thick, too sticky, and clumps too easily. In turn, this means fibrinogen may result in a blockage in the arteries of the heart or brain. High levels of fibrinogen increase our risk of a heart attack or stroke 2-3 times.
Homocysteine is an amino acid produced by the body in minute amounts. Normally, it is converted into compounds the body needs.
When sufficient nutrients are not available to permit this conversion, the intact homocysteine causes an increase of blood stickiness and can also lead to damage of the arterial walls.
Again, studies correlate these factors with increased risk of heart disease or stroke, and with the presence of low level inflammation.2
Where There’s Smoke….
1 Dr. Sears recommends knowing the results of your blood AA:EPA ratio (arachidonic acid to EPA). See www.drsears.com/ZoneResources. Click Silent Inflammation Blood Tests.
2 Want to know your numbers? A search on the web yields a possible invoice: CRP, $50
(Life Extension recommends CRP levels of less than 2 mg/l); fibrinogen, $41; homocysteine, $101 – for a total of $192.
Also consider a fasting insulin test ($350). Insulin resistance also promotes inflammation. Sears believes the latter is the most important of these tests. Your results provide further guidance for diet and supplement choices.
How To Fight A Fire
There are 3 basic steps to dampen the fire: 1) diet and supplements;
2) sufficient sleep; and
3) regular exercise.
1. Diet & Supplements
What we eat is profoundly connected to inflammation. Many people have reduced or eliminated pain by changing their diets. Of course, a whole foods diet with plenty of green vegetables and a variety of fruits is imperative. Keep these foods low on the Glycemic Index.
To learn more about how and why to do this read The New Glucose Revolution by Jennie Brand-Miller, PhD, et al.
For a convenient means of accessing the glycemic index of over 2800 foods, go to www.mendosa.com/gilists.htm.
Another helpful book is The Anti-Inflammation Zone by Barry Sears who recommends the use of omega-3 fish oils to control inflammation.
Furthermore, there are a number of other supplements that can help. For more details, check out “Put It Out With Supplements” and “Pour Fat On The Fire”.
On the other hand, if you refuse to clean up your intake of highly processed carbohydrates and omega-6 veggie oils, all the supplements in the world are not going to save you from inflammation, weight gain, and insulin resistance. (And, over time, OTC pain relievers can harm you.)
Sleep is the great unappreciated healer. Sleep gives the body the environment it needs to perform necessary processes of repair and recovery. Few of us know that sleep deprivation markedly increases the production of inflammatory substances. In one controlled sleep deprivation study, participants showed an increase of 40-60 percent of one particular pro-inflammatory substance.
Alexandros Vgontzas, M.D. (Sleep Lab, Penn State at Hershey) has stated that getting a full 8 hours sleep is not a nice bonus, it is a necessity.
Exercise appears to suppress low level inflammation. We now know that Alzheimer’s disease is related to inflammation. This may account in part for a 2001 study indicating that dedicated exercisers have half as much risk of Alzheimer’s as couch potatoes.
No surprise, insulin is also a factor in chronic inflammation. Exercise improves insulin function, lowers blood sugar levels, and can lead to weight loss. The latter is especially helpful since body fat actually produces pro-inflammatory substances.
Put It Out With Supplements
Let’s begin by stating straight out that omega-3 fatty acids as fish oil have the highest credibility for stomping out the flames. (See “Pour Fat On The Fire”.)
The supplement rule is to always start with a general supplement program and then target the condition with specific nutrients. Our first step is to support the immune system.
All of the nutrients necessary for good health support immune function (and are considered anti-aging).
For over 30 years, scientific literature has been accumulating to support the connection between vitamin and mineral balance and immune system integrity.
Adequate amounts of certain nutrients have been consistently linked to good immune function. These are vitamins A, C, E, and B6, and the minerals copper, iron, and zinc. (These same nutrients are commonly deficient among Americans.)
Digestants and probiotics are important to reinforce the digestive system. About 60 percent of the immune system cells are collected around the small intestine.
Thinning of the gut lining (stomach and intestines) leads to leaky gut syndrome, allowing incompletely digested food proteins to enter the bloodstream. The immune system interprets these as foreign invaders and goes after them with an inflammatory response.
If the gut is not healed, the inflammatory immune response continues, yielding another source of chronic low level inflammation. Whole leaf, organic aloe vera juice can help to heal your gut.
Studies at the Linus Pauling Institute show that six ounces of aloe juice (taken as 2 oz, three times daily) increases protein digestion and absorption, decreases bowel putrefaction, and improves intestinal pH. Aloe’s anti-inflammatory properties are soothing to mucous membranes and have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation in the digestive tract. (See Nutrition News, “True Healer – Aloe Vera”.)
