Thursday, September 2, 2010

Inflammation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Tereza Hubkova, M.D.

Inflammation is a process necessary to our survival. It is a mechanism that is triggered when we catch an illness or step on a rusty nail. If you were to come down with pneumonia, your immune cells would converge on, attack, and eventually destroy offending bacteria in the lungs. If you were to step on a rusty nail, your foot would swell, redden, heat with blood flow, and ache—a sign of inflammation. The white blood cells (or leukocytes) come to fight potential invasion of bacteria. The release of their chemical weapons cause the blood vessels in the foot to be “leaky” (causing swelling from fluid leaking out of the vessels into the inflamed tissues). This type of inflammation is welcome and necessary for our survival. And when the job is done, it should subside (usually in a few days to weeks).

What we do not want is to have persistent, chronic inflammation—week after week, month after month, or even year after year. This may occur when something continues to stimulate the immune system—maintaining an immune-protective stance all the time. That something can be bacteria that were not completely killed by your immune system, and so found sanctuary somewhere in your body. Or perhaps you frequently eat a food that you are sensitive to (e.g., wheat, barley, or rye for people with sensitivity to gluten). Such people may chronically feel tired, achy, or they may have unexplained rashes, or digestive issues. They may not know why, or they may suspect that the food they eat is causing their trouble without being able to pinpoint the offending ingredient.

Chronic inflammation can be very obvious, such as when you have rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis, but more often it is subtle. So subtle, in fact, that you don’t know you have it. You may feel slightly achy or less energetic; maybe you simply don’t sleep well, or are more irritable. That kind of inflammation is stealthy, and it is killing you slowly. It ages you prematurely.

Chronic inflammation has been linked to increased risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, cancers, and even macular degeneration—one of the major causes of blindness in this country. You can even become chronically inflamed because you have excess fat in your abdomen, which becomes a factory for inflammatory molecules (cytokines).

Even if you don’t have a specific food allergy, the food you consume, if of the wrong kind, and consumed consistently, will cause inflammation. If you have ever seen the documentary movie “Super Size Me”, you witnessed a healthy young Morgan Spurlock turning into an unhealthy body of inflammation after only 28-days of eating McDonalds’ fast food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He began filming completely healthy, but in a 28-day period he gained 25 pounds, his cholesterol level shot up, he developed hypertension, fatty liver, depression, and impotence. His body was inflamed. His doctors had to beg him to stop the experiment. It took him a couple of years to fully recover.

So how do you know if you have this silent, smoldering inflammation? It usually can be detected by a blood test called CRP (C-reactive protein). We know for instance that people with high CRP have higher incidents of heart attacks.

Fear not! As much as certain foods can cause or promote inflammation, there are equally many foods that protect you from excessive inflammation. Those foods are healthy for you, and can literally slow down the aging of your organs and body tissues. In this book, you will learn about these foods and ways of eating. It’s vitally important information for anybody who wants to live a long and healthy life.

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