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The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan
The Scientific Way to Lose Weight, Banish Pain, Prevent Disease, and Slow Aging
By Monica Reinagel, Julius Torelli
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2006Monica Reinagel and Lynn Sonberg Book Associates
All rights reserved.
The Silent Enemy: Determining Your Risk
Some kinds of chronic inflammation are more obvious than others. If you suffer from arthritis, asthma, or allergies, you are already painfully aware of the presence of inflammation in your body. (Take heart; help is on the way!) But there is another, more dangerous form of inflammation—a silent, invisible inflammation that can attack your cells, blood vessels, and organs for years without causing the slightest symptom. Eventually, however, the damage may reveal itself in the form of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, or cancer.
Everyone is at risk of this type of inflammation, for reasons we'll go into shortly. And if you are even slightly overweight, your risk is increased. In this chapter, you'll learn how to determine your level of systemic inflammation. More important, you'll learn what you can do to reduce the risk of inflammation- related disease.
At the right time and place, of course, inflammation is a good and necessary thing—an ingenious system that the body has for protecting itself from infection and healing from injury. If you've ever sprained your ankle, you have probably witnessed an impressive display of the body's inflammatory response. An injured ankle can swell to the size of a melon within minutes. This inflammation has a purpose.
Pain is a signal to stop what you are doing, thereby avoiding further damage. The rush of blood and fluid to the injured area acts as a natural splint to immobilize the area, while nutrients carried to the site by the blood begin the repair process. As any orthopedist will tell you, doctors don't heal sprained ankles. They just supervise while nature and time do the job.
Inflammation also comes to the rescue when your body's surveillance system detects that a foreign body—such as a bacterium or virus—has invaded its territory. The redness and swelling around an infected wound are caused by millions of white blood cells that have sped to the site to overpower the intruder. When you have a fever, which is a sort of whole-body inflammation, your immune system is working to overcome a virus or bacteria by raising the temperature of the body so high that the bug succumbs to heatstroke.
Obviously, we don't want to diminish the body's protective and healing powers. But we do want to eliminate excessive, chronic, and inappropriate inflammation. All kinds of arthritis, for example—whether they are caused by age, wear and tear, or diseases like rheumatoid arthritis—are characterized by painful swelling and stiffness in the joints. The inflammation of arthritis, however, is neither healing nor protective. Allergies are another sort of nonproductive inflammatory response in which the immune system tries to attack otherwise harmless substances like pollen or animal dander. These sorts of inflammation serve no useful purpose and can make your life miserable. Over time, excessive inflammation also increases your risk of several life- threatening diseases.
The evidence implicating inflammation in diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's has emerged only recently and comes as a surprise to many people. But the fact is that inflammation plays a significant role in all of the most common and serious degenerative diseases.
Why Excessive Inflammation Is So Common
If inflammation is a natural and necessary part of the body's defenses, what is causing this well-designed system to malfunction? Why are so many of us suffering from excessive inflammation? The answer is complex, but it boils down to this: we have lost our balance.
The body's inflammation response works through two complementary channels: one is pro-inflammatory, and the other anti-inflammatory. Our cells produce a variety of pro- and anti-inflammatory chemicals (called prostaglandins), using nutrients from the food we eat as the raw material. These prostaglandins are released into our tissues in response to the immune system's signals, promoting inflammation when there is danger and quelling inflammation when the danger has passed.
A key concept in this (oversimplified) portrayal is that our bodies produce prostaglandins by using compounds from the foods we eat. Specifically, it is the fatty acids in our foods that our bodies use to make prostaglandins. Certain types of fatty acids (primarily those from the omega-6 family) are converted into inflammatory pros-taglandins, while other types (primarily from the omega-3 family) are used to make anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. This is where we, as a modern society, have gotten into trouble.
To maintain a balance between its pro- and anti-inflammatory channels, the body relies on a balanced intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The problem is that those of us who live in modern industrial nations consume far too many omega-6 fatty acids and far too few omega-3 fatty acids. Paleontologists and anthropologists estimate that the diet of a Stone Age human contained roughly equal parts omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Today, we consume about twenty times as much omega-6 as we do omega-3. As a result, our bodies tend to produce an overabundance of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins and a paucity of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. The Inflammation-Free Diet helps to reestablish a natural balance and reverse this dangerous trend.
What Went Wrong with the Modern Diet
We frequently hear that the typical modern diet leaves much to be desired nutritionally. Most of us eat too many sweets, starches, empty calories, and highly processed foods. These dietary habits contribute to our problems with inflammation, for reasons we will explore in Chapter 2. But even more problematic—and harder to fix—is the fact that humans today consume more cereal grains (and the oils produced from them) than ever before in our history as a species. These grains and oils tend to be high in omega-6 fatty acids. At the same time, we eat fewer vegetables and legumes, which are natural sources of omega-3 fats.
Not only have our diets shifted toward the overconsumption of grains, but the diets of our livestock have followed the same trend. Cattle that would naturally graze on grasses and other plant matter now eat primarily grain-based feed. This means that the muscle tissue (meat), milk, and eggs of domesticated livestock are lower in omega-3 and higher in omega-6 fatty acids. And most recently, with the advent of aquaculture and farm-raised seafood, even the fish we eat have begun to eat a grain-based diet instead of a natural diet of algae and smaller fish.
We eat an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids, and we consume animals that eat an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids. The end result is a flood of pro- inflammatory prostaglandins cascading through our bodies, with a drought of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. No wonder we are seeing an epidemic of inflammatory disease!
Who Is at Risk
Virtually anyone who eats a modern Western diet is at risk of excessive inflammation, for the reasons just given. But there are other factors that can increase the propensity toward inflammation and inflammation-related disease:
Smoking: Smoking creates huge numbers of free radicals, which in turn produce inflammation in the tissues.
Especially affected are the cells lining the bronchial passages and the small blood vessels that lead to the heart. Smokers usually have high levels of inflammatory chemicals in their blood and a dramatically increased risk of many inflammation-related diseases.
Excess weight: Adults and children who are overweight also ten
Excerpted from The Inflammation-Free Diet Plan by Monica Reinagel. Copyright © 2006 by Monica Reinagel and Lynn Sonberg Book Associates. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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