Our main goal here is to use supplements to normalize or lower the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, and homocysteine.
For example, specific recommendations for lowering fibrinogen include at least 2 grams of vitamin C (in divided doses), 1000 mg (1 gram) of flush-free niacin, and 2 grams of bromelain (a digestive enzyme from pineapple).3
Sufficient vitamin A (5000 IU daily) and beta carotene (from green foods and sea vegetables) have been associated with reduced fibrinogen levels in humans.
Following, we discuss DHEA, vitamin E, and TMG. Plus, we introduce a new supplement, theaflavin.
Known as a precursor to the sex hormones, DHEA has also been shown to suppress inflammatory substances. DHEA “dries up” around age 40, one explanation for the age-related increase in inflammation. Low DHEA levels correlate with the same diseases that are related to inflammation.
DHEA replacement therapy involves restoring blood levels to those of a twenty-one year old person. Typical doses are 15-50 mg daily. Individual effects can vary widely.
If you are serious about using DHEA, consider having your doctor order a blood test of your DHEA levels (measured as DHEA-S). Monitoring supplemental hormone levels is wise.
Vitamin E’s anti-inflammatory benefits go far beyond what was previously known. In The Inflammation Syndrome, Jack Challem writes,
“More than any other single nutrient, vitamin E can significantly reduce a variety of key promoters of inflammation.”
Nutrition News has long recommended vitamin E to inhibit the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Challem provides a list of six more ways in which vitamin E blocks the inflammatory process.
He recommends 400 IU of natural vitamin E in the d-alpha tocopherol form. Nutrition News recommends vitamin E with mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols, the way vitamin E most often occurs in nature.
Many herbs have anti-inflammatory actions. Chief among these are ginger, nettle, and turmeric. Because of my personal experience with turmeric, I know it has much to recommend it as an anti-inflammatory substance. (See “Golden Relief”, page 3.)
The latest word in plant-based anti-inflammatory substances is theaflavins. Extracted from black tea, these compounds have the ability to target specific inflammation-producing genes. (Another example of nutrigenomics.)
Writing for Life Extension Magazine, Julius G. Goepp, MD, reports that one human study produced
“a dramatic reduction in disease-causing mediators of inflammation”.
The placebo group showed CRP levels 75 percent higher than those in the group taking theaflavins! Theaflavins are available as supplements.
A few words about detoxifying homocysteine….
Adequate levels of TMG, folic acid and vitamin B12 are needed for this process. (TMG is trimethylglycine.)
In our bodies, this combination can transform homocysteine into the essential amino acid methionine and the well-known natural antidepressant nutrient SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine). Many homocysteine-lowering formulas are available.
Put It Out With Supplements
3 A recent article in Life Extension Magazine extols the use of enteric-coated bromelain for reducing systemic inflammation.
Curcumin: Golden Relief
Curcumin and the associated curcuminoids are the active components of the Indian spice turmeric. This spice has been used in cooking and healing for over 2500 years.
It is the dried ground root of the Curcuma longa, a leafy plant in the ginger family. In India, it is called “Indian Solid Gold” because of its deep yellow-gold color and its healing capacity.
According to The Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Curcumin in Health and Disease (Springer 2007), curcumin has been shown to have six fundamental healing properties:
5) antifungal, and
Several double-blind studies have shown curcumin to be as effective as the drug phenylbutazone (trade name Butazolidin) in reducing arthritic pain, swelling, and inflammation. Horse and dog owners may recognize the drug by its nickname “Bute”. (Curcumin has also been useful in treating post-surgical inflammation.)
As discussed in the issue, many ailments involve some type of inflammation and pain. Thus, the list of disorders where curcumin could be helpful is very long and includes aching joints, backaches, and migraines.
Meanwhile, researchers at UCLA are investigating the potential use of curcumin for treating Alzheimer’s disease. There, turmeric is referred to as “the Asian version of aspirin”. To find out more, go to http://alzheimer.neurology.ucla.edu/Curcumin.html.
Capsules of curcumin and turmeric capsules with guaranteed levels of curcumin are widely available at natural product stores. There are also a number of pain-relieving formulas containing these components.
Be warned however that just buying bulk turmeric may not bring the relief you seek. The reason is that the curcumin and curcuminoid content of turmeric varies widely.
One turmeric on the spice shelf could have as much as 18 times more active ingredients than another, 1800% difference. Supplement-grade turmeric has a difference range of only 28 percent.
Secondly, cooking turmeric can have limited absorption from the digestive tract. Because curcumin is not water soluble, supplement formulas are designed with special delivery systems. This results in greater distribution through the bloodstream to other body tissues.