Inflammation Control – Part 1.

In our next few articles we will take you into a deeper understanding of the foundation of inflammation.

We will answer questions such as:

  • What is inflammation?
  • What is good about inflammation and bad?
  • What are the primary causes of inflammation?
  • What can we do about inflammation?

“Instead of different treatments for heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and colon cancer, there might be a single inflammation-reducing remedy that would prevent all three.” TIME (Cover Story) February 23, 2004

Inflammation – What is it?

Most of us have some idea what inflammation is. If a wound gets hot, turns red, hurts, and swells, we recognize that inflammation is at work. In this instance, inflammation is a beneficial process, serving to immobilize the area of injury as the rest of the immune system mobilizes to heal.

Regardless of the source of assault on our bodies, inflammation is the first-alert mechanism that calls into action the cells responsible for surveillance and protection, heralding them to go to work and limit the damage. These cells attack and destroy the invaders, then clean up the damaged cells, repairing and clearing as they go, until a healthy state is restored. As such, inflammation is your body’s first line of defense against injury or infection.

Silent Inflammation

Unlike the above example, researchers now recognize another kind of inflammation: silent inflammation, or SI. This type of internal inflammation has an insidious nature and is the culprit behind the many chronic diseases that are primarily caused by poor lifestyle habits and environmental pollutants. The chronic and continuous low-level demand that silent inflammation places on the body’s defense systems results in an immune-system breakdown. In SI there is no regulated progression of a healthy inflammatory response, no planned sequence from the first alarm to the formation of the last new cell. Many of these reactions become intermingled and hamper one another.

The body tissues themselves may lose their ability to recognize cells that are “self” from those that are not, and the body may mistakenly identify its own cells as foreign invaders. This internal programming error then continues to trigger and retrigger immune responses, setting the stage for autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, and scleroderma. The result is chaos, and what is even more disturbing is that this process may be happening year after year without our even being aware of it.

We now know that inflammation plays a central role in the chronic illness that remains our number-one killer: coronary artery disease. In fact, elevated markers of silent inflammation, such as homocysteine, CRP, and Lp(a), have been found to be more predictive of heart disease than such traditional risk factors as elevated cholesterol levels (50 percent of those hospitalized for heart disease have normal cholesterol levels).

A landmark study showed that people with high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), one of the cardinal markers of inflammation, were over four times more likely to have heart attacks than those with low CRP levels. Researchers then began to link C-reactive protein, along with other markers of inflammation, to a wide range of chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and even cancer. Chronic silent inflammation is now accepted as a warning that something is drastically out of balance in a person’s overall health.

Although chronic inflammation can cause a variety of disorders, many of us (and unfortunately this includes many physicians) do not know the warning signs of this kind of inflammation or the best ways to treat it. This knowledge is critical because, if a person has one inflammatory condition, the odds that he or she will develop another condition increase dramatically. Researchers have discovered, for example, that a woman with rheumatoid arthritis has a 100 percent increased risk of experiencing a myocardial infarction. And other recent research has demonstrated that higher CRP levels are also associated with age-related macular degeneration, so the same individual can have more than one condition caused by SI. For all these reasons, slowing down this chronic inflammation syndrome is vital to successful age management, so it is crucial that everyone becomes aware of it, understands its causes, and takes measures to stop it.

Causes of Inflammation

There are many factors that trigger inflammation. They are found in both our internal and external environments and include excessive levels of the hormone insulin, emotional stress, environmental toxins (heavy metals), free-radical damage, nanobacteria and other bacterial infections, obesity, over consumption of hydrogenated oils, periodontal disease, radiation exposure, smoking, spirochetes, such as the Borrelia that causes Lyme disease, viral infections, such as cytomegalovirus (CMV), and some pharmacological drugs. Let’s take a closer look at a few of these examples.


The most powerful drug you can consume is the food you eat each day. Depending on the ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) you take in at each meal, your daily diet will either keep you in an optimum zone for good health, or it won’t. The Zone is a physiological state in which the hormones (especially insulin) influenced by the diet are kept in ranges consistent with optimal health. A perfect Zone meal is composed of macronutrients proportioned in ideal balance, as follows:

  Carbohydrates: 40 percent

  Fat: 30 percent

  Protein: 30 percent

Combining macronutrients according to the ratio listed above will keep you in the Zone. The goal is to keep insulin levels less than 12 µU/ml, although an ideal level is 5 µU/ml. We now know that the Zone diet helps keep eicosanoids (hormone like substances), insulin, and weight at ideal levels, which, in turn, lowers silent inflammation levels. And remember that the health consequences of failing to keep insulin levels in range can be heart disease, insulin resistance, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and many other unwanted health complications.

Controlling Insulin

Insulin control is achieved through balancing the ratio of protein and carbohydrates at each meal to maintain stable blood-sugar levels for four to six hours. We agree with our colleague Dr. Barry Sears who states, “Hormonally, you are only as good as your last meal, and you will be only as good as your next meal.” This means, for optimal health, you have a dietary choice to make every four to six hours. Accordingly, the following is advised.

