We asked Dr. U. Inge Ferguson, an internal and obesity medicine specialist at the VA Medical Center, about inflammation.
Review-Journal: What is inflammation?
The body’s army of defense is raised in response to an offender. That offender can be an irritant or an infection. We think of inflammation as local redness with sometimes pus and/or fever. Inflammation can also be low grade throughout your body.
How does inflammation affect us?
Inflammation happens early on as normal healing. Over time inflammation that continues is harmful, getting in the way of normal body functions. First, It can roughen the artery linings and even flake off like plaster on a wall. This whole-body inflammation promotes blood clotting and risks of heart attack and stroke. Second, hormones can become abnormal, promoting diabetes, high-blood pressure, colon polyps, cancers, dementia and other disease. Inflammation is a strong risk factor in heart disease.
How does inflammation relate to excess weight?
We know fat is very hormonally active and can become inflamed if it hangs around too long, releasing inflammation through the whole body. This is especially true of deep-stored belly fat, called visceral fat or central obesity. The inflammation can interfere with hunger signals in the brain. Our fat may, in part, be increasing our hunger and cravings. A vicious cycle of inflammation, obesity and other disease can result.
How can we know if we have inflammation?
If you have a waist bigger than your hips then you probably have excess abdominal fat, which can lead to inflammation. If you also have diabetes, prediabetes, high blood pressure, an abnormal cholesterol profile, gout, or obstructive sleep apnea, then you probably have inflammation. Blood tests such as high c-reactive protein, uric acid, white blood cells or blood glucose are markers. Also when triglycerides are five times greater than the HDL good cholesterol, this may be a sign of inflammation.
How can we reduce inflammation?
Lose weight and don’t gain it back. Eat real food, less processed, chemical-added foods. Avoid overeating. Limit high-iron foods such as red meat. Wheat also can be very inflammatory, leading some people to try a gluten-free diet (wheat is a common source of gluten). Beware of pollution and hazardous chemicals, including tobacco. Some plastics, especially heated, release pro-inflammatory chemicals. Do drink lots of clean water, eat colorful vegetables daily and add omega 3 fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna. Add fats such as olive, avocado, nuts and seeds. Consult with a dietitian. Real antioxidant foods are preferred over processed supplements. Statin cholesterol drugs and low-dose aspirin may help. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids have little helpful effect on this process and in some cases are harmful. Stay physically active throughout the day, but don’t overdo it. Injury leads to inflammation.
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