Inflammation is just your body’s response to a real or imagined threat. There are two types: acute and chronic.
When you get a splinter, your body’s natural response is to release chemical signals that trigger inflammation. Your body’s blood cells and antibodies work together to get rid of the foreign debris lodged in your skin. At the same time, your body releases other chemicals to signal to you that you’re in danger…what you experience as pain, redness, and swelling. From an evolutionary perspective, the pain should serve as both a warning to you, as well as a reminder to steer clear of future situations involving splintered wood!
Alternatively, the response can be the result of an imagined threat. You see this in people with phobias. Here, the chemicals that are released in the body help create psychological feelings of intense fear, anxiety, and avoidance. But something else is going on here, too.
The body releases a special type of chemical called cortisol. This is a special hormone that is specifically released by the body during times of stress. The stress can be either physical or emotional, and always has the same negative effect when it is released chronically, and over time. Numerous scientific studies have showed that excess stress hormones lead to ulcers, heart disease, and even death.
Silent Inflammation Is Really Just Chronic Inflammation
This type of inflammation can wreak havoc on your bodily systems. It’s called ‘silent’ because symptoms don’t show up until serious problems have already developed, much like the earlier splinter example. You don’t experience the symptoms of having a splinter until you actually have one!
Researchers believe silent Inflammation is associated with many health conditions. Many scientific studies suggest a link between chronic inflammation, and a myriad of health conditions such as:
- Back/neck pain
- Crohn’s disease
- Cystic fibrosis
- Ulcerative colitis
- Kidney disorders
- Menstrual cramps
Your diet plays a huge role in the inflammatory cycle. When you consume essential fatty acids, such as omega-6 and omega-3, they produce prostaglandins and eicosanoids. Basically, this is just a fancy way of saying that the production of these chemicals is responsible for your body’s inflammation response.
Omega-6s And Omega-3s Have Opposite Effects
In general, the function of omega-6 is pro-inflammatory. That is to say, omega-6s increase inflammation. Whereas omega-3s on the other hand are anti-inflammatory, and thus reduce the amount of inflammation in the body.
It’s All About Balancing The Omegas
Not only is it important to increase omega-3s in your diet, but you should strive for a balance. Just like most health and nutrition science, though, it’s not quite as simple as saying omega-3s are good and omega-6s are bad. In all actuality, your body needs a combination of both.
According to a recent study published in by the American Heart Association, the popular belief that omega-6s increase inflammation is only half the story. The study found that high levels of omega-6 actually did not have a significant effect on inflammation. However, when these high omega-6s were observed in individuals with low levels of omega-3s, the results were…yup, you guessed it – high inflammation!
The Omega With The Higher Ratio Wins!
The American diet is now mostly made up of omega-6s. Herein lies the problem…The American diet is loaded with omega-6s, processed foods, and too much sugar. This lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to proper omega-3 intake. In fact, The typical American diet has levels upwards of 1:20 — 10 times the ideal level! Add that to the fact that our fish are contaminated to the point where the FDA has set guidelines restricting it’s use, and you have a real problem on your hands.
It’s helpful to understand why extra omega-6s are a problem. When both omega-3 and omega-6 are present, the two compete with one another in order to be transformed into a chemical signal (again, just like the splinter example). For this reason, it’s important to keep omega-3s high.
So, How Can You Tell How Much Silent Inflammation You Have?
The only way to know how much silent inflammation you have is to take a test that measures the amounts of both arachidonic acid (AA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA) in your body. Don’t let those big words scare you! AA is just a specific type of omega-6, and EPA is just a specific type of omega-3. See? Easy! Tell that to your friends and you’ll look super smart.
So, measuring your AA to EPA ratio is as simple as taking a blood test. This test is sometimes called the Silent Inflammation Profile. It’s really not that fancy, and you can even ask your doctor to order one up for you. Hopefully, I’ll offer the test on my blog soon for you, too.
And, there you have it. You know what silent inflammation is. Have fun looking smart to all your friends!