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By The Vitamin Trader
Inflammation is playing an ever-increasing role in many of today’s chronic diseases, and, at first glance, its bad reputation seems well deserved. For example, chronic inflammation is thought to contribute to the development of many modern illnesses, such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, cancer, chronic respiratory and digestive diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and even the process of aging itself. In fact, in an article published in the reputable journal Cell, the authors claim that… perhaps no single phenomenon contributes more to the medical burden in industrialized societies than non-resolving inflammation.
However, a closer look at the cellular mechanisms that drive an inflammatory response (as well as the evolutionary gains associated with this process) paints a different picture. Inflammation is best viewed as an adaptive response to a noxious environment. In controlled amounts, it is both necessary and beneficial for maintaining a balance within the body by eliminating infectious agents and performing a general housekeeping role of removing damaged and injured tissues. Thus, rather than viewing all inflammation as harmful, it would be more accurate to view it along a spectrum, with particular attention to what drives the more chronic and non-resolving processes, which adds fuel to the fire of so many diseases. This viewpoint should also be informed by an understanding of how both our individual and collective genomes influence inflammatory pathways, and how different today’s Western lifestyle is from the environment our genes have evolved in. This contrast helps explain why inflammation’s detrimental role today is due to a...mismatch between the current environment and the evolutionary pressures of the past.
Cells Behaving Badly
Scientific understanding of acute (i.e., short-term) inflammation is quite extensive but triggers for chronic inflammation are not as well defined (and may not always be due to infection or tissue damage). Recent research points to two factors that may lead to chronic inflammation: inhibition of the resolution of inflammation and disturbed cellular function.
First, the Western diet is typically not only low in Omega-3 fatty acids (typically from fish), it is also rich in both arachidonic acid from animal products and Omega-6 fatty acids from corn and vegetable oils (which are precursors for inflammatory mediators). A nearly 1:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids was probably common throughout most of our evolutionary history, while a Western diet today is at least 15:1 ! This much higher ratio has been linked to numerous diseases, most likely because it drives inflammatory pathways, while simultaneously preventing their resolution. Total fatty acid intake is probably not as important as the ratio between Omega-6 and Omega-3’s. Genetic factors also play a role here. Individuals with a genetic variant a specific gene are more likely to develop atherosclerosis. However, if their dietary ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 is balanced, this risk is neutralized!
Second, is the importance of healthy cellular function to preventing chronic inflammation. Known as both para-inflammation and meta-inflammation, these terms refer to chronic low-grade inflammation that is either metabolically triggered or initiated in response to impaired cellular function. For example, when exposed to a surplus of nutrients (such as glucose, typical for a Western diet), inflammatory molecules and pathways are engaged which are very similar to those found in classic inflammation. This may also help to explain why a high fiber and low glycemic index diet are associated with lower production of inflammatory markers.
Third, it’s possible that improving cellular function and creating a more optimal cellular environment may protect us from the damages of inflammation. A recent animal-based study also suggests that up-regulating cellular protective enzymes may protect a cell from inflammation, while at the same time not limiting the benefits of inflammation. This cell protective effect was produced in a study with NAC (nacetylcysteine), supporting the role of this and other antioxidants in quenching inflammatory processes.
Fourth, the role of the gastrointestinal tract in inflammation deserves special mention, partly because of the critical interaction between gut flora and the immune system, as well as the influence of excessive intestinal permeability on systemic inflammation. A healthy population of gut flora helps not only to prevent overgrowth of toxic bacteria, but also helps to induce immuno-tolerance and integrity of the intestinal wall. Again, a Western diet has been associated with an altered intestinal flora composition and is more likely to be inflammatory. Lack of breastfeeding and antibiotic use are also risk factors.
A Mediterranean diet rich in plant based whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, as well as magnesium, fiber and other phytonutrients has been consistently shown in the research to reduce inflammation. It should also be rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), particularly in comparison to excessive consumption of arachidonic acid from animal products and n-6 fatty acids from corn and vegetable oils, have a low glycemic index, and ideally be organic. Ensuring optimal vitamins A and D intake is also necessary for modulating a number of immune and inflammatory functions. Physical activity (not excessive) is also important, and helps to maintain a healthy body weight, a critical factor for reducing inflammation. Consideration of food allergens, intestinal permeability, as well a balance of intestinal flora is important. The use of antioxidants and other nutrients which enhance cell function may both reduce inflammation and protect cells from its damage. Curcumin and resveratrol are two compounds that may be particularly effective, especially when used together. Ultimately, matching our environment to our genetic uniqueness may be the most advantageous approach.
Excerpted from "How Do We Attain Inflammation Modulation?" by Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, ND and Joseph Katzinger, ND, Vitamin Retailer Magazine
Editor’s note: you have a rich array of nutrients to choose from when looking to modulate inflammation in your body. Check the Antioxidant and Probiotic sections of The Vitamin Trader. Healing nutrients for the intestines like BEYOND WHEY and INTESTINEW, as well as Enzymes, are key to reducing overall inflammation.
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