Inflammation - A Big Factor In The Aging Process
The morning stiffness you feel may not yet qualify as, arthritis, but it's likely a sign of inflammation simmering throughout your body. Other red flags include elevated blood sugar levels, high cholesterol levels or a few extra pounds around the middle - each of which may help set the stage for serious inflammatory diseases. This startling news comes as medicine is quickly changing its view of inflammation. Just a few years ago, chronic inflammation largely indicated arthritis and other "-itis" diseases. Today, it's also regarded as a likely cause of heart disease, Alzheimer's and some cancers.
Normally, inflammation helps fight infections and initiate the healing process after an injury. But it doesn't always disappear. Sometimes, inflammation festers in one part of the body, perhaps in relation to allergies or an injured knee, then spreads and eventually leads to a cluster of related disorders known as the inflammation syndrome.
Over the past 10 years, researchers have found runaway inflammation in most major health problems. For example, white blood cells, which release large amounts of inflammation causing substances, play an early role in damaging artery walls and setting the stage for cholesterol deposits and heart disease.
The development of a simple, accurate and inexpensive blood test for measuring inflammation has helped researchers and physicians zero in on one of the key players, C-reactive protein (CRP). In a major study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, people with elevated CRP levels were 41/2 times more likely to have a heart attack. Not only is elevated CRP more accurate than cholesterol in predicting heart attack risk, but high CRP levels have turned up in people with diabetes, prediabetes and excess weight. The body makes CRP from interleukin-6 (IL-6), a powerful inflammation causing molecule. IL-6 is a key cell communication molecule, which tells the body's immune system to go into a full rage, releasing CRP and many other inflammation-causing substances. Being heavy increases inflammation, because adipose cells, particularly those around the tummy, make large amounts of IL-6 and CRP. As blood sugar levels increase, so do levels of IL-6 and CRP. Being overweight and/ or having high blood sugar levels increases the risk of heart disease, very likely because of the undercurrent of inflammation.
Good Fats and Antioxidants
Unlike cholesterol, CRP is not found in foods. However, diet strongly influences its levels in the body. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and led by Simin Liu, M.D., Ph.D., of the Harvard Medical School found that women who ate large amounts of high-glycemic, or diabetes-promoting, carbohydrates, including potatoes, breakfast cereals, white bread, muffins and white rice, had high CRP levels.
Women who ate many of these foods and were also overweight had the highest and most dangerous CRP levels. Dietary fats also influence inflammation. Most omega-6 fats, which are found in margarine and corn and safflower oils, are the basic building blocks of arachidonic acid and prostaglandin E2, two key inflammation-causing substances in the body. In contrast, omega-3 fats, which are found in fish, fish oils and vegetables, have an inflammation suppressing effect. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) is an omega-6 fat that enhances the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3 fats. Both GLA and omega-3 fish oils have been found helpful in the treatment of arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. Sources of GLA include borage oil, evening primrose oil, black currant oil and dietary supplements. Similarly, oleic acid, an omega-9 fat that is found in olive oil, avocados and macadamia nuts, has anti-inflammatory properties.
In addition, antioxidants lower CRP levels and curb inflammation by quenching hazardous molecules called free radicals, which stimulate inflammation. In one study, researchers found that people with high blood levels of the powerful antioxidants known as carotenoids had the lowest CRP levels. Carotenoids include beta-carotene and lutein. Granted, those carotenoids may have simply been a marker for vegetable intake. But other studies have clearly shown that natural vitamin E supplements in a dosage of 800 IU daily can lower CRP levels.
Inflammation tends to increase with age, making us more susceptible to disease. However, it is possible to significantly slow this process. The key is to cut back on inflammation-promoting foods, such as refined carbohydrates and omega-6 fats, and emphasize anti-inflammatory fats and antioxidants instead.
What to take
OMEGA-3 FISH OILS (EPA AND DHA): 3 to 4 gm daily
GAMMA-LlNOLENIC ACID: 250 to 500 mg daily.
VITAMIN E: 400 to 800 IU daily