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Conventional Treatments for Inflammation

Cox-2 inhibitor drugs such as Naproxen, Celebrex and Arthrotec, are often prescribed by medical doctors to treat arthritis, inflammation, pain, premenstrual syndrome, and other inflammatory disorders. Cox-2 is short for cyclooxygenase-2, one of the key enzymes that help the body produce inflammatory hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins and cytokines. Cox-2 is essential; without it we wouldn’t be able to fight infections or heal injuries. When the body overproduces Cox-2, the end result is chronic inflammation and pain. The intensive marketing and advertising of Cox-2 inhibitors fails to address why many individuals overproduce the enzyme. Too high of levels of Cox-2 often results from imbalances and deficiencies of certain nutrients. Rather than correct these underlying dietary problems, pharmaceutical Cox-2 inhibitors only mask the most visible symptoms. Relatively minor dietary changes, with the addition of some vitamin and herbal supplements, can help correct the underlying problems.

 Problems with Cox-2 Inhibitor Drugs

For years, people have used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, to treat the inflammation and pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. NSAIDS ease inflammation by inhibiting the activity of both Cox-2 and Cox-1, the latter an enzyme that helps maintain homeostasis (biological equilibrium) and protect the stomach lining. Because stomach ulcers occur in about 25 percent of NSAID users, pharmaceutical companies worked to develop NSAIDS that blocked only the activity of Cox-2. The idea was that a selective Cox-2 inhibitor would reduce inflammation but not irritate the stomach. Though touted for their relative safety, Cox-2 inhibitors may be far more hazardous than originally believed. While gastrointestinal problems with Cox-2 inhibitors occur less frequently, they can be severe. Just four months after the FDA approved Celebrex, 10 deaths from the drug were reported. One study has even suggested that Cox-2 is important to the gut and healing ulcers, suggesting that pharmaceutical tampering with the enzyme may not be wise.  Additionally, evidence indicates that both classes of Cox inhibitors increase risk of cardiovascular events, although this risk depends on additional cardiovascular risk factors, and frequency of use of NSAIDS and coxibs.

 Inflammation and Nutrition

Nutrients supply the most basic building blocks of the body’s powerful inflammatory compounds. The primary nutrient is linoleic acid, found in many foods but especially concentrated in vegetable oils (e.g., corn, soy, canola and safflower oils). The body converts linoleic acid to the omega-6 family of fatty acids, including arachidonic acid. Cox-2 plays a critical role in converting arachidonic acid to the hormone-like prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and to the cytokines interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFa), all of which promote inflammation. Once an infection or injury stimulates production of IL-1 and TNFa, these two pro-inflammatory compounds can further stimulate each other. In addition, These compounds trigger the production of free radicals, which encourage the production of more pro-inflammatory cytokines. The pro-inflammatory reaction essentially feeds on itself, setting the stage for chronic inflammation. Ideally, the body balances these compounds with a group of anti-inflammatory compounds that originate with alpha-linolenic acid, found in cold-water fish, leafy green vegetables, and flaxseed. The body converts alpha-linolenic acid to the omega-3 family of fatty acids, which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Much of the problem with inflammatory disorders actually stems from an imbalance in dietary intake of the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and the consequential cascade in pro-inflammatory activity.

A study at the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health in Washington, D.C., has shown that people historically consumed roughly equal amounts of the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. However, over the past 30 years or so, Americans have replaced much of their dietary saturated fat with omega-6 fatty acids. It’s estimated that Americans are now eating 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. From a biochemical standpoint, this sets the stage for powerful and chronic pro-inflammatory reactions. In addition to a diet containing too many omega-6 fatty acids, a shortage of nutritional antioxidants, also contributes to chronic inflammation. The pro-inflammatory cytokines, trigger the release of free radicals. A diet rich in antioxidants-found chiefly in vegetables and fruit-can help neutralize these free radicals. But relatively few people-9 to 34%, eat the recommended five daily servings of vegetables and fruit. Excess omega-6 fatty acids, lack of omega-3 fatty acids, and inadequate intake of antioxidants allows the body’s pro-inflammatory reaction to get out of control, leading to chronic inflammation and pain. Inflammation plays a role in a host of diseases, including arthritis, bursitis, tendonitis and most of its diseases. Recent research has pointed to the role of inflammation in heart disease, stroke, and even Alzheimer’s disease. It’s even estimated that chronic inflammation and infection cause about one-third of all cancers.

Next up in the series: How to Reduce Inflammation Naturally

Have a great day,

The Vitality Team

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