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6 Ways to Fight Inflammation Naturally

6 Ways to Fight Inflammation Naturally

Even when we get our eating habits in order, we might still need help managing occasional pain. Many caregivers suggest herbal remedies because they are safer overall and less problematic than NSAIDs, which fight inflammation and pain, but can also mask important warning signs or lead to larger problems, such as leaky gut syndrome, bleeding ulcers, or renal issues, among others. (For more on this, see “This is Your Body on Ibuprofen,” by Kristin Ohlson (Experience LifeJune 2014.)

Here are some commonly recommended botanicals, with recommended dosages, from Dan Lukaczer, ND, associate director of medical education at the Institute for Functional Medicine. (Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for an individualized plan.)

Turmeric
This golden spice, ground from the rhizomes of a plant related to ginger, is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine; its active ingredient is curcumin. Turmeric has been cited in more than 2,500 published studies on numerous conditions, including asthma and cancer. In 2009, the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicinefound that curcumin is about as effective as ibuprofen in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis of the knee. Like many other botanicals, curcumin is not a quick fix and can take up to two months to be effective. In capsule form, take 750 to 1,500 mg daily. Many practitioners also suggest topical creams containing curcumin.

photo credit: scott.zona, via Flickr

Boswellia
This tree produces a resin that is used in incense and is another staple of Ayurvedic medicine. It is used to treat arthritis, ulcerative colitis, coughs, and asthma. Also known as Indian frankincense. In capsule form, take 300 to 400 mg three times daily.

Ginger
People training for a marathon may want to try this Ayurvedic staple instead of NSAIDs: According to studies, taking ginger can reduce exercise-induced pain by up to 25 percent. Turmeric, boswellia, and ginger are often mixed together into one compound along with black pepper, which is thought to aid absorption. In capsule form, take 500 to 1,000 mg two to three times daily.

Bromelain
An enzyme derived from pineapple, bromelain has long been used to combat indigestion and inflammation. Recent studies indicate that bromelain might be helpful for both workout-related injuries as well as arthritis. In capsule form, take 250 to 750 mg three times daily without food.

Capsaicin
The active compound that gives cayenne peppers their heat, capsaicin is made into a topical cream used to treat both muscle aches and arthritic joint pain. It interferes with something called substance P, which is involved in both inflammation and sending pain signals to the brain. Apply capsaicin cream topically three times daily.

Arnica montana
Topical preparations from this mountain daisylike plant have been used for centuries to treat bruises, sprains, muscle aches, wound healing, joint pain, and swelling from broken bones. One study found that arnica gel worked as well as ibuprofen in reducing pain in people with arthritis in their hands. New studies suggest that arnica may help with burns and postoperative swelling. Topical preparations shouldn’t be applied to broken skin. Use arnica cream topically three times daily, or take three to four pellets (30x to 30c) three to four times daily.

These recommendations originally appeared in “This Is Your Body on Ibuprofen.

By Experience Life Team, Experience Life

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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4 Food Strategies to Boost Brain Function

4 Food Strategies to Boost Brain Function

While there are many positive aspects to aging, we’re more familiar  with the  things that can go wrong. For all the wisdom we gain from  experience, we’re  more apt to worry about memory loss. We fret over  rusty neurotransmitters and  cloudy thinking.

So we diligently do crossword puzzles, wrestle with brainteasers and  learn  to play musical instruments — for the intrinsic joy, of course,  but also to  help inoculate our brains against negative age-related  changes. These are  helpful pursuits, but they’re not the only ones that  matter. In fact, if we  want to build a better brain, what we choose to  eat and drink might make the  biggest difference of all.

The following food-based strategies can help any brain function better — whether that brain is 9 years old or 90.

Hydrate

Proper hydration is a critical factor in maintaining and improving  your mind  as you age. “Your brain is 80 percent water,” says Daniel  Amen, MD, a clinical  neuroscientist and author of Use Your Brain to Change Your Age: Secrets to Look, Feel,  and Think Younger Every Day (Crown,  2012). “Even slight dehydration  increases the body’s stress hormones,  which can decrease your ability to think  clearly. Over time, increased  levels of stress hormones are associated with  memory problems.”

While the amount of hydration you need day-to-day depends on several   factors, including activity level, relative humidity and eating habits  (to name  only a few), the oft-repeated advice to drink 64 ounces — or  eight 8-ounce  glasses — of water a day isn’t a bad general rule to  follow. Keep in mind,  however, that you can account for those ounces in  several different ways. If  you’re eating a lot of vegetables and fruits,  for example, you may need to  drink less water. Most fresh plant foods  have a high water content and will  help keep you hydrated.

