May 29th 2015

Inflammatory Claims About Inflammation

by Jeff Schweitzer

Jeff Schweitzer is a scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in marine biology/neurophysiology

"We know for example that serious overeating in one sitting can trigger inflammation: what we need to focus on is eating less, not inflammation. Fixating on inflammation misses the point, unless you are a researcher studying disease.......For the rest of us, we need to avoid behaviors that promote ill health in general"

"We also know that two things can reduce inflammation: fasting and exercise."

"We need to get our priorities straight. Forget inflammation and pay attention to what matters: eat healthy, eat little and exercise if you want to reduce the chance of suffering from the many diseases associated with bad diet."

We all appreciate the elegance of simple solutions to complex problems. But we know too that simplicity can often masquerade as truth, hiding a more nuanced reality. Such is the case with inflammation, where pseudoscience, exaggerated claims, false promises, and dangerous oversimplification have dominated for too long. Here is a typical missive:

"Inflammation controls our lives. Have you or a loved one dealt with pain, obesity, ADD/ADHD, peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, migraines, thyroid issues, dental issues, or cancer? If you answered yes to any of these disorders you are dealing with inflammation."

Well, no, inflammation does not control our lives. Like many others, this author claims inflammation is responsible for a huge range of maladies, ranging from Alzheimer's to lupus to stroke to fibromyalgia; I counted 30 on this site. As a biologist, and author of a book on diet and nutrition, I find this to be nothing but cringe-worthy. Yes, inflammation is terribly important, and as we will see, associated with disease. But the oversimplification and weak link to biology that we find on sites like these are misdirection from understanding what is actually happening in our bodies. Such misunderstanding leads to odd nutritional or medical recommendations that are useless at best or dangerous at worst.

Dr. Wajahat Mehal has written an excellent lay-person-friendly overview of the latest in inflammation research that can be found in the most recent issue of Scientific American. I urge anybody making any claims about inflammation, or contemplating dietary or behavioral changes based on concern about it, to read this article.

Here is the crux of the problem. Yes, indeed, as Dr. Mehal notes, "inflammasomes are at the heart of a wide range of diseases and disorders." But before we go nuts here, let's take a deep breath. Often lost in conversation is the distinction between inflammation causing disease and the role of inflammation as a mechanism of disease progression arising from different pathologies. Be clear that "at the heart of" does not mean "causes." This distinction is critical. Cancer offers a good analogy. At some point, all cancers result when cells start dividing uncontrollably; but there are many causes of cancer leading to that cell condition. If we wish to avoid lung cancer, the answer is to stop smoking; this is a better strategy than looking for ways to interfere with the cellular mechanisms of malignancy, after we have set them on a path to malignancy with our unhealthy behavior.

The same applies to inflammation; yes, many disparate diseases have inflammation somewhere in their pathways, just as almost all cancers share a similar mechanism of cell physiology in taking the last step to malignancy. But that last step to uncontrolled growth is not the cause of cancer -- what causes cancer is what leads eventually to that last step. Likewise, inflammation is not the cause of disease; it is a shared mechanism of disease progression following various assaults on our bodies, just as different cancers sharing comparable physiological processes are the consequence of being exposed to various carcinogens. Exposure to asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma; high levels of radiation can cause leukemia. Once we are exposed, both insults (if resulting in these very different cancers) ultimately lead to malignancy through similar cellular mechanisms. The same idea applies directly to inflammation. We know for example that serious overeating in one sitting can trigger inflammation: what we need to focus on is eating less, not inflammation. Fixating on inflammation misses the point, unless you are a researcher studying disease. Inflammation is a legitimate and important target for research as we learn more about disease progression and means of combatting pathologies once initiated. For the rest of us, we need to avoid behaviors that promote ill health in general (which as a consequence will reduce inflammation and many other cellular mechanisms that ultimately lead to disease). Our goal is not to reduce inflammation to prevent disease any more than our goal is to stop phosphorylation in cells on the verge of malignancy as a means of preventing cancer; instead, we need to adopt habits do not result in disease in the first place. And this is where misinformation has run wild. We do ourselves a disservice by trying to attack the process of how a disease progresses rather than preventing the disease to begin with.

