Chronic inflammation is the leading cause of death
- and a common trait in most chronic diseases
Although chronic inflammation is not something that you feel as such, it sets the stage for a number of symptoms and a host of different diseases including fatigue, overweight, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatism, metabolic disorders, asthma, periodontal disease, bowel infections, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, sclerosis, and cancer. Not surprisingly, people are more and more hooked on the anti-inflammatory lifestyle, and we will take a closer look at studies showing how fish oil, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, and zinc contribute to preventing and fighting inflammation, related diseases and premature death. Any nutritional supplements must be of a proper quality that the body can absorb, and they should contain therapeutic dosages.
According to WHO, chronic inflammation and related diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide. The problem is expected to increase drastically within the next thirty years, unless we introduce fundamental changes to our lifestyle and eating habits.
Chronic inflammation and free radicals are like internal terrorists
Our immune defense is designed to fight infections, poisonings, and abnormal cells. As soon as there is acute cell damage, the immune defense launches an inflammatory response, which destroys the culprit and repairs any cellular damage. There are four classic signs of inflammation: swelling, redness, heat, and pain. This is caused by an increased blood supply to the area and the presence of cytokines, which are chemical compounds that are released by the white blood cells.
During the inflammatory processes, the white blood cells absorb loads of oxygen, which they convert to free radicals that are used as “missiles” and fired towards bacteria and other microbes.
The immune system needs to operate swiftly and effectively and retreat, once it has completed its mission. Acute infections such as a throat infection typically last for a week. However, if infections and poisonings are not brought completely under control, or if the immune system is derailed for some reason, chronic inflammation may occur in varying degrees and that can last for months or even years.
During chronic inflammation, white blood cells such as macrophages, lymphocytes, and plasma cells take over instead of the neutrophilic granulocytes that are very short-lived. The body continues to produce various cytokines, enzymes, and other pro-inflammatory compounds, which vary depending on the type of chronic inflammation.
Although chronic inflammation is not something you feel directly, it is very harmful because it is like an internal “terror attack” that destroys cells and tissues. Chronic inflammation may also deprive the body of energy because of the overactive immune system. How the inflammation spreads and what damage it causes depends on where and how the inflammation starts, and how able the body is to handle it.
Oxidative stress and the vicious cycle
With oxidative stress, the balance between free radicals and antioxidants is disrupted, and that sets the stage for chronic inflammation. It is important to underline that free radicals are necessary, as they are a natural byproduct of our oxygen metabolism and an integral part of our immune defense. However, they are also very aggressive molecules that must be kept on a tight leash to prevent them from causing unnecessary damage. Smoking, infections, poisoning, radiation, and a number of other factors increase the number of free radicals. Our only protection against free radicals are antioxidants such as vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, plus selenium, zinc, and various plant compounds. It is therefore essential to keep the right balance between free radicals and various antioxidants that can neutralize the free radicals in different ways.
Diffuse symptoms of chronic inflammation
- Constant tiredness
- Poor concentration
- Despair, anxiety, and mood swings
- Weight gain
- Irregular digestion
Diseases caused by chronic inflammation
- Atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Metabolic syndrome (an early stage of type 2 diabetes)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Periodontal disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Chronic kidney ailments
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Chronic back pain (like Modic changes)
- Celiac disease (autoimmune-style gluten intolerance)
In addition, the list includes the following (autoimmune) diseases
- Hashimoto’s disease (slow metabolism or hypothyroidism)
- Graves’ disease (fast metabolism or hyperthyroidism)
- Bechterew’s disease (back disorder)
- Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (bowel disorders)
- Type 1 diabetes
- Rheumatic fever (typically after a streptococcus infection)
- Pernicious anemia (low blood percentage due to a vitamin B12 deficiency)
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) – a connective tissue disorder
The underlying cause of atherosclerosis is chronic inflammation – not cholesterol
Numerous clinical studies have shown a strong correlation between atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, and inflammation markers like CRP (C-Reactive Protein). Cholesterol, which is essential, is not dangerous unless it is oxidized by free radicals because of inflammation.
