Inflammation and Health: a critical connection
We all have experienced a correlation between what we eat and how we feel at some time in our lives, and now modern research strongly emphasizes the connection between diet and health. One of the key terms in the conversation around health today is inflammation. When the body is inflamed systemically, ill health will inevitably result. When we take measures to reduce inflammation, health improves!
Inflammation, identified medically as a swelling of tissues in response to injury or infection. It arises as part of the body's natural defense mechanism as it attempts to remove damaged tissue, poisons, pathogens, or foreign bodies. Our experience of internal inflammation is often experienced as general fatigue. We now know that chronic inflammation can have damaging effects on arteries, connective tissues, the brain, and potentially most systems of the body. For example, inflammation of cells of the immune system contributes to fatty deposit accumulation, gradually hardening to arterial plaque. This gives rise to arteriosclerosis in the lining of the heart's arteries and plaque accumulation in blood vessels supplying the brain causing stroke.2
As the relationship between inflammation and various negative health conditions has become verified, science is now looking to inflammatory biomarkers when assessing causes of symptoms and conditions. Biomarkers are measurable substances in the body such as enzyme or hormone levels. These biomarkers help medical professionals identify cellular, metabolic, and immune system damage, as well as blood circulation irregularities caused by inflammation. In other words, scientists have linked chronic inflammation with unusual and unhealthy patterns in key systems and functions in the body.3 There is an observable correlation between biomarkers for inflammation and conditions such as cardiac arrest, COPD, and even cancers. Thus, how we manage inflammation can contribute to our lifespan and wellness. 4
Chronic Inflammation Causes Oxidative Stress
Researchers have been increasingly making the case for oxidative stress being a prime cause of eye disease. Chronic inflammation negatively affects immune cells through the production of cytokines. It has been identified as a cause of cancer, the aging process, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Antioxidants fight oxidative stress, but chronic inflammation causes oxidative stress directly and, by reducing antioxidants, indirectly. Too many free radicals interact with fatty acids and proteins in cell tissue and impairs their function.18
Diet and inflammation
A primary benefit of the surge in research into inflammation has been the increased knowledge of diet and lifestyles that cause inflammation, and those that can reduce and eliminate it. Though we do not all respond to foods and beverages in the same ways, it can be observed that particular foods are problematic for overall health, and contribute to inflammatory responses.
The Vision Diet recommends avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugar, sodas, hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and processed meats. Foods observed to reduce or 'turn down' the inflammatory response are: olive oil, leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, and some fruits, nuts, herbs and spices. 5
There are many healthy diet options available to us today, yet one that has been researched at length in connection to reducing inflammation is the Mediterranean diet. In one study, researchers discovered that those who most closely adhered naturally to a diet that included olive oil, fruits and vegetables, dulses, fish, and high-antioxidant foods and beverages, had lower markers for inflammation. Study participants who consumed greater quantities of cereals, refined products, sugar, and excess alcohol had higher markers for inflammation and heart disease. 6
The Vision Diet
We recommend a modified Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes vegetables and fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts, fresh herbs and spices, and good fats, as well as high-quality fish, eggs, and dairy.1, 6 See our diet recommendations for better vision.
Antioxidants are powerful inflammation reducers. The immune system produces highly effective compounds to fight infection, the presence of foreign bodies, and tissue damage. However, at the same time these substances can produce excessive inflammation which generates free radicals that can damage healthy tissue. Over time enough damage to healthy tissue results in disease and poor health.
The body does produce natural antioxidants to fight free radicals, but if there are deficiencies in the diet, or the diet is primarily the standard American diet ("SAD"), then the body's antioxidants are unable to maintain balance. Research shows that providing the body with the right balance of nutrition through diet, supplementation, and lifestyle helps regulate the functioning of the immune system, and thus allows the body to prevent and cure disease symptoms.7
Antioxidants are most commonly found in foods such as: kidney beans, blueberries (best if wild), artichokes, pecans, russet potatoes, prunes, apples, and other berries.8 Carotenoids give fruits and vegetables their color, so most any colorful fruit or vegetable will be high in antioxidants. Herbs and spices are also known to be highly beneficial Many of us have also heard of the potential benefits of chocolate, coffee, and wine for antioxidants! 9 Read more about increasing antioxidants in your diet.
In the eye, the presence of free radicals and lack of antioxidants is directly related to the incidence of many types of eye disease. For example, the carotenoid antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin, and meso-zeaxanthin, along with other antioxidants are found in greater quantities in the eye than in any other part of the body. Their presence or absence is directly correlated to eye diseases such as macular degeneration.
