Natural Anti-Inflammatories- Boswellia, Tumeric, Curcumin
By Bonnie Jenkins, Advanced Natural Medicine Bulletin
It’s not something you can see or feel, yet it can quietly simmer away inside your body for years. When it does eventually appear, you probably won’t make the connection between this insidious condition and the diagnoses of heart disease, diabetes or cancer.
The “it” I’m talking about is inflammation – the body’s natural response against injury and infection. When it functions as it should, it helps to heal. But if it gets out of control, it can wreak widespread havoc on your health.
Attack of the eicosanoids
Immune-system chemicals called eicosanoids control inflammation – both the kind you can see and the kind you can’t. Some eicosanoids trigger inflammation, others extinguish it. If you sprain your ankle, pro-inflammatory eicosanoids produce swelling, redness, heat and pain. These are visible signs that your immune system hard at work healing the injury. Once the crisis is over, anti-inflammatory eicosanoids kick in and reduce the discomfort. The trouble starts when the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids don’t completely subside, causing the body to go into a state of chronic low-level inflammation. And nothing contributes to this chronic inflammation more than the foods we eat.
The body creates eicosanoids from two familiar essential fatty acids: pro-inflammatory omega-6s and anti-inflammatory omega-3s. While our grandparents typically ate a 2:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, today’s ratio is about 20:1 thanks to the overwhelming number of processed foods we eat. And more omega-6s mean more inflammation.
Sugar and refined carbs also increase inflammation since a spike in your blood sugar can lead to surge of insulin, which causes an increase in the fatty acids that cause – you guessed it – inflammation. Insulin also promotes the production of interleukin-6, an inflammatory immune-system chemical. If that wasn’t enough, the excess sugar in our blood crosslinks with protein to form advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which provoke even more inflammation.
The CRP connection
Several years ago, a landmark study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine showing a connection between heart attacks and an inflammation marker called C-reactive protein (CRP). According to the Harvard study of nearly 28,000 women, CRP was a much better predictor of a future heart attack or stroke than cholesterol levels. In fact, of the women in the study who developed heart disease, nearly half had “normal” cholesterol levels. Yet they all had high CRP levels – which meant they all had systemic inflammation.
But heart disease isn’t the only condition affected by inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in virtually every type of chronic disease. For example, diabetes has increases by 33 percent over the past decade – which correlates with the dramatic jump in both obesity and low-level inflammation. The brain, too, suffers when inflammation gets out of hand. According to a report in the journal Experimental Gerontology, chronic inflammation affects amyloid (protein) deposits in the brain and may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
And then there’s the “Big C.” A growing number of studies are focused on how various types of cancer are influenced by inflammation, including colon, prostate, testicular and lung cancers. One way researchers think that chronic inflammation contributes to cancer is by promoting tumor growth. Another possibility is that the spread of cancer is fostered by eicosanoids. Although scientists haven’t uncovered the exact mechanism, one thing is clear – when it comes to cancer, chronic low-level inflammation makes a bad situation a whole lot worse.
One last thing . . .
Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to reign in inflammation. And the best place to start is with your diet. First, ditch the sugar bowl along with other refined carbs like white bread, pastries and pasta. Then work on eliminating other pro-inflammatory foods, especially red meat and dairy. Red meat contains high levels of arachidonic acid that simply increases eicosanoids.
So what can you eat? Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants that tame inflammation. Looking for some protein? Stock up on omega-3 rich fish like salmon, tuna or sardines. Whole grains, soy and beans are also great sources of protein without the pro-inflammatory arachidonic acid found in beef.
Herbs can also act like natural anti-inflammatories, especially the Ayurvedic herb boswellia. Studies show that boswellia can prevent inflammation much like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but without the gastrointestinal side effects. Another anti-inflammatory herb is the curry spice tumeric. Tumeric contains curcumin, the natural pigment that accounts for the spice’s deep yellow color. But curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. For chronic inflammation, consume at least ½ teaspoon of the spice daily. If you aren’t a fan of curry, you can also take 2,800 mg. of a good quality tumeric supplement daily.
This just in . . .
If you’ve been diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer, you already know that the treatment options offered by conventional medicine are less than ideal. But according to a new study by Dr. Dean Ornish, radically changing how you eat just might stop the disease in its tracks.
Dr. Ornish and a group of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, recruited 93 men who had decided against treatment for early-stage prostate cancer, a route known as “watchful waiting.” After the researchers measured all the participant’s PSA levels, half of the men were randomly assigned to an ultra low-fat diet and participated in yoga, moderate aerobic exercise and a support group. The other half didn’t make any dietary or lifestyle changes. After one year, the PSA levels had decreased four percent in the low-fat diet group – a change that is highly unusual for men who aren’t treated for the disease – while the men in the control group experienced a rise of 6 percent in their PSA levels.
Even more promising, there was a direct correlation between the degree of lifestyle change and the inhibition of prostate tumor growth. The researchers found that serum from the participants inhibited prostate tumor growth in vitro by 70 percent in the diet/lifestyle group compared to just nine percent in the men who didn’t make any changes.
Not only does this offer hope if you’re a man stuck in the limbo of “watchful waiting,” the researchers believe that diet and lifestyle changes can benefit those who are undergoing treatment. Best of all, future studies may find that these simple changes just might help men avoid getting prostate cancer in the first place.
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