Silent Inflammation: the Cause of Chronic Disease
When you hear “silent inflammation” you probably envision something innocuous. But, you would be wrong. Silent inflammation is quite deadly and is responsible for more death than anything we know.
Pain is caused by inflammation. Silent inflammation is inflammation below the threshold of pain perception causing it to be more harmful since it goes unnoticed. Inflammation is now recognized to be at the root of many chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, and more. It is silent inflammation that contributes to these diseases.
Barry Sears, PhD discusses silent inflammation in this video. Dr. Sears is the author of several books and developer of the Zone Diet that is specifically designed to reduce silent inflammation. In the video Dr. Sears makes a very important point that the diseases mentioned above are simply different manifestations of the same process – silent inflammation. Therefore, if we eliminate silent inflammation we can reduce many of these chronic diseases and slow the aging process. By treating silent inflammation we can treat and prevent many diseases.
What Causes Silent Inflammation?
Silent inflammation occurs when there is overproduction of three hormones: insulin, cortisol, and pro-inflammatory eicosanoids (there are also anti-inflammatory eicosanoids). Diet and lifestyle changes can keep these three hormones from being overproduced. You probably have heard of insulin and cortisol, but may be unfamiliar with eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are short-live hormones that control the inflammatory process. The pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory eicosanoids need to be in balance for optimal health and function.
Pro-inflammatory eicosanoids are overproduced when there are too many omega-6 fatty acids in the diet compared the healthy omega-3 fatty acids. We should have a 2:1 or lower ratio of omega-6 fatty acids:omega-3 fatty acids. Many Americans have a ratio of 20:1. Where do you find omega-6 fatty acids? They are found in vegetable oils including corn, safflower, sunflower, and soybean. Try to avoid these.
If you have been to this website before you know we frequently discuss how sugar raises insulin levels leading to fat gain. But, insulin also contributes to inflammation. Insulin triggers production of interleukin-6, a potent inflammatory cytokine. Sugar can be found nearly everywhere and has many aliases. Become familiar with all the names of sugar and limit its intake as much as possible (see related article below). Sugar naturally found in foods is safe and coupled with fiber that limits the effects of sugar on insulin.
If you have excessive weight around the abdomen you are probably producing too much insulin.
Though we call cortisol the stress hormone that is misleading. Cortisol is produced in response to stress – it does not cause it. Cortisol is actually a very strong anti-inflammatory and derivatives of it are frequently used to treat inflammation caused by any number of conditions. In that sense cortisol is good. The problem occurs when cortisol levels stay elevated for prolonged periods. Persistently elevated cortisol levels leads to insulin resistance. This means the body needs to make more insulin to drive sugar into the cells. Cortisol suppresses the immune system and affects brain and nervous system function when elevated for prolonged periods.
In a future post we will discuss how dietary changes can reduce silent inflammation.
See related articles.