While the feeling of thirst is a good indicator you need to hydrate, if the only time you grab a glass of water is when you’re noticeably thirsty,  you  may not be drinking enough for optimal health. That’s because that  “thirsty feeling” kicks in only when your body is already a bit  dehydrated. The  best approach to hydration is a conscious, proactive  one. So, drink up! (For  more on proper hydration, see Drink to Your Health.)

Fight Free  Radicals

If you leave a bottle of wine open too long, it will oxidize and  become  stale. If your car is exposed to the elements for too long, its  exterior may  rust. Just as wine degrades and metal rusts, the cells in  our brains and  bodies degrade over time when they are exposed to free  radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that are generated in the body  as a  byproduct of other natural internal processes, such as the  metabolizing of food  or the triggering of an immune response by a  bacteria or virus.

Free-radical molecules are unstable because they have an uneven  number of  electrons, which prefer to be in pairs. So in an effort to  restabilize  themselves, free radicals roam the body stealing electrons  from healthy cells.  When that happens, the formerly healthy cells, now  short an electron, head out  on their own searching for a replacement  electron, thus inciting an unhealthy  chain reaction of stolen electrons  throughout the body. It is that cascade of “electron theft” that causes  the cellular damage or “rust” in our brains and  bodies.

Antioxidants are free-radical scavengers. They fight the corrosive  effects  of free radicals by quieting their search for additional  electrons. You can  build up your antioxidant power by eating more  vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage,  cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, spinach,  kale and chard all pack a powerful  punch in the fight against  free-radical damage.

Garlic, too, is a powerful antioxidant, and it also has antibacterial  and  antifungal qualities. Fruit is another ally. Blueberries brim with   antioxidants, as do raspberries, blackberries and strawberries. Red  grapes  contain high levels of the potent antioxidants resveratrol and  quercetin. (So,  too, by extension, does red wine; in moderation, it may  offer some antioxidant  protection.)

Spices and herbs are also powerful weapons in the fight  against free radicals.  Cumin, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, mustard, ginger,  oregano, basil,  sage, thyme and tarragon are rife with antioxidants. Look for  recipes  that call for these, or add a dash of cinnamon, turmeric or ginger to a  cup of tea. Green, white and black teas contain antioxidants, too, so by   pairing tea with spices, you’ll get a double dose of antioxidant power.

Ditch Processed  Foods

The vast majority of unhealthy, age-amplifying foods are processed  foods.  One of the main dangers of processed foods? Added sugar.

Each year, Americans consume an average of 150 pounds of sugar per  person — much of it in processed foods, says Nancy Appleton, PhD,  coauthor of Suicide by Sugar (Square One, 2009). And that is  not good news for brain health.

Overconsumption of sugar has been linked to depression and dementia disorders  such as  Alzheimer’s. It also increases inflammation and raises insulin levels  in  a way that can suppress the immune system, increasing your  vulnerability to  a host of additional diseases of brain and body.

Remember, too, that high-glycemic carbohydrates (also called “simple   carbs”), which proliferate in processed foods, act like sugar in the   bloodstream.

Processed foods also contain more than their fair share of unhealthy  fats.  While the human brain needs healthy fats to function — such as  those found in  nuts, avocados, and coconut and olive oil — bad fats like  trans fats and highly  processed commercial vegetable oils have been  linked to depression and other  mood disorders. These fats interfere with  the metabolism of essential fatty  acids in brain-cell membranes, which  can harm some of the neurotransmitters  responsible for mood, focus and  memory.

Boost Key  Nutrients

Dietary supplements can play a key role in healthy brain functioning. Here  are some of the top brain-boosting supplements:

Vitamin D. Studies have shown that vitamin D can protect against dementia, a range of  autoimmune disorders, cancer,  high blood pressure and many other illnesses. Our  bodies produce vitamin  D in response to sunshine, but most people don’t get  adequate daily sun  exposure — especially if you live in a northern climate.

Omega-3s. Daily supplementation with fish oil, one  of the  best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, can give your brain a big  boost.  High-quality fish oil, free from mercury and other toxins,  provides the omega-3  fatty acids that sheath brain cells and facilitate  healthy brain functioning.  Omega-3s also help fight inflammation, which  tends to occur in our brains as we  age. Studies have shown that some of  the other nutrients in fish oil, such as  DHA and EPA, help provide  protection against depression, stabilize mood and  promote alertness.

CoQ10. Short for coenzyme Q10, CoQ10 is a molecule  that  works in concert with other nutrients to improve the functioning of  all the  cells of the body. Many recent studies have linked CoQ10 with  boosting overall  energy and sharpening cognition. (For more on CoQ10,  see CoQ10:  The Miracle Molecule.)

