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Fight chronic inflammation to live longer

By on November 24, 2020 in Columnist with 1 Comment
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

We are all quite aware of acute inflammation whenever we injure ourselves, sprain an ankle, break a bone or cut ourselves. 

This response is a protective one that plays a role in our body’s healing process. 

With the constant information we all are receiving about this current pandemic, we have become well aware of the effects of the severity of this coronavirus. 

The frequently used term “cytokine storm” is new to most of us. Cytokine storm refers to a severe reaction in which the body releases too many cytokines into the blood too quickly. 

Cytokines refer to a number of protein substances that are secreted by certain cells of our immune system. Signs of a cytokine storm include high fever, severe fatigue, and nausea. Sometimes this “storm” can be severe enough to be life threatening and lead to organ failure. 

There is another form of inflammation we need to be made aware of and is chronic inflammation, which can smolder in our bodies and we might not even be aware of it. 

Unfortunately, three out of every five people in the world die from diseases linked to chronic inflammation. That might be shocking to many of us. 

Chronic inflammation is linked to a wide variety of serious chronic conditions including cardiac and vascular disease, cancer, type two diabetes, and some central nervous system diseases. 

Rosana Risques, a specialist in inflammatory processes at the University of Washington, says it is becoming clear chronic inflammation is implicated at every level of tumor development including its conversion to malignancy and metastasis of the cancer. 

According to Maija Kohonen-Corish from the Garvan Institute of Medical research in Sydney, Australia, chronic inflammation plays a role in causing cancer. 

Chronic inflammation has also been implicated in disorders of the central nervous system including ALS, a common and fatal central nervous system disease. 

After researching this subject, thanks to the internet, I am convinced chronic inflammation is a serious problem, as it injures our tissues, joints, blood vessels and can play a role in the development of various central nervous system problems possibly including Alzheimer’s disease. 

Readers of this article may be wondering, “If this is the case, what can we do to prevent or decrease it?” 

Chronic inflammation alone is not necessarily the cause of many diseases as it also requires additional genetic and environmental factors. 

Nevertheless, there are a number of life style changes and other interventions that can help in the battle. 

There are blood tests available to detect chronic inflammation in our bodies. This should be discussed with your physician. Two blood tests that give an indication if chronic inflammation is present are a erythrocyte sedimentation rate and another is called a C-reactive protein (CRP) blood test that rises in response to inflammation. 

As is true of a majority of our chronic illnesses, our lifestyle habits play a huge role in our susceptibility to chronic illnesses including those related to chronic inflammation. 

Managing our diet and lifestyle are two of the best ways to keep chronic inflammation under control. 

Smoking has long been known as one of the worst habits causing damage to our organs. Anyone who continues to smoke is basically saying they really don’t care what happens to them. The facts are clear; smoking causes cancer, lung disease and heart disease. 

Excessive weight (obesity) — especially having to do with one’s abdominal girth — is a vital factor in chronic inflammation. Abdominal fat is the worst kind as it produces pro-inflammatory chemicals. 

What we eat can play a huge role in protecting us against inflammation. 

Eating a fiber-rich diet protects us against chronic inflammation. The bacteria in the gut metabolizes fiber to produce short chain fatty acids that decrease inflammation and boost our immune system as well as regulating our blood sugar. 

Plant based proteins including nuts, seeds and legumes including beans, peas, lentils and soybeans are good alternatives to meat products. 

Try to eat colorful fruits and vegetables daily including beets, berries, tomatoes, cherries, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and garlic. The more color the better. 

Many spices have anti-inflammatory properties, including turmeric, ginger, basil, cinnamon, cayenne and oregano. 

Omega3’s are heart healthy, mood boosting and anti-inflammatory. Good sources for omega3 are salmon, tuna, and sardines. Plant sources are walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds. 

What we need to restrict is important as well. 

We all need to restrict sugar including cookies, cakes, white bread and sweets, all of which increase blood sugar. 

Reduce one’s intake of saturated fats in meats that stimulate the inflammatory process. 

If you can, choose lean, grass fed organic meat (if you can find it). Foods that are grilled have more pro-inflammatory end products. This is especially true of fatty cuts of meat. It’s healthier to cook them on the stove top, in the oven or broil them. 

It has been shown individuals age 70-90 years following a Mediterranean diet and healthy lifestyle had a 50 percent lower rate of all-cause mortality and are less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death and age related cognitive decline. 

The main benefit of the Med diet is the reduction of inflammatory biomarkers. 

A common feature of the Med diet is a high dietary intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, mono-saturated fats and nuts followed by a modest consumption of fish, dairy products (mainly cheese and yogurt) and a low consumption of red and processed meats and alcohol.

The rest of my recommendations as to lifestyle seem like a broken record I have mentioned frequently. 

First of all is for us to get moving and keep moving. My wife and I have a goal to walk no less than two miles a day. 

We all need to get enough sleep every night as well. A healthy amount of sleep is no less than seven hours nightly. 

If you smoke stop! Limit alcohol intake. A little is ok, but too much promotes chronic inflammation as well as other health issues. 

It is important to deal with stress if possible. I know that is easier said than done, but exercise, eating right, and getting adequate sleep helps. If outside help like counseling is needed, please get it. 

We are living in tumultuous and difficult times in this country. It is certainly easy to get depressed and stressed these days. 

Go for a long walk, preferably with a friend. 

It’s better to read a good book after your walk and avoid stressing out over social media or becoming a news junkie. Life is too short for that. 

We humans love to take pills for our problems. So what can we do about chronic inflammation? 

Many worry about cholesterol without realizing cholesterol per se is not the culprit. It is the bad cholesterol, LDL, that we need to be concerned about. The drugs called “statins” are some of the most widely used drugs in the world, and are prescribed to lower LDL cholesterol. They also raise the good HDL cholesterol. 

The good news is statins also lower CRP or C reactive protein that increase chronic inflammation. If you are one of the 35 million people that take a statin for your LDL cholesterol, you are getting a “fringe” benefit in lowering your chronic inflammation. 

Millions of people daily take low-dose aspirin as a heart protective medication. This, too, might decrease chronic inflammation as well. 

There are new guidelines now for the daily use of low dose aspirin. The new information recommends taking low doses if you are between the ages of 40-70 and are at risk of cardiovascular disease and at low risk of bleeding. 

If you are taking daily aspirin I would suggest strongly you discuss these new guidelines with your personal physician as to whether you should be taking low dose aspirin long term for any condition.

Actions you can take now

Take these steps to fight chronic inflammation and improve your health and live the good life.

Eat anti-inflammatory foods as much as possible.

Keep moving. Walking, with a goal of 10 miles a week still is the best medicine. 

Manage your weight especially with a goal to reduce inflammatory abdominal fat.

Get an adequate amount of sleep, with a goal of seven hours nightly.

Stop smoking. This can reduce inflammatory levels in a matter of weeks.

Limit alcohol usage. Too much is not your friend. 

Deal with your chronic stress, and seek help if necessary. 

Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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  1. James S Russell says:

    This a great article about ways to avoid or reduce inflammation. That’s important because inflammation is more significant that I realized growing up. Thanks. Nice and clear.

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