Do You Have an Inflammatory Lifestyle?

by W. Gifford-Jones, MD and Diana Gifford-Jones – Common Sense Health

Chronic inflammation is unlike what happens with a cut or an invading germ when the immune system mounts a fight and then stands down. In such cases, inflammation is part of the healing response. But when lifestyle issues have the immune system active all the time, there may be no symptoms, but plenty of costs.

Dr. Erin Michos, Director of Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Johns Hopkins Medicine, explains, “Sustained low levels of inflammation irritate your blood vessels. Inflammation may promote the growth of plaques, loosen plaque in your arteries and trigger blood clots — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.”

Rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes involve chronic inflammation. Immune cells and the antibodies they produce create swelling to help isolate the problem. But the problem is persistent, and inflammation remains constant, not temporary.

Doctors may suggest a range of new treatments to reduce this inflammation. Yet, a recent headline published by Harvard Medical School reads, “Doctors are learning that one of the best ways to reduce inflammation lies not in the medicine cabinet, but in the refrigerator.”

Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, says, “Many experimental studies have shown that components of foods or beverages may have anti-inflammatory effects.”

Tomatoes, olive oil, green veggies, nuts, blueberries, apples, and leafy greens are high in natural antioxidants and polyphenols—protective compounds found in plants. Coffee may protect against inflammation, as well.

But now there is compelling evidence that the extent to which omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon and mackerel feature in the diet is a reliable risk benchmark for cardiovascular disease.

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that “a low omega-3 index is as strong of a predictor of early death as smoking.”

The Omega-3 Index measures the amount of EPA and DHA, two types of omega-3 essential fatty acids, through a simple blood test that can be done at home and mailed in for analysis. The results indicate omega-3 status – with an optimal Omega-3 Index being 8% or higher, an intermediate being between 4% and 8%, and a low Omega-3 Index at 4% and below.

Researchers used data from the Framingham Study, an ongoing, longitudinal study involving the collection of biological and lifestyle risk factors for cardiovascular, disease across multiple generations of participants.

They found that individuals with the highest Omega-3 Index were 33% less likely to succumb to heart disease during the follow-up period of their study compared with those with the lowest Omega-3 Index.

Dr Bill Harris, one of the lead researchers, reports that the relative concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood is just as compelling a predictor of mortality as lipid levels, blood pressure, smoking, and diabetic status.

What to do? Make the modifications to lifestyle that will dramatically change the predicted outcome – some of which can reasonable be expected to add years of good life. Don’t smoke and reverse your course if you are pre-diabetic.

If you are interested in testing your omega-3 status, as we did and wrote about in past columns, you can determine if you are, like most North Americans among the vast majority who are not in the healthy range.

The bottom line, it’s not easy to eat salmon and other omega-3 rich foods or to get those oils absorbed sufficiently enough to balance out other fatty foods in the diet. On supplementation, be a smart consumer, as not all omega-3 is the same. Read past articles at to learn why you should look for pre-digested omega-3.

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