Many experts refer to chronic inflammation as the inner fire. In the medical community, there is growing consensus that all degenerative and chronic illnesses, and perhaps even the aging process itself, are the results of chronic inflammation.
So what causes the immune system to malfunction? A recent study discovered a link between strong emotional reactions to stressful situations and chronic inflammation. For example, one of the body’s reactions to stress is an elevated heart rate which increases blood pressure. This makes the blood vessels, and the rest of the body work harder. People who suffer from ongoing stress are essentially subjecting their bodies to repeated pressure, which causes inflammation to persist.
Allergies are a symptom of an immune system that is not responding normally. It has become hypersensitive and overreacts to irritants in the environment such as pollen or dust. Individual cells react by releasing histamine into the blood stream. Histamine, in turn, triggers the immune response. This is why many allergy medications feature anti-histamines. People who suffer from allergies are at risk for chronic inflammation because of an over-active immune response.
A deficiency in vitamin A has been shown to cause an increase in the inflammatory response and a deficiency in vitamin D has been implicated in chronic pain and lung disease.
Adequate levels of both vitamins have been shown to lower levels of inflammation in the body. Additionally, people with adequate levels of vitamins A and D are less likely to suffer from illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, depression and certain types of cancers.
Over indulging in certain foods has also been linked to increases in production of inflammation-causing proteins known as cytokines. These proteins are known as signaling molecules and are part of the way that cells in the body communicate with each other. The immune response is triggered by the presence of cytokines. Habitual overeating means that the body is in a constant state of low-level inflammation.
Foods that are known to trigger chronic inflammation are:
- Highly processed foods,
- Trans-fats or hydrogenated fats,
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Wheat products
The trouble begins when the inflammation persists and is transformed into chronic silent inflammation. This happens when there is a breakdown in communication in the body, and pro-inflammatory molecules continue to be generated, just at a lower level. These molecules continue to fight an immunological war, but not against an actual threat, they are fighting a war against you, your healthy tissues, cells and blood vessels.
When the intensity of this attack is high enough, it starts to generate something Dr. Barry Sears calls Screaming pain. When that pain gets bad enough, it will send you running for the medicine cabinet for anti-inflammatory drugs. Aspirin, ibuprofen (also known as Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin), and naproxen (Alieve), may effectively help to alleviate the pain, but at what cost to your health? These pain medications stop the overproduction of the pro-inflammatory molecules, but they also stop the production of anti-inflammatory molecules which your body needs, to not only repair damage, but also to maintain a state of wellness.
If you continue to use these drugs long enough they can cause many different side effects. Anything from ulcers, leaky gut syndrome and heart failure to even death. In America today, as many people die from using the “recommended” dose of anti-inflammatory drugs as die from AIDS.
At least if you suffer from Screaming Pain you are aware of it and try to do something about it. What happens if you suffer from silent inflammation?
When you suffer from silent inflammation you don’t know it, hence the word silent, the pain doesn’t exist so you do nothing. So how do you know if you are suffering from silent inflammation?
The Symptoms of Chronic Silent Inflammation
The symptoms of chronic silent inflammation are many and varied. I’ll start with the lesser known symptoms of silent inflammation.
- Skin Problems
- Skin rashes and outbreaks may indicate an underlying low-level case of inflammation. Acne is one of the best known skin rashes. Psoriasis is another which results in red, raised patches that are covered with white scales. Inflammation is also linked to eczema and dermatitis which appear as red rashes, itchy patches, blisters and swelling.
- Dry or bloodshot eyes
- Inflammation may cause the volume of tears to decrease, resulting in dry or bloodshot eyes.
- Digestive Issues
- The early warning signs of inflammation in the digestive tract are frequent bouts of constipation or diarrhea, painful gas, indigestion, acid reflux or heartburn, and bloating.
- Nasal Congestion
- Nasal congestion inflammation causes the blood vessels along the nasal and sinus cavities to swell, making it difficult to breathe.
