The adage “What you don’t know may kill you” holds many truths when it comes to your health.

Take, for example, the health concern Time magazine called “The Secret Killer” in a 2004 article: chronic inflammation.

Scientists are uncovering more and more information on how chronic inflammation plays a role in the development of almost all chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune diseases.  

Why is this so important? Well, diabetes, heart disease and cancer alone account for 70 percent of all deaths in the United States and cause major limitations in the lives of one out of 10 Americans. What is inflammation? It is our body’s normal immune response to injury or invasion by bacteria, viruses or allergens. Acutely, this is a beneficial process in healing, but when this process persists, it can lead to chronic disease.

To help my patients visualize the concept, I use the analogy of an ankle sprain, wherein the ankle becomes swollen and red. A similar process occurs throughout your body. In your heart, inflamed blood vessels lead to plaque formation that can cause heart attacks. On a cellular level, they can damage chromosomes, setting your body up for cancer.

Chronic stress, inactivity, obesity and poor diet are key factors in the development of chronic inflammation.

So the good news in this story is that we can prevent or extinguish inflammation and thereby decrease our risk for development of chronic diseases.

A basic prescription to address inflammation:

• Diet: Avoid sugar and “bad fats” (trans-fats, saturated fats, fried foods). Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and include healthy fats like olive oil, fatty fish and nuts. Eat foods that have gone through minimal processing and don’t have added preservatives or colors. 

• Exercise: Do some type of aerobic activity at least 30 minutes daily.

• Stress: Minimize stress in your life, and incorporate some type of relaxation practice into your daily routine. Meditation, deep-breathing exercises and yoga can help your body combat the destructive influence of stress. 

• Toxins: If you smoke, quit! Limit alcohol consumption (for women fewer than seven drinks a week; for men fewer than 14).

• Dental health: Get your teeth cleaned regularly, and address dental infections immediately. Poor dental health is a common and preventable source of inflammation.

So, I leave you with another adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Make those lifestyle changes that will allow for healthy aging!

• Heidi Rula, M.D., is a physician at Integrative Care for Women in Mesa. Reach her at (480) 699-2508 or

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