By J. Ron Eaker, M.D.

When we think of inflammation most of us envision the reddened swollen toe of the gout sufferer or the hot tender knee of the weekend warrior.  Indeed these devilish conditions are a direct result of inflammation, yet this natural process impacts much more than over-used appendages.  For example, many people don’t associate inflammation with heart disease, yet research is conclusive that the inflammatory response is partly responsible for the artery clogging plaques that lead to chest pain and heart attacks.

Let’s take a brief repose to review what happens in a typical inflammatory response.  I promise to not make your eyes bleed by using eight syllable medical jargon but a basic understanding is critical in knowing how reducing inflammation can promote long term health and wellness.

Inflammation is basically a response of tissue to any type of insult.  I don’t mean the liver retaliates against the heart for hurting its feelings.  I’m not talking about that kind of insult but more like something that causes an injury such as infection, trauma, lack of nutrients or intense heat or cold.  This life saving cascade is responsible for both protection and healing and is characterized by the production of chemicals that have a multitude of effects on the injured tissue.  This is a good thing, right?  Yes it is…in most cases.  However, if the inflammatory response is not limited or becomes chronic, problems arise…kind of like when your in-laws come to visit. 

A typical inflammatory reaction leads to redness and swelling in the surrounding tissue often accompanied by tenderness.  That is why anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen are some of the most popular medications today.  None of us like pain, except the guy wearing the leather pants and carrying a whip, and these meds medicate the ouch by reducing the inflammation.  The real problem with inflammation is when it stakes its claim more permanently.  Certain conditions like arthritis and auto-immune disorders stimulate “inflammation gone wild” and set up environments where pain and tissue destruction becomes more long lasting.  We can also see this inflammatory tsunami from poor dietary choices, chronic inactivity and smoking.

The more we learn about the inflammatory response, the more we discover the wide ranging impact it has on multiple tissues and organ systems.   Doctors now use some simple blood tests that analyze your total body’s state of inflammation (called inflammatory markers) and they can predict your chance of getting a heart attack.  There also seems to be a connection between chronic inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease along with certain cancers.

So how do we make the response to inflammation a happy face and not a sad face?  The obvious answer would be to take a daily dose of anti-inflammatories with the same gusto that a wino sloshes down a quart of Ripple.  Yes, taking an aspirin (the mother of all anti-inflammatories) a day has been associated with a number of benefits and I will not dispute that some are helped from this. But there is a better way.  In fact there are a number of better ways.  

One such healthy approach is to eat what is known as an anti-inflammatory diet.  Most fruits and vegetables contain substances such as omega three fatty acids that have a natural anti- inflammatory effect.  These substances swim around in the bloodstream and act like little vacuum cleaners sucking up bad stuff that would otherwise make you forget where you left your keys or who that chubby person standing next to you in the picture on the mantle is.  Eat whole foods that are as close to the way God made them. Remember the more processed, the less beneficial.  A good rule of thumb about eating is that if you can get it from a window without ever leaving your car, it’s probably not good for combating inflammation.  Decrease your consumption of white flour products and sugar then double up on whole grains and nuts.  Boycott saturated fats, like those found in most red meats and oils and instead ingest polyunsaturated fats from cold-water fish (salmon, tuna) and use olive oil.  Drink enough water to drown a camel and eat fiber like it is banana cream pie.

If you consume the Standard American Diet (SAD), you may benefit from omega 3 fatty acid supplements. You must be a critical consumer when assessing vitamins and supplements as there is shelf after shelf of expensive garbage in every grocery store and pharmacy.  These products are not regulated by any government agency (yet) so you have to rely on the integrity of the manufacturer…and that is a bit like trusting the IRS to be compassionate. Do your homework!

The bottom line in the war against the ravages of acute and chronic inflammation is to eat well, exercise, get adequate rest and use supplements wisely.

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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