INFLAMMATION: Is This the Cause of Most Health Problems?
Inflammation can save your life or destroy it. If you have an injury or infection then pro-inflammatory hormones trigger the immune system’s white blood cells to mass at the location. They aim to annihilate pathogens (viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic) and dispose of the toxic debris from injury or battle. Like road-workers in loud orange vests they will announce their activity with redness, swelling, heat and pain. When their goal is achieved then anti-inflammatory hormones muster to help return calm. The process is unpleasant in the short term; healing in the long term.
Another type of inflammation is chronic and systemic. It may be the foundation to a ‘unified field’ theory of disease. First observed with cancer, researchers find inflammation associated with arthritis, obesity, dementia, hormonal problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies and more. Acute responses may not cease but remain over-stimulated and hyper-vigilant. As biochemist Dr Jeffrey Bland says, “…stimuli such as bacterial infection, trauma, ischemic events [restricted blood supply], stress-related events, toxic exposures, allergens and chronic viral infections activate the inflammatory response.”
Inflammation prompts the liver to up production of a protein in the blood called ‘C-reactive protein’ or CRP. Elevated CRP indicates an increased risk of heart disease or stroke even if all other markers (such as high blood pressure or cholesterol) and risk factors are absent. The New England Journal of Medicine published an eight year study involving almost 28,000 women. More than half who developed heart disease had high CRP, yet normal cholesterol levels. A Johns Hopkins University study showed as fitness levels go down, CRP levels go up. University of Copenhagen research linked high CRP with 30% greater likelihood of cancer.
It is easy to test for CRP and other markers such as alpha-lipoprotein and homocysteine. Conventional doctors can be at a loss though as to how to treat a diagnosis so generalised. Temporary relief can be offered in one of two forms: non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS; pronounced en-sayds), and steroidal medications.
NSAIDS can be over-the-counter such as aspirin or Ibuprofen, or by prescription such as Celebrex, Vioxx or other COX-2 inhibitors. They all work by blocking the effect of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX). It is critical in producing prostaglandins (PGs) including those that activate pain and swelling. PGs are hormone-like regulators constructed from fats. Some speedily step on the gas peddle to your body’s activity and reactions, while others press on the brake. They all influence mind, mood, health and ageing. Whether you primarily produce pro- or anti-inflammatory PGs is strongly predicted by the types and quality of fats you eat (see my website TIPS: The Fats of Life).
Drug Costs Involve More Than Money
Regularly using drugs to deactivate PGs is like carpet bombing the problem. For instance, one PG helps line the stomach with a protective fluid known as the gastric mucosa. This is why regular use of aspirin and other NSAIDS ups the risk of stomach ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, heartburn, as well as asthma, stroke, heart failure, kidney and liver damage. In the US, Vioxx is associated with 20,000 deaths per year.
The other medical anti-inflammatory is corticosteroids, often generically termed steroids (completely different are the anabolic steroids such as testosterone or growth hormones). All natural steroid hormones are made from cholesterol, primarily in the adrenal glands capping the kidneys. One of these is the hormone cortisol, with its less active form being cortisone (TIPS: …Adrenals). It helps regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, immune function and inflammation. It is released for emergency ‘flight or fight’ whenever you are under stress.
There are also synthetic forms of cortisol/cortisone such as the drug prednisone. Unfortunately artificial steroids encourage weight gain (especially in the face and torso), acne, bone loss and hip pain, irritability or depression, diabetes, high cholesterol, eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, fragile skin that bruises more easily, impaired adrenal function, lowered immunity, and yeast infections. Steroids should not be stopped suddenly if they have been used for more than four weeks. Even in that brief time the adrenal glands will have shrunk from not having to produce their homemade version. A slow reduction is necessary to prevent shock.
Are You On Fire?
Check for joint and muscle pain: typical as people age in countries like New Zealand and our lifestyle allies (for 50% of people over 50; 80% over 80). But being common does not mean it is normal.
