An arsenal of products to fight inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a major health issue and if untreated can become a body-wide condition, often identified as the underlying cause of many diseases including heart disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, allergies, and neurological degeneration including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The profound changes in the human diet that began with the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry approximately 10,000 years ago has progressed at such speed that the human genome has failed to adjust accordingly. Our Westernised diet is rich in highly processed, refined ingredients, high in saturated fats, red meats, ‘empty’ carbohydrates and low in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood and poultry. This is partly responsible for many of the chronic diseases listed above.

Early humans evolved on a diet with a balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids – one that favours a healthy immune and inflammatory system. Modern consumption of meat from land-based animals fed on grains high in omega-6 fatty acids, together with increased use of vegetable oils, has led to a rise in omega-6 fatty acids intake in the typical Western diet, while omega-3 intake has declined.

The Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) points out that Omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in every cell membrane in the body and have a wide range of health functions including inhibiting the production of inflammatory chemicals, and have an anti-inflammatory effect in their own right.

Nitric oxide synthases are a family of enzymes that catalyse the production of nitric oxide from L-arginine. Nitric oxide is an important cellular signalling molecule, having a vital role in many biological processes, including the immune reaction and inflammatory process. However, the ongoing oxidative damage that occurs during an immune response that is caused by nitric oxide often drives chronic inflammation, so reducing oxidative damage can help control inflammation. Antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid and selenium all help to control oxidative damage by neutralising free radicals.

Vitamin C’s role in saving lives during the pandemic is worth noting (and is covered in Patrick Holford’s opinion article pages in our Winter 2021 issue). As well as being a vital antioxidant and immune-boosting nutrient, it is stored in the adrenal glands and released, together with cortisol, when under attack. Together, these act as powerful anti-inflammatories calming down the ‘cytokine storm’ – the massive inflammatory reaction that occurs in the potentially fatal stage of COVID-19 as the immune system attacks dead virus particles.

Polyphenols, such as flavonols, phenolic acids and anthocyanins found in fruits such as cranberries, blueberries and acai berries, resveratrol found in red wine and various carotenoids, such as lycopene found in tomatoes, lutein in green vegetables and astaxanthin found in marine products are all potent anti-oxidant agents with huge potential to reduce inflammation.

In addition, gallocatechins in green tea and curcuminoids in ginger have significant immuno-modulation and anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the production of nitric oxide synthases, nitric oxide and prostaglandin E2. Turmeric has traditionally been used for the treatment of rheumatic disorders in traditional medicine and exerts both anti-inflammatory and anti-atherosclerotic effects. Curcumin is also well documented for its inhibitory effects on inflammation.

Other useful anti-inflammatory agents include glucosamine, which has been found to be more effective than NSAIDs and placebo for reducing inflammation and pain in patients with osteoarthritis, and the phenylpropenoic acid found in garlic.

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