When we think of inflammation we might think of pain and the inflammatory conditions like arthritis or gout. However, inflammation and the destruction it causes can be silent, painless and go un-noticed. Inflammation is so widely linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and accelerated aging. The idea that you can take a statin drug to lower cholesterol and you will somehow be protected from heart problems is for too simplified, and in a lot of respects statin drugs cause as many problems as it is supposed to solve.
Inflammation and higher levels of homeocysteine have also been linked to heart disease. Homeocysteine level is a more accurate and more important indicator to pending heart disease but is of little use to the establishment as homeocysteine levels can be reduced to safe levels with adequate amounts of the B vitamins!
Another very important fact that is well established now is for some time now, that heart disease and heart attacks rarely happen simply due to deposits of fatty plaques in our arteries. Sure arteries are active collaborators in the progress of heart disease, attracting and sheltering cells that release inflammatory substances.According to Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, R.D, distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State, “inflammation plays a key role in weakening arterial plaque, causing the deposits to rupture—which can lead to sudden coronary death, heart attack or stroke.” These findings have also been researched and reported over the years by many.
Inflammation is not implicated just in heart disease but in all sorts of chronic diseases. So anything we do to reduce inflammation, will lower our risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, asthma, speed up the aging process and so much more.
The very good news is that the amount of inflammation your body produces is within your power to control. It is entirely up to you – encourage the production of inflammation within your own body or reduce it. You choose. Interestingly prostaglandins – hormone like substances come in three main categories prostaglandins 1, prostaglandins 2, and prostaglandins 3, their main job is to increase inflammation or reduce inflammation. When, as most people do eat refined processed oils, margarine, and shortenings, causing an imbalance in the type of prostaglandins produced and ultimately this means inflammation and pain.
There are two classes of essential fatty acids we need in our diets, omega-3 and omega-6. Omega 6 is converted into two types of hormones-like substances. One type has an anti-inflammatory effect called series-1 prostaglandins, then the second type is involved in inflammation and thickening the blood called series-2 prostaglandins. The other type is series-3 prostaglandins, they have an anti-inflammatory effect. These three need to be in balance. These days the balance is tipped in favor of inflammation. We eat too many processed oils/fats, too much saturated animal fats, too much sugar and far too little in the way of fish, wild game, raw nuts and seeds or plants rich in essential fatty acids.
If we don’t eat fish or wild game, which provides EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), we do have a mechanism in place that will convert alpha-linolenic acid into EPA. However, to enable the body to convert alpha-linolenic acid to EPA, it is reliant on enough nutrients like vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, and zinc. Most people on a typical diet do not get enough of these nutrients. This conversion can also be blocked by an excess consumption of processed oils, margarine and shortenings. Fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains are rich in Vitamins C and B6, magnesium and zinc the very nutrients needed for the conversion.
Inflammatory conditions are common these days. Is it any wonder? Our diets are blocking our natural pathways for the production of the correct amounts of series-1 and series-3 prostaglandins that help to balance inflammatory processes and disease. The amount and type of prostaglandin your body produces is directly and indirectly affected by what you eat and drink.
Foods that encourage inflammation, you have guessed it – refined carbohydrates like the white flour products, sugar, saturated fats and trans-fatty acids. Then meat, poultry, eggs and shellfish are all high in arachidonic acid, a compound that contributes to inflammation. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat animal products but it does mean you should cut down and not eat too much.Other foods associated with encouraging inflammation are wheat and many other grains, like rye, and barley, contain a protein called gluten that has been associated with inflammation. Potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are members of the nightshade family and contain a compound called solanine that can trigger inflammation in many people, especially in arthritic types of conditions.
There is plenty of good news is nature has provided a lot of anti-inflammatory foods that decrease the body’s production of inflammatory compounds, that also fight harmful free-radicals (also known to speed up the aging process). Wild-caught salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduces inflammation (found in supermarkets in cans). Herring, mackerel and sardines are also rich in omega-3s. Take fish oil capsules especially if you eat little oily fatty fish. Other source of omega-3s – walnuts counteract some of the inflammatory processes that lead to heart disease. They are also packed with other healthful compounds. Onions are high in quercetin, a type of antioxidant that inhibits enzymes that trigger inflammation. Other good sources of quercetin include apples, broccoli, red wine, or the red grapes. Blueberries are loaded with anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol antioxidant that boosts immunity and protects the body from free-radical damage, which triggers inflammation. Other good sources of poly-phenols include blackberries, strawberries, raspberries and cranberries. Now available in Panama but can be taken in capsule form.
Sweet potatoes or pumpkins are rich in carotenoids, antioxidants that, like anthocyanins, boost immunity and minimize inflammation. Other good sources of carotenoids are any deep orange, red, yellow and green fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, winter squash, mangoes and papayas. Dark green leaves of lettuces or herbs like parsley also do the same job. Garlic like onion is rich in sulfur compounds that stimulate the immune system by boosting the activity of natural killer and T helper cells, which manage the immune system. Garlic is also a potent anti-inflammatory agent. Bromelain found in the pineapple stems, is an enzyme that decreases inflammation and has some immune-enhancing effects. This can be taken as a supplement.
Fresh ginger root acts as an anti-inflammatory by inhibiting COX-2 enzymes, part of the chemical pathway that produces inflammatory chemicals. Turmeric is a spice that is important to Indian cooking, used in a lot of curries. Vitamin C is a very affective anti-inflammatory (the 5-a-day policy is a minimum every day).