THE body is a wonderful natural chemical factory. Whatever we eat, drink or apply to our body is absorbed and automatically transformed into energy (fuel) or to various hormones and substances that control our total bodily function, including thought processes, mental state, behavior, and cellular responses and reactions. Medications and drugs we take are likewise metabolized and utilized by the body to effect specific chemical reactions to fight infection or cure or achieve certain conditions that will help normalize our health. Our body also has a built-in self-protective ability to heal itself, mediated by our immune system. To a certain degree, our body can protect itself from harm, self-inflicted or caused by our environment. When the dose of the insult or trauma overwhelms our immune system, dis-ease, or disease, develops.
What is that insult?
One such insult is called inflammation, which all of us have constantly, in varying degrees, depending on our lifestyles, behaviors, and habits. We normally associate inflammation with painful swollen joints of arthritis or back pains.
But in reality, most diseases—from obesity, to diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, infections and even cancer—are preceded by, and even aggravated by acute or chronic inflammation. Actually, inflammation is not the cause but a reaction to insults to our body, from our self-abuse, unhealthy lifestyle and behavior, and from our harsh environment, like over-exposure to the sun, air-water-noise-pollution, etc. These factors are cumulative and build up over time from childhood, where the initial subtle damages to the DNA occur. After three or four decades later, the individuals begin to develop the so-called “expected diseases that naturally come with age,” which are really not expected, nor natural, and actually mostly preventable. There are hundreds of millions of people in their 70s and 90s walking around without high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s or cancer because their lifestyle and habits have minimized the onset of “inflammation.”
The common inflammation we see in a wound, with redness, swelling, pain, irritation, and warmth is the same inflammation we are talking about, except it is one that is happening within the inner lining of our arteries and organs in the body. It is usually subtle and subclinical (not obvious). This type of inflammation may not be from a bacterial/viral/fungal infection. The cause may vary from the foods we eat or liquids we drink, the lack of exercise, a harmful lifestyle, stressors and other precipitants in our environment. Some people (one out of 49) may have a genetic predisposition to be more prone to have this type of inflammatory reaction. But the rest of us have caused this ourselves, in a self-destructive manner, unwittingly.
Who has this bodily reaction?
Almost without exception, all of us have this inflammatory reaction in our body during every second of our life — in one form or the other and in various stages and severity. When it is aggravated by what we do or not do, by environmental factors and become severe enough, then any of those illnesses listed above, and others, may develop, all depending on which organ the insult has affected most.
Does infection play a role?
Some believe that the germs we are exposed to 24/7 in public places and even in our own homes may be one of the causes of this inflammation in our system. I have heard of people taking a couple of antibiotic pills once a month “to fight this inflammation.” There is no medical basis for this and this practice could be dangerous. It could lead to bacterial resistance and render antibiotics ineffective and useless when an actual infection occurs.
What test can confirm this?
The blood test for CRP (C-reactive protein) level can reveal the presence of systemic inflammation. Some cases will be obvious but others may be so mild and subclinical they may be overt and undetectable. Those with pains, like joint and muscles aches, and those with auto-immune diseases, would be the more apparent ones. These are the individuals who may be on pain medications like NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), or even steroids, acupuncture, etc. But there are natural ways to fight inflammation, like foods. Some food items cause or aggravate pain and inflammation, and others act as anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing, substances.
Which food items cause inflammation?
The usual American and Filipino diets are both too high in red meat, fat, sugars, “junk food,” and dangerous processed foods, all of which increase inflammation. The healthier diets are the Chinese, Japanese, and especially the Mediterranean diet, all of which consist of many anti-inflammatory foods, which reduce joint and muscle pains and blood clot formation. The food items that cause inflammation are red meat, high-fat and high-cholesterol foods, carbohydrates with tons of sugar, all soft drinks (including diet), rice, fast foods, pasta, vegetable oil and corn oils. The other factors are the lack of exercise, being overweight, alcohol abuse, use of tobacco, lack of sleep, stress, and use of illegal drugs. I would like to emphasize that a diet totally eliminating carbohydrates, or at least reducing cooked rice to one cup a day (or to one cup of pasta or three slices of bread) would tremendously reduce the risk for the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, or even cancer. (Obesity and diabetes increase the risk for cancer.)
Which foods are anti-inflammatory?
The anti-inflammatory foods, which reduce pains, include fish, bright multi-colored vegetables, old fashioned oat meal, whole grain, nuts (walnuts, almonds, etc), fresh whole fruits, spices (pepper, onions, gingers, scallions, curry, turmeric, etc), green tea, and olive oil. They are antioxidants that counteract and minimize free radicals, which harm the body, weaken the immune system, and hasten aging. Unlike the marketed antioxidants in pills and potions, which could have long-term harmful side effects, these natural foods are healthier, safer, and cheaper.
Are we on a slow-suicide mode?
We are being a bit dramatic here, if only to put the message across more effectively for the protection and benefit of our readers their family. But the medical fact is that our self-abusive practices that go against healthy lifestyle have literally set in motion factors that tend to make us more prone to diseases and to aging faster. We have emphasized this and other evidence-based medical information in our health book, “Let’s Stop ‘Killing’ Our Children,” published in the USA (carried by amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com) and whose Philippine edition was released in Metro Manila and available at Central Books Supply Stores in Cebu, Manila, Quezon City. The book details are accessible at www.philipSchua.com.
In this guide, we have given practical tips and pointers on how to protect our DNA, especially those of the children, in order for them to ward off and escape having those wrongly-called “expected natural diseases of aging,” like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer, all of which are actually preventable to a very significant degree. This health manual also discusses how we, adults, can minimize the conditions or infirmities we currently have and how to avoid health risks that lurk in public places and in our own homes..
Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: email@example.com