Which came first: the chicken or the egg? For a long time, research identified chronic inflammation as a symptom of many diseases, but only in the past decade or two has it been linked to the cause of many illnesses. The body’s natural inflammatory process is beneficial because it promotes healing in the case of tissue injury and infections—but when there’s a chronic unresolved issue, it turns destructive.
Chronic inflammation can occur for a number of reasons, including autoimmune conditions, obesity, and unresolved infections. Here’s a closer look at three conditions associated with chronic inflammation, followed by three powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients.
Cardiovascular disease—a generalized term that encompasses many diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels—is the number one cause of death in the United States, with stroke and heart attacks being two of the most common consequences of long-term cardiovascular disease. The underlying cause of cardiovascular disease can be high blood pressure, an unhealthy cholesterol profile, a high-sugar diet, obesity, chronic stress, smoking—and inflammation.
November is National Diabetes Month, which brings awareness to the fact that more than 29 million people in the U.S. have type 2 diabetes. That’s roughly 10 percent of the entire population. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can’t use insulin efficiently. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is a key player in helping the body transport sugar from the bloodstream into cells for energy. Imagine a two-lane road that is cut down to one lane, creating a traffic jam. This is what happens when the body can’t move glucose out of the blood because of insulin resistance.
At the same time, the pancreas tries to overcompensate by making more insulin to reduce the amount of glucose in the blood. Continuous high levels of glucose in the blood can then lead to increased levels of advanced glycation end-products or AGEs, which are essentially a chemical reaction between sugars and proteins. AGEs have been linked to chronic inflammation and damage to both tissues and organs.
These include such brain-related diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, all of which progressively worsen over time. These diseases originate in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), where they degrade the neurons and supporting structures, causing irreversible damage. Common symptoms can include muscle weakness, confusion, memory loss, and impaired mobility. The Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives lists risk factors for neurodegenerative diseases that include genetic predispositions, age, inflammation, metabolic conditions, infection, diabetes, stress, and several others.
Related: How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally
How to Combat Chronic Inflammation
The good news is that there are many natural ways to tame chronic inflammation and reduce your risk of developing these inflammatory diseases. Here are three of the best:
A yellow-orange pigment found in the Indian spice turmeric, curcumin has been studied as a potential treatment for inflammatory conditions from arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease. Unlike pharmaceuticals that target just one pathway of inflammation, the unique chemical composition
of curcumin provides it with a special ability to target multiple pathways of inflammation.
Current research has found that curcumin has a positive effect on C-reactive protein, an important blood-test marker for systemic inflammation. Dose-escalating clinical trials of curcumin have found that 12 grams a day for over three months is safe. A study performed at the University of Texas M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center found that black pepper helped to improve the bioavailability of curcumin, so look for curcumin supplements that include black pepper in their formulas.
Nattokinase is an enzyme made from fermented soybeans. This powerful supplement benefits cardiovascular health and joint inflammation. Specifically, this enzyme destroys a sticky substance that allows plaques to adhere to arteries. This process is also responsible for its anticlotting action, which helps reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Boswellia serrata, commonly known as frankincense, has been used for centuries in both religious ceremonies and for its powerful anti-inflammatory actions. Since ancient times, the resin of the Boswellia serrata tree has been used in the treatment of arthritis and other types of pain.
Science is now able to back up these folk-medicine claims by proving that this fragrant compound is able to block 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme that can activate inflammation. A study published by the Journal of Surgical Neurology International assessed the combined healing properties of Boswellia and curcumin and revealed that the combination was more effective than the pharmaceutical diclofenac in treating osteoarthritis.
Are You Inflamed?
Your doctor can diagnose chronic inflammation with a blood test. The most common inflammatory markers requested in tests and used as benchmarks in clinical trials include:
- C-reactive protein (CRP): This is measured because levels can increase just two hours after the onset of an inflammatory response.
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR): This is a generalized indicator that there’s inflammation in the body.
- Interleukin 6 (IL-6): This chemical is active only during the inflammatory response, so if it’s on the rise, it’s a sign of inflammation.