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Inflammation: The Silent Killer
by Dr. Garry D’Brant • Glen Head

What is inflammation? In its simplest form, it’s the body’s response to a perceived threat– whether it’s a splinter in our finger, sunburn at the beach, a sprained ankle or the reddish edges of a paper cut.

When balanced, the body has the capacity to counter the inflammatory chemicals that are produced when it perceives a danger like we just described. However, when the body becomes imbalanced, it loses its ability to produce anti-inflammatory chemicals to counteract inflammation. This may go undetected for long periods of time– however, symptoms of chronic inflammation can manifest as arthritis, colitis, fatigue, sinusitis, cataracts, chronic pain or hair loss.

Chronic inflammation is usually seen in people who have diets with a high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids, lead lives with high stress levels, have excess body fat, exercise intensely and eat high carbohydrate content meals. When chronic inflammation is maintained over a period of time, it can lead to serious conditions such as cancer, heart disease, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes and others.

How do we control inflammation? Typically, if you have a headache, you reach for an aspirin, right? Or, if the pain is really bad, you go for any number of other Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs,) such as Ibuprofen, Aleve, Excedrin or Acetiminophen. New drugs, the Cox 2 Inhibitors (Vioxx and Celebrex,) have recently been added to this group.

However, NSAIDs have a not so well publicized record of health risks. Specifically:

• NSAID-induced disease causes at least 113,000 hospitalizations per year.

• Every year 16,500 arthritis patients die from NSAID-related gastrointestinal damage alone.

• 21% of all adverse drug reactions are due to NSAID use.

• People over 60 have a significantly higher probability of experiencing complications associated with NSAID use.

Yet there are over 13 million regular users of NSAIDs in the US, with at least 30 billion over-the-counter NSAID tablets sold annually. If deaths from gastrointestinal toxic effects from NSAIDs were tabulated separately in the National Vital Statistics reports, these effects would constitute the 15th most common cause of death in the United States. Yet many physicians and most patients remain unaware of the magnitude of this problem.

The real answer to controlling inflammation and preventing disease lies in nutrition. Certain foods, nutrients and herbs have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. The body’s own anti-inflammatory system depends primarily upon balanced consumption of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fats and saturated fats. Generally speaking, omega-6 and omega-3 fats produce anti-inflammatory effects, whereas saturated fats produce inflammatory effects.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in vegetables as well as their oils, including sunflower, safflower, corn and soy. Many people cook with these oils at home, and they also are found widely in restaurant cooking. Consumed in limited quantities, they have an anti-inflammatory effect. However, if over consumed, as is typical in the standard American diet, they are converted into saturated fat, which has a primarily pro-inflammatory effect.

Saturated fats are primarily found in dairy products, meats, egg yolks and shellfish. A lot of people believe that saturated fats are the "bad" fats, much the same way we see LDL as the "bad" cholesterol, but this is an over-simplification. It is only when we consume too much of this type of fat that it stops being beneficial and starts being harmful to our bodies.

Omega-3 fatty acids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. The typical American diet lacks this essential fatty acid (EFA) in sufficient quantities. Omega-3 EFAs do not convert to saturated fat.

Additional benefits include that omega-3 consumption increases the body’s ability to burn fat, reduces cholesterol and triglycerides, enhances immunity, lowers blood pressure and improves carbohydrate metabolism. Omega 3 EFAs are found in raw or lightly cooked cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut and sardines. Flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, most nuts (raw and unsalted,) beans and green leafy vegetables are also good sources of omega-3 EFAs.

In addition to the omega-3 EFAs, there are other foods and herbs which have significant anti-inflammatory properties. The following is a brief list of some anti-inflammatory foods and herbs:

• Raw sesame oil contains sesamin, which prevents the conversion of omega-6 EFAs to pro-inflammatory saturated fats.

• Citrus peel contains a phytochemical called limonene, which is anti-inflammatory and helps protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. People generally throw the peel away and only eat the fruit, but eating the peel gives the body an anti-inflammatory boost.

• Tumeric has the active ingredient curcumin in it, which is well known as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent.

• Garlic and ginger are both anti-inflammatory and help stimulate the immune system.

• Nettle Leaf extract is an herb used for its anti-histamine properties.

• Boswellia serrata contains an aromatic gum resin which has been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis.

• Perilla seed extract is an anti-inflammatory which helps heal respiratory tissue and reduce histamine levels.

Please remember when getting supplements to be sure that they are clean of chemical solvents and other contaminants, which are not listed on labels. It is a good idea to get your supplements from a certified nutritionist, naturopath or chiropractor, who can verify the purity of the supplement.

Dr. D’Brant is a holistic chiropractor, naturopath, certified clinical nutritionist and social worker. He is Board Certified by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. He teaches people effective strategies for decreasing inflammation, regaining lost vitality and creating and supporting life changes that help them lead more fulfilling lives. Contact him at (516) 609-0890.