All Posts tagged Inflammation

New Research Shows Essential Fatty Acids Help You Live Longer

vitamins(1)Most of us are aware that we need essential fatty acids in our diet.  They play an imperative role in our genetic expression, our longevity, our pain reduction and the functioning of our immune system.  In essence, you live longer and have a better quality of life when you are getting the right amounts of essential fatty acids.

The latest research is showing that our body is using these essential fatty acids to resolve inflammatory stress and bring homeostasis back to the body.  Our bodies have a built-in method of doing this, and that method is dependent upon having adequate essential fatty acids in our system.  This is how your body resolves inflammation so you do not age any faster than you have to and can prevent the inflammatory diseases that commonly occur during aging (cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, obesity, heart disease, etc).  This new field of research sprung up because fatty acids like EPA and DHA were shown to make specific molecules that actually resolve inflammation and return your body to a state of healthy balance. 

This research shows that once your body starts an inflammatory process, it also starts an anti-inflammatory process that will eventually curtail the inflammation as well as clean up the “debris of the battle”.  The cleaner and more rejuvenated you keep yourself the longer and healthier you will live.  Conversely, the more inflamed you remain, the more your quality of life is at risk.  Scientists call these new fatty acid-containing proteins “specialized pro-resolving mediators” or SPM, for short.  They include molecules such as:  resolvins, docosatrienes, & protectins. 

The suppression and resolution of inflammation, but especially pain is an active process in the body.  And this ongoing active process is supported by the presence of two newly-discovered protectins.  They are both dependent upon the dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids because protectins come from the fatty acid DHA.  Protectins were first classified as important nerve protectors, since they protect both your brain and eyesight.  (FYI..It has been demonstrated that protectins are lacking in cognitive decline as well as Alzheimer’s).  Protectins are made by your brain cells and nerve cells, but they were also discovered to be made by some immune cells and the cells that line your body cavities and blood vessels.   

Resolvins are compounds that help your body resolve inflammation.  Some resolvins come from EPA and others come from DHA.  Resolvins help your body resolve inflammation and they are important in managing the perception of pain.  Resolvins are also highly interactive with the immune system surrounding the mucosal membranes in your airways.  Deficiencies in them are associated with faulty immune responses as well as allergies and asthma.  All resolvins are highly specific in their actions toward resolving inflammation, including the cleanup of general wear and tear as well as your immune system’s battle against bugs.  Docosatrienes, on the other hand, come from completely from DHA and shed new light on managing inflammation.

All of these molecules are boosted by omega-3 fatty acid supplementation. Their production is a system wide process in your body, vital to recovery from anything, and to maintain a state of healthy natural balance.  If you lack omega-3 fatty acids you cannot possibly make them at an optimal rate. These anti-inflammatory DHA metabolites are highly active in tissues all over your body.

Molecules such as resolvins and protectins are part of the new frontier of nutrition science in the war against common diseases in America today. The anti-inflammatory properties of resolvins and protectins are stunning.  Even more stunning is their documented method of operation, which for the first time explains the recovery from stress and inflammation.

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Your Diet Can Affect Your Pain and Inflammation

As chiropractors, we often see patients who suffer from chronic pain and other conditions that are caused by inflammation.  One thing that I try to explain to my patients is that for most of their lives they have eaten meals that produce chronic pain for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most of the meals we eat contain linoleic acid, which is an omega-6 fatty acid that is found in various oils, grains and packaged foods.  Linoleic acid is converted by our bodies to arachidonic acid, a precursor of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), the primary eicosanoid associated with pain. We also ingest arachidonic acid directly in animal products, particularly in fatty meat, chicken skin and farm-raised fish such as tilapia and catfish.  The more of these types of food that we eat, the more likely we will develop a chronic inflammatory disease including cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.

The only the only real alternative to chronic inflammation is adopting a lifestyle change.  One such change may be to restore the proper balance of essential fatty acids in the diet.  Too many people have chronic inflammation in their bodies and brains because they are eating too many omega-6 and too few omega-3 fatty acids.  Experts believe that for optimum health we need a 1:1 to 4:1 range of ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, but we are eating a ratio of 20:1 to 30:1.  Excess omega-6 in the diet is pro-inflammatory.