• Try to eat a Zone meal within one hour of waking.

• Every time you eat, aim to balance protein, carbohydrates, and fat.

• Try to eat five times a day—three meals and two light snacks.

• Eat more vegetables and fruit; eat less bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice.

• Eat a serving of slow-cooked oatmeal topped with seasonal fruit twice a week for fiber, gamma linolenic acid (GLA), and phytonutrients.

• Always supplement your diet with fish oil and other nutraceuticals.

• Use monounsaturated oils (such as olive oil) whenever possible on vegetables and salads.

• Choose low-glycemic carbohydrates whenever possible.

In addition to excess insulin, heart disease and aging are accelerated by increased blood sugar, elevated cortisol levels, and free radicals. And all these contributing factors can be modified by the Zone diet, which works to establish hormonal equilibrium in the body.

The essential fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-3, are also key dietary components.  As mentioned in Chapter 3, when these two types of essential fatty acids  are metabolized they produce eicosanoid hormones, which can have dramatically  different physiological reactions.  Eicosanoids have been labeled either good or bad, depending on how they affect the body. Good eicosanoids, produced from omega-3 fatty acids, are anti-inflammatory by nature, while bad eicosanoids cause inflammation. The metabolism of essential fatty acids is ultimately controlled by one particular enzyme in the body, delta-5-desaturase, which produces arachidonic acid (AA), a long-chain omega-6 fatty acid that is the precursor of the  proinflammatory (bad) eicosanoids.

The Role of Delta-5 Desaturase in AA Synthesis

Two dietary constituents profoundly affect the activity of the enzyme delta-5-desaturase—the levels of long-chain omega-3-fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and the levels of insulin. The AA/EPA balance, as measured in the blood, represents the balance of bad and good eicosanoids throughout the body (an ideal AA/EPA ratio is 1.5).

If you eat an imbalance of (too many) carbohydrates, refined sugars, and proteins, you will provoke a greater insulin response. Too much insulin in the body exacerbates AA production, which causes sticky platelets (platelet aggregation) and sets the stage for chronic, silent inflammation while promoting blood clotting at the same time. But high levels of EPA (as found in wild salmon, for example) will counteract the negative effects of AA production and keep inflammation at bay.

Heavy Metals

There are numerous published papers describing adverse clinical effects with aluminum, cadmium, copper, iron, lead, and mercury. According to data from the U.S. Toxics Release Inventory, in the year 2000, industry in the United States released 4.3 million pounds of mercury and mercury compounds into the environment, and generated 4.9 million pounds of mercury compounds in toxic waste. This toxic metal burden increases low-grade inflammation at the cellular level, which interferes with mitochondrial function and energy production, and therefore has a very negative effect on the endocrine (glandular), immune, and metabolic systems.

The cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems are extraordinarily sensitive to mercury. In one small study of thirteen people with heart disease, investigators found mercury concentrations in excess of 22,000 times normal.  Researchers speculated that toxic mercury levels adversely affected mitochondrial activity, which led to the heart problems.

And how do we become mercury toxic in the first place? Quite simply by breathing bad air and eating bad fish. Most mercury vapors come from the industrialization of coal, and they are inhaled into the lungs and then transmitted to tissues. Another important factor is the precipitation of mercury vapors in the water supply through rainfall. The mercury goes into lakes, ponds, and streams, where algae and bacteria—your main entrée if you’re a fish—take it in. First small (bait) fish ingest this algae-laden methylmercury, then the bigger fish eat these smaller fish, and on up the food chain, until it reaches us. And the larger the fish, the greater amount of time it’s had to accumulate more mercury from its diet of smaller fish, so when we dine on a large mercury-overloaded fish, we are getting a large dose of toxic metal.

A study of the association between fish intake and myocardial infarction, using hair analysis and urinary excretion to measure mercury levels in 1,833 men, showed that those men with the highest hair-mercury levels had twice as many heart attacks and almost three times as many cardiac arrests as the men with lower hair-mercury content. Mercury increases LDL, and high levels of LDL prime the pump for further inflammation.

Although somewhat controversial, many believe that dental fillings are another source of unwanted mercury toxins in the body. If you have any signs and symptoms of mercury overload, such as cardiac problems of unknown origin, confusion, fatigue headaches, insomnia, joint pain, tremors, weakness, or weight loss, to mention a few, you should seriously consider having your old cracked fillings removed by a dentist.

The easiest way to diagnose heavy metal toxicity, as mentioned before, is to ingest a dose of oral DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid) and collect the urine for the next twenty-four hours. A proficient lab to have mercury levels checked is Doctor’s Data (see Resources and Med-Spa Directory). In our respective practices, we commonly perform this test on patients with cardiac disease, fibromyalgia, emotional and neurological problems, and unexplained fatigue.

In our next article we will continue to discuss a variety of causes behind inflammation and help you build a clearer understanding of what you can do about it. Learn how AlphaFlex can help you feel better. 

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