Nutritional Supplementation and Inflammation
Research now strongly suggests that supplementation is very helpful in raising levels of antioxidants in the body and fighting inflammation to support optimal health.. Here are just a few examples of the extensive nutrient/inflammation research:
- Supplementing with CoQ10 and selenium can reduce one inflammation biomarker, C-reactive protein, significantly, and are notably superior to placebo.10
- MSM (Methlsulfonylmethane) is an anti-inflammation agent that has been well investigated in both animal models and human clinical trials. It appears to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.16 In a study investigating MSM's ability to reduce inflammation often experienced after strenuous exercise, men were given placebo or MSM for 4 weeks prior to strenuous exercise. MSM appears to lessen the release of inflammatory molecules in response to the exercise.17
- Bioavailable curcumin, taken orally, has also been found to substantially decrease inflammation. 11 The chemical circumin is present in high amounts in turmeric root, and has been gaining the attention of the medical field as a very potent anti-inflammatory supplement.
- In a clinical study, >Vitamin-D, calcium, and chromium supplements were also found to be influential in reducing inflammation, particularly in women testing positive for Vitamin-D deficiency.12
- Other studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids are helpful in balancing C-reactive protein levels - an indicator of excessive free radical levels.
Lifestyle and Inflammation
Along with diet, one's lifestyle often needs to be reassessed when treating systemic inflammation.
- Because excess weight can be a contributing factor to inflammation, exercise and weight-balancing measures are often suggested.14
- Exercise is one of the most effective ways to increase longevity and lifespan! Researchers have found it to be a factor in reducing chronic inflammation. In one such research study scientists found that exercise reduces the inflammatory immune response in the lymph nodes and spleen.15 It has even been found to be a factor in determining the type and quantity of prescription medication
- Manage your level of stress. This is true both generally (for example, take a walk, meditate, do yoga) and in terms of your vision health, take a break from the computer periodically and do simple eye exercises like palming to reduce vision stress.
1. Vision Diet
2. Six Keys to Reducing Inflammation, Scripps, June 12, 2012
3. S Scolletta, et al, Biomarkers as Predictors of Outcome After Cardiac Arrest, Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology, 2012
4. D Brenner, et al, A Review of the Application of Inflammatory Biomarkers in Epidemiologic Cancer Research, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, September, 2014
5. Foods that Fight Inflammation, Harvard's Women's Health Watch, October, 2015
6. C Chrysohoou, et al, Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet Attenuates Inflammation and Coagulation Process in Healthy Adults, Journal of American College of Cardiology, July, 2004
7. RF Grimble, Nutritional Antioxidants and the Modulation of Inflammation: theory and practice, New Horizons, May, 1994
8. CE Grayson Mathis, 20 Common Foods with the Most Antioxidants, Web MD, April 1, 2005
9. Antioxidants: why are they important?, Mayo Clinic, April 6, 2014
10. Increased Premature Mortality Risk Associated with Inflammation-promoting Diet May be Counteracted by Antioxidant Supplementation, Life Extension, March 15, 2016
11. BK McFarlin, et al, Reduced Inflammatory and Muscle Damage Biomarkers Following Oral Supplementation with Bioavailable Circumin, BBA Clinical, June, 2016
12. F Foroozanfard, et al, Calcium plus Vitamin D Supplementation Influences Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Overweight and Vitamin-D Deficient Women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial, Clinical Endocrinology, December, 2015
13. Z Rasic-Milutinovic, et al, Effects of N-3 PUFAs Supplementation on Insulin Resistance and Inflammatory Biomarkers in Hemodyalisis Patients, Ren Fail, 2007
14. Six Keys to Reducing Inflammation, Scripps, June 12, 2012
15. S. P. Souza, Physical Exercise Attenuates Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis by Inhibiting Peripheral Immune Response and Blood-Brain Barrier Disruption, Molecular Neurobiology, July, 2016.
16. M. Butawan, R.L. Benjamin, et al, Methylsulfonylmethane: Applications and Safety of a Novel Dietary Supplement, Nutrients, March, 2017.
17. M. van der Merwe, R. J. Bloomer, The Influence of Methylsulfonylmethane on Inflammation-Associated Cytokine Release before and following Strenuous Exercise, Journal of Sports Medicine, October, 2016
18. N. Khansari, Y. Shakiba, et al, Chronic inflammation and oxidative stress as a major cause of age-related diseases and cancer, Recent Patterns of Inflammation and Allergy Drug Discovery, January, 2009.