One of the most common myths about aging is that memory inevitably  declines.  But I know from the growing body of scientific evidence that  age-related  decline in brain function isn’t a foregone conclusion. If  you nurture your  brain with the right nutrients, you will help it remain  flexible, resilient and  strong. So, next time you sit down for a meal  or reach for a snack, think of  your future brain, and choose wisely!

By Michael J. Gelb, Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness  publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic  lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in  favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com   to learn more and to sign  up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe  to the print or digital version.

14 Foods that Fight Inflammation and Pain

14 Foods that Fight Inflammation and Pain

Some of the best healing remedies to overcome inflammation also taste  fabulous (I can’t say that about any prescription medications). Plus, foods  won’t cause the nasty side effects common to most pain medications.

1. Blueberries: Blueberries are also excellent  anti-inflammatory foods. They increase the amounts of compounds called  heat-shock proteins that decrease as people age.  When heat-shock proteins  are in short supply inflammation, pain and tissue damage is the result.

2. Cayenne Pepper: Ironically, cayenne pepper turns DOWN the  heat on inflammation due to its powerful anti-inflammatory compound  capsaicin.

3. Celery and 4. Celery Seeds: James Duke, Ph.D., author of The Green Pharmacy, found more than 20 anti-inflammatory compounds in  celery and celery seeds in his research, including a substance called apigenin,  which is powerful in its anti-inflammatory action.  Add celery seeds to  soups, stews or as a salt substitute in many recipes.

5. Cherries: While many people opt for aspirin as their  first course of action when they feel pain, Muraleedharan Nair, PhD, professor  of natural products and chemistry at Michigan State University, found that tart  cherry extract is ten times more effective than aspirin at relieving  inflammation.

6. Dark Green Veggies: Veggies like kale and spinach contain  high amounts of alkaline minerals like calcium and magnesium.  Both  minerals help balance body chemistry to alleviate inflammation.

7. Fish: According to Dr. Alfred D. Steinberg, an arthritis  expert at the National Institute of Health, fish oil acts directly on the immune  system by suppressing 40 to 55 percent of the release of cytokines – compounds  known to destroy joints and cause inflammation.

8. Flax seeds and Flax Oil: Flax seeds are high in natural  oils that convert into hormone-like substances in the body to reduce  inflammatory substances. Add ground flax seeds to smoothies, atop pancakes or  French toast, and many other foods.  Do not heat.

9. Ginger: Dr. Krishna C. Srivastava at Odense University in  Denmark found that ginger was superior to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs  (NSAIDs) like Tylenol or Advil at alleviating inflammation.

10. Raspberries, 11. Blackberries, and 12. Strawberries: In  Dr. Muraleedharan Nair’s later research she discovered that these berries have  similar anti-inflammatory effects as cherries.

13. Turmeric: Research shows that the Indian spice  frequently used in curries suppresses pain and inflammation through a similar  mechanism as drugs like COX-1 and COX-2 inhibitors (without the harmful side  effects).

14. Walnuts: Like flax seeds, raw, unsalted walnuts contain  plentiful amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids that decrease pain and  inflammation.

Adapted from Arthritis-Proof:  The  Drug-Free Way to Beat Pain and Inflammation by Michelle  Schoffro Cook, PhD.

By  Michelle Schoffro Cook

Michelle Schoffro Cook

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, DNM, PhD is an international  best-selling and 12-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine,  whose works include: Healing  Recipes, The Vitality Diet, Allergy-Proof, Arthritis-Proof, Total Body  Detox, The Life Force Diet, The  Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, and The Phytozyme  Cure.  Check out her natural health resources and subscribe to her free  e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News at WorldsHealthiestDiet.com  to receive monthly health news, tips, recipes and more. Follow her on Twitter @mschoffrocook  and Facebook.

The Hidden Time Bomb Within You

The Hidden Time Bomb Within You


A key biochemical process inside every one of us, inflammation is the cornerstone of health and healing — and yet — unless you learn the secrets to managing it – it will also probably eventually kill you.

The good news: As scientists slowly but surely uncover how the inflammatory response works, they’re learning how we can influence it to our benefit.

Here, five surprising — and life-changing — facts:

Inflammation: It’s All in the Diet

Inflammation surprise #1: Inflammation is both your body’s best friend — and its worst enemy.