Cancer and inflammation
Studies show that low-grade inflammation is seen with cancer in the kidneys, prostate gland, ovaries, liver, pancreas, large bowel, and lungs. With inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and very aggressive form of cancer, the breast is inflamed with redness, heat, and swelling.
The immune system reacts to chronic inflammation in different ways. It is quite common to measure levels of C-Reactive Protein (CRP), which is an inflammation marker that is primarily produced in the liver. The test is used to diagnose acute bacterial infections and inflammatory ailments.
One can also measure levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF-alpha, interleukin 1 beta (IL-1beta), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and interleukin 8 (IL-8). This test is more expensive to make.
A more recent method is to measure SuPAR, which is a protein in the blood that mirrors immune activation and inflammation.
Underlying causes of chronic inflammation
Chronic inflammation is caused by many different things. In many cases, it is a combination of several factors that sets the stage for chronic inflammation.
Too much carbohydrate and elevated insulin levels
The pancreas produces insulin, the hormone that helps blood sugar (glucose) into the cells. However, the consumption of too much carbohydrate, especially refined carbohydrates, may lead to insulin resistance, where the uptake of glucose in the cells is impaired. Insulin resistance causes the pancreas to step up its insulin production, but having high insulin levels in the blood promotes inflammation.
Insulin resistance and elevated insulin levels are typically seen with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, the early stage of type 2 diabetes that is rather common.
Obesity combined with insulin resistance
Cells in adipose tissue are infiltrated with macrophages that release pro-inflammatory compounds and trigger insulin resistance
As we grow older, our enzyme functions and nutrient uptake become less effective. Also, we produce less Q10, a vitamin-like compound that we need to make energy in our cells. We also secrete less of the sleep hormone called melatonin. Both Q10 and melatonin are important antioxidants. The increased levels of pro-inflammatory molecules in ageing people may be caused by a combination of free radicals and dysfunctional mitochondria (the cellular powerhouses). Many older people tend to develop a paunch or potbelly. The fat cells in visceral fat around the waist releases pro-inflammatory compounds.
Tobacco and smoke
Tobacco smoke and other types of smoke produce cascades of free radicals in the body, which spread from the lungs to the blood and other tissues, thereby increasing the risk of inflammation throughout the body.
Stress and lack of sleep
Physical and mental stress causes the body to produce pro-inflammatory cytokines. The same is the case with too little sleep.
Especially in the case of too much estrogen (estradiol) in relation to progesterone. Hormone-disrupting compounds may also play a role.
Prolonged exposure to foods that the body cannot tolerate may burden the immune defense and cause chronic or repetitive inflammatory processes. This is especially true for gluten and milk protein.
Consequences of infections
For example TB (tuberculosis), Lyme disease (borreliosis), Yersinia, and Epstein Bar virus that causes mononucleosis
Mercury and other environmental pollutants and their cocktail effect
Tissue damage and fractures
Fractures can “open up” certain tissues such as joint tissues, thereby exposing them to microorganisms and immune defense attacks.
The tissue type called HLA B27 greatly increases the risk of inflammation
Unhealthy diets and lack of nutrients
Especially lack of omega-3, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, and zinc
Prevention and treatment
It is possible to prevent and fight most inflammatory conditions by means of weight control and by consuming fish oil, vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, and zinc as described in the following. Quite a lot of scientific documentation is available. The individual need for different nutrients may vary.
Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Fish oil blocks the body’s synthesis of some pro-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandin PGE2 at the same time as promoting the synthesis of anti-inflammatory PGE1 and PGE3 prostaglandins.
Fish oil also reduces levels of CRP and the cytokines TNF-alpha and IL-6, both of which are inflammation markers.
In the case of severe inflammation, one may need as much as 900-1,200 mg of EPA. Read the label on your fish oil preparation to make sure that it consume the right amount.
Fish oil based on free fatty acids have very good bioavailability. Also, make sure that the fish oil you consume is within the official threshold levels for peroxide value and content of environmental toxins.
