Nagy column: Stop feeding your inflammation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

By Dr. Chris Nagy
For the Salisbury Post
One of the common statements I make to those trying to discover the key to health, wellness and disease prevention is: If you want to live a long, healthy life, you need to learn to master and control your insulin levels and your level of chronic, systemic inflammation.
People are often surprised when they hear me mention inflammation as a factor in disease because they think of the common, everyday, acute inflammation that one typically treats with ice or with the use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Basically, there are two types of inflammation. Though they’re related, their effects and importance for your health are drastically different.
Acute inflammation most commonly occurs when you have an injury or infection. The pain, redness and swelling that occurs is a sign that your immune system is doing its job, clearing away infection or tissue injury and repairing damaged tissue. Once the threat or stimulus to inflammation is removed, natural anti-inflammatory agents kick in, the inflammation goes away, and healing begins.
Chronic inflammation happens as your body’s immune system gets stuck in the on position. What may have started out as a positive response by the body — sending out signals to isolate the cause, protect and heal — doesn’t shut down when it should, and the resulting ongoing, persistent inflammation ends up being the root cause of many of the diseases we’re facing today.
Chronic inflammation that persists for a long period can kill us slowly over time. When low doses of pro-inflammatory substances continue to be released into the body for an extended period of time, they attack healthy cells, blood vessels and tissues instead of protecting them. These attacks do not always trigger pain and often go unnoticed, unlike a bruise or a cut sustained to the skin. Like a slow poison, overzealous inflammatory cells and hormones destroy our body gradually as we continue to live, work and play with a false sense of good health.
Research demonstrates that chronic, systemic inflammation is a major cause of most of the degenerative disease we currently face. In fact, it is now widely believed that chronic inflammation, that goes undetected for years, is the underlying cause of many dreaded illnesses such as type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers, neurological diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s and dementia), autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease), as well as other diseases which have unknown causes, like allergies, fibromyalgia and migraines.
The great news for us is that the connection between diet and inflammation is well established. This means that we can battle inflammation … preventing or reversing certain chronic health problems … simply by choosing the right foods at the grocery store. The American diet is the cause of many of the diseases we suffer from. The most powerful medicine we have is what is found at the end of our fork!
You can reduce inflammation and fight many chronic diseases by including some of these anti-inflammatory foods in your diet on a regular basis (whenever possible choosing organic and unrefined whole-food varieties):
• Wild-caught fish — sardines, salmon
• Raw nuts — walnuts and almonds
• Berries — blueberries and strawberries, cherries
• Leafy greens/salads — spinach, dark-green lettuce (green smoothies?)
• Grass-fed beef and other free-range, pastured animal foods
• Tea — especially green tea
• Cruciferous vegetables — broccoli, kale and cabbage
• Mushrooms — Shiitake
• Sweet potatoes
• Turmeric — curcumin (nature’s anti-inflammatory)
• Garlic
• Ginger
• Extra-virgin, cold-pressed oils — olive, flaxseed and avocado varieties
Increasing consumption of anti-inflammatory foods is an important first step, but it is also very important to limit inflammation promoters in your diet as well. There are no real surprises on this list but I think it’s always good to be reminded of just how bad they actually are for us.
Avoid these top five offenders:
• Sugar — limit as much as possible
• Refined grains/processed white flour,
• Highly processed feedlot and/or preserved meats
• Common vegetable oils/trans fats — corn, sunflower, safflower oil and hydrogenated oils
• Fried snack foods
While we’re talking about eating your inflammation, the importance of excellent oral health should not be overlooked. Poor oral hygiene is highly correlated with inflammation and an increased risk of degenerative disease. Oral care is not about just having a pretty smile; it is also about maintaining systemic health and decreasing systemic inflammation.
A natural anti-inflammatory regimen I commonly recommend is 2-4 grams of fish oil per day, optimized Vitamin D levels and curcumin capsules 1 gram 2 times per day with food. I often recommend this over an anti-inflammatory drug as it is much safer and frequently more effective.
The value in an appropriate, anti-inflammatory diet is significant in many respects. Disease prevention is the ultimate goal, but along the way, one will frequently note significant improvement in their feeling of health and well-being. Be conscious of what you put in your mouth and you can choose the way you feel, grow and age.
Hippocrates said it best, “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food.”
Please join me for a free Green Smoothie demo at Simply Good Natural Foods, 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 25 and begin your journey toward an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Call to reserve a seat, 704-636-0889.
Dr. Christopher Nagy is an orthopaedic surgeon with Salisbury Orthopaedic Associates and director of Your Personal Wellness Center ( He lives with his family in Spencer.