Inflammation is what happens when a bee stings, a paper cut slices your skin, or pollen or a virus land up your nose. Your body reacts. More specifically, your white blood cells issue a short-term response to defend your body against the assault and help it heal. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, sometimes this process goes haywire. In a classic “too much of a good thing,” certain triggers create chronic inflammation — the body’s defense team doesn’t quit. Immune cells never wind down, causing damage to various body systems and, ironically, leaving them more vulnerable to attack.

Why it’s important

“Inflammation is the basic mechanism that maintains the well-being of our cells,” says Janko Nikolich- Zugich, chair of the department of immunobiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine and codirector of its Arizona Center on Aging. “But pretty much every disease is also connected to it.”

Luck (good or bad) is a factor; some people are genetically prone to inflammation overload, Nikolich- Zugich says. But within the span of your genes, you have a lot of individual control, he adds. “The key is to have well-controlled inflammation, to keep it regulated so that it switches on when you need it and switches off when you don’t need it anymore.”

Action step: Consume healthier fats.

Fats we eat are the building blocks of both proinflammatory hormones (needed to fight the invader) and anti-inflammatory hormones (needed to calm down the healing process after the wound or other threat is gone), says Beth Reardon, director of integrative nutrition at Duke University. We need both kinds.

Super Snacks: 5 Best Snacks for Energy

The trouble: We live in such an inflammatory environment (from pollution, germs, diet, and other sources) that it’s tough to keep the inflammation process in balance. The best way to do this is with diet: Decrease the inflammatory fats you eat (called omega 6s, found mostly animal fats from meat and dairy) while increasing anti-inflammatory fats (called omega 3s, found mostly in cold-water fish such as salmon and herring or in fish-oil supplements).

A tricky point: You need two kinds of omega 3s. There are long-chain omega 3s (from fish) and short-chain omega 3s (from flax, seeds, and fortified products, like omega-3 eggs or juice). The two types work in different ways in the body. “People think if they eat foods fortified with omega 3s, they’re doing enough. But most people don’t get enough long-chain omega 3 fats,” Reardon says. Eating cold-water fish twice a week does the trick.

Beware inflammatory foods and extra weight

Inflammation surprise #2: Chronic inflammation contributes to almost every major disease.

Most people have heard of so-called autoimmune diseases, when the body turns on itself with a hyperactive defense mechanism. Common examples include hay fever, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, pelvic inflammatory disease, colitis, and bursitis.

You can add to this list cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, and even depression. “The one thing that unifies most major diseases is inflammation,” says the Arizona Center on Aging’s Nikolich-Zugich. “Whether inflammation is the root cause or whether these diseases are made worse by the inflammatory process isn’t entirely clear yet — but inflammation is almost always a factor.”

Why it’s important

Scientists believe that the key to extending lifespan and late-life well-being lies in figuring out how to manipulate and cut off chronic inflammation. While all the diseases listed above manifest themselves in the body in very different ways, they seem to share many commonalities down at the cellular level.

Action step: Eat a more anti-inflammatory diet.

Because our bodies are exposed to more damage at the cell level than they can handle — a process called oxidative stress — shoring up defenses is key. And there’s no easier way to do that than by carefully choosing what we eat and drink.

What foods contain the most antioxidants? You needn’t be a chemist. Just think three words: color, taste, aroma. In whole (not processed) foods, these traits signal high-antioxidant chemical content, Duke University’s Beth Reardon says. This means:

  • Bright or deep-hued fruits and vegetables (berries, eggplant, purple grapes, sweet potato, dark green leafy veggies)
  • Foods with strong flavors (bell pepper, watermelon, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables)
  • Foods with powerful odors (garlic, onion, chives)

Other beneficial foods: the spices turmeric, ginger, cinnamon; curry; tart cherries; green tea; red wine; dark chocolate. These help inhibit the formation of inflammatory prostaglandins and COX inhibitors (the same enzyme-inhibiting substances in medications such as Vioxx or Celebrex).

12 Foods with Super-Healing Powers

At the same time, avoid highly processed foods full of sugar and saturated fats. These so-called high-glycemic index foods (chips, cookies, crackers, cakes) pour sugar into the bloodstream, upping inflammation.

Inflammation surprise #3: It’s not the look of your body fat but what’s inside it that really hurts you.

Little wonder obesity is linked with so many damaging diseases, from diabetes to Alzheimer’s. In just the past five years or so, researchers have discovered that being overweight is a huge cause of inflammation.

“We tend to think of body fat as an inert, annoying consequence of eating too much and not exercising enough,” Beth Reardon says. “We need to think of it as what it really is: metabolically active tissue that’s actually a source of the compounds that trigger inflammation.”

