Inflammation: Enemy #1

In providing a wide range of therapies for a broad scope of conditions in the last 15 years, one thing has become overwhelmingly clear to me: Inflammation is at the root of all diseases. Many of you will likely find this statement hard to believe, but it is nevertheless a medical fact that is supported by a plethora of medical research.

Inflammation is the process whereby the immune system releases chemicals in a specific area of the body, such as in the case of an injury. Typically this process is a normal and healthy function, necessary for the healing response. However, this inflammatory process is often excessive and counterproductive or even out of place. An example of the latter is in the case of coronary artery disease (yes, heart disease is likewise an inflammatory process). Another disadvantage of inflammation is that it causes the sensitization of nerve endings in tissues that results in pain. Short-term pain can be beneficial because it alerts you to a potential problem and a resulting change in behavior (eg. limping when you sprain your ankle). However, if inflammation is unchecked, chronic pain will result even when the area is already healed. Fibromyalgia is an example of chronic pain-signaling in the absence of injury (yes, fibromyalgia is an inflammatory-based pain process. Google "neurogenic inflammation and fibromyalgia" if you doubt me).

My point in discussing this: If you diminish your body's ability to generate inflammation, you will decrease your risk of all disease. All disease. This includes Alzheimer's disease, asthma, heart disease, fibromyalgia, diabetes, menstrual pain, osteoporosis (yes, osteoporosis), autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, Multiple Sclerosis--even cancer. The amazing thing is that the type of inflammation involved in all of these seemingly unrelated diseases is exactly the same! And the wonderful thing is that the prevention and treatment is likewise the same!

Our bodies regulate inflammation via "chemical mediators". Chemical mediators, such as cytokines, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes, are made from the types of fats we eat on a daily basis. "Good" fats, such as omega-3, produce chemical mediators that inhibit inflammation. "Bad" fats, such as omega-6 and arachidonic acid, result in the production of mediators that promote inflammation. A healthy diet is one that has a balance of these good and bad fats. In other words, a ratio of 3:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Additionally, high calorie diets and diets that rely heavily on grains and vegetable oils contribute to inflammation. Another problem with high calorie diets, especially when the calories are from starches and grains (this includes whole grains!) is the deposition of fat around the mid-section.

Body fat that accumulates in the belly, known as visceral fat, does not act like other body fat deposited in the limbs and the hips. Abdominal fat becomes a "secondary endocrine organ" due to the fact that this fat secretes a host of chemicals--just like other endocrine glands such as the thyroid or the adrenal glands. None of these chemicals are beneficial. In fact, these chemicals will cause insulin resistance, a condition that allows blood sugar to elevate thereby damaging all organs, as well as contribute to increased inflammation. Losing abdominal body fat is the single most important thing a person can do to improve health and prevent disease!

What can you do? Have a thorough diet history taken and analyzed to determine if you are eating in a way to prevent the aforementioned conditions and change your diet accordingly. Also, have blood testing conducted to check hsCRP (a blood marker of the amount of inflammation you have), hemoglobin A1c (a 3-month check of blood sugar), and lipids (assist in identifying insulin resistance).

Dr. Nick LeRoy