Inflammation: How it Affects Your Health
Approximately 90% of Americans suffer from chronic diseases that come from an inflammatory process. As you can imagine, these diseases include heart disease (the number one killer in America, and for the most part, in all industrialized nations), asthma, eczema, psoriasis and a plethora of autoimmune inflammatory diseases, which affect as much as twice the number of people they did 20 years ago.
Many people believe that the reason people have more asthma and allergies, etc., is because of the air quality; however, strict environmental laws that keep getting stricter in the United States and throughout the world have caused decreased pollution in most industrialized countries. Yet, despite the decrease in air pollution, the incidence of asthma has doubled.
There are multiple agents in our bloodstream that cause inflammation, and there are other agents that decrease inflammation. The best way to ensure that your body is producing more anti-inflammatory agents than inflammatory agents is to measure your waistline, really. Sixty-four percent of Americans are overweight, and being over-weight, we make less of a hormone called adiponectin, which is an anti-inflammatory agent. Simultaneously, if a person’s body is overweight, more inflammatory messengers are created in their fat cells.
There is an old adage that goes around the anti-aging circles that says, “You never see an obese person in a nursing home.” In fact, when I have visited nursing homes where the residents are in their 80’s and 90’s, I cannot think of a time when I have seen an obese person. One of the most frustrating conditions for me as a physician to treat is an autoimmune disease, such as Hashitmoto’s thyroiditis (the body attacks the thyroid), rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and 101 other confirmed autoimmune diseases. All of these diseases continue to increase dramatically worldwide.
Inflammation affects us from head to toe. Inflammation in the gastrointestinal system causes conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, peptic ulcer disease, gastritis, etc. Inflammation of the nervous system causes conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, essential tremors, etc. Inflammation of the lungs causes conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. I could go on to name every major organ system and the dozens of diseases that can affect each organ, which are all due to inflammation.
The two major causes of inflammation are obesity and eating the typical American diet, which contains high levels of omega 6 fatty acids. If you can picture a burger, fries and a Coke, this meal is loaded with omega 6 fatty acids. If you can picture a plate of fish with vegetables, this meal is an example of a meal high in omega 3 fatty acids. An organic egg (from a free-range chicken fed an organic diet) has a ratio of 6:1 omega 3 to omega 6. A non-organic egg (from a caged chicken fed GMO corn) has a ratio of 2:1 omega 6 to omega 3.
What can we do about inflammation in our bodies other than trying to eat foods higher in omega 3 and avoiding foods high in omega 6? The most important nutrient to consume is vitamin D. As I have stated before, the “normal” range of vitamin D as rated by most laboratories is 30 to 100, but for anti-aging and cancer prevention, the optimal range is between 70 and 100. One cannot achieve this with sunlight and diet alone. Therefore, I have recommended supplementing vitamin D, anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 units per day, depending upon what your blood test shows. If your blood test shows 30, you will need 4,000 units to reach a level of 70. For example, for every 1,000 units you ingest daily, your blood level goes up 10 points.
Vitamin D is not just a vitamin; it is a hormone. Its receptors are found from head to toe and include the breasts, prostate, bone, intestines, lymph nodes, etc. Higher vitamin D levels prevent colon cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, hypertension and back pain. For populations that live near the equator, due to the high amount of sunlight they receive, rheu-matoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases are practically unheard of (The American Journal of Nutrition 26194; 79:362- 371). By decreasing inflammation, vitamin D gives tremendous protection against the whole plethora of inflammatory diseases that affect our society and loved ones.
The next most important way to decrease inflammation is hormone intervention with natural bioidentical hormones (not drugs) in order to help our tissues and cells regenerate. Not only do our hormones help tissues regenerate, but they also act as anti-inflammatory agents, as they are natural steroids. A Japanese study reported that Asians who were over 100-years-old had higher natural levels of testosterone, DHEA and estrogen than 70-year old men or women in the United States. The longest-lived people with the highest level of sex hormones are those who live in Okinawa, Japan. We find these people not only live longer, but they tend to have less osteoporosis and fewer wrinkles, and they generally have a better attitude about life.
Phytochemicals come from every different color of vegetable, and every vegetable has a different phytochemical. We know that these act as free radical scavengers and antioxidants, which both decrease inflammation. For years, scientists have failed to reproduce the effects of phytochemicals with pills, various forms of vitamins, etc., but it appears that phytochemicals arc cancer and inflammation-preventative when eaten in their raw form. Therefore, we must make these foods a part of our diet. We cannot simply go to a health food store and purchase a pill to take the place of the right foods.
You must also not forget exercise in the role of inflammation. By exercising, we burn of the “fight or flight- response, which causes our hearts to react quickly, sugar to be dumped into our blood stream and our blood pressure to rise, which are all pro-inflammatory processes that are beneficial…if we are fighting a wild animal…but are not beneficial if we are sitting in traffic or behind a desk.
In summary, 90% of diseases can be prevented through our own diligence. Eating in moderation, drinking in moderation, exercising in moderation, and a little bit of common sense will go a long way to keeping you out of the doctor’s office and off multiple medications that can interact with each other and even harm your body.
Dr. John Alevizos is Board Certified in Family Practice and specializes in Anti-Aging Medicine. Visit AlevizosMedical.com for more information.