The Secret Leading Cause of Disease and
What to Do About It
© 2014 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Inflammation is your body's natural response to outside invaders it perceives as threats. Specifically, it's a process in which your body's white blood cells protect you from foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses.
However, when your body is in a chronic state of inflammation, the inflammation can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues. In fact, chronic inflammation is a leading cause of many diseases, both physical and neurological, including heart disease.
Is Inflammation Serious?
Inflammation is associated with a host of diseases like Crohn's disease, colitis and arthritis, and many of them are life threatening. Said pathologist Ed Friedlander, M.D., "Probably your own death will be caused by your last inflammatory response ... Whole body inflammation, formerly a popular term used especially by surgeons for the patients who they could not save, is going out of fashion in favor of multiple organ failure."
Here's a brief list of how chronic inflammation can affect your organs:
- Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis): Shortness of breath or fluid retention
- Inflammation of the small tubes that transport air to the lungs: Asthma attack
- Inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis): High blood pressure or kidney failure
- Inflammation of the large intestine (colitis): Cramps and diarrhea
In fact, multiple conditions and diseases have an inflammatory component, including:
||High blood pressure
||Urinary tract infections
Many actually attribute aging itself to chronic inflammation.
What Causes Inflammation?
Many factors, including emotions, diet and lifestyle, contribute to inflammation. Diet is a big one. Foods are naturally pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, so depending on what you eat you may be fueling inflammation in your body.
Sugary, highly processed foods rank high on the list of "pro-inflammatory" foods.
Pro-inflammatory foods include sugar, soda, alcohol, bread and red meat (how many of these do you eat or drink?). Trans fats, which are found in many snack foods, fried foods, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, vegetable shortening, some margarines, salad dressings and many processed foods, are particularly problematic. Studies have found that eating trans fats increases systemic inflammation, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
A study in the December 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at a similar issue: The effect of trans fats on inflammation and heart disease in people who already have heart disease. According to the authors of the study, "Our results suggest that TFA [trans fatty acids] are strongly associated with systemic inflammation in patients with chronic heart failure. This finding suggests a novel potential mechanism whereby TFA intake may affect the health of patients with established heart disease."
As for foods that are anti-inflammatory, these include-you guessed it-fruits and vegetables.
Other factors that can increase your risk of chronic inflammation include:
Being obese or overweight
Eating a poor diet
An existing heart condition
A family history of heart disease
Diabetes that's poorly controlled
A sedentary lifestyle (no, or very little, exercise)
The Balance of Your Fatty Acid Ratios is Key
If your diet consists of numerous pro-inflammatory foods, it is likely that you have an imbalance of fatty acids that can significantly contribute to your inflammatory response. Because your body does not make fatty acids, you must consume them from your diet; unfortunately, most people eat far more unhealthy fats (like those in fried foods and poor-quality oils) than they do healthy fats like the omega-3 found in seafood.
For instance, coldwater fish oils contain high concentrations of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). EPA is the precursor for the Series 3 eicosanoids, which have potent anti-inflammatory effects. The oil from certain plant seeds, particularly borage, evening primrose, and black currant, have high concentrations of the omega-6 fatty acid GLA (gamma linolenic acid), the precursor to the anti-inflammatory Series 1 eicosanoids.
On the other hand, the omega-6 fatty acid AA (arachidonic acid) is found in high concentration in the fat of red meats. AA is converted to the pro-inflammatory Series 2 eicosanoids, increasing your risk for various disease and inflammatory processes in your body.
The balance between the pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids is influenced in large part by the balance of fatty acids you consume. Since inflammation has now been shown to be integral to so many disease processes, nutrients that counteract inflammation can have profound health benefits.
For instance, supplementing your diet with omega-3 fats has been shown to not only reduce inflammation, but also reduce your risk of dying form inflammatory diseases. In one study, women with the highest intake of omega-3 had a 44 percent reduced risk of inflammatory disease mortality!