* Breathing Issues
- Inflammation is a key component in several respiratory illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD for short), lung cancer, shortness of breath, and sleep apnea. Research into respiratory inflammation suggests that irritants like nicotine, silica dust and viruses can cause excessive inflammation in the lungs.
* Asthma or Allergies
- In these cases, the body over-reacts to triggers like pollen, dust, smoke, fumes or animal dander causing bronchial tubes to swell making it difficult to breathe.
The Effects of Long Term Chronic Silent Inflammation
Chronic Silent inflammation can have a wide range of effects on the body and depending on where the inflammation is located; it can cause a variety of diseases and conditions. Inflammation has been linked to several serious degenerative health conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s, COPD, asthma, heart disease just to name a few.
When chronic inflammation takes place in the body, cytokines are released into the blood, issues or organs. Over time, these substances destroy healthy cells, which leads to irritation and the eventual breaking down of tissues. As tissues are irritated and worn down, they release inflammation triggers, creating a cycle of inflammation.
Inflammation in the joints is commonly known as arthritis. There are several types that are associated with inflammation which include rheumatoid arthritis, gout, systemic lupus erythematosus and psoriatic arthritis. One common form of arthritis that is not associated with inflammation is osteoarthritis which is also known as degenerative arthritis.
The symptoms of joint inflammation are; a joint that is swollen, warm and tender to the touch, localized pain, stiffness and the loss of function in the joint. In many cases, only some of the symptoms manifest themselves. Arthritic inflammation may also come with symptoms that are similar to the flu including, headaches, fatigue, chills and fever.
There are several treatment options available for joint inflammation such as rest, exercise and medications. In some cases, surgery is necessary to repair damage to a joint from inflammation.
There are several lung conditions that are connected with inflammation including pleurisy, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Each one represents a different kind of lung inflammation.
Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura, which is the lining that surrounds the lungs. These layers rub against each other when the lungs expand as a breath is taken, causing a sharp pain. Pneumonia is an inflammation of the alveoli which are microscopic air sacs within the lungs. The usual cause of pneumonia is an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or an autoimmune disease. Severe cases of pneumonia may require hospitalization.
Asthma is characterized by a sudden reaction to a trigger and results in a temporary inflammation of the airways of the lungs, which can make breathing difficult. Bronchitis is the result of inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchi, the medium to large airways in the lungs. COPD is the result of changes in the lungs brought on by ongoing inflammation.
As with the lungs, inflammation can cause several serious conditions within the digestive system. Digestive tract diseases that are caused by or related to inflammation are irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is actually a group of different inflammatory conditions of the small intestine and colon. It is an autoimmune disease which occurs when the immune system attacks parts of the digestive system. IBD is similar to Crohn’s disease, the main difference being that Crohn’s disease can manifest in any part of the digestive tract while IBD is confined to the small intestine and colon.
Ulcerative colitis is a long-lasting inflammation that is confined to the inner lining of the large intestine and rectum. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a less-severe form of inflammation in the large intestine and can usually be managed through lifestyle changes.
Inflammation of nerves is also known as neuritis and can arise from drug reactions and viral or bacterial infections. Symptoms can include pain, numbness, tingling and muscular weakness. Recent research has suggested that inflammation plays a major role in Alzheimer’s disease and that specifically targeting elements of inflammation might help to prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease.
Is There a Connection between Chronic Inflammation and Aging?
Some scientists and researchers are beginning to believe that aging and even death are not the unavoidable consequences of living. If this premise turns out to be true, it may be possible to stop and even reverse aging in the not-too-distant future. One of the major components of the aging process is chronic inflammation, and there is some compelling evidence which indicates that the speed at which a person ages is linked to inflammatory processes.
Additionally, many of the diseases that are associated with aging such as dementia, heart disease, cancer and stroke, all have a close relationship with chronic inflammation.
The exciting thing about these recent discoveries is that it is possible to do something about inflammation. To put it simply, if aging is just a consequence of inflammation, then controlling inflammation may slow the aging process and prevent many of the diseases that are associated with it.
