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Inflammation – The Secret Killer

Posted Aug 27 2009 12:00am

In my last post , I introduced the idea that aging is really the result of the tipping of the see-saw of damage and repair. I talked about the 3 main things that cause damage and explained the first of those. To remind you, the 3 main things that cause damage are:

  • physical trauma to cells
  • inflammation
  • oxidative stress

We all remember the cover of Time magazine in February 2004 that describes the “surprising link between inflammation and heart attacks, cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.” The article, “The secret killer,” talked about how inflammation causes all sorts of problems including:

“It destabilizes cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attacks and potentially even strokes. It chews up nerve cells in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. It may even foster the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitate their transformation into cancer. In other words, chronic inflammation may be the engine that drives many of the most feared illnesses of middle and old age.”

Symptoms of inflammation include: Time - The Secret Killer

  • Visible signs of aging like wrinkles
  • Susceptibility to bacterial, fungal, and viral infections
  • Acid reflux
  • Cancer
  • Skin conditions like psoriasis and acne
  • Arthritis
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic pain
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Candidiasis
  • Urinary tract infections

But what causes inflammation?

The Time magazine article continues:

“Most of the time, inflammation is a lifesaver that enables our bodies to fend off various disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites. The instant any of these potentially deadly microbes slips into the body, inflammation marshals a defensive attack that lays waste to both invader and any tissue it may have infected. Every once in a while, however, the whole feverish production doesn’t shut down on cue.”

Some of the reasons why the inflammation process doesn’t shut off are blamed on genetics (it’s your parents fault) and age (we are living longer and somehow our bodies can’t control these processes any more). I don’t buy either one of those theories at all! I believe the cause of all this inflammation is our lifestyle. I think the three components of our lifestyle to look at are:

When thinking about #1, what we do physically with our bodies, it is important to remember that: our bodies are designed for motion. Pete Egoscue describes in his 8 laws of physical health (from his book Pain Free ):

“All of the body’s systems, i.e. digestive, immune, and so on are interrelated. The common thread that binds them together is movement. The faster the molecules of the body move the higher the metabolic rate. The higher the metabolic rate the healthier the human being becomes.”  

When we don’t move enough our muscles and joints get stiff, our lymphatic system can’t do its job, our digestive system slows down and our immune and endocrine systems are suppressed because of the chemical changes that occur from a lack of motion and exercise. This is a recipe for inflammation and disease.

On her website , Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, says:

“At our medical practice we are convinced that the seeds of chronic inflammation (and a lot of other health issues) start with the gut. Two-thirds of the body’s defenses reside in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract yet it is often the last place traditional practitioners look.”

So what is happening in our gut that is causing this chronic inflammatory response? It has to do with #2 above: what we put in our bodies. Dr. Robert Young, author of “ The pH Miracle ,” says that inflammation is really a response to excessive acid in our bodies. He writes on his website :

“After years of societal changes, millions of dollars of marketing spend and technological advances we, as a race, are now facing more dietary based health challenges than ever before. It is no coincidence that the rapidly growing numbers of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes correlate almost exactly with the rise in consumption of acid forming foods such as sugars, saturated fats, and white breads. At the same time our consumption of fresh vegetables and essential fatty acids has decreased dramatically, making way for convenience and a generation hooked on sugary treats.”

When the fish is sick, change the water!

Read Dr. Young’s fish tank analogy to get a better understanding of how what we eat creates inflammation or reduces inflammation. The reason we get sick and diseased has a lot more to do with the environment our cells are living in (internal problem) then something a germ we catch (external problem). Basically foods that cause acid (and thus inflammation) in our bodies are: animal products (meats, eggs, fish – except the occasional salmon), dairy, processed and convenience foods, many fruits, coffee and alcohol. Foods that decrease acid in our body and thus decrease inflammation are: most vegetables, avocado, tomato, lemons and limes, raw almonds, sunflower and flax seeds, sprouts, olive and flax oil and concentrated green drinks.

The third component of our lifestyle to examine is what we think. It has been shown in numerous studies that psychological, emotional and/or physical stress causes a chemical response in the body (including elevated levels of cortisol and neuropeptide Y) that suppresses our immune system and causes inflammation. I’m guessing everyone has heard that people don’t die of a heart attach, they die of a stress attack. People don’t get sick because they “catch a bug,” they get sick because they are stressed which makes them susceptible to the germs multiplying. Science has shown that inside our bodies right now we have many viruses, bacteria and cancer cells, but our bodies easily keep them at bay and they never cause sickness or disease (and most are actually helpful). But if we are stressed, that is what puts our immune system over the edge and we get sick.

When we look at chronic inflammation as the result of these three parts of our lifestyle (what we do physically, what we eat, what we think about) then we can start to address the true source of inflammation and not just treat the symptoms.

In my next post I am going to talk about oxidative stress and how that causes damage which results in premature aging.

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