Anti-Inflammatory Strategies–Achieving Homeostasis
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The journal of the American Geriatrics Society, just released a study of older women suggesting  that women, and we assume men as well, add years of healthy living by staying active and increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables. 

 Women between the ages of 70 to 79 years were followed for a five-year period.  Investigators monitored the amount of physical activity they reported, and their carotenoid blood levels.  [Carotenoids are a class of pigmented, phyto [plant] nutrients found in the yellow, orange, and plants.  Blood levels of carotenoids are associated with the quantity of vegetables and fruits consumed.  The more fruit and veggies consumed, the higher the levels of carotenoids in the bloodstream.]

In the study, women that were most physically active and consumed large amounts of fruits and vegetables, were eight times more likely to be alive after the study’s five years of follow-up, compared to women who were not active, and did not eat many fruits and vegetables.

 Exercise increases survival times

More than half of the 713 participants (53%) did no exercise, 21% were moderately active, and the 26% were very active.  The active women engaged in twice the amount of activity as did women who were not active.  Active woman reported that they walked, or were involved in strength training, bowling, dancing, household, or outdoor chores.  Physical activity resulted in active woman experiencing five-year death rates 71% lower than those of the least active women.

 Fruits and vegetable consumption increases survival times

During the five-year follow-up period, women who consumed the most fruits and vegetables, and had the highest blood levels of carotenoids, were 46 percent less likely to die than woman that ate fewer fruits and vegetables.  Blood carotenoid levels were 12% higher in the women who survived, compared to blood samples taken from women that would die earlier.

 This study supports previous results demonstrating that eating more vegetables and fruits, and consuming moderate amounts of wine products, which also contain phytonutrients,  is linked to people living longer.

 Down-regulation of inflammation:  A probable reason for the reported results.

Most scientists have only vague ideas as to why exercise, and heightened consumption of fruits and vegetables should make a difference in longevity.  However, decades of literature reviews, and successful counseling of individuals in the importance of balancing immune system inflammation, make it evident to me, that exercise and healthy food consumption helps the body limit run-away inflammatory responses, and therefore helps the body balance its natural levels of inflammation.

 Inflammation is the body’s protective response to infection, cancer cell growth, and injury.  However, when inflammatory responses are not controlled, inflammation ends up doing more harm than good, and becomes the origin of most illnesses.

 It has been documented that unhealthy aging is accompanied by excessive inflammation with increases in cytokines that cause inflammation, and inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein (CRP).

 But the body expends a great deal of energy to naturally control inflammatory responses, and return to immune homeostasis, immune balance.   So for example, moderate exercise lowers inflammation. 

Every time muscle contraction occurs, potent anti-inflammatory cytokines are released.  Therefore, as the women in this study were physically active, their bodies were naturally reducing the amount of inflammation in their bodies.

 As to the contribution of fruits and vegetables in lowering inflammation, hundreds of studies support the fact that carotenoids affect cytokines, the immune system messengers that modulate inflammation. 

 There are many ways to help the body modulate immune system-generated inflammatory responses, but simple lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables, are two simple steps to consider for a healthier, longer, and more active life.

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The retina is the “flat screen” at the back of the eye onto which light is projected when we look at an object.  The center of the retina is called the macula.  When it is damaged, a condition called  macular degeneration, there is a “hole” at the center of one’s vision, making it difficult to recognize faces, read, or drive a car.

 As people grow older, they are at greater risk of getting macular degeneration.    Risk factors for this condition are:  being Caucasian, obese, female, and having a family history of macular degeneration.  High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and eating few fruits and vegetables, also add to one’s risk.

 However, the greatest known risk of damaging the retina comes from smoking tobacco.  Current and former smokers have 6.6 times the chance of developing macular degeneration as compared to those who never smoked. [Unfortunately, if you smoked one or more packs a day, even having quit 15 years previously, still increases the risk that you will have damaged your retina in some way.]

Even after decades of study, we do not understand the underlying mechanisms of macular degeneration. Increasingly however, the literature suggests that inflammation is a major contributor to destruction of the retina.

Immune system inflammation is the body’s first line of defense against pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites.  Inflammation is also important to control mutating, cancer cells. 

 However, excessive amounts of tissue-damaging inflammation can damage healthy neighboring tissue.  High sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is a blood marker associated with inflammation, and an indication that too great an inflammatory response is being generated by the immune system.

  A seven year study of hs-CRP levels of 4900 people was conducted in the Netherlands.  Individuals with high levels of C-reactive protein had a significantly greater risk of acquiring macular degeneration compared to those with “normal” baselines of the inflammatory marker. Additionally, other studies suggest that 75% of patients with macular degeneration have “inflammatory” genes that release pro-inflammatory cytokines that are associated with the condition.

 Some clinicians have recommmended using-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to control macular degeneration, yet contradictory studies suggest that frequent aspirin use leads to macular degeneration. 

 We know that high aspirin consumption leads to excessive bleeding in digestive tracts and the eyes.  Perhaps the association of high aspirin use and macular degeneration is due the bleeding aspect of excessive aspirin consumption.

Inflammation is important for our survival, but it must be the appropriate amount of inflammation; it must be a balanced response of just enough inflammation to defend and heal, but not so much that it damages tissues.

Controlling excessive inflammation, without  the  side-effects of medications such as bleeding,  would likely help limit degeneration of the retina.

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www.csmd.ucsb.edu/news/md_science_article.pdf

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