Inflammation is important because almost every modern disease is caused by or affected by hidden inflammation - heart disease, cancer, obesity, and dementia - as well as things like arthritis, autoimmune disease, allergies, and digestive disorders.
If your immune system and your ability to balance the inflammatory and anti-inflammatory forces in your body are impaired, watch out. You are headed toward illness and premature aging.
But addressing the causes of inflammation and learning how to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle can lead you to UltraWellness - a state of lifelong health and vitality.
Later I will review the causes and tell you how to cool inflammation.
But first I want to help you understand more about inflammation.
Everyone who has had a sore throat, a rash, hives, or a sprained ankle knows about inflammation. Those are normal appropriate responses of our defense system to infection or trauma. We need it to survive, to help us determine friend from foe.
The trouble occurs when that defense system runs out of control, like a rebel army bent on destroying its own country. We are familiar with an overactive immune response and too much inflammation in common conditions like allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease or asthma.
But few people know that hidden inflammation run amuck is at the root of all chronic illness we experience -- things like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer and even autism.
A study of a generally "healthy" elderly population found that those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 (two markers of systemic inflammation) were 260% more likely to die during the next 4 years. The increase in deaths was due to both cardiovascular and other causes. (i)
We may feel healthy, but if this inflammation is raging inside of us, then we are in trouble.
The real concern is not our acute response to injury, infection or insult, but the chronic smoldering inflammation that slowly destroys our organs, our ability for optimal functioning and leads to rapid aging.
Our common treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or aspirin), or steroids like prednisone, though often useful for acute problems, interfere with the body's own immune response and lead inevitably to serious and deadly side effects.
Here's a shocking fact: As many people die from taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen as die every year from asthma or leukemia - stopping these drugs would be the equivalent to finding the cure for asthma or leukemia in terms of lives saved.
Hard to believe, but true.
The real effects of statin drugs like Lipitor in reducing heart disease may have nothing to do with lowering cholesterol, but to their unintended side effect of reducing inflammation.
But is that the right approach to addressing the problem? No. It is DOWNSTREAM medicine.
What is the UPSTREAM medicine point of view of thinking about inflammation?
First, identify the triggers and causes of inflammation, and then second, help the body's natural immune balance reset by providing the right conditions for it to thrive.
So if inflammation and immune imbalances are at the root of most of modern disease, how do we find the causes and get the body back in balance?
Thankfully the list of things that cause inflammation is relatively short.
* Poor diet - mostly sugar, refined flours, processed food and inflammatory fats such as trans and saturated fats. * Lack of exercise * Stress * Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites * Hidden allergens from food or the environment * Toxins such as mercury and pesticides * Mold toxins and allergens
My job is to find those inflammatory factors unique to each person, to see how various lifestyle, environment or infectious factors spin the immune system out of control leading to a host of chronic illnesses.
Carefully listening to a person's story and a few specific tests help me find the cause in most people. I explain more about this in my books and audio programs.
It is important to understand that this concept of inflammation is not specific to any one organ or medical specialty. In fact, if you read a medical journal from any of the specialties you will find endless articles about how inflammation is at the root of problems with their organ.
The problem is there is almost no communication between specialties and everyone is treating the downstream effects of inflammation, when addressing the cause could help people with multiple problems that are really linked together by inflammation.
Take, for example, a man who came to see me who wanted to climb a mountain and asked for my help to get healthy. He was 57 years old and on about 15 medications for about 5 different inflammatory conditions - high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, colitis, reflux, asthma, and an autoimmune disease of his hair follicles called alopecia.
I asked him how he felt and he said "great." I said, "I am surprised because I see you are on so many medications."
"Yes", he said, but everything was very well controlled with the latest medication given by the top specialists he saw in every field -- the lung doctor for his asthma, the gastroenterologist for his colitis and reflux, the cardiologist for his high blood pressure, the endocrinologist for his pre-diabetes and the dermatologist for his hair loss.
I asked him with all these top specialists he saw, did anyone ask him why he had 5 different inflammatory diseases and why his immune system was so pissed off?
Was it just bad luck that he "got" all these diseases or was there something connecting all these problems?
He looked puzzled and said "no."
I then search for and found the cause of his problems - gluten. He had celiac disease, an autoimmune disease related to eating gluten - the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats.
Six months later he came back, had lost 25 pounds, had no more high blood pressure, asthma, reflux or colitis and said he had normal bowel movements for the first time in his life. And even his hair was growing back. And he was off nearly all his medications.
The key for him was removing his source of inflammation - gluten - but that source might be different for each person.
OK, so once you have figured out the cause, gotten rid of it, how do YOU live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Here is what I recommend - disarmingly simple, but an extraordinarily effective way to achieve UltraWellness.
* Eat a whole foods, high fiber, plant based diet which is inherently anti-inflammatory - that means unprocessed, unrefined, real food - no things full of sugar, trans fats and low in powerful anti-inflammatory plant chemicals called phytonutrients.
* Get an oil change - eat healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, avocadoes and omega 3 fats from small fish like sardines, herring, sable, and wild salmon.
* Exercise. Do I need to say more?
* Learn to actively relax to engage your vagus nerve -- the powerful nerve that relaxes your whole body and lowers inflammation -- by doing yoga, meditation, deep breathing or even taking a hot bath.
* If you have food allergies, find out what they are and get stop eating the foods that cause them.
* Take probiotics to improve the healthy bacteria in your gut to help your digestion, which reduces inflammation.
* Take a multi-vitamin and mineral which helps reduce inflammation.
Taking a comprehensive approach to inflammation and balancing your immune system is important to help address one of the most important core systems of the body.
The future of medicine may no longer have specialties like cardiology or neurology or gastroenterology, but new specialists like "inflammaologists".
But by understanding these concepts and these core systems that are the basis of UltraWellness, you don't have to wait.
That's all for today.
Next week I will cover how hormones out of balance make us sick and how to get them back in balance to achieve UltraWellness - lifelong health and vitality.
Now I'd like to hear from you...
Have you been tested for C-reactive protein?
Have you had any problems with inflammation?
Has your doctor made you aware of the damaging effects of inflammation?
Have you experienced any improvements in your health once you've dealt with the causes of inflammation?
Please let me know your thoughts by clicking on the Add a Comment button below and posting your thoughts.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
PS - Remember, although the more in-depth video course on the 7 Keys to UltraWellness won't be ready for a couple of weeks, you can sign up right now by going to the link below