RODALE NEWS, LENOX, MA—From allergies to Alzheimer’s, diabetes to heart disease, arthritis to cancer, inflammation contributes to many of our most prevalent and, in some cases, preventable illnesses. One of the best ways to lower your risk of a variety of chronic illnesses with a single strategy is to reduce inflammation in your body.
THE DETAILS: What causes inflammation? Inflammation is a response of your immune system, the surveillance force made up of tens of billions of cells that protect you from germs, bacteria, viruses, and injury. When you’ve had a toothache with gums that swelled, or a cut that got hot and red, you’ve experienced the healing work of your immune system. However, when your immune system is misguided, that inflammatory response can cause pain and dysfunction, and even lead to a chronic, life-threatening illness. For instance, if your immune system reacts to a benign substance, such as dust or pollen, you have an allergic response, with unpleasant symptoms like itchy, watery eyes and nasal congestion.
Even more dangerous is when your immune system produces silent, non-symptomatic inflammation. Unlike an allergic reaction, you may not be aware that this inflammatory response is happening. But the damage it causes is related to the development of diabetes, depression, hypertension, heart attack, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and multi-infarct dementia. Since the advent of immunizations and antibiotics in the 1930s, we’ve enjoyed a tremendous reduction in infectious diseases and a corresponding boost in longevity. However, the immune system seems to have found other targets for its inflammatory response. It can mount a response to chemicals and proteins in the foods we eat, to inert particles in the air we breathe, and even to the tissues of our own body.
WHAT IT MEANS: To learn more about inflammation and how to control it, I spoke with Mark Liponis, MD, my colleague and the corporate medical director at Canyon Ranch. Dr. Liponis’s two books, Ultrapevention (Atria, 2005) and Ultralongevity (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), detail the damage caused by unchecked inflammation and provide a variety of strategies to limit inflammation. “To stay healthy, it is essential to reduce unnecessary inflammation,” he says.