Inflammation: Friend or foe?
January 07, 2013Our bodies need acute to survive, but chronic can cause life-threatening diseases
Inflammation is a normal part of your body's defense system. It is one of your immune system's natural responses to invasive agents it perceives as a threat to your body.
For example, when you have a cut and get a bit of dirt in it, the area becomes inflamed. The external signs of this are swelling, heat and sensitivity. However, inside your body, a specific set of chemical events takes place in which your white blood cells and special chemical messengers called cytokines are mobilized to remove the perceived threat to your body.
These chemicals "wall off" that bit of dirt and go about destroying it or getting it out of your body.This process is an example of acute inflammationand is not only natural, it is critical. We need it to survive.
On the other hand, when the defense system runs out of control, it is chronically activated. This is an internal reaction caused by the body's exposure to certain foods, stresses or toxins.
When inflammation becomes chronic, your body identifies your own tissues as enemy invaders and begins attacking your organs and tissues. As a result, you may end up in an endless cycle in which one part of your chemistry is trying to rebuild your body (acute inflammation),while another part of your chemistry is tearing it down (chronic inflammation), and the cycle starts spinning out of control.
Worst of all, chronic inflammationdoesn't have the same outward signs that acute inflammation has. You don't experience it as swelling and heat in a particular area. As a result, you may not even realize that inflammation is a problem for you.
Inflammation andyour health
Chronic inflammation that's left to run amokis the leading cause of all chronic illnesses. If left untreated and without healthy lifestyle changes, you eventually will experience conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depressionand cancer.
A study of an apparently healthy elderly population found that those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin-6, two markers of chronic inflammation, were 260 percent more likely to die during the next four years than were those with lower levels of these markers.
When you eat, your liver triggers the release of the chemicals nf-Kappa-B (a bad guy) or PPAR (a good guy) depending on the kinds of foods and toxins it metabolizes (or is attempting to metabolize).
If you eat foods that stimulate your liver to release nf-Kappa-B (highly processed and unhealthy fats), the release triggers a chronic inflammation response in your body and prevents the transportation of glucose (sugar) to your cells. But if you eat foods that stimulate the release of PPAR(greens, reds, low healthy fats) an anti-inflammatory effect results.
For example, diets high in processed carbohydratespromote poor glucose (blood sugar) metabolism. It causes oxidative stress, a situation in which the natural defenses against oxidative damage become unbalanced.
When this happens to fat cells, a series of signals are set off within that cell that promoteachronic inflammatory response. The inflammatory response of fat cells breaks the mechanism that controls how those cells respond to insulin, the hormone needed to pull sugar from your blood into your cells.
When inflammation of fat cells impairs insulin signaling, two things happen within those fat cells. The first is fat within the cell gets broken down and tends to be released into the bloodstreamthat results in a high triglycerides count and subsequently causes obesity, hypertension, premature aging and a host of diseases.
Lifestyle tips to fight chronic inflammation
Health Test: Get tested (C- Reactive Protein, or CRP, blood test) annually for chronic inflammation (average = 1-3 MG/DL;danger zone = 4+MG/DL). You may feel healthy, but chronic inflammation could be smoldering you inside.
Aspirin: Aspirin keeps the blood's platelets from clumping and clotting. There is evidence to suggest that a daily dose of aspirin also may work to fight heart attacks, colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease by reducing inflammation in the digestive tract and brain.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fish oil that contains both DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, and EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, helps to lower triglycerides and reduces your risk for heart disease, heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms and lowers blood pressure.
Fruits and Vegetables: At each meal, fill half your plate with produce that contains protective, inflammation-stopping phytonutrients. Berries are rich in flavonoids and powerful antioxidants; zucchini contains salicylates, an aspirin-like compound; and red grapes are ripe with quercetin, which inhibits the flow of histamines, the chemicals that cause tissue to become inflamed.
Liquid Antioxidants: Drinking orange juice, which is apowerful antioxidant,with a high-fat or high-carbohydrate meal can actually neutralize the inflammatory stress generated by the unhealthy meal and help prevent blood vessel damage.
MoveMore: Obese people have higher levels of C-reactive protein. Immediately after even moderate physical activity, the body makes and uses more antioxidants, which cuts levels of inflammation. Active people have lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation.
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