Inflammation: Why Do I Have it and How Can I prevent it?

What is inflammation?

What causes inflammation?

Everyone has seen how a brushfire or wildfire can spread. Similarly, we have witnessed how rust can propagate from one area to the next. These phenomena are largely caused by oxidative stress. Likewise, inflammation in our bodies results from oxidative stress. Name a disease and chances are it has been linked to inflammation. -- Not exactly a surprising revelation if we consider that inflammation can proliferate like fire in the human body (spreading from one tissue region to the next and even from one organ system to a remote one). For example, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums) has been linked to both arthritis (inflammation of the joints) and coronary artery disease, caused by inflammation of the heart arteries. Antioxidants extinguish this wildfire phenomenon by lending electrons to free radicals (seeking to strip them from our cells), thereby neutralizing or disarming them.

What is oxidative stress?

Oxidative stress results when the production of damaging compounds in our bodies called reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as free radicals and peroxides, exceeds the capacity of the available antioxidants or radical scavengers to disarm or neutralize them. Think of ROS as a group of thugs seeking to destroy our cells. Left unchecked these bad actors may oxidize biomolecules, structurally modify proteins and genes; in turn triggering inflammatory cascades and disease states.

What are some of the ways in which inflammation or oxidative stress manifests itself in my body?

Each of us have our own set of predispositions toward developing specific health disorders. Environmental, conditional and genetic factors determine why one person develops dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), another has thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) while others suffer from colitis (inflammation of the colon) or multiple sclerosis (inflammation of the insulating layer of the nerves in the brain). The good news is that we have a considerable amount of control over the expression of these disease states. For example, the emerging science of epigenetics (genetic control by factors independent of a given DNA sequence) informs us that lifestyle modifications may influence which genes switch on or off.

How can I reduce inflammation through diet or nutrition routines?

There are a few simple rules which can make integrating an anti-inflammatory nutrition routine into your lifestyle fairly straightforward.

Start by eliminating the “white stuff” -- white rice, white flour (including bread and pasta), white sugar and milk. Even potatoes rich in pigment (orange, yellow, and purple) are better for us than white potatoes. Also avoid processed fats and oils. Fat is an integral component of all cell membranes. Consequently, toxic fats such as processed fats and oils or trans-fats can lead to cell damage. When grocery shopping keep in mind that most stores are designed to offer the processed and packaged foods in the inner isles. Consequently, concentrate your selection process in the outer isles.

Next increasingly introduce vegetables and fruits which are rich in pigments: green leafy vegetables, berries, and citrus fruits.  Add good fats like olive oil, nuts (like almonds and walnuts which are rich in essential fatty acids), as well as fish (like salmon, mackerel, and sardines which your high in omega-3 fatty acids). Beans are also beneficial as they are loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds.

Are there effective anti-inflammatory supplements?

Supplements that modulate inflammatory pathways include:

-Omega-3 fatty acids. The most common source being fish oil. I recommend that my patients seek molecularly distilled brands, to eliminate contaminants.

-Curcumin from turmeric is widely available in its raw form or in capsule form, including long-acting release.

-Ginger is one of my favorite antioxidants because of the consistently positive feedback I receive about it from my patients, particularly those suffering with arthritis. It can be found in its root form in most grocery stores. You can add it to your smoothie or favorite cooking recipes. Try adding some to Asian dishes to brighten the flavor profile. Ginger can also be used to make tea.



-Green tea



-Cat’s claw

-White willow bark


-Pycnogenol (maritime pine bark)

And don’t forget about Vitamin C. It is one of the easiest and most important means to beef-up your antioxidant levels. Humans and other primates, unlike most mammals, are unable to synthesize vitamin C endogenously. As vitamin C is necessary for protein metabolism, synthesis of collagen(connective tissue), l-carnitine and some neurotransmitters it is an essential dietary adjunct. Moreover, it aids in regeneration of other antioxidants like vitamin E. I recommend the powdered form to my patients because it’s easily mixed with water, juice or smoothies, and is readily titrated to each individual’s requirements.

Follow these simple rules and you will be well on your way to a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle.

Learn More About Dr. Fortin

Dr. Joseph Fortin, DO Dr. Joseph Fortin is the Medical Director at Spine Technology and Rehabilitation and a Clinical Professor at Indiana University School of Medicine.

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