Monday, May 30, 2011

Inflammation: Friend and Foe

Although I had worked with patients for many years who suffered with pain and inflammation, it was not a text book or journal article that made me think of the problem in a big picture.  It was Time Magazine.  After reading the February 15, 2004 issue of Time, shortly after it appeared on the newsstand, I was taken aback by the many diseases and problems with the common thread of inflammation.  It was obvious to me that we don’t suffer from a deficiency of anti-inflammatory drugs.  But what was the problem?  After I spent considerable time looking into the issu
e, it became clear that unwanted inflammation is an expected byproduct of having demanding our body’s to perform in a manner biochemically out of step with with our genetic design.  From poor food choices to excess stress, poor sleep and repetitive micro-trauma, many people have shifted into what is now called a pro-inflammatory state.

Inflammation, which should be a beneficial healing process, is making you hurt needlessly and maybe killing you.

What is inflammation and how does it work?  Follow this link to see how the now famous Time Magazine article explained inflammation.   The inflammatory process is the body’s response to injury.  Its main purpose is tissue healing and protection of your health.  For example, if your skin is scratched and bleeds, even a tiny bit, your immune system responds to fight off any unwanted bacteria from outside your body.  Part of that response is inflammation which is a cascade of molecular, cellular and biochemical processes.  This is true for injuries, large and small, as well as normal daily wear and tear.  Inflammation is designed to be a beneficial process.  Problems arise when inflammation is excessive, out of proportion to an injury or present for undiscovered or unknown reasons.  Long-term, persistent inflammation is a problem because it is a killer.

One way that our body’s inflammatory response is upset is by eating a diet that is deficient in fruits and vegetables (which are anti-inflammatory) and instead having a diet that has excess sugar, simple starches (breads, cakes, cookies, potatoes), seed and bean oils (soybean, peanut corn, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed), trans fats and go overboard on saturated animal fat (particularly from sedentary, obese, industrially raised cattle, chicken and pigs).  This all too common diet typically will not cause immediate symptoms but eventually, diet-driven inflammation can lead to chronic aches, pains and many other health problems.

In upcoming post I will explain how diet, poor sleep habits, emotional stress, exercise (too much, too little or the wrong kind) and daily micro-trauma can lead to persistent inflammation and pain.  If you want to get a head start, read the article, The Diet-induced Pro-inflammatory State: A Cause of Chronic Pain and Other Degenerative Diseases?

Inflammation is both good and bad for you.  The secret is helping your body balance the pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory forces.  

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