Get A Grip On Arthritis
and other inflammatory disorders

Causes of Chronic Inflammation

Stress, bacteria, viruses, parasites, environmental poisons, certain foods (including sugar), smoking, high blood-insulin levels and obesity are just a few of the factors that promote inflammation. The fact that we are living a lot longer than our ancestors did may also be contributing to inflammation; as we age, our ability to shut off the inflammatory process often weakens.

The foods you choose can either promote or prevent inflammation. Foods containing arachidonic acid, such as eggs, organ meats (including liver, heart and giblets), beef and dairy products promote inflammation. Through a complicated process the body breaks down arachidonic acid into inflammatory compounds, including the hormones, prostaglandins and leukotrienes that control the mechanisms of inflammation, constrict blood vessels and promote blood clotting.

Overcooked food or foods cooked at high temperatures (including French fries, blackened and/or barbecued foods, fried chicken - high-heat frying or deep-fried foods) incite the inflammatory response because they create advanced glycation end products (AGES), something the body treats as an invader. AGES are produced when a protein is bound to a glucose molecule, resulting in damaged, cross-linked proteins. As the body tries to break these AGES apart, immune cells secrete large amounts of inflammatory cytokines. Many of the diseases that we think of as part of aging are actually caused by this process. Depending on where the AGES occur, the result can be arthritis, heart disease, cataracts, memory loss, wrinkled skin or diabetes complications, to name a few.

What You Can Do
Eat at least six servings of vegetables and one serving of fruit every day. These are foods that have a low rating on the glycemic index - meaning the body takes longer to break them down into blood glucose - and are the best choices for reducing inflammation (see a sample chart of glycemic index ratings below). The standard, high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet we are eating is disrupting our bodies' ability to regulate blood sugar adequately. It forces our bodies to pump out too much insulin in order to reduce abnormally high blood glucose, and our bodies' cells become resistant to insulin's action. In addition, those high blood-glucose levels increase inflammation - foods low on the glycemic index chart calm the inflammatory process.

Eat moderate amounts of free-range, organic chicken and plenty of fish. Do not eat margarine, shortening or highly processed supermarket oils. Avoid all foods containing trans fats. Read labels; if you see "partially hydrogenated" or "hydrogenated," the food contains trans fats, which promote inflammation. Extra virgin olive oil is the safest oil sold in your local grocery store; later you will read more on fatty-acid-rich oils. Avoid processed foods of all types - they should be labeled, "Warning inflammation will occur if you eat this."

Low-Glycemic-Index (GI) Foods: Moderate consumption of foods rated lower on the glycemic index help reduce inflammation, balance blood sugar, lower insulin requirements, reduce body fat, reduce blood pressure, improve immune system function, promote longevity and provide overall, enhanced well-being. These are foods with a rating of 60 or lower on the scale below. (Ratings are comparative, using glucose as the benchmark.) Just think "natural as Mother Nature intended." Choose foods that are whole foods, not processed, without sugar or fake fats, and protein-enriched to keep your blood-glucose levels within a healthy range and inflammation under control.

We know that overeating promotes the inflammatory response and suppresses the immune system. Tests performed by the National Institute on Aging revealed that when animals were fed 50 percent fewer calories per day, their immune response improved, the amount of inflammatory cytokines in circulation was reduced, thymus size was maintained and inflammation-fighting T-cell function improved. This study looked at higher and lower calorie consumption; it did not distinguish among the types of calories consumed. Heavy, red-meat-based diets or lots of sugar-laden foods would definitely have a negative impact on immune function and promote inflammation, whereas calories in the form of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds would improve immunity. No matter what the food choices, moderation is the key in terms of both total daily quantity and amounts consumed at one time. Generally, five or six small meals (of the right foods) throughout the day are considered to be healthier than consuming fewer large ones.

It is known that even an extra 20 pounds can create an abundance of inflammation in the human body and lower overall immunity. Weight management is an important aspect of maintaining a balanced immune system and controlling inflammation. With over 50 percent of North Americans overweight, and an additional 15 percent or more classed as obese, public health care planners expect to see a tremendous increase in inflammatory diseases. Fat cells act like immune cells and secrete inflammatory factors (histamines and cytokines), especially during weight gain. The more fat cells you have, the more potential there is for inflammation.

Weight gain also puts tremendous pressure on joints. For every ten pounds of weight gained, 40 pounds or more of additional pressure is put on hips and knees, compressing cartilage and collagen, grinding down bones, promoting damage and the inflammatory response.

Inflammatory cytokines are secreted at a higher rate by those who have insomnia, compared to those who do not. During sleep, the body regenerates and the immune system calms down. Lack of restorative sleep is a major promoter of inflammation. People with rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disorders know this, because lack of sleep due to pain associated with their condition promotes further flare-ups and more pain.

Up to 33 percent of North Americans are in chronic pain, which disables more people than cancer and heart disease combined. Lost workdays, workers' compensation claims and medical expenses associated with chronic pain are estimated to cost the both Canada and the U.S. over US$100 billion annually. Adequate rest is essential when battling inflammation.

Melatonin, 5-HTP and valerian, among other natural sleep aids, should be used to improve sleep and calm the inflammatory response.