Modern diets contain far too much omega-6 from sources like margarine and plant oils, whereas they contain too little omega-3 from oily fish. The disturbed balance between omega-3 and omega-6 increases the risk of inflammation
Fish oil research
Clinical, placebo-controlled studies show that fish oil supplements have a positive effect on problems like:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriasis (when combined with abstinence from alcohol)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
The sun during the summer period is our primary source of vitamin D, but during the winter period, many people become deficient. This may even be the case in the summertime, if they don’t get enough sun exposure. Older people and dark-skinned individuals do not synthesize as much vitamin D as others do. There seems to be evidence that the recommended daily intake levels are not adequately high to prevent and fight inflammation. Strong vitamin D supplements are available (20-80 micrograms), and the best absorption of the nutrient is obtained with oil-based formulas.
The more vitamin D, the less inflammation
Scientists from National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, conducted a laboratory study where they exposed white blood cells to different quantities of vitamin D taken from solutions that were equivalent to having vitamin D blood levels of around 0-50 nmol/L. The study showed that vitamin D’s ability to inhibit inflammation depends on the amount of the nutrient in the bloodstream, and the best results were seen with levels higher than 50 nmol/L.
Selected studies of vitamin D and inflammatory diseases
There is a lot of research on vitamin D and inflammation. The best results are seen with high-dosed supplements, which help ensure that blood levels of vitamin D are above 50 nmol/L. Clinical, placebo-controlled studies have shown that vitamin D has a positive effect on conditions such as:
- Rheumatic pain
- Depression and winter sadness
- Periodontal disease
Selenium is mainly found in fish, shellfish, organ meat (offal), eggs, dairy products, and Brazil nuts (a very rich source). Still, selenium deficiency is a widespread problem across Europe, because the agricultural soil is depleted and because diet habits have changed. Selenium supplements are useful compensation for the low selenium intake. Make sure to take selenium yeast that contains many different selenium compounds and provides the same variety as eating a diet with many different selenium sources.
- Selenium supports around 30 different selenium-containing proteins (selenoproteins) that also function as enzymes and antioxidants
- Selenium is a part of the primary GPX antioxidants, which no other antioxidants can replace
- Selenium is able to bind and inactivate mercury but only if levels of the nutrient in the body are adequately high
Selenium dials down inflammation in rheumatism
According to a Danish study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis, certain selenoproteins inhibit inflammation by blocking cytokine IL-6. Several other studies have shown that selenium supplements counteract aching and inflamed joints by means of different mechanisms.
For decades, Danish pig farmers have added selenium to the animal fodder to prevent joint inflammation and other serious selenium deficiency diseases in livestock.
Studies of selenium and hypothyroidism
Several studies have shown that daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium has a positive effect on patients with autoimmune thyroid disorders and works within a period of three to six months. Selenium supplements can regulate the amount of specific antibodies (anti-TPO) and improve the structure of the thyroid gland in patients with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (which causes the metabolism to slow down) and in pregnant women with early stages of the disease.
Selenium and cancer
As mentioned, there is a correlation between cancer and inflammation, and there is also a link between cancer and selenium deficiency. Researchers have observed low blood levels of selenium in cancer patients many years before they were diagnosed with their disease. Therefore, always make sure to get enough of this essential micronutrient.
Daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium yeast can halve the risk of some of the most common cancer forms, according to the so-called NPC study (Nutritional Prevention of Cancer), which Professor Larry Clark published in 1996. A later study (SELECT) where scientists used selenomethionine only failed to show a positive result. It is important to use selenium yeast with a variety of different selenium compounds for the very same reason.
According to a Danish study from the Technical University of Denmark, daily supplementation with 200 micrograms of selenium yeast lowers the risk of prostate cancer. This amount of selenium is far more than the officially recommended intake level.
Magnesium is primarily found in kernels, almonds, nuts, whole grain, cabbage and other compact vegetables. The official recommendation for daily magnesium intake lies around 375 mg, but magnesium deficiencies have become increasingly common over the past decades due to factors such as nutrient-depleted soil, unhealthy diets, stress, and stimulant overuse. An estimated 50 percent of Americans are believed to lack magnesium, and the situation is expected to be the same in other Western countries. It is very difficult to detect a magnesium deficiency by means of a normal blood test, as nearly all our magnesium is found inside our cells and not in the blood.