Food Claims

What drives me to distraction are false and unsubstantiated claims linking foods to inflammation. Have no doubt; eating can trigger an inflammatory response. That much is true. But not much of what else you read is. Here is what we know. We already mentioned that eating too much at one time can lead to acute inflammation, which will dissipate as the body metabolizes the meal. Habitually eating an excess of calories forcing the body to store the extra energy as fat can trigger chronic inflammation. Evidence is growing that eating high concentrations of saturated fats can lead to an inflammatory response. We also know that the resulting inflammation from these assaults impacts a number of organs, and particularly the liver. We also know that overeating, obesity, high fat diets and other unhealthy eating habits can lead to diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart attack and host of other nasty problems, all of which involve inflammation in the progression of those diseases. But inflammation is not the problem; it is a step in the development of diseases that we generally set on course with unhealthy habits.

We also know that two things can reduce inflammation: fasting and exercise. These result in an increase in blood levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate and lactic acid; these chemicals through a complex series of biochemical reactions turn off genes involved in triggering the production of inflammasomes. Any other claims of foods that reduce inflammation are hype, and unproven.

That is what we know. And yet, we are bombarded with false or exaggerated claims in popular literature, websites and the blogosphere. Google any of these claims for citations:

"Ginger and turmeric have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties." I love ginger and turmeric, but there is scant epidemiology to support the claim. It is just wishful thinking and the kind of bogus claim that distracts us from reality.

"Excess sugar intake will contribute to inflammation. It's not just the obvious sugar but also the hidden sugars." There is no such thing as hidden sugars; and sugar itself has nothing to do with inflammation, other than adding calories, which in excess we know can cause inflammation.

"Phytochemicals - natural chemicals found in plant foods... are also believed to help reduce inflammation." There is no evidence for this statement. Of course, eating plant rather than animal products would reduce saturated fat intake, which in excess can cause inflammation.

"Inflammation has also been linked to unbalanced levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. That's why chronic inflammation often inflicts menopausal women, causing conditions like osteoporosis, weight gain, and adult acne." This claim is not substantiated by any serious clinical research.

"Foods that combat inflammation include tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and nuts like almonds and walnuts." Well, no, that is not true at all. These foods simply do not promote inflammation, which is not the same as combatting it. Avoiding rotten food is not the same thing as treating food poisoning.

"Monica has done exhaustive research on the nutritional components of 1,600 common foods, and rated them according to scientifically validated factors related to inflammation." Well, scientists would be surprised by this since there are no "scientifically validated factors related to inflammation." Just foods with or without saturated fats, which we know in excess can lead to inflammation. This does not require "exhaustive research."

Disease Claims

These two examples are what are typically found on the web now; there are multiple dozens of similar claims screaming across the internet:

"Chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious diseases." No it is not; it is an important step, but one of many, in the progression of diseases generally caused by bad habits.

"Inflammation is the cause of nearly all disease." Wrong at every level; there are many diseases not associated with inflammation, and it is not typically the cause of disease. Rather inflammation is a pathway to pathology shared across many diseases (remember the cancer analogy).

Confusion of Ideas

The misinformation surrounding inflammation is not a simple case of confusing correlation with causation. True enough, inflammation is correlated with many diseases, and this correlation is mistakenly thought to prove causation. But the problem is deeper than that.

We have confused the cellular processes of disease development with the initial assaults that lead to these cellular processes. It is as if threw a ball at a friend's head knowing that this will cause damage that we really do not want to cause; but we throw the ball anyway, and our solution then is to try to shoot down the ball in mid-flight before impact. Our priorities are misplaced.

