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Reality Check: Inflammation Cures & Cons

Posted by Jerry De Luca on Monday, December 14, 2015


The scourge of inflammation is the modern health scare that is worrying many Americans and Canadians. In the US the National Institutes of Health has allocated several hundred million dollars and commissioned hundreds of scientists to tackle this complex and baffling condition. In 2013 the prestigious journal Science committed an entire issue to the problem. The numerous media reports have caught the attention of pseudo health professionals who hawk all sorts of amazing treatments guaranteed to cure anyone with a PayPal account.

The New Yorker wrote about the hysteria:

“New diets will counter the inflammation simmering in your gut and restore your mental equilibrium. Anti-inflammatory supplements will lift your depression and ameliorate autism. Certain drugs will tamp down the silent inflammation that degrades your tissues, improving your health and extending your life. Everything, and everyone, is inflamed.”

One commonly advertised cure for inflammation is a herb called Aconite. Not only does it have zero positive effect on inflammation, but Consumer’s Reports lists it as one of the 12 high-risk supplements to avoid. The possible adverse effects are: Toxicity, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, respiratory-system paralysis, heart-rhythm disorders, and death.  http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/05/dangerous-supplements/index.htm

Consumer’s Reports also warns against the heavily advertised Celebrex, by Pfizer:

“Though some people do respond more to one NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) over another, there's no evidence that for the average person Celebrex eases pain or reduces inflammation more effectively than any other related drug. And many people can get adequate relief from the non-NSAID pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic). While that drug can cause serious liver damage, especially when taken in high doses or by people who drink heavily or have existing liver disease, it doesn't pose the same risks as NSAIDs to the heart or gut.”    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/05/should-you-still-take-celebrex/index.htm

Unlike the snake-oil doctors who have all the answers (and a Porsche in their driveway), modern medicine is still looking for solutions. The National Institutes of Health Michael Gottesman summarizes the lack of progress:

“We really don’t know how much inflammation contributes to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, and other disorders. We know a lot about the mouse and its immune response. Much, much less is understood in humans. As we learn more, we see how much more we need to learn.”

These maverick “doctors” believe inflammation is the root cause of many conditions, including ADHD, autism, depression, dementia, and even aging. There’s no evidence that strict changes to one’s diet helps alleviate or cure any of these conditions. One example, the treatment of depression, has failed test after test. The New Yorker reports:

“Earlier this year, the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity published a meta-analysis of more than fifty clinical studies that found inflammatory molecules in patients with depression. The paper revealed that there was little consistency from study to study about which molecules correlated to the condition.”

David Agus, professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California, specializes in cancer treatments. The National Cancer Institute recently gave him a large grant to study inflammation and tumors. He has serious qualms with miracle vitamin cures. Rigorous clinical trials have proved that vitamins have no effect on inflammation. The same goes for special diets:

“This notion that foods cause inflammation and foods can block inflammation, there’s zero data that it changes clinical outcomes. If the idea gets people to eat fruits and vegetables, I love it, but it’s not real.”

The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Brent Bauer gives a common sense approach to diet and inflammation:

“Some people advocate an ‘anti-inflammatory diet.’ Although there's less evidence such diets work to directly thwart inflammation, most of the recommended foods are typical of the Mediterranean style of eating and in principle are good choices.”   http://healthletter.mayoclinic.com/editorial/editorial.cfm/i/163/t/Buzzed%20on%20inflammation/

Dr. Ramnik Xavier is chair of gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a specialist in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. He contends that inflammation is too complex a condition for there to be easy answers. The nature of inflammation “varies almost from person to person and involves interactions among DNA, many kinds of gastrointestinal cells, and the peculiarities of the gut microbiome.” Xavier laments: “Lots of cells, lots of genes, lots of bugs.”

Unscrupulous quack medicine swindlers spend thousands on online ads promising remedies for the supposed effects of inflammation on aging. Modern medicine isn’t so sure:

“The genesis of aging is still a mystery. It may occur for a host of reasons—a waning of the energy generated by the mitochondria within cells, the tendency of DNA to grow fragile and more mutation-prone over time—and it’s much too simplistic to attribute the process to inflammation alone.”

Luigi Ferrucci, the scientific director of the National Institute on Aging, was involved in the initial US research on inflammation and aging. The first studies sparked some optimism, but ensuing results diminished expectations for Ferrucci:

“We are looking at the layer, not at the core of the problem. Inflammation may accelerate aging in some people—but it is a manifestation of something that is occurring underneath. If you have the curiosity of the scientist, you can’t stop there, because you want to know why. You want to break the toy so you can see how it’s working inside.”

The New Yorker’s Jerome Groopman offers a heartfelt overview of the challenges in conquering inflammation:

“We’d all like a simple solution for complex medical problems. We’re desperate to feel in command of our lives, particularly as we age and see friends and family afflicted by Alzheimer’s, stroke, and heart failure ….  Scientists may yet discover that inflammation contributes to disease in unexpected ways. But it’s important to remember, too, that inflammation serves a vital role in the body. ‘We are playing with one of the primary mechanisms selected by nature to maintain the integrity of our body against the thousand environmental attacks that we receive every day,’ Ferrucci said. ‘Inflammation is part of our maintenance and repair system. Without it, we can’t heal.’”

Primary Source:
Jerome Groopman, “Inflamed  The debate over the latest cure-all craze”, The New Yorker, November 30, 2015  http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/30/inflamed

Photo: http://www.novimmune.com/science/inflammation.html   CC

Jerry De Luca is a Christian freelance writer who loves perusing dozens of interesting and informative publications. When he finds any useful info he summarizes it, taking the main points, and creates a (hopefully) helpful blog post.


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