Why it’s important

Having too many extra fat cells basically amps up the inflammatory process. That’s because fat cells are producers of hormones, such as estrogen and leptin, and other molecules that signal the immune system. Excess fat creates excess inflammation.

Belly fat (accumulated around the abdomen) may be especially dangerous, compared with fat in the hips or rear, because midsection fat tends to produce even more estrogens and inflammatory compounds called cytokines, Reardon says.

Weight Loss After 40: Why It’s So Hard — and What Works

There’s a silver lining to perimenopausal weight gain, though, she adds. A stubborn muffin top may be nature’s way of trying to hang onto estrogen when hormone levels shift as the ovaries close up shop, in order to protect heart health and make symptoms like hot flashes less severe. (Postmenopause, though, you still want to maintain a healthy weight.)

Action step: Aim for a healthy weight.

Possibly the single best health move you can make: Keep moving. Why? In addition to burning fat and warding off unhealthy fat cells, vigorous exercise three to four times a week subjects the body to controlled stress. That trains the immune system to deal with high-energy demands followed by lower, maintenance levels of functioning. “This allows inflammation to recalibrate,” says Janko Nikolich-Zugich.

Exercise also produces hormones like endorphins, which make you feel good and therefore encourage you to continue this important, immune-boosting activity.

Watch out for stress and allergies

Inflammation surprise #4: You can’t control everything that trips inflammation — but you might want to conquer that fear of public speaking.

Inflammatory agents (things that set off our immune system) are all around us — in the air we breathe, the UV rays we absorb, the cleaning agents we use, the makeup we wear, the candles we light, the germs we encounter.

Another surprising source of chronic inflammation: chronic (long-term) stress. Know how some faces flush and palms sweat before the person gives a speech? That’s an inflammatory response. So is breaking out in
hives during an argument, or getting a headache and racing heart when pulling an all-nighter.

Why it’s important

In concentrated doses, emotional stress is no big deal. But when the stress is constant — as when dealing with a ongoing personal crisis — it trips a constant inflammatory response.

You can’t control the fact that your aging skin or gut may be a “leaky barrier,” for example, letting in more invaders that cause the body to mount an inflammatory response, Nikolich-Zugich says. Also, as we age, changes to the immune system itself may make it harder to fight familiar bugs and viruses. But, as with diet and exercise, emotions and stress are areas most people can control. And when it comes to inflammation, the body needs all the help it can get.

Action step: Sweep your life of stressors as much as you can.

In addition to following basic advice about using sun protection, washing your hands, exercising, eating an anti-inflammatory diet, and avoiding known toxins (don’t smoke and don’t live with someone who does!), it pays to curb your emotional stress as much as you can.
Some areas many overlook:

  • Don’t scrimp on sleep.
  • Get depression symptoms treated; it’s a form of chronic stress on the body.
  • Know that short-term anxiety is unavoidable, but seek confidence-building help if you’re constantly in an edgy situation (the frequent flyer who hates to fly, the CEO who’s terrified of public speaking).

Inflammation surprise #5: Many of us have infections and allergies we don’t know about, which send us into a state of constant high inflammation.

Here’s a classic case: Someone has inflammatory bowel disease, migraines or other chronic headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome. The various maladies are treated with medications, but the underlying cause of the problem — an undiagnosed food sensitivity, for example — goes untreated. Get to the root of the problem (the food sensitivity upsetting the balance of bacteria in the gut, say) and you’re closer to a cure.

Our medical system tends to treat specific issues rather than the whole person. “When things go wrong, we take something to fix it, instead of trying to control the underlying cause: inflammation,” integrative nutritionist Beth Reardon says.

Why it’s important:

Up to 40 percent of the population has a gluten sensitivity, Reardon says. That’s different from a full intolerance (celiac disease), but enough to notice brain fog, bloating, gastric distress, or fatigue after eating wheat. Dairy sensitivity (lactose intolerance, which is short of true milk allergy) is similar. Both sensitivities tend to grow more common as people get older.

Are These Whole Foods Making You Sick?

Human bodies evolved to eat dozens of grains, but modern society focuses on one — wheat — and a high- gluten type at that (all the better for fluffy bread and crispy snacks). The problem: Protein in wheat risks irritating the gut (where the immune system mostly begins), causing inflammation. Substances the body believes shouldn’t be there aren’t absorbed well; instead, these undigested proteins work their way into the bloodstream, where the white blood cells react as if they were a virus or any other foreign substance.

Ditto with milk: We evolved to consume fatty breast milk for the first years of life, not to subsist on milk, cheese, and ice cream. Too much of these foods overwhelm a system that’s sensitive to them.

Action step: Pay attention to what your body’s telling you.