When supplementing, choose carefully. Many magnesium supplements (including preparations against constipation) contain inorganic magnesium oxide, which is difficult for the body to absorb.
It is better to take organic magnesium sources like magnesium carbonate, magnesium acetate, magnesium orotate, magnesium amino acid chelate or a combination of several magnesium types.
Magnesium activates vitamin D
Magnesium is involved in around 350 different enzyme processes and is important for the activation of vitamin D, a nutrient with anti-inflammatory properties. The type of vitamin D that we humans synthesize in our skin is called cholecalciferol. We need magnesium-containing enzymes to help the body convert cholecalciferol to its two active forms, 25-hydrocholecalciferol D3 (in the liver) and 1,25-dihydroxycholecalciferol D3 (in the kidneys)
Magnesium supplements reduce levels of a common inflammation marker
According to a group of scientists from Mexico, Iran, and Australia, magnesium supplements can significantly reduce levels of CRP (C-Reactive Protein), a marker of inflammation. Because magnesium deficiencies are rather common, it is a good idea to get more magnesium from dietary sources or by taking magnesium supplements as a way of treating inflammation. It is vital to maintain the right balance between magnesium and calcium when preventing and treating all chronic inflammatory conditions.
|Never take a calcium supplement without taking magnesium at the same time|
Too little magnesium and too much calcium causes inflammation
Magnesium is located in the membranes of cells where it serves as a door bolt or “doorman” that regulates how much calcium enters the cells. In bone cells, magnesium makes sure to channel almost all calcium into the cells. In the cells in soft tissues such as muscle, on the other hand, magnesium does the opposite by only allowing a very limited amount of calcium into the cells.
If you lack magnesium, the calcium may not be able to enter the bone cells. This increases the risk of calcium flooding the muscle cells, which may stress them and cause inflammation.
Eating too many dairy products and taking calcium without magnesium therefore increases the risk of inflammation.
Meat, shellfish, dairy products, nuts, kernels, and beans are primary zinc sources. Animal sources of zinc have better absorption in the body than plant sources. The average diet provides far less zinc than the officially recommended daily intake level. Add to that the fact that sugar, birth control pills, and ageing processes may impair the body’s ability to absorb zinc. Many zinc preparations contain inorganic zinc sources like zinc sulfate or zinc oxide, which the body has difficulty with absorbing. Make sure to read the label carefully and stick with zinc sources such as zinc gluconate and zinc acetate, which are organic zinc compounds that the body can easily absorb and utilize.
Zinc, inflammation, and skin disorders
Zinc is involved in around 300 different enzyme processes and it also supports the primary antioxidant, SOD (superoxide dismutase). Zinc counteracts signaling of lambda interferons, which are other pro-inflammatory cytokines. This was shown in an Australian study conducted by scientists from Westmead Institute for Medical Research. Lack of zinc causes the immune defense to overreact against virus infections. Most skin conditions such as herpes, eczema, and psoriasis are accompanied by a zinc deficiency. Make sure to get plenty of zinc to prevent and fight inflammation.
|Promotes inflammation||Inhibits inflammation|
|Too much omega-6, especially AA||Omega-3 (EPA)|
|Oil from sunflower, corn, safflower, grapeseed plus margarine and industrially processed foods||Oily fish and fish oil|
|Trans-fatty acids and refined diets||Healthy foods, fiber, and various antioxidants|
|Lack of nutrients||Vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, zinc|
|Too much sugar and elevated insulin levels||Stable blood sugar|
|Overweight – especially an apple-shaped body with too much visceral fat||Weight control and a healthy waist circumference|
|Alcohol, poisoning and food intolerance||Detoxification, healthy digestion, and exclusion of foods that cause allergic reactions|
|Stress, physical inactivity and too little sleep||Relaxation, pleasant exercise and sufficient sleep|
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