Everybody recognizes inflammation when they see it: tender, swollen joints; inflamed, congested nasal passages; painful, red abrasions; raised bumps and bruises. But there’s more to inflammation than meets the eye.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
Acute inflammation is a chief component of the body’s response to injury or infection. It’s a complex process that involves blood vessels, immune cells, prostaglandins, and other compounds that contribute to the characteristic swelling, redness, pain, and warmth. Once healing is complete, these symptoms subside.
Chronic inflammation is another story. It isn’t triggered by an obvious injury or infection—in fact, you may not even be aware of it. But some underlying factor is putting the immune system on high alert. It could be a low-grade or undetected infection such as periodontal or Lyme disease, or a food or environmental allergen like gluten or mold. Perhaps it’s exposure to toxic pollutants, smoke, excessive alcohol, or drugs. Poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, imbalances in gut bacteria, and obesity are other common culprits.
Whatever the stimulus—and it’s often difficult to detect—chronic inflammation contributes to a broad range of serious health challenges.
Heart attacks generally occur when inflamed arterial plaques erupt, attracting blood clots that block blood flow to the heart. C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation measured by a simple blood test, is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease that is more predictive of heart attacks than elevated cholesterol.
Rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn’s, and scores of other autoimmune disorders are quintessential inflammatory diseases. Type 2 diabetes is associated with chronic inflammation, and a high CRR level increases risk of developing diabetes. All –itis conditions (osteoarthritis, gingivitis, sinusitis, etc.) involve inflammation, and it is a factor in COPD, asthma, allergies, neuropathy, kidney and liver disease, and even cancer.
Chronic inflammation affects brain function as well. Depressed people typically have elevated levels of CRP. Neuro-inflammation ramps up following traumatic brain injury and often persists for years. It’s also a signature feature of Alzheimer's disease and is currently being studied as a target for prevention and treatment.
How to Fight Chronic Inflammation
You can see why it’s important to get a handle on inflammation. Start by cleaning up your diet. Salmon, sardines, and other omega-3-rich fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados, berries, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, tomatoes, onions, and other high-fiber vegetables and fruits dampen inflammation, while nutrient-poor processed and fried foods, sugar, sodas, and excessive red meat and alcohol promote it. Moderate (not heavy) exercise and stress management have proven benefits, and weight loss—especially if you have belly fat, which churns out inflammatory chemicals—is particularly important.
Nutritional supplements also make a difference. If you don’t get enough dietary omega-3s, and few Americans do, take supplemental EPA/DHA, which inhibits an enzyme that triggers inflammation. Probiotics help correct imbalances in gut bacteria, a common source of chronic inflammation, and curcumin reduces several markers of acute and chronic inflammation. Studies show that vitamins C and D are also beneficial, and a recent meta-analysis found that magnesium supplements lower CRP as well.
I also recommend two medications: aspirin, which blocks production of prostaglandins that fuel inflammation, and low-dose naltrexone (LDN), a prescription drug that modulates the immune response.
It’s premature to promise that lowering your inflammatory burden will stave off heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, etc. But I can tell you that therapies aimed at reducing chronic inflammation are among the most exciting treatments being tested for these stubborn and debilitating diseases. Don’t wait until conventional medicine catches up. Adopt these measures now and douse the harmful flames of chronic inflammation.
- Have your C-reactive protein (CRP) tested. Optimal level is less than 1 mg/L. Above 3 is considered high risk, and steps should be taken to lower it.
- In addition to diet, weight loss, exercise, and stress reduction, I recommend fish oil 1,000 mg EPA/DHA, curcumin 400–1,000 mg, high-potency probiotics, vitamin D 2,000–5,000 IU, vitamin C 1,000 mg, magnesium 500 mg, aspirin 81 mg, and LDN 3–4.5 mg. LDN requires a prescription and should be taken at bedtime. Talk to your doctor before starting aspirin.