You can tell if you have a food sensitivity by how your body reacts. Try eliminating a food type (wheat, dairy, soy, meat) for two weeks. See how you feel. Do symptoms disappear or fade? Now add back the potential allergen and see what happens.

Avoid writing off uncomfortable reactions to fibromyalgia or migraines or some other specific disorder until you’ve experimented with the possibility of a more global root cause. Even if you don’t have a food allergy, replacing problematic foods with the healthier options within a low-fat, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet will be a win-win for your body, Reardon says.

By Paula Spencer, Caring.com senior editor

5 Ways to Fight Inflammation

5 Ways to Fight Inflammation

Some aging factors are beyond our control, but one of the biggest – inflammation – needn’t be. Here’s how you can extinguish the flames of chronic inflammation before they ignite.

What is Inflammation?
Under ordinary circumstances, inflammation is a healthy process that comes to the body’s aid when it’s injured. For instance, if you cut your finger while making dinner, the body’s inflammatory response sends in an army of white blood cells to the scene.

Unfortunately, inflammation isn’t always so exact. Like a houseguest who overstays his welcome, inflammation sometimes hangs around too long and refuses to leave. Aging is one of the biggest risk factors for inflammation, since, as we age, our bodies are less able to disarm the inflammatory process. A genetic predisposition, high blood pressure or even smoking can also fuel the flames. When the inflammation switch refuses to turn off, the body operates as if it is always under attack. White blood cells flood the system for weeks, months and even years.

The problem is that the immune system can’t handle the constant demand. When the immune system becomes drained, the body then has difficulty warding off other illnesses. For instance, viruses, bacterial infections, even cancer cells that are normally destroyed by a healthy immune system can now slip under the body’s radar. Ultimately, the immune system may even turn against the body itself – the consequences of which are quite serious: Lupus, Graves’ disease, Crohn’s disease and fibromyalgia are all autoimmune disorders that come about when the body is assaulted by its own defenses. Scientists have known about autoimmune diseases for years, but now a new theory paints an even broader picture of how chronic inflammation helps other killers gain footholds.

Cancer Connection
Some forms of cancer can also be attributed to inflammation gone awry. Recent research indicates that inflammation plays either a leading or supporting role in many of the most common types of cancer – colon, stomach, lung and breast. Chronic inflammation wreaks havoc in the body by creating an ideal environment for free radicals, rogue molecules that travel through the body leaving a path of destruction in their wake. If a healthy cell’s DNA is damaged by free radicals, it may mutate. As it continues to grow and divide, it may set the stage for a cancerous tumor. Free radicals stimulate inflammation and thereby perpetuate the inflammatory cycle.

Chronic inflammation alone won’t always spark cancer, but left untreated it may create a more hospitable place for cancer cells to thrive, according to Dave Grotto, director of nutrition education at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Chicago.

The good news: Unlike many uncontrollable risk factors for serious illness, such as family history of heart disease or living in a polluted city, chronic inflammation is something you can control and even prevent through diet and exercise. Here’s a closer look at how both can influence inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Eating
Most foods either rev up inflammation or tamp it down. A diet high in trans-fatty acids, carbohydrates and sugar drives the body to create inflammatory chemicals. On the flip side, a diet heavy on vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids puts the brakes on the inflammatory process.

If you have an inflammation-related illness, such as atherosclerosis or arthritis, altering your eating habits may help you tame your symptoms, or even change the course of the disease. And if your genes or a sedentary lifestyle put you at risk for chronic inflammation, eating right may make the difference between staying healthy or drifting downhill.

1. GET FRIENDLY WITH FISH: Fish overflows with two key omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA for short). Both are potent anti-inflammatories. Studies show that people who eat fish regularly are less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke, or develop Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, studies have shown that eating omega-3-rich fish just once a week may lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 60 percent.

To reap fish’s health perks, nutritional experts recommend indulging in a fish dish at least twice a week (baked or broiled, not fried). To get the most omega-3 fatty acids, stick to either fresh or frozen coldwater fish, including mackerel, salmon and tuna. Avoid oil-packed tuna, since the omega-3s tend to leach into surrounding oil.

You also need to watch out for fish that may contain toxins, especially if you’re in a high-risk category. Women who are either pregnant or hoping to be should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, all of which may hold potentially dangerous levels of mercury, which can damage a developing fetus. (Nursing mothers and young children also should avoid these fish.) Studies have shown that some albacore tuna (often packaged as canned white tuna) has unsafe mercury levels. This past March, the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency published a joint statement recommending that pregnant women, nursing mothers and children eat no more than 6 ounces of albacore tuna each week, or approximately one serving.

