What causes Inflammation?

Free from InflammationDid you know that inflammation is actually a good thing?  Under normal circumstances, inflammation is part of the immune reaction that helps the body heal when injured. As an example, if you cut your finger, blood vessels near the accident scene expand, which clears the way for the entrance of white blood cells, the soldiers who annihilate any bacteria that sneak into the cut. Then the body mends ragged tissue by ordering in new cells to seal the cut. By the time the signs of inflammation kick in–heat, soreness, and swelling–the wound is often well on its way to healing.

The Problem

The problem comes when inflammation stays longer than its meant to, or when it starts to run amok in your system.  Researchers are discovering that inflammation, the body’s most primitive weapon against infection and injury, may be at the root of some of today’s most serious health challenges, including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

With heart disease, the body can trigger an inflammatory response to contain the damage and the artery swells, constricting blood flow to the heart.   With diabetes, fat cells produce inflammation-boosting proteins called cytokines, so more fat equals more inflammation and over time, too many circulating cytokines dampen the body’s ability to monitor insulin production.  Inflammation causes cells to oxidize, which can trigger cancerous mutations of the cells.

The Solution

Fortunately, experts are learning more and more about simple, even pleasurable, ways to reduce inflammation.  Reducing stress and certain ways of exercising are excellent ways to reduce inflammation.  And the best defense is through making some simple changes to the foods you eat.

Dozens of foods, herbs, and spices are proven to increase the body’s ability to quell inflammatory hot spots. In a study on Rheumatoid Arthritis, in Rheumatology International, patients who followed an anti-inflammatory diet had a 14 percent decrease in joint tenderness and swelling compared to those who ate a typical Western diet. Fish oil supplements pushed the results even further, bringing the final tally of those feeling an improvement up to 31 percent.

Good Fats

The goal is to eat a good balance of fats.  Inflammatory fats are mainly omega-6s, as found in safflower, sunflower, and corn oil, and anti-inflammatory fats are omega-3s and omega-9s, found in fatty fish, olive oil, walnut oil, hemp oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil.  Unfortunately, the typical American diet has up to 30 times more inflammatory fats than anti-inflammatory fats.

In addition to the fats listed above, one of the best anti-inflammatory fats is Organic, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. We have tried a lot of different organic, extra virgin coconut oils, and by far, hands down, this is our VERY, VERY favorite: Certified Organic, Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Centrifuge Extracted.  (Interesting side story… Rick is from a very small town in Minnesota called Silver Bay.  We live in California, and had been ordering this great coconut oil from Wilderness Family Naturals for a while.  One summer, we were visiting Rick’s mom in Silver Bay and she was telling us about a company that had just moved into the old school building in town because they were expanding so rapidly.  She told us they sold different types of health foods.  Well, the school was just down the street from his mom’s house, so we decided to visit.  It was Wilderness Family Naturals!  We got to meet the owners and their children, and bought all the coconut oil and other great products that we could fit in our suitcases and take home with us!)

If you haven’t explored coconut oil much, and are working on reducing your inflammation levels, we highly recommend both of these books by Bruce Fife:  The Coconut Oil Miracle (Previously published as The Healing Miracle of Coconut Oil)and Coconut Cures: Preventing and Treating Common Health Problems with Coconut.

The worst fats – the trans fats that will  drive your body to make more inflammatory chemicals – are vegetable shortenings and hard margarines.  The good news is that real butter is a much better choice (and we all know it tastes much better too!).

Get Friendly with Fish

Fish overflows with two key omega-3 fatty acids–eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic (EPA and DHA for short)–that are potent anti-inflammatories. Good sources are fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, trout, sardines, and tuna. Canned tuna is fine, but make sure it’s packed in water. Otherwise, the omega-3s leach into the surrounding oil.

You do need to watch out for toxins in fish, though, especially if you’re in a high-risk category. Women who are either pregnant or hoping to be should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel (a different species from regular mackerel), and tilefish, all of which harbor potentially dangerous levels of mercury, which can be damaging to their developing fetus. (Nursing mothers and young children should avoid these fish, too.)

If you don’t want to mess with mercury, you’re not so fond of fish, or you just want to hedge your bets, try fish oil supplements (although it’s important to know that regular fish oil often comes from a polluted source).  We highly recommend Krill Oil from ProGrade.  It’s high quality and cost-effective.

Or if you prefer taking fish oil in the liquid form, our favorite is Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil in the Peach flavor.

Whatever fish-oil delivery system you choose–fresh, canned, or supplement–don’t let this one get away.

“There is an absolute need for fish oil if you’re going to quell inflammation,” says Jim LaValle, an integrative physician and clinical nutritionist at the Longer Living Institute in Cincinnati, Ohio.

There are options for vegetarians, too, though they’re not perfect. The body can make its own EPA and DHA from the omega-3 fat found in plant sources such as flaxseed, wheat germ, and walnuts. But the body’s mechanism for converting plant-based omega-3s isn’t particularly effective.

Although flaxseed is often touted as a substitute for fish oil, it just can’t compete, says LaValle. “That’s one of the biggest misconceptions in the natural products industry.”

One solution is to take flaxseed supplements, but you’ll need to down four times as many of these as you would of fish oil pills.

Embrace Your Inner Herbavore

Load your plate with fruits and vegetables–the more colorful the better.  Brightly colored produce such as blueberries, peppers, and spinach have the most anti-inflammatory compounds.

For a simple way to make sure you’re eating enough plant-based foods, Melanie Polk, a registered dietitian at the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C., suggests using your dinner plate as a measuring tool. Ideally, two-thirds of the plate or more should be covered with fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and/or beans, she explains. The remaining one-third can be filled with lean animal protein, like a chicken breast or fish fillet, or tofu.

If you find you’re not able to get as much in the way of fruits and vegetables as you need, in order to be eating an anti-inflammatory diet, here’s something that can help:  the tastiest, most effective green drink on the planet.

How to Find Out if You’re Inflammed

You may already know that you are inflammed.  Or you may try some of the anti-inflammatory solutions listed above and feel a lot better – that’s probably a great indicator that you’ve been dealing with inflammation.  But there’s actually a blood test you can take.  Inflammation is measured by a marker called C-reactive protein or CRP.  As inflammation creeps up, so do CRP levels in the blood.

A blood test to measure levels of CRP is usually inexpensive ($25 to $30) and extremely reliable.  And you may find this blood test is covered by your medical insurance.


We hope this info is helpful.  We’re here to walk with you on your journey to great health and a full life!

Shana & Rick

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One Response to What causes Inflammation?

  1. Cryoglobulin on April 20, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Hello there! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your blog posts.I have a blog of my own but this is much better.

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