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Inflammation: The Real Driver for Mortality

2014-01-13 12:01
Inflammation and Healthy Aging

Who doesn't want to live longer? If that is a goal, then you should be looking at the underlying cause of mortality. Frankly, it is not heart disease or cancer but increased inflammation primarily induced by the diet.

The primary cause of death in America is constantly changing. In 19th century, it was infectious diseases like tuberculosis. In the 20th century it was heart disease and stroke. In the early 21st century cancer is leading the way. And the fastest growing cause of death is Alzheimer’s. What do all of these chronic diseases of the 20th and 21st centuries have in common? They are all driven by inflammation. However, you are led to believe that each chronic disease is separate as each has builtup its own internal constituencies to promote more research dollars coming to their organizations. The way to promote this is by the use of morality statistics.

There are three ways of analyzing disease-specific mortality. The first is the annual number of deaths. The second is the crude death rate, which is a straightforward calculation consisting of the total number of deaths from a disease divided by 100,000 people regardless of age. The third is the age-adjusted or standardized death rate, which is an adjusted risk dependent on age. Here is a quote from the National Center for Health Care Statistics about this type of statistic.

"The age-adjusted death rate does not reflect the mortality risk of a ‘real’ population. The average risk of mortality of a real population is represented by the crude death rate. The numerical value of an age-adjusted death rate depends on the standard used and, therefore, is not a meaningful statistic."

In other words, numbers can lie to make you look good to your target audience. This is especially true for cancer. This helps explain the disconnect that explains why age-adjusted death rates from cancer have been going down for the past 40 years, but the number of deaths annually is going up so that cancer is now the number-two killer in the U.S (and may become the number-one killer overtaking heart disease in 2014). The age-adjusted death rate suggests the War on Cancer has been a great success, whereas the annual number of deaths and crude death rate indicate that not much progress really has been made.

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As the total annual deaths from cancer have increased by 74% in the past 40 years, the annual deaths from heart disease have decreased by 19%. The cholesterol crowd likes to claim that statins saved the day, somehow forgetting that the statins were introduced 25 years after the annual number of deaths from heart disease was already going down. But what if the underlying cause of heart disease was not cholesterol, but something else that could drive down heart disease rates to an even greater extent?

Let's look at Japan whose male population has LDL cholesterol levels virtually identical to the U.S, yet their crude death rate from heart disease is about six times lower than that of Americans. A good marker of inflammation is the ratio of arachidonic acid (AA) to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the blood. The lower the AA/EPA ratio, the less inflammation you have. Perhaps not surprisingly the level of inflammation as measured by the AA/EPA ratio in the Japanese is six times lower than Americans. This is why if you really want to bring down crude death rates from heart disease even more than today, then the focus should be on reducing inflammation. One way to reduce inflammation is by taking aspirin, which cardiologists have been more strongly recommending for the past 40 years to their patients. It should be noted that aspirin has no effects on cholesterol levels, but that is a small detail overlooked by statin cheerleaders. An even better way to lower inflammation levels is to follow an anti-inflammatory diet. Unfortunately, Americans have not been doing that for the past 40 years. The good thing about following an anti-inflammatory diet is that it might also decrease the rate of cancer mortality because cancer, like heart disease, can be viewed as an inflammatory disease. This might help explain the increasing rates of cancer mortality in America.

Finally, we come to Alzheimer’s, the fastest growing challenger in the mortality race. There is no drug treatment for Alzheimer’s, yet we know it is an inflammatory condition. Here the only hope may lie in anti-inflammatory diets, especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

So if you want to live longer in the 21st century, the best place to start is in your kitchen by making anti-inflammatory meals.

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