The problem is that many people do not realize their fatty acid consumption is out of balance until disease develops. Why? Because it’s often the case that people inadvertently consume either too little to be effective or such an excess that they are causing other health problems. For instance, excessive consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can suppress immune function, leading to infections and poor wound healing.
The good news is that it’s simple to be proactive with prescribed supplements.
How do You Know if You Have Fatty Acid Deficiency or Chronic Inflammation?
There are several tests you can take to determine the level of inflammation in your body. One such test is a High Sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) blood test, which may be covered by insurance and can be done along with a cholesterol test. Hs-CRP level is used as a marker of inflammation in the arteries. (A hs-CRP level under 1.0 milligrams per liter of blood means you have a low risk for cardiovascular disease, 1.0 to 2.9 milligrams means your risk is intermediate and more than 3.0 milligrams is high risk.)
Another test that's often covered by insurance is a fasting blood insulin level. This test is used to screen for diabetes and heart disease, but it's also a marker for inflammation. The higher your insulin levels are, the more inflammation your body is producing,
The Metametrix Fatty Acid Profile is a simple solution when it comes to fatty acid testing. This test shows the balance of fats and metabolites in your plasma. Your overall balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats is represented by measurement of acid ratios. Balanced fatty acid levels are essential for optimal health. Fatty acid profiles are also an ideal way to track progress or response to a treatment, show varying patterns identifying essential fatty acid excess or deficiency, signs of insulin resistance, elevated level of triglycerides (fatty acids compounds), pro-inflammation or omega-3 dominance.
The great thing about fatty acid testing is that it can provide a great deal of information allowing for individualized interventions with regard to dietary modifications, fatty acid supplements and the need for vitamins and minerals. For instance, the Metametrix Fatty Acid profile can reveal whether you’re:
Taking enough (or too much) fish oil
Eating too much red meat or too many trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oils)
Eating too many omega-6 fats polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) (Consumption of PUFAs without increasing antioxidant intake will cause increased production of free radicals).
In need of flax seed oil
At risk of altered fatty acid ratios due to medications you’re taking (such as statin cholesterol-lowering drugs; among the top five drugs prescribed last year, statins have been shown to unfavorably alter this inflammatory balance)
At risk of micronutrient deficiencies
Quite simply, improper fatty acid intake affects the balance of anti- and pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, increasing health risks. Ask your health care provider about this simple but incredibly important test, the Metametrix Fatty Acid Profile, today. Fatty acids measured include:Polyunsaturated Omega-3
- ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
- EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
- DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
- LA (Linoleic Acid)
- GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid)
- DGLA (Dihomogamma Linolenic Acid)
- AA (Arachidonic Acid)
The following indicators will be calculated, offering you an invaluable inside “peek” into your body’s inflammatory status (and more):
AA:EPA ratio - A measure of "silent" inflammation
EPA + DHA % - An early CVD risk indicator
LA:GLA Ratio - Delta6 desaturase inhibition by decreased Zn or decreased Mg, increased insulin, or dietary excess of saturated or trans fatty acids
EPA:DGLA Ratio - Helps balance intake of Series-3 and Series-1 eicosanoid precursors
“. Varying patterns can help to identify not only essential fatty acid deficiency or excess, but also signs of insulin resistance, hypertriglyceridemia, pro-inflammatory states, or omega-3 dominance.” 2 Fatty acid analyses can also provide information
Ask Your Practitioner How Best to Reduce Inflammation in Your Body
Once you know your fatty acid profile, your doctor can recommend individual dietary, lifestyle and supplement changes that will help rebalance and optimize your ratios, as well as keep inflammation at bay.
Generally speaking, however, eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly, not smoking and reducing stress in your life are the starting points to managing inflammatory processes and reaching optimal health.
Inflammation & You
Trans Fats Associated with Systemic Inflammation in Patients with Heart Disease
Tests for Inflammation
Brain Behav Immun.;25(8):1725-34.
Am J Clin Nutr vol. 93 no. 5 1073-1079