Silent inflammation is the root cause for many, if not most, of the chronic diseases of aging. Acute inflammation is the body’s response to injury, illness, infection, and stress, refined during Paleolithic man’s development and giving him an evolutionary advantage during a time when man faced many real threats, including famine and drought, predators, and infections and trauma. Paleolithic man also led a very active life, and had a diet consisting mainly of whole foods and protein.
While modern man still faces some of the same threats, much about his environment has changed. The conditions under which he lives, and his lifestyle would be unrecognizable to Paleolithic man. Compared to his earlier counterpart, infections and trauma are rare, threats are more perceived than real, and his lifestyle has become incredibly sedentary. His diet now consists largely of refined and processed food, in excess. Yet his DNA remains essentially unchanged, and man’s biological makeup still favours an inflammatory response.
The result of this disparity is often excess inflammation, which is known to cause rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), asthma, allergic diseases, and earlier and more severe arteriosclerosis. But research also shows that excessive inflammation lingers below the surface, its chronic form becoming a silent killer. Silent inflammation exists below the threshold of perceived pain, and can smolder unnoticed for decades. We now know that silent inflammation damages arteries, destabilizes cholesterol deposits, destroys nerve cells in the brain, depresses the immune system, promotes formation of cancers and can activate harmful genes. This silent killer can be traced as the root cause of the diseases of aging, from heart attack, cancer and diabetes to kidney failure and pancreatitis.
Obesity and inflammation
Obesity promotes inflammation and there is a direct relationship between Body Mass Index (BMI) and C-Reactive Protein (CRP) results. The obese have low-grade systemic inflammation, and obesity has turned into a national epidemic. Weight, body fat and distribution can be measured objectively. Fat deposited mainly around the middle of the body is called central visceral (organ) abdominal fat and is the most dangerous. This indicates that body fat is being stored in and around vital organs. Less problematic is fat stored on the hips and buttocks.
Obesity is an inflammatory condition because fat cells are not just inactive storage vehicles. They actively secrete over 100 proteins, fatty acids, hormones and inflammatory substances that cause inflammation. They are rich in arachidonic acid (AA), which leads to inflammation. They produce more than one third of IL-6, an inflammatory agent, and increase the production of another, called TNF-alpha.t.
Exercise and nutrition hat emphasize an overall balanced diet that is rich in nutrients but low in calories and also anti-inflammatory in nature are the elements of silent inflammation control. But while there is an obvious correlation between inactivity and obesity, inactivity has its own connection with silent inflammation. It increases inflammatory cytokines, which has a direct effect on cardiorespiratory fitness and strength and muscle mass. Cytokines are inversely associated with CRP levels as well as IL-6, TNF-alpha, and NFkB levels. Indeed, high cytokine levels may contribute to the loss of muscle mass and strength that accompanies aging.
While exercise is an anti-inflammatory treatment (for example, it reduces the inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis), the time to exercise is before inflammation starts, because it can prevent the initial production of inflammation-causing agents. In addition, an overabundance of inflammatory cytokines breaks down muscle tissue, so the less exercise you get the more inflammation—and the less lean muscle mass—you have. It’s a vicious cycle.
It is crucial to understand that over-exercise can make things worse. Exercise produces free radicals, which in excessive amounts produce inflammation. As with everything, you need consistency, moderation and balance.
Hormones and inflammation
One of most effective ways to address inflammation is to balance and optimize hormones. Measuring hormone levels provides a clear indicator of underlying inflammation; if testosterone or growth hormone begins to drop, it indicates a problem. Elevated levels of some hormones, like cortisol and insulin, may also lead to increases in inflammation.
Lifestyle and inflammation
There are other lifestyle factors that can affect inflammation. For example, too much sun, smoking, pollution and sleep deprivation all cause increased levels of inflammation. Lifestyle is very important, so it is important to follow these guidelines:
- Avoid excess sun exposure, which is responsible for 90% of skin aging
- Avoid toxins:
- Predatory fish (mercury and other toxins)
- Fried and processed baked goods (trans fats)
- Air/Water pollution
- Pesticides, herbicides
- Excess caffeine, alcohol