How does aging work?
The immune system evolved to deal with the constant threat of injury, bacteria and viruses. The purpose of a strong immune system was to allow an individual to live long enough to reproduce. As people age, the immune mechanisms that once provided protection from infection and disease start to break down and attack cells and organs within the body.
Over time, the levels of inflammatory indicators such as cytokines increase, which creates a state of ongoing, low-level chronic inflammation. One question that still remains is whether inflammation is the cause or the effect of aging. One theory is that the declining levels of sex hormones in the aging body contribute to chronic inflammation as people age.
The brain’s effect on the aging body
Scientists recently revealed that they have discovered a region of the brain that may be responsible for controlling aging throughout the entire body. To support this hypothesis, researchers were able to extend the lifespan of mice by 20 percent simply by manipulating this region of the brain.
The region the experiment focused on is the hypothalamus, a small, almond-sized part of the brain that is responsible for controlling growth, metabolism and reproduction. According to researchers, it is also responsible for initiating the aging process. The hypothalamus seems to do this through a molecule that is used to control DNA transcription. This molecule is also connected to inflammation and the body’s response to stress. The molecule, NF-kB appears to become more active within the hypothalamus as age increases.
Is it possible to fight aging?
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests it is possible to slow down the aging process, and eventually even stop it entirely. For example, one study discovered that men in their 70s who maintained a healthy weight, did not smoke and were physically active were 54 percent more likely to live into their 90s.
Other indicators of a longer life span are a healthy diet that is low in red meat and processed foods, good dental hygiene and a positive mental outlook. Supplements such as resveratrol, fish oil and aspirin, all help to fight inflammation and promote healthy aging, but are they good choices?
Science may come up with some game-changing therapies that will eradicate aging and death within the next few decades. In the meantime, it makes sense to fight the aging process by eating an anti-inflammatory diet, getting regular exercise, minimizing stress and getting plenty of rest.
Change Your Diet, Change Your Life!
Food can be the best medicine for a variety of conditions. The typical American diet is filled with inflammation promoting foods such as overly processed foods, unsaturated fats, white flour and white sugar.
Eating a balanced, anti-inflammation diet can go a long way toward reducing chronic inflammation in the body. The anti-inflammatory diet is rich in lean protein, whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is very similar to the Zone or a Mediterranean diet with a special emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids. While the purpose of an anti-inflammation diet is optimal health and not weight loss, people often do lose weight.
Elements of a Healthy Diet
The first step is to cut back on foods that promote inflammation; dairy, processed foods, trans-fats, red meat and partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources.
The general outline of a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet is as follows. Eat between five to six servings of vegetables and fruits every day. Try to eat a variety of colors, orange, yellow, dark green and red. A wide selection of fresh produce will provide many anti-inflammatory agents plus trace vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, beta-carotene, zinc and potassium.
Next, eat five to six servings of whole grains such as wild rice, quinoa, whole wheat, bulgur wheat, millet, oats and barley. If you are eating a gluten-free diet, skip the wheat, bulgur wheat, barley and oats, (unless the oats are certified gluten-free oats). There is some controversy surrounding grains and inflammation. Some experts believe that all grains cause inflammation while other anti-inflammatory diets will include whole grains.
One thing that all experts agree on; however, is that highly processed grains like white rice and white flour encourage inflammation. With that in mind, people who wish to keep breads and grains as part of their diet should make the switch to whole grains.
Protein should be kept to two or three servings each day. Healthy proteins are; cottage cheese, yogurt, chicken, eggs or lean red meat (preferably grass-fed and no growth hormones) and omega-3 rich seafood such as salmon (preferably wild caught Alaskan), herring, shellfish or sardines.
Sweets and saturated fats should be kept to a minimum. One exception is dark chocolate, which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Try substituting dried or fresh fruits to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Overeating is also a risk factor for chronic inflammation and leads to weight gain. Surveys have shown that many people do not have a clear sense of how much they are eating and may not know what the correct portion sizes of different foods should be.
