Most of my columns revolve around discussing how inflammation promotes most diseases, and how we can reduce inflammation with nutrition. Some docs find this subject confusing, as they believe that inflammation equals healing. Indeed, inflammation is needed for healing after injury; however, chronic inflammation is a driver of most diseases. DC's need to be aware of this fact because patients are currently reading about this subject in lay magazines.
The February 2004 issue of Time Magazine contains an article entitled “The Fires Within.” The headline below the title reads: “Inflammation is the body’s first defense against infection, but when it goes awry, it can lead to heart attacks, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases.” The article further reads: “In medical schools across the US, cardiologists, rheumatologists, oncologists, allergists, and neurologists are all suddenly talking to one another—and they’re discovering that they’re looking at the same thing. The speed with which researchers are jumping on the inflammation bandwagon is breathtaking…now the whole field of inflammation research is about to explode.”1
The article describes pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins released by white cells, glials cells, fibroblasts, endothelial cells, and most other cells. In the section of the article devoted to Alzheimer’s disease, the authors write: “Glial cells in the brain are supposed to support neurons. But in an attempt to return things to normal, they release too many cytokines and trigger greater destruction.”
The Time article tells us that fish oil supplementation can reduce the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines; however, this measure is typically ineffective after the Alzheimer’s process has escalated to the point where symptoms have set in and are progressing. In other words, we need to be supplementing ourselves with anti-inflammatory oils and botanicals when we are symptom-free, so we can, hopefully, prevent the subclinical inflammatory state that drives Alzheimer’s and other pro-inflammatory conditions.
The Time article describes cancer as a wound that does not heal. This characterization of cancer is at least 20 years old. The earliest article I have read on this subject was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, in 1986. Dvorak explains that cancer veils itself as a wound, or series of wounds, which serve to marshal the body’s healing/inflammatory response. The outcome is the deposition of a connective tissue matrix, within which certain tumors grow, such as breast carcinoma.2
The Time article also discusses Remicade and Enbrel, which are relatively new TNF-antagonists. TNF is the acronym for tumor necrosis factor, which is active in most chronic inflammatory conditions. These drugs are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and other inflammatory conditions. The May 2005 issue of People Magazine has an article about Paula Abdul, who is taking Enbrel for her chronic pain that is described as a “neuropathic pain syndrome.” Apparently, she suffers with chronic neck pain that is currently diagnosed as reflex sympathetic dystrophy. Her condition was not described enough to discover how her pain manifests and if RSD is the culprit.
Clearly, inflammation is in the “news,” and your patients are reading about it in newspapers and magazines, and hearing about it on the radio and television. The Time article discusses ways to reduce inflammation; and, not surprisingly, drugs head the list of therapies. We are told that aspirin, statins, beta blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors have anti-inflammatory functions.
Exercise is also described, and the authors alert us to the fact that excess adiposity equals inflammation. A great deal of research in recent years has demonstrated that fat cells pump out pro-inflammatory cytokines that participate in the development of diabetes and related conditions such as heart disease and hypertension.
After drugs and exercise are described, we are told that nutrition can reduce inflammation. The authors urge us to avoid the saturated fats in meat and dairy, and to eat fish and vegetable oils. Be wary of this information. No good data links “saturated” fat in meat to systemic inflammation; in fact, most of our saturated fats provide “anti-inflammatory” functions3. And “vegetable oils” is a terrible misnomer. The term “vegetable oil” refers to seed oils, such corn, sunflower, safflower, and cottonseed oils, and these oils cause inflammation as they contain mostly omega-6 fatty acids.
I described a straightforward method of reducing inflammation with nutrition in the April issue of The American Chiropractor. In summary, we should subsist largely on vegetables, healthy meat and eggs, and fruits, and take five main supplements: a multi, magnesium, EPA/DHA, coenzyme Q10, and ginger/turmeric.
1. Gorman C, Park A. The Fires Within. Time Magazine 2004; (Feb 23):p.39-46
2. Dvorak HF. Tumors: wounds that do not heal. New Eng J Med 1986; 315:1650-59
3. German JB, Dillard CJ. Saturated fats: what dietary intake? Am J Clin Nutr 2004; 80:550-59.
Dr. Seaman is the Clinical Chiropractic Consultant for Anabolic Laboratories, one of the first supplement manufacturers to service the chiropractic profession. He is on the postgraduate faculties of several chiropractic colleges, providing nutrition seminars that focus on the needs of the chiropractic patient. Dr. Seaman can be reached by e-mail at