The prevalence of inflammatory diseases has clearly increased over the past several decades. Part of this increase is related to the overall aging of the population. After all, inflammation is one consequence of age-related wear and tear on the body. Millions of people already suffer from a variety of inflammatory diseases. And in the United States alone, almost 80 million baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1963) are entering middle age, a time when even the healthiest people are likely to notice some deterioration in their health.
However, I am convinced that the increase in inflammation has accelerated as a consequence of eating a poor or unbalanced diet, a situation others have described as malnutrition on a full stomach. For example, fat cells produce large amounts of inflammation-causing substances, such as interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. With two-thirds of the population now overweight, it is easy to see how large numbers of people have set the stage for chronic inflammatory diseases.
Physicians and biomedical researchers are starting to appreciate the significance of the Inflammation Syndrome—how many different inflammatory diseases are interrelated. As one example, being overweight significantly increases the risk of developing diabetes, a disease with a strong undercurrent of inflammation. Both overweight and diabetes increase the risk of coronary artery disease, now recognized as being inflammatory in origin.
What many health professionals have missed, however, is that early signs of inflammation—whether a minor condition, such as gingivitis, or an asymptomatic elevated C-reactive protein level—stimulate inflammation throughout the body, increasing wear and tear and boosting the risk of far more serious inflammatory disorders. Recognizing the early signs of inflammation can be as valuable to us as canaries in cages were to miners a century ago. The canaries provided an early warning of poisonous gas, allowing miners to escape to the surface with their lives. Similarly, paying attention to—and taking action to reverse—minor types inflammation can help us reduce the risk of very serious diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and some types of cancer.
Throughout this book, a key message has been stated and restated: our physical bodies, and our health, are directly related to the quality and diversity of nutrients we consume. The situation is analogous to the construction of a house. When quality building materials are used, the house has a sound foundation and structure. When shoddy building materials are used, the foundation and structure are weak and won't last as long.
We can control the quality of nutrients we consume—the building materials of our bodies. We can consume foods that stimulate inflammation, which is unfortunately what the majority of people seem to be doing, or we can eat foods that naturally reduce inflammation.
The Inflammation Syndrome is about making choices that can improve our health. As individuals, we hold our futures in the palms of our hands. We can choose to ignore the evidence and take our chances with long-term health. Or we can take many steps to improve our chances of having a long and healthy life.
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