Here are some basic rules-of-thumb to follow in regard to portion sizes. Fruit and vegetable portions should be about the size of a baseball. Fruits and vegetables are one food category that it is fine to have extra portions of. A single portion of starches or grains should be about the size of a fist or tennis ball. A serving of protein is around three ounces, which is similar in size to a deck of cards.
Butter and cheese should be limited, one ounce of cheese or about the size of a domino and one teaspoon of butter or margarine or about the size of one dice. A serving of dark chocolate is one ounce or approximately the size of a package of dental floss.
These guidelines are easy to remember and will help to establish portion control and avoid the problem of overeating.
Many doctors, dieticians and health experts agree that food is medicine. Simple dietary changes can go a long way toward restoring health and even reducing a person’s dependence on prescription medications. By following the simple guidelines provided here, it may be possible to maintain a healthy weight and reverse the negative health effects of chronic inflammation.
The Top Ten Anti-Inflammation Super Foods
Earlier we took a look at general recommendations for an anti-inflammatory diet. It covered the basics plus which foods to avoid and which foods to choose. There are some super foods that have exceptional anti-inflammatory properties. Here is my selection of the top ten anti-inflammation super foods.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A staple of the popular mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil provides beneficial fats that fight inflammation. Olive oil has been shown to protect blood vessels and the heart and can help to lower the risk for asthma and arthritis.
Blueberries have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can also protect the brain from the ravages of aging and may be helpful in preventing diseases like cancer and dementia.
Kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli all contain antioxidants and can help the body flush out toxins.
Garlic already has a great reputation for fighting infection. It is also helpful for reducing inflammation and regulating blood sugar. Some experts believe that cooking garlic reduces its effectiveness. For those who are concerned about smelling like a clove of garlic, there are some odorless garlic supplements available.
Kelp is an all-around healthy food providing fiber, vitamins and minerals. It is also known for helping to control certain cancers such as liver and lung cancer, reduces inflammation and has antioxidant properties. Other edible seaweeds with similar properties are arame, wakame and kombu. These are available in most health food stores and anywhere that Asian foods are sold.
An all-around superfood, sweet potatoes help to heal inflammation and provide fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin B6, vitamin C and complex carbohydrates.
Red Palm Oil
Red palm oil is the virgin and unrefined oil extracted from palm fruit. It has a very distinctive flavor that has been described as smelling like violets, tasting like olives and colored like saffron. It provides vitamin E, the co-enzyme Q10 and beta-carotene. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.
Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon
Wild-caught salmon contains more nutrients than farmed salmon and Alaskan salmon is considered the best. Salmon and other oily fish such as tuna, herring and sardines all contain the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid. Nutritionists recommend eating oily fish twice a week. For those who don’t like fish, a high-quality fish oil supplement might do the trick.
A Michigan State University professor discovered that tart cherry extract is ten times more effective than aspirin for the relief of inflammation. Tart cherry juice contains several naturally occurring anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.
Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Capsaicin is being studied as an effective treatment for sensory nerve fiber disorders, including pain associated with arthritis, psoriasis, and diabetic neuropathy.
When animals injected with a substance that causes inflammatory arthritis were fed a diet that contained capsaicin, they had delayed onset of arthritis, and also significantly reduced paw inflammation.
Arthritis sufferers have reported pain relief when rubbing a mixture of cayenne pepper and olive oil directly on sore joints.
Incorporating these ten super-foods into a healthy diet will help to cool the inner-fires of chronic silent inflammation and may help to protect the body from serious diseases. Food is indeed the best medicine along with adequate rest, regular exercise and stress reduction. Some people are able to reduce or eliminate their need for expensive and risky prescription medications. Please note, it is important to check with a physician before stopping any prescription medication.
With so many serious, long-term diseases clearly tied to chronic silent inflammation, it makes sense to adopt a healthy lifestyle that minimizes or prevents inflammation. The main cornerstones of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle are a healthy diet, getting enough water, moderate exercise, adequate rest and minimal stress.