What do arthritis, heart attacks, cancer, asthma, and depression have in common? Inflammation! Yes, the same process that occurs when you stub your toe — swelling, pain, redness, and heat — is at the root of many of today’s chronic health problems.
Your body’s inner 911 is known as the inflammation response. Without it, a little injury such as a cut on your foot could be life threatening. Your body’s arsenal, from tiny cells to special chemicals, responds in a number of ways — such as forming blood clots to prevent blood loss or raising the temperature of your body–in an effort to destroy bacteria that may have entered your wound. This type of inflammatory response is essential for healing, but another kind of chronic low-grade inflammation promotes disease. Consequently, the healing blood clots that prevent bleeding to death can trigger a heart attack or stroke.
How Your Body’s Inner First-Aid Kit Became a Slow Weapon of Death
Your body’s inner first-aid kit depends on a wide array of tools that include a powerful class of chemicals called eicosanoids (pronounced eye-CO-suh-noids). These potentially healing compounds are made from fat. Eicosanoids made from omega-6 fats promote infl ammation. Omega-3-based eicosanoids have the opposite effect: dousing inflammation. It is a complicated contradiction — but in a way, no different from the opposing tools used for repairing a house. You might need a demolition ball to tear out a rotten wall and then a crane to deliver wood for building a new wall. Or you might need a scraper to remove paint and a thin, wispy brush to apply paint in delicate corners. Similarly, the infl ammation process uses eicosanoids that constrict or dilate blood vessels, prevent blood clots or trigger blood clots, and so forth. These seemingly opposite actions are necessary for maintaining your health.
Imagine, however, that while repairing your house, you received mainly tools for demolition. In a simplified manner, that is the dilemma that takes place in our bodies. Today, via the inflammation response from the food we eat, we have a preponderance of the tools that are destruction-oriented toward our bodies. If you eat too many omega-6 fats, your body makes too many pro-inflammation tools. This problem is amplified when you don’t eat enough of the counterbalancing omega-3 fats.
The proportion of omega-6 and omega-3 fats eaten will determine the type of fats holstered in your cells, which in turn determines the type of eicosanoids created and ultimately your inflammation status. Nearly 15 years ago, one researcher concluded that the typical American diet sets the biological stage for a near maximal inflammation response from eating a chronic excess of omega-6 fats and too few of the omega-3 fats.
Today inflammatory responses from excess omega-6 eicosanoids are at the root of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. People are popping a record number of anti-inflammatory medications to block the problems caused by eating too many omega-6 fats.
The bottomline: Have more fish. Fish oil works like many of the medications used to fight pain and inflammation, without the side effects. Moreover, fish oil offers health benefits. Medications (and fish oil) that inhibit the COX and LOX enzymes halt the inflammation process.
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