Foods and Supplements that Prevent Inflammation
Inflammation plays an important role in causing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and aging in general. Although inflammation is a healthy response by the body to repair injury, ongoing inflammation contributes to many of our most common chronic diseases.
The best way, by far, to reduce inflammation is—you guessed it—a healthy lifestyle, meaning a wholesome diet, exercise, good sleep, sunshine and stress management. Exercise in particular helps the body move the damaging debris of inflammation out of the body, which is why people with diseases such as arthritis and fibromyalgia are encouraged to move, even if just by gentle stretching.
Foods that Cause Inflammation
One of the primary causes of inflammation is too much of certain fats and oils. The saturated fat found in meat is one culprit. Let me emphasize here that the key concept is excess; there’s no evidence that having a steak or lamb chop or bacon now and then does any harm. Ironically, the other fatty acid culprit is at the other end of the saturation spectrum—the omega-6 unsaturated oils such as corn, cottonseed, safflower and soybean. These are the oils found in chips, cookies, mayonnaise, salad dressings, and countless processed food products. It almost goes without saying that the hydrogenated oils (trans-fats) are particularly villainous inflammatory agents, but most of those have been removed from processed foods.
Refined carbohydrates, especially the fatty carbs like French fries and the sweet carbs like cookies and doughnuts, are likely one of the primary causes of inflammation in the U.S.
Food sensitivities also contribute to inflammation. In some people, certain foods set off immune system alarm bells that can create inflammation throughout the body. The most common culprits are wheat, dairy, soy and citrus products. The nightshade family of plants, including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and nicotine can also cause inflammation.
How Foods Cause Inflammation
Both types of fatty acids (in excess) and refined carbohydrates cause the body to set up a multi-layered defense system to break down and dispose of them. In the normal workaday world of the body, this is no big deal, but when you overload the system it overcreates enzymes known as 5-LOX, COX-1 and COX-2. These enzymes, in turn, wreak all sorts of havoc further along the biochemical pathways. Part of the collateral damage of this havoc is inflammation—in the heart, the blood vessels, the joints, the breast, and the prostate gland. In fact, not only does this havoc do damage, it actually feeds and protects cancer cells in the process. To add insult to injury, literally, it also pushes estrogens down destructive pathways. Again, these are normal biochemical processes that run amok when they become overloaded. As we age we become increasingly susceptible to these types of inflammation and the DNA damage they cause, which can be the first step in the creation of a cancer.
Weapons Against LOX and COX
You can help your body reduce LOX and COX damage with some targeted supplement choices. The idea here, however, is not so much to try to help your body get over the shock of a burger and fries every other day, as to add a weapon to a health arsenal that is already well stocked with overall good lifestyle choices. In other words, make the lifestyle changes and take these next suggestions an extra layer of protection. And let me make abundantly clear that I am in no way advocating any type of super-strict diet purgatory where you can never again eat meat or have a doughnut. That’s too stressful, and stress depletes the adrenals, which also creates inflammation, which…. well, you get the idea.
One of the easiest ways to block LOX and COX damage is to eat fish a few times a week, or take fish oil supplements. To avoid mercury and PCB toxicity from fish, eat wild salmon and the smaller fish such as sardines. Fish oil supplements should say on the label that they are purified to remove toxins such as mercury.
A lot of people like flax oil as a source of beneficial oils, but I don’t recommend it. It’s so extremely unsaturated that unless you grind the seeds and eat them right away, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be rancid, which is like throwing the doors wide open for LOX and COX damage. Even when you grind the seeds, flax still has to go through conversion processes in the body to have benefit. In the hardware or paint store, flax oil is known as linseed oil and is used as a wood varnish, a carrier for oil paints, and glazing putty. If you put a coat of linseed oil on wood and leave it in the sun, it’ll harden in a few hours. That type of oxidation reaction is good for protecting wood, but may not be so good for protecting the body. And yes, the lignans in flax are phytoestrogens that can be beneficial, but there are other ways to get lignans (whole grains, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans).
Another way to combat LOX and COX damage is to take an anti-inflammatory drug such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Remember, though, that when taken regularly, these drugs carry the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, which kills more than 10,000 people a year. Use them with discretion. If you have a sensitive stomach, this is probably not a good choice for you. There is evidence that women who use the statin drugs to lower cholesterol levels have a reduced risk of breast cancer. However, the damaging effects that statins have on the brain make it wiser to find other ways to reduce inflammation.
Some supplement formulas are specifically designed to douse LOX and COX inflammation. Most notable are New Chapter’s Zyflamend and Life Extension’s 5-Loxin. Zyflamend is a blend of herb and spice extracts that has been well researched and shown to have benefit. For details please visit the New Chapter website.
And remember, our old friend estrogen is potently inflammatory in excess. It doesn’t take much estrogen to make older women and men estrogen dominant, in this case meaning too much estrogen relative to testosterone and progesterone. In women and men, fat cells are estrogen factories, which is part of why obesity contributes to inflammation. Read up on hormone balance and use progesterone cream to oppose estrogen’s inflammatory properties.
Toxins such as pesticides, fake fragrances (e.g. room fresheners, fabric softeners, perfumes), off-gassing particle board furniture and carpets, solvents (nail polish, paint stripper) are potently inflammatory. The body reacts to poisons with inflammation, in a desperate effort to surround and get rid of them.
For more details on toxins and how to avoid them, here are some articles by Dr. John Lee and myself, the first two originally published in the John R. Lee, M.D. Medical Letter:
Xenohormones and Your Health: Part I
Xenohormones in Your Environment: Part II
Scented Products are Not Safe