Published On: Tue, Jun 25th, 2013

The Inflammation Epidemic

marathonrunThe Inflammation Epidemic

(No End in Sight)

Mark Becker

When it comes to inflammation, I consider myself an expert. But I have a unique perspective. For more than 3 decades I have raced more than 300 endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultra-marathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland.

Truth be told, I have experienced more inflammation than the normal person. So, how is it that I have lasted so long in a sport that hammers the body the way it does?

One of these reasons is that I have had to bolster my knowledge on inflammation on how to best manage it. Much of this article will deal with what I have learned over the years and how it may help you address what is often a chronic body state.

The United States is suffering from an epidemic of chronic inflammation, and despite the fact that it possesses the best health care technology in the world, it is getting worse. The statistics are alarming. For example, chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and joint disease affect 43 million people in the United States; this is almost 20% of its population, and this number is expected to surpass 60 million by 2020.

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2012, nearly 26 million adults and children were living with diabetes, another chronic inflammatory disease. An additional 79 million have pre-diabetes, placing them at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.  The continued changes to the food supply and lifestyles are escalating the crisis of chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is associated with some of the worst health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, stroke and cancer. While acute inflammation is a helpful process for the body when you have an injury, chronic inflammation is detrimental. In fact, scientists have linked chronic inflammation to the previously mentioned disease conditions, and they are currently studying how sugar, refined carbohydrates and excess body weight may increase the risk for these life threatening conditions.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and outside stressors. But when these stressors don’t let up, the immune system can spiral out of control and increase the risk for disease. According to health professionals, when inflammation becomes chronic it can damage heart valves and brain cells, trigger strokes, and promote resistance to insulin, which leads to diabetes. In fact, chronic inflammation can also lead to cancer.

My excessively active lifestyle has made me ultra-conscious of my diet and the importance of supplementing every day. However, in this day and age of processed foods, it takes more than the offering of a balanced, nutritious diet and supplements to address chronic inflammation. One area that is often overlooked is the balance between Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids.

The Omega-6 and Omega-3 Balance

Many of us were taught that vegetable oils (where most Omega-6 fats come from), are supposed to be healthy. However, upon closer examination, “heart-healthy” oils, such as soybean, safflower, sunflower and corn have high Omega-6 and low Omega-3 fat profiles– as much as 200:1!

Even people that make every effort to avoid processed foods, fast foods, or who are even vegetarians, can still have a staggering level of omega-6 fat intake. (Did you know that many foods found in health food stores are coated with a layer of cheap vegetable oil that enhances taste and texture? For instance, healthy foods, such as nuts, are often coated with this vegetable oil.) If neglected, the imbalance between these two omega fats can promote chronic inflammation which can lead to inflammatory diseases.

Studies indicate that a diet high in Omega-6 fatty acids disrupts the balance of both pro-and anti-inflammatory agents in the body, which promote chronic inflammation. Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids utilize the same enzymes and/or transport systems to produce bio-chemicals in the body. When there is an excess of Omega-6 fats, increased inflammatory compounds are created. When this happens, there are not enough enzymes available for Omega-3 fats to create chemicals that are anti-inflammatory. Moreover, high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids can actually replace and/or reduce Omega-3 fats and their benefits.

Simply put, Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats compete with one another in the body. The presence of one greatly impacts the other, although Omega-6 fatty acids do play a role in good health.

The key takeaway here is that when there is an imbalance, excess Omega-6s will diminish the Omega-3 benefits.

Antioxidant-Rich Foods Fight Free Radicals

Free radicals are highly reactive compounds that can damage the cells of your body and create and contribute to chronic inflammation.

Antioxidants are able to neutralize these free radicals to reduce inflammation. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, as well as the colorful pigments that are found in fruits and vegetables.

The importance of cellular renewal and minimizing the damage done to cells over time cannot be understated. This is the key to minimizing inflammation which is essential for a quality life and longevity

We all struggle with inflammation. Some of us even age more than others.


Studies have linked oxidative stress to chronic inflammation. Simply stated, oxidation occurs when the body produces by-products more commonly known as free radicals. The result is something akin to a machine rusting. When this rusting is applied to humans (and not to iron), it results in inflammation, aging and disease.

Our bodies normally make free radicals as part of our daily metabolism. They occur as a result of food and environmental pollutions from everyday things like air, water and sun. As we age we become more susceptible to the long-term effects of oxidative stress (or too many free radicals), and inflammation on the cellular level. 

The process of oxidation is abundant and can actually help the body work properly. But this very same process can also cause us harm. The oxidizing process creates free radicals which are electrically charged molecules which interact with cells to create both good and bad results. For example, the immune system uses free radicals to help fight infection. However, when oxidized, LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), can also be produced.

Oxidative stress is when the free radicals overwhelm the body’s antioxidant defense system and cause cell damage and inflammation. As previously mentioned, free radicals have useful functions in the body, but are extremely unstable molecules. If left uncontrolled, they will destroy cells, enzymes, and DNA, and ultimately cause inflammation. Moreover, free radicals can also contribute to the development of many chronic inflammatory diseases, including arthritis, heart disease, and even cancer.

Inflammation is caused by free radical damage. The negative effects of free radicals are due to oxidation. How can this be addressed in a nutritional regimen? Antioxidant-rich foods play a major role in combatting oxidative stress and can minimize the damage free radicals cause in the body.

Just Say “No” to Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates

Sugar and refined carbohydrates contribute to elevated blood sugar and insulin levels which may cause and exacerbate inflammation.

Consuming a low sugar/unrefined carbohydrate diet is easier said than done. These types of foods are prevalent on grocery store shelves. Before attempting to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, you need to understand which carbohydrates promote inflammation and which ones decrease it.

Pro-inflammatory carbohydrates include sugar of all sorts, white rice and refined carbohydrates made from refined or “enriched” flour, (bagels, most breads, crackers, most packaged cereals, cookies, cakes, etc). Anti-inflammatory carbohydrates are the unrefined “whole” carbohydrates that include all fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and unrefined non-flour whole grains. All anti-inflammatory carbohydrates are nutrient-rich and include phytonutrients and antioxidants. It is important to understand that all carbohydrates convert to sugar in the blood. The more refined the carbohydrates are, the quicker the conversion.

Refined carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood sugar, which in turn, triggers the pancreas to produce an insulin surge. This surge pushes sugar into the cells and out of the bloodstream. This is where problems occur. Not only does excess insulin promote the storage of pro-inflammatory body fat, it also activates enzymes that cause the body to produce a type of fat called arachidonic acid (AA). Although some AA is necessary for your body to function at an optimal level, an excess of AA can be very inflammatory. One way to prevent your body from producing excess amounts of insulin and too much AA is by avoiding refined carbohydrates and consuming unrefined “whole” carbohydrates in their natural form.

In addition, sugar and refined carbs also contribute to weight gain and can make it more difficult to lose weight. Excess body fat is another major contributor to inflammation.

Our country is immersed in an epidemic of chronic inflammation, and although the United States has the best doctors and facilities in the world, people continue to suffer from chronic inflammation.

Make every effort to educate yourself, your family and your friends and adopt a lifestyle that minimizes the ravages of chronic inflammation. Be aware of key inflammation drivers and forge a path to health and wellness.


Mark BeckerMark Becker is an Account Manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, CA. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 15 years. Mark has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor’s in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For almost 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 100 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook at Follow Mark on Twitter at For more information, access or








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