Anti-Inflammatory Strategies–Achieving Homeostasis
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As I have shared with readers and audiences over the years, when someone ages poorly, it results from decades of inflammatory imbalances.

Inflammation is necessary for the body to defend itself from pathogens and mutating cells, and for the body to heal itself after trauma or disease.

However, when the immune system produces excessive levels of inflammation, and does not correctly limit the amount of inflammation after its task has been completed, then inflammation becomes associated with unhealthy aging, and chronic disease.

For example, it is apparent that neurological diseases are affected, if not triggered by, inflammatory responses of the immune system.

 Immune cells of the brain and nervous system release inflammatory factors, cytokines and complex mixtures of other small immune molecules.

 These factors result in nervous cell and immune system inflammation and eventually, death of nerve cells.

 Last month, the journal of Immunity and Aging reported the results of genetic and immunological studies of Sicilian centenarians, individuals that are 100 years or older.

The researchers concluded that these individuals, all active and “in relatively good health”, survived longer than their cohorts, because their immune system was at “optimal performance” and that they were able to control inappropriate levels of inflammation.

 More evidence for the contribution of inflammation to aging poorly, for example cognitive abilities, is seen in a seemingly irrelevant study in which the use of fish oils was shown to counteract the negative effects of sugar drinks.

In this study, rats learned how to run a maze.  After their lesions, one group of rats was fed a sugary solution for over 6 weeks. After six months, the rats ran the maze again from memory.

Rats that were on the sugar, could not remember how to run the maze, but those on sugar along with  omega-3 fatty acids, were able to run it. The omega-3 fatty acids counteracted the negative effects of the sugary diet.

We know that high sugar consumption results in increasing size of fat cells, adipose tissue, and that fat cells release inflammatory molecules that are associated with the cardiovascular, joint, and insulin-related issues seen in obese individuals.

In addition, it has been shown that there are compounds in omega-3 fatty acids that counteract inflammatory responses.

Therefore, the results of the maze study may be attributable to the fact that the omega-3 helped down-regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines, messengers that initiate the inflammatory process.

During the past decades, I have watched the health outcomes of older individuals that have followed a regimen that maintains inflammatory balance.

In their 70s, 80s, and early 90s, they work full days, sometimes in physically-demanding positions, are on little or no medication, and find that they are more active, than individuals 20 years their junior.

Balanced immune inflammation, immune homeostasis, is the key to an active life.

One must generate enough inflammation to defend oneself from infectious disease, and help the body heal, but a healthy person has to be able to limit and control  inflammatory responses at appropriate levels for the tasks at hand.

www.immunityageing.com/content/9/1/8/abstract
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22404117
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16613757
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22535513
archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?volume=66&issue=11&page=1263
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22566778

Through the years, I have spoken with many individuals, usually, women, who have now been diagnosed with fibromyalgia.  Fibromyalgia is a condition in which individuals suffer from chronic pain, and have tenderness in about a dozen different spots in the body, and have “brain fog”.   They suffer from unremitting fatigue, bowel problems, difficulty in sleeping through the night, and waking up unrefreshed.  As would be expected, they are depressed and anxious as well.

 There are some physicians, even now, that think fibromyalgia “is all in the minds” of their patients.  Some studies have shown, that compared to the general population, individuals with fibromyalgia have significantly higher levels of depression and anxiety.  [Now why someone who is in pain and tired much of the time, would be depressed is beyond me.]

 I once spoke to a male physician who said that he always thought that fibromyalgia was “just” a psychological problem, having nothing to do with biology.  I asked him why he used the past tense, and he said to me, “because I got it!”. 

 Now that the pharmaceutical industry has come out with at least three FDA-approved medications for fibromyalgia, it evidently means that fibromyalgia can now be classified as a disease, and many clinicians treat it as such.  

Many patients have differing success when using these prescription medications.  The three pharmaceuticals reduced pain symptoms by only 30%.  Some of the medications made a difference in fatigue, but not in sleep patterns.  Many of these medications result in side effects ranging from insomnia (which they were trying to combat in the beginning!), nausea, and diarrhea.  Unfortunately for individuals suffering with fibromyalgia, many patients find that if the medication does work for them, too often it is for only a short-period of time, for as little as six months total.

Most clinicians state that the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but that “painful tissues” are not associated with inflammation. 

I respectfully suggest that inflammatory responses are major contributors to the pain and discomfort those individuals with fibromyalgia experience.  Indeed, I cannot imagine that a person can feel pain, in the absence of inflammation.

Increasingly, the literature suggests that fibromyalgia, and other neuromuscular conditions are characterized by low-grade inflammation.  Inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha and IL-1, and other immunological factors, have been found to be at higher levels than “normals” and may be resulting in the fatigue and flu-like illness experienced by individuals with fibromyalgia.

Controlling run-away inflammation by returning to immune homeostasis, immune balance, has, in my experience, resulted in dramatic differences in the quality of life of individuals suffering with fibromyalgia.  These individuals have tried other approaches with only limited success, so why not support balanced immune responses?

Medscape Family Medicine 2012 WebMD, LLC
www.actabiomedica.it/data/2007/2_2007/fietta.pdf
www.medicinenet.com/fibromyalgia/article.htm
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21975140
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19957871

 

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