When people hear the word "inflammation," most people think that it's a bad thing. The truth is, inflammation was designed to be a good thing. It's the way in which your body responds to something offending it. The white blood cells of your body, like soldiers on the battlefield, see an enemy and try to eliminate it. In the language of your body, they communicate by special chemicals called "interleukins" (inter=between, leukins=white blood cells) which we can measure to detect this communication between white blood cells.
As long as the battle in your body goes on, the white blood cells accumulate and they send out their interleukins calling for more and more reinforcing white blood cells. They also release chemicals into your body which punch holes into the offenders of your body and sometimes you. These chemicals, which include something called "complement," are some of your body's "weapons of mass destruction."
We can easily see the results of this battle when we cut our skin and the battle begins. The skin becomes erythematous (red), swollen from edema, inflamed from the increase in blood supply needed to bring all the white blood cells to the site of the injury and tender to touch from the swelling and the pressure it puts on the nerves in the area. When we cut our skin, this is usually a one-time, temporary reaction which our body responds to by trying to stop the bleeding and reduce the possibility of infection, thereby bringing the problem under control.
Because we can see the cut, we recognize the problem. But imagine if you couldn't see it. Imagine that same process going on deep inside your body, for example, the arteries of your heart. Instead of a cut, the injury is the result of many unhealthy processes going on inside your body: excess saturated fat from overeating or from eating too much saturated fat; homocysteine caused by too much protein in your diet or not enough B-vitamins to metabolize this excess protein; fibrinogen, a clotting factor increased in women receiving hormones and also in people who don't exercise. Instead of a one-time insult like the cut on your hand, this process begins in childhood and continues every day of your life, building up detrimental effects, like a volcano waiting to erupt.
Daily exercise, reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet, reducing the excess amount of calories you eat which only get turned into fat and stored in the arteries of your heart, brain and liver, controlling the amount of protein you eat and making sure you get enough of the right types of vitamins, minerals and fiber in your diet, can go along way to reduce the negative consequences of this inflammation within your arteries. It can also reduce inflammation that is associated with high blood pressure, certain cancers, arthritis, Alzheimer's and many other chronic diseases that we have come to accept as the normal effects of aging. The truth is, these conditions are not the "norm;" they can be controlled and reduced by preventing inflammatory responses occurring within your body.
Not only can inflammation be controlled by watching what you eat, but by what you do. The exercise that many people try to avoid not only helps use up calories and lose weight, but it helps increase your "good" cholesterol. Exercise also improves the tone and strength of the muscles of your body including that unique type of muscle known as your heart. Exercise reduces fibrinogen, a clotting factor which causes blood to form blood clots where you don't want them to occur, like your brain (stroke) and heart (heart attack). It also increases the flow of blood to all parts of the body to help flush out toxins and metabolize fat which has accumulated in already-diseased arteries.
For many of us, exercise is associated with something we don't want to do, because we don't enjoy it and don't enjoy being told what to do. But what if we were to take a different approach? Instead of doing something you don't like doing, find something you enjoy doing (dancing, bowling, golfing, tennis, ping-pong, volleyball, basket ball, baseball). If you do this two or three times a week and also include walking, cycling or swimming two or three times a week, before you know it, you'll be having fun, losing weight and feeling better. You'll also reduce the inflammation that has come to plague so many people and which so many people accept as a natural part of aging. Reduce your inflammation now and live a longer healthier life!
Richard Fleming, MD has helped thousands of people from around the world effectively treat their heart disease, cancer and nutrition-related disorders. His groundbreaking work has been featured on 20/20, Today, Good Morning America, MSNBC, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. His latest book is "Stop Inflammation Now! (Avery/Penguin Group USA; 2005). It can be purchased at bookstores everywhere or amazon.com.