Keeping bad inflammation in check

Published 11:11 am Friday, February 4, 2011

You wouldn’t think that one of your body’s life-saving mechanisms could turn against you, and increase your chance for disease, but that’s exactly what happens with inflammation.

Just what is inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or illness.

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It’s a process by which the body’s white blood cells and chemicals protect us from infection and foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. Inflammation is triggered by the body’s immune system and is designed to repair injured tissue and promote healing.

This all sounds really great, doesn’t it?

There’s a problem though. When the immune system’s battle against an injury or illness is over, inflammation is supposed to cease, but sometimes it doesn’t. When inflammation has no foreign enemy to fight off, it causes damage to its own tissues. This is referred to as “auto-immune disease.”

Low-grade inflammation can set in motion a series of developments that underlie a wide variety of diseases such as heart disease and stroke. It also appears that inflammation is the driving force behind “atherosclerosis,” in which plaque builds up in the walls of arteries thereby reducing blood flow.

It has been suggested that measuring blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) -a marker of inflammation – may be a way to assess a person’s risk for heart disease.

One study at the Harvard School of Public Health found that high levels of CRP were associated with a 79 percent higher risk of heart disease in men and women. Other conditions thought to be facilitated by inflammation include rheumatoid arthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, gouty arthritis, polymyalgia rhueumatica, headaches, muscle stiffness and loss of energy.

So now that we know what inflammation is, and what it does to our bodies, how do we deal with it?

First, lose weight. Excess weight can accentuate the risks of low-grade inflammation. There is a strong association between hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes with regards to the integral role of fat cells. In addition to losing weight, quitting smoking and regular exercise play a huge role in reducing inflammation.

Avoiding saturated fats, and consuming fruits, whole grains, richly colored vegetables, beans, seeds and fish, are also associated with a reduction in low grade inflammation. Also, consuming omega 3 fatty acids reduces inflammation.

Omega 3s are found in fish like salmon, tuna and halibut. They are also found in nut oils and some plants like flax. It’s important though, to have a balance of omega 3 and omega 6 (another essential fatty acid) in your diet.

There are medications like statins, ACE inhibitors, some diabetes drugs that are anti-inflammatory. There are also nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen, but don’t take any medication without first checking with your doctor. Using some of these steps will help to put the fire out from inflammation.

Diet or fitness question?

Email me at or visit David Crocker of Landrum has served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., strength coach S.C. state champion girls gymnastic team, USC- Spartanburg baseball team, Converse college equestrian team, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency. Taught four semesters U.S.C.-Union.