There are options for vegetarians, too. The body can make its own EPA and DHA from omega-3 fats (called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA), which are found in flaxseed, wheat germ and walnuts (as well as some oils). But you’d better be hungry. The body’s mechanism for converting plant-based omega-3s isn’t particularly effective. You’ll need to eat four times as much ALA to equal the amount of bioavailable omega-3s found in a 3-ounce serving of fish.

Although flaxseed is often touted as an equal substitute to fish oil, it just can’t compete, says Jim LaValle, a naturopathic physician at the Longer Living Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio, and author of The Cox-2 Connection (Healing Arts Press, 2001). Vegetarians concerned about inflammation should consider fish-oil supplements. If fish oil is out of the question, focus instead on lowering intake of bad fats and ingesting more good fats, including extra virgin olive oil, wheat germ oil, hemp oil and flaxseed oil.

2. CHOOSE FATS WISELY: The body uses fatty acids to make prostaglandins, the main hormones that control inflammation. Because the body must make do with what’s at hand, a diet heavy in pro-inflammatory fats will fan inflammation. Conversely, meals that balance pro- and anti-inflammatory fats cool things off. Fats to avoid include safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil and all partially hydrogenated oil. Fats that get a green light are fatty coldwater fish, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, walnuts and flax (plus those listed above).

Begin tackling fat by cutting out the worst offender: trans-fatty acids. “If your diet is rich in trans-fatty acids, you’re going to drive your body to make more inflammatory chemicals,” says LaValle. The top sources for trans-fatty acids are vegetable shortenings and hard margarines, but most processed foods also contain them in various levels. Soon, trans-fatty acids will be easier to spot, thanks to new legislation requiring food makers to add trans-fatty acids to ingredient labels by 2006.

3. EMBRACE YOUR INNER HERBIVORE: Fruits and vegetables are storehouses of antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory compounds. The best sources are brightly colored fruit and vegetables, such as blueberries, strawberries, bell peppers and spinach. “Anytime you go with a large variety of colors, you get a powerhouse of phytochemicals, some of which have anti-inflammatory effects,” says Melanie Polk, director of nutrition education at the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C.

An easy way to up your phytochemicals is to select foods that are deeper shades of colors than you already eat, Polk says. For salad greens, choose the darker spinach over iceberg; grab a ruby strawberry instead of a banana.

For a simple way to eat more plant-based foods, Polk suggests using your dinner plate as a measuring tool. Ideally, two-thirds of the plate should be covered with plant-based foods, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains and beans, she explains. The remaining one-third can be filled with lean animal protein, like a chicken breast or fish fillet. Consider eating more anti-inflammatory herbs, like ginger and turmeric, and augmenting your diet with antioxidant supplements.

4. CUT BACK ON WHEAT AND DAIRY: Not heeding food intolerances and sensitivities is a one-way ticket to chronic inflammation, and no two foods are bigger triggers than dairy and wheat. For people who suffer from lactose intolerance or celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), the stomach treats dairy and wheat products as hostile invaders. Often it only takes a bite of bread or a spoonful of ice cream to kick the immune system into high gear.

5. SAY NO TO SUGAR: Sugary foods can also be a problem, especially when eaten between meals, since they cause a surge in blood-sugar levels. To regain balance, the pancreas releases a rush of insulin, which in turn activates the genes involved in inflammation. This biochemical roller coaster is thought to contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes. “When I’m trying to quell people’s inflammation, I make sure they knock out refined grains and refined sugars,” says LaValle. “You’ve got to get rid of the inflammatory chemistry.”

Get a Move On
Although the role of exercise in staving off chronic inflammation is less well documented than dietary changes, experts still tout physical activity as one of the best ways to keep inflammation at bay. The best part? It doesn’t matter how you move – just get out and go. The indirect results of exercise on inflammatory diseases are bountiful.

Running for an hour or more per week lowers a man’s risk of developing heart disease by 42 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (Oct. 23, 2002). People who exercise regularly are also less likely to be overweight, which lowers the odds of suffering from an inflammation-related illness.

Exercise also may directly muffle inflammation. In studies, both aerobic and nonaerobic exercise have been shown to lower levels of C-reactive protein, or CRP (the body’s marker for inflammation). The lower the body’s CRP, the less inflammation is present.

In a recent study published by the American Heart Association, researchers at the Cooper Institute in Dallas recruited 722 men to observe how fitness affects inflammation. The men’s fitness levels were measured by how long they could walk on a treadmill at gradually rising inclines. Inflammation levels were calculated by performing blood tests for CRP.

