Inflammation: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Part 1 of 2
Everyone who has had a sore throat, rash, hives, or a sprained ankle knows about inflammation. These are normal and appropriate responses of the immune — your body’s defense system — to infection and trauma. This kind of inflammation is good. We need it to survive — to help us determine friend from foe.
The trouble occurs when that defense system runs out of control, like a rebel army bent on destroying its own country. Many of us are familiar with an overactive immune response and too much inflammation. It results in common conditions like allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, and asthma. This is bad inflammation, and if it is left unchecked, it can become downright ugly.
What few people understand is that hidden inflammation that runs amok is at the root of all chronic illness we experience — conditions like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, depression, cancer, and even autism. That’s right, inflammation is the root of all chronic sickness and disease.
A study of a generally “healthy” elderly population found that those with the highest levels of C-reactive protein and interleukin 6 (two markers of systemic inflammation) were 260 percent more likely to die during the next 4 years. The increase in deaths was due to cardiovascular and other causes.
We may feel healthy, but if this inflammation is raging inside of us, then we are in trouble. Just because you look healthy on the outside, does not mean you are healthy on the inside. The real concern is not our response to immediate injury, infection, or insult. It is the chronic, smoldering inflammation that slowly destroys our organs and our ability to function optimally and leads to rapid aging.
Common treatments such as anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen or aspirin) and steroids like prednisone, though often useful for acute problems, interfere with the body’s own immune response and can lead to serious and deadly side effects. In fact, as many people die from taking anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen every year as die from asthma or leukemia. Stopping these drugs would be equivalent to finding the cure for asthma or leukemia – that is a bold statement, but the data is there to back it up. Meanwhile, the real effects of statin drugs like Lipitor in reducing heart disease may have nothing to do with lowering cholesterol, but with their unintended side effect of reducing inflammation.
But is taking medication the right approach to addressing the problem of inflammation? NO. NOT AT ALL. The answer lies in UPSTREAM healing.
What is upstream healing? Let’s break it down….
So, if inflammation and immune imbalances are at the root of most of modern disease, how do we find the causes and get the body back in balance?
First, we need to identify the triggers and causes of inflammation. Then we need to help reset the body’s natural immune balance by providing the right conditions for it to thrive. As a doctor, my job is to find those inflammatory factors unique to each person and to see how various lifestyle, environmental, or infectious factors spin the immune system out of control, leading to a host of chronic illnesses.
Thankfully, the list of things that cause inflammation is relatively short:
- Poor diet—mostly sugar, refined flours, processed foods, and inflammatory fats such as trans and saturated fats
- Lack of exercise
- Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts, or parasites
- Hidden allergens from food or the environment
- Toxins such as mercury and pesticides
- Mold toxins, allergens and chronic hidden infections
By listening carefully to a person’s story and performing a few specific tests, we can discover the causes of inflammation in most people. Learning where the problem begins yields answers to ultimate correction. How many from the above list do we control? Quite a few actually. Let’s all take good inventory and make appropriate corrections.
We are always here to answer questions. Be encouraged.
By Doctors Mark and Michele Sherwood
Mark is a doctor in nutrition and Michele is a medical doctor. They are authors of a number of best-selling health and wellness books and lead The Functional Medical Institute, a wellness-based medical practice in Tulsa, OK.