Osteoarthritis (OA): encouraged by repetitive stress or acute trauma; affects a particular site; not symmetrical; more likely with ageing. Common with insufficient alkaline minerals especially magnesium, potassium, calcium; low silica; sensitivity to nightshades (potato, tomato, peppers, eggplant, tobacco). Lead, mercury, aluminium and other heavy metals displace these needed minerals and exert systemic toxicity.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): an auto-immune disease where the immune system chronically attacks its own tissue (as does Sjogrens, rosacea, lupus, Grave’s, MS, scleroderma, Type 1 diabetes, pernicious anemia, ALS, ankylosing spondylitis, Guillain-Barre); tends to affect both sides of the body; deforms joints; can happen at any age. There is a higher incidence of RA and many autoimmune disorders the further you go from the equator, and in those countries’ coldest regions. This is especially associated with low levels of vitamin D from sun and foods; and overall with unresolved emotional trauma linked with high CRP.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia: characterised by varying pain in muscles and joints, and debilitating fatigue. Linked with low serotonin – neurotransmitter needed for calm, sleep, pain relief; requires amino acids, adrenal support, omega 3, and gut health (where 95% of serotonin is produced).
Check for acidity: indicated by reflux, heartburn, queasiness, gas, mouth ulcers, coated tongue, bad breath, poorly controlled diabetes (note refined sugar is highly acidic). Excess acidity draws alkaline bone and joint minerals from needed storage sites to act as neutralisers. Good kidney health is needed to regulate blood acidity, blood pressure, and actions of vitamin D (TIPS: …Kidneys).
Check for allergies and sensitivities: these damage tissue (commonly gut, respiratory or skin) via toxins (eg nicotine); inhalants (eg pollen); topicals (eg deodorant); excitotoxins (eg MSG; see TIPS); or poorly digested food fractions (eg gluten) which pass into circulation and trigger your overworked immune system to fight the invader (contact this office for an allergy test). About 80% of immune system forces are along the gut wall. Whatever compromises the gut, compromises immunity and vice versa. Some intolerances trigger opiate receptors in the brain stimulating compulsive behaviour and mood disorders (TIPS: Moods).
Check for systemic markers: oral health (bacteria-proliferating dental plaque leads to gum inflammation – now linked with heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, diabetes, premature births, endometriosis); stress levels (prolonged stress leads to disturbed sleep and cortisol levels – both pro-inflammatory); blood sugar/insulin balance (highly processed carbs and sugars cause insulin spikes; prolonged elevated insulin creates inflammation and excess fat storage; see The Shape Diet); hormone ratios (prostate, menstrual and menopausal problems, endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, suboptimal thyroid and adrenal function are indicators; could be why women are 75% more likely to develop auto-immune disorders); cardiovascular integrity (blood vessels are active tissue inflamed by smoking, pathogens.
And poor quality fats that damage walls, rupture cholesterol deposits, impede blood flow to the brain and heart); weight problems (excess body fat strongly associated with high CRP, diabetes and cardiovascular risk; but thin people with poor diets and insufficient exercise can have more dangerous, hidden fat than a sumo wrestler); free radical activity (smoking, pollution, x-rays, sun damage, chemical fumes, eating damaged fats or over-browned foods).
There is an alternative to destroying the house to eradicate the spot fires. Medication is brilliant in an emergency but with chronic conditions it offers chemical management of symptoms rather than addressing systemic causes. Firstly, inflammation can readily be assessed by the nature of your symptoms and conditions. Secondly, treatment can be offered via natural anti-inflammatories in foods, supplements and lifestyle factors that replace nasty side effects with multi-factorial side benefits.
Antioxidants – from supplements and 5+ serves of 5 colours of plants daily – and healthy fats decrease inflammation and free radicals. Weight management, relaxation, exercise and sleep regulate hormones, CRP, immunity and blood sugar. Use minerals and liquid chlorophyll for alkalinity; and my Linseed Cereal (The Shape Diet) for hormonal, cardiovascular, gut, detox benefits. Especially enlist Omega 3 to block production of pro-inflammatory PGs and create anti-inflammatory ones. It helps reduce blood fats, high blood pressure and excitability by neurotoxins; improves blood flow to the brain affecting mind and mood. As a supplement use Omega 3 Fish Oil (long chain; the form the body requires) rather than flaxseed oil (short chain; needs conversion). Commonly less than 5% of the short chain form is converted into long-chain and only if the liver is healthy and there is sufficient magnesium, zinc (both often low); vitamins B and C.