Inflammation

by Dr. Mecherl Lim 

MD (MA) Naturopath (ND), Holistic Kinesiology

Eat to beat inflammation

Inflammation is a healthy body response, but too much underlies many modern diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

To keep inflammation under control, here are some delicious foods with anti-inflammatory properties & some good nutritional formulas.

Inflammation is your body’s normal immune response to help heal tissues when they are injured by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat or any other causes.  The damaged tissue releases chemicals that cause blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, creating swelling.  This helps isolate the foreign substance from further contact with body tissues.  The chemicals attracted to the injured site are phagocytes (a type of white blood cell) which are responsible for “eating “microorganisms as well as dead or damage cells. 

In the short term, inflammation is a good thing.  It is when inflammation remains unchecked that it becomes one of the most troublesome processes in the body. An inflammatory response that lasts up to a few days is called acute inflammation, while a response of longer duration is referred to as chronic inflammation. Unchecked inflammation causes tissue destruction.  

In the case of allergies, excessive inflammation is a response to an environment agent such as pollen, which normally poses no threat to the individual. Autoimmune reactions are those in which chronic inflammation is triggered by the body’s immune response against its own tissues.

Chronic inflammation causes significant disruption of the normal functions of cells and unlike acute inflammation, is often silent, invisible and persistent, and is implicated in a host of health problems.

INFLAMMATION AND AGEING

Infectious disease has historically been the number-one killer of human beings, and possessing a strong immune response primed to keep us alive long enough to reproduce was an evolutionary response to this threat. During evolution, the human organism was set to live 40 to 50 years; Today, however, the immune system must remain active for a much longer time. This very long activity leads to chronic inflammation that slowly damages one or several organs and is considered the major risk factor for age-related chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes and even cancer. In other words, age related diseases are the result of a life-long active immune system.  Controlling inflammatory status may therefore allow you a better chance of successful ageing.

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

One of the characteristic features of Alzheimer’s disease is an inflammatory response associated with accumulation in the brain of a substance known as amyloid beta protein, which contributes to brain degeneration. It’s thought that toxic levels of amyloid beta protein are able to accumulate in the brain because of the malfunction of a that pushes it past the blood brain barrie. Researchers from Sain Louis University School of Medicine induced inflammation in mice and found that it switched off the pump, preventing amyloid beta protein from exiting the brain into the bloodstream and allowing it to accumulate.  Inflammation is therefore a key mechanism that promotes increased concentrations of amyloid beta protein in the brain. 

THE BIG THREE: DIABETES, CANCER AND HEART DISEASE

It has long been known that type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the islet cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.  In recent years, the immune system has also been implicated in type 2 diabetes and, in particular imbalances in the cytokines, an immune system component that causes inflammation.  It has also been suggested in recent years that chronic, low grade tissue inflammation in those who are overweight contributes to insulin resistance, the major cause of type 2 diabetes. 

In recent animal research, scientists from the University of California, demonstrated that inflammation provoked by macrophages (immune cells) can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  They also demonstrated that by disabling the macrophage inflammatory pathway, insulin resistance and the resultant type 2 diabetes could be prevented.

Chronic inflammation has also been identified as a risk factor for cancer.  Research has shown that people with the highest blood levels of C-reactive protein (marker for systemic inflammation) are more likely to contract certain forms cancer.  Several reports implicate inflammation as a significant risk factor in cancer development, with the cancer using inflammatory processes to spread. This includes inflammation associated with cigarette smoking and asbestos exposure, as well as inflammation of the bowel and pancreas. Just a few examples where inflammation has been linked to cancer development.

YOUR HEART

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which an artery wall thickens as the result of a build-up of fatty materials such as cholesterol. It involves a chronic inflammatory response in the walls of arteries and is commonly referred to as the hardening of arteries. It is caused by the formation of multiple plaques within the arteries.  Recent scientific advances have established the role of inflammation in mediating all stages of this disease.  The inflammatory process associated with atherosclerosis is thought to be caused by a response to badly oxidised LDL cholesterol.

The body’s immune system responds to the damage caused by the bad cholesterol to the artery wall by sending white blood cells to absorb the cholesterol. Unfortunately, these white blood cells are not able to process the cholesterol and they ultimately grow and rupture, depositing a greater amount of cholesterol in the artery wall. This triggers more white blood cells, continuing the cycle and contributing to further inflammation.

Recent research has provided evidence of a critical role of inflammation and metabolic factors in the development of hypertension (high blood pressure). For example, excess body fat, a known risk factor for high blood pressure, stimulates the release of inflammatory substances from fat cells. Other factors such as high LDL (bad cholesterol), low HDL (good cholesterol), insulin resistance and diabetes can further injure artery walls and produce inflammation. Clustering of these factors in what is known as metabolic syndrome is associated with increased inflammation in the body, as well as heart disease and hypertension. 

To be continue in the next issue: Joints, Bowels, Bones & Skin 

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