It’s the health hazard you’ve never heard of, yet it contributes to every major chronic condition from heart disease to cancer to diabetes. 


Under normal circumstances, some inflammation is a good thing: it’s your body’s natural protective response to an illness or injury.  You know how your finger can get red and puffy from a cut?  That’s your white blood cells shielding your wound from contamination and infection.  And that’s acute inflammation.  Chronic or systemic inflammation—is when the “protect me” signal misfires.  Essentially, white blood cells move into tissues, causing destruction.  This reaction can happen anywhere in your body.  If the haywire inflammation happens in your heart, you wind up with heart disease; if it happens in the joint, its arthritis; in the brain, it might be dementia. 

In fact, it’s widely believed that chronic inflammation plays a significant role (as either cause or effect) in many diseases, including type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases (arthritis and Crohn’s disease), and the three top killers in the United States: heart disease, cancer and stroke.  Emerging research is focusing on the link between inflammation and brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  Obesity is one of the biggest drivers for inflammation—fat tissue actually produces and secretes over 100 different types of inflammatory messengers.   Losing weight can significantly lower inflammatory markers.  But obesity isn’t the only cause: genetics, family history, lifestyle and stress all play a significant role in inflammation.

The tricky thing with inflammation is that it sometimes has symptoms, such as pain and lethargy, but often doesn’t.  You won’t know you have inflammation until you get tested.  Individuals who are a little overweight, have borderline high cholesterol, or high blood pressure—those are the people who really need to get tested now.  If you find elevated markers at that point, with aggressive intervention you can really help thwart inflammation problems in the future.

Translation: diet, exercise and lifestyle changes should be the first line of attack.  Eating well is really a powerful tool against inflammation.  And an anti-inflammatory diet is not necessarily complicated.  First, you need to cut back on unhealthy ingredients, such as trans fats, concentrated sweeteners and processed food.  Think in terms of big-ticket items: don’t eat red meat more than once per week, avoid fried foods and limit ice cream to special occasions.  In addition to limiting the unhealthy stuff, you need to ramp up the healthy foods.  Add in more foods that help alleviate and prevent inflammation, such as ones high in omega-3s, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.   A healthy diet, plus key lifestyle upgrades (healthy weight, exercise) can make all the difference.


Get tested: What’s your CRP level?

There are hundreds of markers for inflammation, but the most recognized and the one that we can easily test is call C-reactive protein.  CRP is a protein produced by the liver.  Changes in CRP are often the first sign of inflammation.  Your CRP level may rise even before you feel any effects of inflammation.   CRP can predict heart attacks and strokes better than any other laboratory test.  Logic tells us that CRP is also linked to inflammation-related conditions, such as diabetes and arthritis.  C-reactive protein levels in blood are measured in milligrams per liter (mg/L).  It’s a simple—and affordable—blood test your doctor can order.  If you have 1 mg/L or more, it’s considered high and may indicate chronic inflammation.   Talk with your doctor or dietitian about follow-up advice.  However, most acute inflammation shows CRP levels above 10 mg/L.  If your CRP level is above 10 mg/L, repeat the test in 2-3 weeks.  Sometimes inflammation markers are high because you were fighting an infection and not because you have an underlying disease associated with inflammation.


Some Key Suggestions to Lowering your CRP Level:

Balance your omega fats: Lower your intake of omega-6 fatty acids (vegetable oils, processed and fast foods) and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, tuna, chia, walnuts, and olive and canola oils).  In short, a diet high in omega-6s and low in omega 3s increases inflammation in the body.  To better balance your omegas, opt for as much fresh, unprocessed food as possible.  If you eat one source of omega 3s every day, you’ll be doing good things for inflammation.  If it proves difficult to get the 1-4 grams of omega 3s daily, ask your doctor about a supplement.  Taking fish-oil pills daily (2 grams) can reduce stress-related production of interleukin-6, a prominent inflammatory marker.

Up your soy:  Just 12 grams of soy per day can reduce inflammation.   A peptide called lunasin, along with other soy proteins, can quell inflammation.   **If you have a hormone-sensitive condition such as breast cancer or endometriosis, check with your doctor before increasing the amount of soy in your diet.

Limit bad fats: Trans fats are linked to a significant total bump in total body inflammation, especially in overweight women.  Trans fats can be found in items including fried foods, packaged cookies, crackers, margarine and more.  And buyer beware: even if a food label reads 0 grams trans fats, it can still contain 0.5 grams per serving, so if you eat a multiple servings, you could be eating several grams.  Instead, check the ingredients for partially hydrogenated oils of any kind.  If you see this, the product contains trans fats, regardless of what the nutrition label says.

Eat your greens:  Here’s yet another reason not to skimp on green leafy vegetables, whole grains and nuts: they’re rich in magnesium, and 60% of Americans don’t get enough of this important mineral.   Anyone who is susceptible to inflammation should assess their magnesium intake (the goal is to get it from food, NOT supplements).  There is evidence that individuals with high inflammatory markers often have low magnesium levels.  Plus, people who have conditions associated with inflammation, like heart disease and diabetes, also tend to have low magnesium levels.  Eating more magnesium-rich foods (green vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains) can help lower your risk for inflammation.

Drink Green Tea: Even if coffee is your beverage of choice, you might not want to skip tea altogether, especially the green variety.   Green tea is full of potent antioxidants that help quell inflammation, inhibit oxidative stress and the potential inflammation that can result.

Finally, exercise often and sleep more!  More than 6 hours of sound sleep per night, and about one hour of exercise most days of the week are key to reducing harmful inflammation in the body!   So get busy.


Source: Holly Pevzner