The Secret Cause of Inflammation

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Inflammation has gotten a bad rap in the media amid a growing number of studies linking it to a wide range of conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and even some forms of cancer. But the truth is, inflammation is actually one of the good guys that’s designed to help heal the body. For instance, when you sprain your ankle or cut your finger, inflammation speeds the healing process by triggering redness, heat, and swelling as the immune system sends an army of white blood cells to surround and protect the area.

Unfortunately, this healing process can go awry, and when it does, inflammation can become chronic. But this unchecked inflammation doesn’t just happen on its own. Oxidative stress—which is an imbalance between damaging free radicals and beneficial antioxidants in the body—is the underlying cause of chronic inflammation. Here’s how it works: Oxidative stress damages the body’s cells, tissues, and even your DNA. In an effort to heal this widespread damage, the immune system floods the body with pro-inflammatory cells. Problems arise, however, when harmful oxidative stress outpaces inflammation’s healing capabilities. This causes inflammation to become prolonged—a sign that oxidative stress and the damage it causes is out of control.

But what triggers oxidative stress in the first place? One prime culprit is our modern environment. Air and water pollution, pesticide exposure, and even overexposure to the sun can generate oxidative stress. Another major source of oxidative stress? Our lifestyles. Indeed, when we work too much, exercise too much, sleep too little, and stress out 24/7, we’re generating nonstop oxidative stress. Adding insult to injury, the use of prescription and recreational drugs, as well as exposure to toxic chemicals in household cleaners and personal care products further spark oxidative stress. Tobacco use or exposure to second-hand smoke is another offender. But perhaps the most frequent and insidious triggers are found in the All American Diet. Studies show that an overabundance of omega-6 fats—typically found in cheap cooking oils (think canola, corn, safflower, soy, and sunflower oils), meat from cattle raised in feedlots, and ultra-process food create an overabundance of oxidative stress.

One of the worst offenders? Sugar. The more sugar we eat, the more oxidation occurs. Since the typical American consumes approximately 77 grams—or nearly 20 teaspoons—of sugar daily, we’re unconsciously fueling oxidative stress all day, every day! In response to all this harmful oxidative stress, the body generates a steady stream of inflammation.

Bottom line? You can take all the anti-inflammatory compound in the world but unless you address oxidative stress, their benefit is limited at best. But here’s the good news…you can limit the amount of oxidative stress your body creates by striving for a more balanced lifestyle, avoiding prescription drugs when possible, swapping out chemically-ladened products, and adopting a healthy whole-foods diet filled with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. Plus, you can inhibit oxidative damage—and the chronic inflammation it causes—by supplementing with antioxidant nutrients. Some of the most effective include coenzyme Q10, curcumin, glutathione, and grape seed extract. Paired with healthy lifestyle changes, these supplements can reduce inflammation-inducing oxidative stress and the widespread damage it can cause.

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