The Truth About Inflammation: Part 2

In last week’s blog post, we talked at length about what exactly inflammation is as well as the role it plays in cardiovascular disease. This week, we’ll examine other adverse effects of inflammation and look at safe, natural ways to combat this common health concern.

Does Inflammation Trigger Diabetes?

We have long known that inflammation plays a significant role in type 1 diabetes. It is an autoimmune disorder, in which immune cells attack tissues in the pancreas, resulting in inflammation and eventual destruction of the islet cells that produce insulin. Research now suggests that inflammation is also a player in type 2 diabetes.

Levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, are often elevated in people who have or are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a landmark German study, researchers enrolled 2,052 men, ages 45 to 74, who had no signs or symptoms of diabetes at the study’s onset and followed them for an average of 7.2 years. They found a distinct relationship between inflammation and risk of diabetes. The men with the highest CRP levels were 2.7 times more likely to develop diabetes during the study period than those with the lowest CRPs.

Inflammation also appears to predict the risk of diabetic complications. According to a study presented at the American Diabetes Association’s Annual Scientific Sessions, diabetic patients with the highest CRP levels were four times as likely to have cardiovascular disease as those with the lowest CRP levels. Other researchers have found elevations in CRP to be a reliable indicator of development of diabetic nephropathy, or damage to the kidneys.

In summary, high-sensitive C-reactive protein and other tests that measure inflammation may allow us to determine who is at greatest risk of developing diabetes and its many complications—and to develop treatment strategies to prevent them from taking hold in the first place.

Inflammation, the Brain, and Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s researchers are also studying the relationship between inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. More than 30 years ago, Edith G. and Patrick L. McGeer, neuroscientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and colleagues noted an exceptionally low incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in people who had arthritis. They theorized that this was due to the anti-inflammatory drugs these people used to relieve pain. In the past few years, this theory has taken hold, as follow-up studies have indeed linked the use of anti-inflammatories with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, there is a growing consensus that Alzheimer’s disease is at least in part an inflammatory condition, triggered by the brain’s immune system turning on itself. The brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are characterized by the presence of amyloid plaques, which consist of proteins called beta amyloid surrounded by dead and dying cellular debris. Immune cells in the brain are drawn to amyloid plaques. When they come into contact with beta amyloid, they are activated and release inflammatory compounds that damage even healthy brain cells, instigating a cycle of inflammation and neurodegeneration.

Clinical trials are underway to determine the best strategies for curtailing inflammation in the brain in an effort to prevent and treat this progressive, devastating disease. Although most of the research involves one drug or another, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles are looking at a safe, inexpensive herb with potent anti-inflammatory activity: turmeric (Curcuma longa), the spice that gives curry its brilliant color.

Middle-aged and older rats were fed either a standard diet, the same diet with small doses of curcumin, or the diet with high doses of curcumin for six months. All the rats received injections of amyloid (the protein in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s) to mimic the disease. Compared to the rats on the standard diet, the curcumin-fed animals scored much higher on maze-based memory tests and exhibited no symptoms of Alzheimer’s. At the end of the study, biopsies showed that the rats on the curcumin diets had a dramatic reduction in amyloid and other markers of inflammation in the brain.

Rural India has the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the world. Could it be that their consumption of curcumin-rich curry offers a lifetime of protection against inflammation? Although it will take years of study before we can say for sure, in the meantime, it can’t hurt to eat curry often and take supplemental curcumin every day.

Enzymes Safely Reduce Inflammation

Europeans have known for decades that enzymes are a safe way to control inflammation. Enzymes are specialized proteins involved in myriad metabolic processes. They act primarily as catalysts, initiating and controlling chemical reactions by changing the structures of molecules. Perhaps the most familiar enzymes are those that help digest food: lipase breaks down fat, amylase breaks down carbohydrates, and protease breaks down proteins. Proteases—also called hydrolytic or proteolytic enzymes—also work throughout the body to help control inflammation.

Proteolytic enzyme supplements support the natural inflammatory response, but don’t let it get out of hand. By mopping up excess byproducts of inflammation, these enzymes clear up excess swelling and edema, reduce pain, and speed healing time. They also help break down clotting factors in the blood, thus decreasing the risk of heart attack.

Decades of research and clinical studies support the use of proteolytic enzymes, and they have proven effective in treating many conditions that involve inflammation. These include arthritis, sinusitis, bronchitis, prostatitis, ulcerative colitis—and other conditions ending in -itis, which denotes inflammation. They also hasten recovery from surgery and trauma, including sprained joints, soft-tissue injuries, and fractures.

Natural Inflammation Fighters

The proteolytic enzyme we use at Whitaker Wellness is bromelain, from pineapple. The suggested dose is 250–500 mg on an empty stomach, two or three times a day. This dose may be doubled for acute injury. Side effects are rare, but include minor gastrointestinal complaints. Although bromelain isn’t recommended for people who are allergic to pineapple, allergic reactions are exceptionally rare.

As mentioned above, curcumin is one of Mother Nature’s most potent anti-inflammatory agents. The brand we use and recommend to patients is Meriva and the suggested dose is 500-1,000 mg per day. Fish oil is another powerful natural anti-inflammatory supplement. Aim for 1-3 g of DPA/DHA from high-quality fish oil daily. Look for all of these inflammation fighters online, in health food stores, or order by calling (800) 810-6655.

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