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Take these steps to avoid harmful inflammation

| Monday, April 11, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
Dr. Joseph Maroon
Jasmine Goldband | Trib Total Media
Dr. Joseph Maroon

What does a splinter under one's fingernail have in common with a heart attack, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and possibly even depression? Surprisingly, all are associated with inflammation due to the body's innate protective immune response being “turned on.”

Classic inflammation, related to a healthy immune system, is typically a good thing. It defends the body against invaders, such as bacteria, viruses and toxins and later contributes to healing damaged tissue.

Celsus, the Roman medical writer in the first century, described, rubor (redness); tumor (swelling); calor (heat) and dolar (pain) as the four classic signs of inflammation. However, if inflammation becomes prolonged, instead of healing, self-destruction of blood vessels and organs may occur leading to some of our most common illnesses and diseases. This is referred to as chronic inflammation.

Inflammation, therefore, can be good or bad — too little as with a splinter and bacteria can fester and spread throughout the body and wounds fail to heal. With prolonged chronic inflammation, tissues like the arteries to the heart and brain and organs like the pancreas, which produces insulin, and the brain itself degrade and can be destroyed over time.

We all recognize the inflammation caused by the splinter because we can see and feel it. But “silent inflammation,” a type of chronic inflammation, can occur deep inside our body and is not associated with pain and often occurs in the absence of infection or trauma. Silent inflammation is insidious and can lead to allergies, blood vessel blockages, dementia, asthma, skin disorders, arthritis, cancer and most of the diseases of aging. Even the aging process itself may in part be explained by silent inflammation. Poor diet, lack of physical activity, environmental toxins and prolonged stress are the major contributors of silent inflammation.

Here are four steps you can take immediately to help reduce unwanted inflammation in the brain and body and work to reduce the chances of acquiring diseases and conditions associated with premature aging and silent inflammation.

1. An anti-inflammatory diet. Omit, as much as possible, everything white — sugar, flour, pasta, bread, sauces as well as processed foods, transfatty acids and vegetable oils. A Mediterranean diet that includes vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, fish, farm raised beef and free range chicken and eggs is optimal. Dietary supplements can include fish oil, probiotics, vitamin D and curcumin, a key molecule in turmeric and ginger; all are natural ways to decrease excessive inflammation.

2. Exercise. Physical exercise, a minimum of 30 minutes a day, helps to rid the body of naturally generated toxins. It also enhances intestinal transit time and lowers the risk of various types of cancers as well as improves endurance, flexibility, strength and blood flow.

3. Stress control. We now understand many of the same inflammatory molecules that result in the red, hot, tender, swollen finger associated with a splinter are also released in patients who are depressed or chronically stressed. This is also true for post-traumatic stress disorders where these same molecules have been found in the spinal fluid. Neuro (brain) inflammation has also been reported in various mental illnesses besides depression, including schizophrenia and bipolar diseases.

4. Avoid environmental toxins. These include smoking, excess alcohol and unnecessary medical radiation for tests. Avoid excessive exposure to toxins such as pesticides in our food, industrial toxins in containers like plastic bottles and canned foods, water contaminants such as lead and mercury that all can be sources of inflammation especially with chronic exposure.

Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said “the first responsibly of a physician is to prevent disease.” Following these simple steps to reduce the burden of excessive inflammation is the best way to prevent various diseases and to die young…as late as possible!

Dr. Joseph Maroon is a Health Now contributor. He is a renowned neurosurgeon, health and fitness expert and Ironman triathlete. His expertise includes minimally invasive spine and brain surgery, sports medicine and concussion management. Maroon has authored the books “Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory,” which highlights many of the benefits of fish oil, and “The Longevity Factor: How Resveratrol and Red Wine Activate Genes for a Longer and Healthier Life.” He is a consultant to dietary supplement providers GNC and Prevention.

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