How to Control Inflammation
Leo Galland, MD, director of the Foundation for Integrated Medicine in New York City, explains that this complex series of chemical and physiological reactions plays an important role in the recovery from injury and protection from infection. However, he adds, more and more research indicates that in many instances, the defense response spirals out of control, causing inflammation and triggering disease. New research is finding inflammation implicated in an array of diseases from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer's.
Chronic inflammation has long been known to play a role in such inflammatory diseases as arthritis, asthma, allergies, skin diseases and assorted autoimmune diseases. Dr. Galland observes that more recently, low-grade inflammation has also been seen as a factor in such conditions as obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
The following strategies can help reduce your risk for inflammation-related problems...
One of the best weapons against inflammation is low-dose aspirin, says Dr. Galland. As a type of drug known as a salicylate, aspirin not only discourages blood clotting, it also helps to turn off the genes that promote inflammation and prevents the manufacture of inflammatory hormones called prostaglandins.
Dr. Galland recommends a diet rich in inflammation-fighting antioxidants from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. He points out that antioxidant effects are greatest from food, noting that there are a mixed set of responses from antioxidant dietary supplements. In addition, Dr. Galland says that vegetables and fruits naturally contain salicylates.
Eat fish three times a week. Deep-water fish, such as wild salmon, mackerel and sardines, are rich sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. If you don't get enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, Dr. Galland recommends fish oil supplements that supply up to 1,500 mg of DHA daily. It also is helpful to sprinkle a tablespoon of flaxseeds on your cereal or salad every day.
Avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fats and cholesterol, such as red meat, french fries and other fast and processed foods. These increase your risk for inflammatory disease.
Maintain a healthy weight. Dr. Galland says that obesity increases the inflammatory response in the body, which explains why it is linked with so many chronic inflammatory diseases.
Exercise is key, notes Dr. Galland. Elevated CRP is associated with a two- to fivefold increase in the risk for heart attack. Studies show that exercise dramatically decreases CRP levels.
Although the jury is still out, research suggests that relatively new anti-inflammatory drugs known as COX-2 inhibitors may play a role in the prevention and treatment of inflammatory conditions, such as colon cancer and Alzheimer's disease. These drugs have been approved for the treatment of arthritis, but studies show that rheumatoid arthritis patients who took them had a 40% to 50% lower chance of developing colon cancer.
In cases of cardiovascular disease, Dr. Galland notes that the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may be helpful, though the risk associated with taking them must also be considered. Recently, scientists proposed that statins are effective against heart disease not only because they lower cholesterol, but because they have a significant anti-inflammatory effect. When plaque is inflamed, it is more likely to rupture and cause a heart attack.
See your health-care professional for a physical examination once a year. If you are at risk for inflammatory disease because of health concerns (such as obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes), family history or negative lifestyle habits (such as heavy drinking or cigarette smoking), get tested for inflammatory markers, such as CRP. Also, seek counseling to get yourself on a healthier path to wellness.
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