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Health : Nutrition
Inflammation as enemy
An immune reaction may contribute to diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's. Doctors
are shifting focus to the common thread.
April 17, 2006
The idea is as simple as it is radical: Chronic inflammation, spurred by an immune system
run amok, appears to play a role in a host of medical evils — including arthritis,
Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease.
There's no grand proof of this "theory of everything." But doctors say the evidence is
compelling enough that we should act as if it were true — which means eating an "anti-
inflammatory diet," getting lots of physical activity and losing the fat that pumps out the
chemicals that drive inflammation.
Inflammation, of course, is not all
bad. In fact, as part of the typical
immune response, it's essential for
battling germs and healing wounds.
The familiar redness, heat, swelling
and pain from, say, a hangnail or a
splinter are signs of inflammation at
FOR THE RECORD:
—An article on
chronic inflammation in the April 17
Health section referred to cytokines
as inflammatory cells. Cytokines are
proteins released by some immune
But when the inflammation process
fails to shut off after an infection or
injury is over, trouble sets in. Many doctors now think persistent, low-level inflammation
may pave the way for the chronic diseases of later life.
Over the evolutionary eons, "we developed these important host defenses to let us get to
reproductive age," said Dr. Peter Libby, chief of cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and
Women's Hospital in Boston. "Now, the lifespan has almost doubled, and these same
[immune responses] contribute to diseases in the end."