I strongly support research into inflammation and its broad association with the progression of many diseases. This important and growing field of study will help us understand the many cellular mechanisms that lead to pathology. Surely, too, such research will identify targets for treatment, just as cancer research has helped identify cellular targets for attacking that disease. The rest of us should stop focusing on inflammation; it is a distraction. Unless you are in the lab, inflammation is not something you should be concerned about any more than you care about the role of kinases in the development of cancer. We need to get our priorities straight. Forget inflammation and pay attention to what matters: eat healthy, eat little and exercise if you want to reduce the chance of suffering from the many diseases associated with bad diet.

To follow what's new on Facts & Arts please click here.




  

 


This article is brought to you by the author who owns the copyright to the text.

Should you want to support the author’s creative work you can use the PayPal “Donate” button below.

Your donation is a transaction between you and the author. The proceeds go directly to the author’s PayPal account in full less PayPal’s commission.

Facts & Arts neither receives information about you, nor of your donation, nor does Facts & Arts receive a commission.

Facts & Arts does not pay the author, nor takes paid by the author, for the posting of the author's material on Facts & Arts. Facts & Arts finances its operations by selling advertising space.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "A blockchain company has bought a piece of Banksy artwork and burnt it. But instead of destroying the value of the art, they claim to have made it more valuable, because it was sold as a piece of blockchain art. The company behind the stunt, called Injective Protocol, bought the screen print from a New York gallery. They then live-streamed its burning on the Twitter account BurntBanksy. But why would anyone buy a piece of art just to burn it? Understanding the answer requires us to delve into the tricky world of blockchain or “NFT” art."
Mar 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Exercise is good for your health at every age – and you can reap the benefits no matter how late in life you start. But our latest research has shown another benefit of being physically active throughout life. We found that in the US, people who were more physically active as teenagers and throughout adulthood had lower healthcare costs."
Mar 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Although around one in 14 people over 65 have Alzheimer’s disease, there’s still no cure, and no way to prevent the disease from progressing. But a recent study may bring us one step closer to preventing Alzheimer’s. The trial, which was conducted on animals, has found a specific molecule can prevent the buildup of a toxic protein known to cause Alzheimer’s in the brain."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The art historian George Kubler observed that scholars in the humanities “pretend to despise measurement because of its ‘scientific’ nature.” As if to illustrate his point Robert Storr, former dean of Yale’s School of Art, declared that artistic success is “completely unquantifiable.” In fact, however, artistic success can be quantified, in several ways. One of these is based on the analysis of texts produced by art scholars, and this measure can give us a systematic understanding of how changes in recent art have produced changes in the canon of art history."
Feb 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "The most politically sensitive option we looked at was the virus escaping from a laboratory. We concluded this was extremely unlikely."
Feb 16th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... these men were completely unaware that they had put their lives in the hands of doctors who not only had no intention of healing them but were committed to observing them until the final autopsy – since it was believed that an autopsy alone could scientifically confirm the study’s findings. As one researcher wrote in a 1933 letter to a colleague, “As I see, we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” ...... The unquestionable ethical failure of Tuskegee is one with which we must grapple, and of which we must never lose sight, lest we allow such moral disasters to repeat themselves. "
Feb 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "In 2010 Carlos Rodriguez, the president of Buenos Aires' Universidad del CEMA, created the world's first - and only - Center for Creativity Economics.  During the next ten years, the CCE presented a number of short courses and seminars.  But the most important of its events was an annual lecture by an Argentine artist, who was given a Creative Career Award."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "It’s not hard to see why. Although AI systems outperform humans in tasks that are often associated with a “high level of intelligence” (playing chess, Go, or Jeopardy), they are nowhere close to excelling at tasks that humans can master with little to no training (such as understanding jokes). What we call “common sense” is actually a massive base of tacit knowledge – the cumulative effect of experiencing the world and learning about it since childhood. Coding common-sense knowledge and feeding it into AI systems is an unresolved challenge. Although AI will continue to solve some difficult problems, it is a long way from performing many tasks that children undertake as a matter of course."
Feb 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to being fit and healthy, we’re often reminded to aim to walk 10,000 steps per day. This can be a frustrating target to achieve, especially when we’re busy with work and other commitments. Most of us know by now that 10,000 steps is recommended everywhere as a target to achieve – and yet where did this number actually come from?"