Consumption of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids may decrease chronic pain and inflammation and reduce the need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  Research performed by Joseph Maroon, MD, a board-certified neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, showed that 2 g of EPA/DHA daily reduced joint pain and the need for NSAIDs in 59% of patients with neck and low back pain.  According to Dr. Maroon, the omega-3 fatty acids counter to some extent the poisons we put into the body in the form of trans-fatty acids, nitrates, and various chemicals and pesticides from non-organic foods.

While omega-3 acids are contained in green leafy vegetables, flax seed, flax seed oil and canola oil, many patients, especially older adults, need direct marine sources of EPA and DHA, namely fish, seafood, seaweed and fish oils. DHA seems particularly important for cognitive health and the health of the retina of the eye, while EPA may be more important for heart health and for emotional health.  One caution when taking omega-3 fatty acids, EPA, in particular, can have blood-thinning properties, so if you are taking a blood thinner, you need to communicate with your doctors before you increase your consumption of fish oils.

In addition to increasing intake of anti-inflammatory compounds, returning to a healthy diet and nutritional support can help reduce inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases.  From a dietary perspective, we need to eat more low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as lean meat, fish, skinless chicken, vegetables and fruit.  A modest amount of nut intake is also appropriate.  From the perspective of supplementation, the available evidence favors a multivitamin, magnesium, fish oil, vitamin D and probiotics.

A small study showed that a lifestyle modification protocol may be effective in reducing the pain associated with fibromyalgia.  Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, found in his placebo-controlled study that 91 percent of fibromyalgia patients improve, with the majority becoming pain-free, using his SHINE Protocol: Sleep, Hormones, Infections, Nutrition and Exercise.  As part of his protocol, Dr. Teitelbaum advocates eight hours of daily sleep for tissue repair; thyroid and adrenal hormonal support; elimination of infections, including yeast overgrowth; nutritional support through proper diet and supplementation; and exercise.  For those whose pain may prevent them from exercising, he recommends starting a walking program in a warm-water pool.

So if you suffer from a chronic inflammatory condition, you may want to consider making some lifestyle modifications and change what you are eating to see if it helps alleviate some of your pain and inflammation.

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Natural Alternatives to NSAIDs

To deal with inflammation and pain, more than 14 million patients turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  These NSAIDs, which are used to suppress the symptoms of everything from headaches, musculoskeletal pains, arthritis, sports injuries, and menstrual cramps, are responsible for more than 100,000 hospitalizations and 16,500 deaths a year in the United States alone. While NSAIDs can provide acute pain relief and reduce swelling at the injury site, long-term use has been shown to cause serious health problems.

NSAIDs work by inhibiting enzymes called cyclooxygenase-1 (COX1) and cyclooxygenase-2 (COX2).  These enzymes serve numerous beneficial homeostatic functions, such as converting dietary fatty acids into eicosanoids.  Although eicosanoids can produce pain & inflammation, they are also used by the body to control different systems of the body, including the immune system, and they act as messengers in the central nervous system.  Acute inhibition of the COX enzymes by NSAIDs poses no real danger; however, long-term use of NSAIDs does.  Most people know that stomach ulcers can be caused by long term NSAID usage, but it can also lead to more serious side-effects, including heart attack and stroke in susceptible individuals.

Because NSAIDs work so well, they do have their place for treatment of acute pain and inflammation.  However, they are some natural anti-inflammatory products that may also be helpful for managing chronic pain that do not have the side effects of the NSAIDs.  In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, boswellia and turmeric are good natural treatments for pain and inflammation.  Turmeric is protective against Alzheimer’s, liver problems and cancers.  If you have a chronic inflammatory condition, it may be a good idea to regularly include turmeric in your diet with curried spices or take a standardized curcumin extract, although that can be irritating to the stomach in large doses.  Boswellia affects several different enzyme systems, as opposed to NSAIDs.  It has been found to be very effective for arthritis, muscle pain, and asthma.  Willow bark has also been shown to be as effective or twice as effective as Motrin but without the toxicity.  Ginger, in addition to reducing inflammation, is good for those with poor circulation or nausea.

Ultimately, reducing inflammation and the risk of chronic diseases boils down to maintaining healthy lifestyles, which include proper nutrition.   Research has demonstrated that many factors can augment the inflammatory state, including insufficient sleep, mental stressors and too much or too little exercise.  So taking NSAIDs or herbs may help reduce your inflammation temporarily, but ultimately, you want to look at making your lifestyle more healthy to have a significant impact on inflammation.

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