In the end, researchers saw a clear trend toward lower CRP levels among those men who aced the treadmill test and higher CRP levels among those who struggled. Among the men in the lowest fitness group, 49 percent had dangerously high CRP scores. Conversely, only 16 percent of those in the highest fitness group had elevated CRP levels.

The rub is that scientists aren’t sure exactly how exercise diffuses inflammation. One theory is that exercise goads the body into making more antioxidants, which then seek and destroy free radicals associated with prolonged inflammation. William Joel Meggs, MD, PhD, author of The Inflammation Cure (McGraw-Hill, 2004), believes exercise may fool the body into thinking it’s younger than it is. “If the body senses it has a biological need to stay healthy, it will produce more antioxidants to control inflammation and slow the aging process,” he says.

For more on how and why to exercise as you age, see “Power Aging.”

To maximize the anti-inflammatory properties of exercise:

MAKE IT A HABIT: Aim for 30 minutes daily of moderate physical activity, such as walking, running, swimming or even yard work. Remember, a little each day is more beneficial than squeezing in a week’s worth of exercise on the weekend.

MIX AND MATCH: For your best shot at lowering CRP levels, get a mixture of both aerobic exercise, such as walking, running or riding a bike, and moderate weightlifting, either at a gym or with small hand weights at home.

DON’T OVERDO IT: If you find yourself hobbled for days after each trip to the gym, dial down your workout. An overzealous workout can leave muscles and joints sore, which may ultimately fuel the inflammatory fire instead of quell it.

RECRUIT YOUR MIND: “Mental states are important,” says Meggs. “We know that angry, hostile people have higher CRP levels than people who keep their cool.” The thinking goes that cortisol, a stress hormone, triggers the body to release a host of chemicals that contribute to the inflammatory cascade. Activities that calm the mind, such as meditation and guided imagery, lower CRP levels, he says. Better yet, try combining a meditative focus with physical movement in practices like yoga, tai chi or qigong. (For more on this topic, see “Emotional Biochemistry” in the Nov./Dec. 2003 Experience Life.)

Squelching chronic inflammation with diet and exercise is in many ways a no-brainer. Certainly health experts have touted much of this same advice (less junk food, more vegetables and regular exercise) for years.

But who knows, maybe understanding the inflammation connection will be enough to convince more folks to straighten up and fly right – particularly if keeping a lid on inflammation turns out to be the secret of healthy aging, or wellness in general, as Meggs suggests. “Inflammation may well turn out to be the elusive Holy Grail of medicine,” he notes, “the single phenomenon that holds the key to sickness and health.”

By Catherine Guthrie

Catherine Guthrie is a freelance health and fitness writer in Louisville, Ky.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit www.experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

5 Surprising Ways to Keep Inflammation in Balance

5 Surprising Ways to Keep Inflammation in Balance

We all need inflammation — the biochemical process that starts right at the cell level to fight damaging invaders. Just not too much inflammation. That’s where diet and lifestyle choices come in, researchers say. Among the more surprising anti-inflammatory activities:

Consider an aspirin a day

Aspirin and NSAIDs (Aleve) are anti-inflammatories. A daily aspirin curbed the incidence of cancer by more than 20 percent among those who took it, according to a 2010 study in the journal Lancet.

But the pills may have unintended consequences and aren’t yet recommended for everyone. Be sure to talk to your doctor before starting daily aspirin.

Drink red wine and green tea

The single best alcohol type is red wine, thanks to its anti-inflammatory phytochemicals, including resveratrol. Men who consumed four or more four-ounce glasses of red wine each week had a 60 percent lower incidence of aggressive prostate cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute (although this research is preliminary). (Leesa recommends organic red wine and organic green tea!)

Just . . . walk

Regular exercise three to four times a week helps reset the inflammatory process. What you do doesn’t have to be extreme, though; just make sure it’s vigorous. Brisk walking is ideal.

Have lots of sex

Orgasm is known to increase the production of antiaging hormones. And the workout involved in vigorous sex (see above) doesn’t hurt.

Eat less wheat

Even “100 percent stone-ground” wheat, the kind Americans have now been trained to favor, may not be helpful to the millions with undetected gluten sensitivities. Beware of wheat in crackers and other packaged snack products, too. Look for alternatives like millet, quinoa, barley, oats.

By Paula Spencer, Caring.com senior editor

Caring.com was created to help you care for your aging parents, grandparents, and other loved ones. As the leading destination for eldercare resources on the Internet, our mission is to give you the information and services you need to make better decisions, save time, and feel more supported. Caring.com provides the practical information, personal support, expert advice, and easy-to-use tools you need during this challenging time.

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