March/April 2007 Alternative Health
Treating Chronic Inflammation Naturally
by Georges M. Halpern, MD, Ph.D.
Inflammation is a basic, albeit complex, set of cellular and chemical reactions that fend off invaders, such as microbes or traumas. This is the good side of inflammation, but it has a more troubling aspect.
Chronic inflammation is too often a silent and seldom recognized killer. Doctors now agree on the importance of chronic inflammation as a causal factor in heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even some cancers. Chronic inflammation is also at the root of joint disorders and arthritis, and plays a role in asthma and allergies as well.
What causes chronic inflammation? Age is a factor, but only to some extent. Diet and lifestyle also have an impact on the emergence of chronic inflammation, especially after middle age.
While medical scientists have been building a vast body of published research that points to chronic inflammation as a villain associated with a range of health problems, awareness has been slow to filter through to the public. Many medical practitioners still deal with inflammation by recommending off-the-shelf and prescription drugs. Unfortunately, the safety of these anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals has come under serious question, which has resulted in lawsuits and product withdrawal as their deadly side effects have come to light.
The good news is that there is a lot we can do to control unwanted chronic inflammation through diet and lifestyle. Adopting these lifestyle behaviors will go a long way toward fending off heart disease, boosting immunity, and preventing arthritis and other inflammatory diseases.
Boost your omega-3 consumption. Omega-3 and omega-6 belong to the family of fats called essential fatty acids that help to reduce inflammation naturally. Best sources of beneficial vegetal fatty acids are monounsaturated olive oil, grapeseed oil, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, avocado, walnuts, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds.
Increase your consumption of fish. The best choices are salmon, mackerel, tuna and other seafood that is high in fat. The oils found in such fish are high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). If you do not like fish or are allergic to it, you can obtain these PUFAs from a high-quality marine-oil supplement such as green-lipped mussel oil (see below).
Eat animal fats wisely. Many animal fats consumed in small amounts carry monounsaturated fats or good fats. These include chicken and poultry — and even foie gras! If you must have red meat or eggs, choose range-fed cattle and wild game, and eggs from free-range chickens. These tend to be lower in fat. Trim as much fat as possible from your steaks. Marinate steaks in one cup of red wine and some olive oil. The wine leaches out a fair amount of saturated fat in the steak, and the olive oil is essentially monounsaturated fat. Make omelettes from two egg whites per one egg yolk, or scramble your eggs with ricotta cheese or tofu to add flavor.
Avoid trans fats. Cookies, crackers, cakes, Skippy-style peanut butter, margarine, and many other common processed foods that are laced with hydrogenated oils (trans fats) may be harmful to your health, and contribute to inflammation. Even the big food manufacturers are starting to wise up to the fact that Americans do not want potentially harmful fat in our food, and are starting to remove trans fats from common snack foods. To prevent inflammation, avoid foods that have hydrogenated vegetable oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, or shortening listed in the ingredients, or trans fats listed on the nutrition information label.
Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole foods. To reduce inflammation and stay healthy, you need fiber, vitamins and minerals from whole grains, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, beans and legumes. Few Americans get enough of these foods because we’re accustomed to eating processed fast foods.
Exercise more. Simple movement, such as daily brisk walking, is an effective tool in the anti-inflammatory tool chest. Everyone of almost any age and fitness level can walk, and we were all designed to do it. Daily exercise has the added side effect of helping to reduce stress, a known contributor to chronic inflammation.
Supplement. Nothing can replace a sensible diet and exercise, but there are things in nature’s pharmacy that are free of side effects in the battle against inflammation. The most promising of these is an oil extracted from the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus). This oil contains a unique combination of omega-3 marine lipids, as well as other compounds that makes it 200 times more effective as an anti-inflammatory than fish oils.
Drink more water. People with a tendency toward inflammatory conditions need more water than average. Water helps flush out the toxins in the body that can contribute to chronic inflammation. A quick way to determine how much water you need is to divide your body weight in half. That’s how many ounces of water your body needs to absorb each day to flush out the toxins. You don’t have to have it all in the form of fluid. Many foods have water as well, such as fruits, salads, vegetables and soups.
The anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle bears a strong resemblance to the best healthy diets out there. By following these few recommendations, you can live a life with little or no inflammation and avoid many of the health conditions that plague older people.
A fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, Georges M. Halpern, MD, Ph.D., is board certified in internal medicine and allergy. He is currently a pharmaceutical sciences professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and author of The Inflammation Revolution: A Natural Solution for Arthritis, Asthma & Other Inflammatory Disorders. Visit www.drgeorges.net.