Fighting Inflammation
Friday, February 26, 2010
LifeTime WeightLoss in Inflammation, Metabolism, Tom Nikkola, undefined

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

As far back as 2000 years ago, warmth, pain, swelling and redness were seen as signs of inflammation. These signs can still be used today to help describe the prevalence of inflammation in the body.(1)

Inflammation can be as beneficial as it is detrimental to our health. Following acute injuries, inflammation supports the healing process. However, chronic inflammation can be detrimental to health. It is associated with many degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the Parkinson-dementia complex of Guam and age-related macular degeneration. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, allergies, asthma, diabetes and myocardial infarction are also associated with inflammation.(2)

Inflammation is certainly a concern with regard to degenerative diseases, but an even more common issue with inflammation, is the part it may play in obesity and insulin resistance. The mechanisms are not totally clear, however, it appears fat tissue, which is metabolically active, can increase localized inflammation. The increased inflammation can decrease insulin sensitivity, which can lead to the release of more fatty acids and the secretion of more inflammatory compounds. This can create a downward spiral leading to dysfunction of proper lipid metabolism and insulin sensitivity issues.(3) Long-term decreased insulin sensitivity can lead to type 2 diabetes.

Measuring Inflammation

High-sensitive C-Reactive Protein (hs-CRP) is the most common marker used for determining levels of inflammation. Levels should be checked with annual blood work. Doctors can use this, along with other cardiovascular risk markers such as cholesterol levels and blood pressure, to determine cardiovascular risk. Of course, the body can experience chronic inflammation without presenting other risk factors for heart disease. Additional labs that a physician may request include lactate dehydogenase (LDH),  erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), basophil and ferritin levels, which can signal non-specific inflammation.

Other signs of inflammation include redness, swollen joints, joint pain, joint stiffness and loss of joint function. According to the Cleveland Clinic website, other signs include flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, fatigue, headaches, loss of appetite and muscle stiffness.(4)

Reducing Inflammation

As mentioned, inflammation is a concern for more than just heart health. If there is any risk of any of the above mentioned diseases, managing inflammation may be an important part of a health and fitness program. Some steps that can be taken to decrease chronic inflammation include:

Supplement with omega-3 fatty acids, specifically fish oil from deep ocean water anchovies, mackerel, and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA & EPA) have been shown to reduce inflammation. The typical American diet has 14-25 times as much omega-6 as omega-3, where the ideal ratio is 1:1 to 4:144.  Although they do not contain as much EPA and DHA, other sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds.(5) Also, eggs from organic, pastured, cage-free chickens and grass-fed beef are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Keep in mind that conventional eggs and beef are very high in omega-6 because they are fed differently. This is part of what leads to our imbalance of essential fatty acids.

Limit intake of omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential for health, but taken in excess have been shown to increase levels of inflammation. Commercial red meat, pork, dairy products, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil and conventional egg yolks are common sources of omega-6.

Follow a proper exercise program. Overtraining or improper training can lead to chronic inflammation. Exercise is certainly beneficial, but training at too high an intensity level or with too much volume can lead to excess tissue breakdown and excess inflammation as the body tries to recover.

Avoid inflammatory foods. This could include grains if someone is sensitive to gluten or other chemicals in grains or legumes. Dairy intolerances or allergies can also lead to chronic inflammation.

Avoid excessive carbohydrate consumption, especially from processed carbohydrates. Following carbohydrate consumption, pro-inflammatory pathways are activated and research has shown that high glycemic diets are associated with markers of inflammation.(6)


Inflammation is a very real issue for many people, especially when you consider the number of diseases affected by excess inflammation. In many cases, people just accept that aches and pain are a normal part of aging, which often is not true. Other people, who have been living with inflammation for years, don't know any different. They just accept the way they feel is how they're supposed to feel. Gaining control over inflammation may allow you to feel, move and perform better than you have in years.


  1. Cefalu W. Inflammation, Insulin Resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes: Back to the Future? Diabetes.2009 Feb;58:307-308
  2. McGeer PL, McGeer EG. Inflammation and the degenerative diseases of aging. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1035:104-16
  3. Gutierrez D, Puglisi M, Hasty A. Impact of increased adipose tissue mass on inflammation, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia. Curr Diab Rep. 2009 9;1:26-32
  4. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Inflammation: What You Need To Know. Cleveland Clinic online article. 3 Sept 2006.
  5. Ratte P. Omega-3 and Omega-6 Fatty Acids: Getting the Balance You Need. Northwestern Health Sciences University online article.
  6. Forsythe C, Phinney S, Fernandez M, Quann E, Wood R, Bibus D, Kraemer W, Feinman R, Volek J. Comparison of Low Fat and Low Carbohydrate diets on Circulating Fatty Acid Composition and Markers of Inflammation. Lipids. 2008;34:65-77

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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