The hottest issue in medicine today might be coronary artery angioplasty and stents, or it might be successful joint replacement surgeries, or it might be revolutionary insulin pumps, simulating a real pancreas contributing to a very tight blood sugar control. All of these are certainly commendable worthy medical achievements and deserve recognition.
But I think one of the most revolutionary concepts in medicine today – one that I see every day as I read medical journals – is the fact that inflammation and inflammatory responses are a major cause of diseases. These diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, colitis (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), multiple sclerosis, and systemic lupus erythematosus. Even diseases such as juvenile diabetes, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and hypothyroidism have an inflammatory basis. These are now being all lumped together as caused by inflammation! INFLAMMATORY DISEASES! Most recently and even more shocking, science is beginning to apply this same principle to cancer! Having such commonality of etiology it would be wonderful to be able to treat these with some sort of lifestyle shift that would thwart the inflammation.
For example, there has recently been a big paradigm shift of most cardiologists’ thinking – how can we treat the underlying inflammation in the coronary arteries as well as the cholesterol? Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease is now seen as a viper with two heads!
Given this huge basis of disease, it would behoove us all to understand inflammation. First, where does so much inflammation plaguing our society come from? Why is it so prevalent today? It is almost like nature is foisting this scourge on all humanity! Our immune response to irritants in our environment is key, but what we eat decides how that immune response occurs. We don’t have to succumb! We don’t have to just roll over, give up, and plan for a murky future and a dreaded old-age cursed with some rare or common inflammatory disease. With so many toxic chemicals, pesticides, radiation, pollutants in the air, and water, our immune systems are very busy boys. Many of these factors are beyond our immediate control. So what can we do?
Looking at the big picture of chronic inflammation we see several key components that can be altered. First understanding inflammation physiologically will help us understand what could be eliminated. Ever heard of the Cox-2 or Cox-1 enzymes? Arachidonic acid and its metabolites are at the focal point of investigation. Arachidonic acid is converted to prostaglandins E-2 and leukotrienes. These inflammatory molecules are very powerful, destructive and cause a great degree of free-radical formation. This invasive self preserving process, is out of balance, and is causing the bulk of dreaded diseases! Some of these destructive inflammatory effects, as we know, can be limited by the Cox-2 enzyme inhibitor drugs. Yet these are expensive, and have only a limited amount of anti-inflammatory ability, and can produce powerful side effects, even accelerating coronary artery disease.
Arachidonic acid itself is found in beef, pork, lamb and dairy products such as cheese, egg yolks, milk products. So eliminating these products is essential in gaining ground on these chronic degenerative inflammatory diseases. Another thing to look at is the oils we consume. Linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid, is a precursor to arachidonic acid. Linoleic acid is the Omega 6 fatty acid that can displace the Omega 3 fatty acids in the cell membrane phospholipid layer. The linoleic, omega 6 fatty acid, is found in great quantities in safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and soy oil. These should be used sparingly. Snack foods are loaded with these oils. Another thing to eliminate is the trans fats which convert readily to arachidonic acid and displace the omega 3 fatty acids in the cell membranes, thus setting up inflammation.
One class of fats we need is the omega 3 fatty acids which help prevent the inflammatory response. Opposite, the arachidonic acid foods, such as meat, eggs, cheese, are the omega 3 containing foods such as walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flaxseed, and greens. These along with whole grains instead of refined grains will help balance the inflammatory response in our bodies and will help prevent those inflammatory class of illnesses discussed earlier in this article.
So in short we want to eliminate a diet high in arachidonic acid, which is a high animal fat intake of meat, cheese, milk, cream, and eggs. We want to make sure the oils we use are in the omega 3 category, and less in the omega 6 category. This would be to get plenty of ground flax seed, walnuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, greens. Avoid snack foods which are always rich in the omega 6 oils. Use refined free oils sparingly, but when needed in cooking or baking use olive oil which is lower in omega 6 and use flax seed oil as a specialty oil on occasions.