Fats and Inflammation

Recovery from training is a major factor in developing great strength and endurance. It’s as important as the training itself. Athletes who don’t recover from workouts become vulnerable to injury or illness. To help prevent these disorders, the body relies on its natural inflammatory/anti-inflammatory mechanism. Understanding this mechanism can lead to improved racing as well as better overall health.

Understanding Inflammation

When injured, the body creates natural inflammation around a wound, making it reddish, swollen and hot. This is called acute inflammation, and is the body’s way of recovering from the daily wear and tear of physical and chemical stress. Athletic training, repetitive motions such as typing or walking and acute injury—a cut hand, a damaged joint, or an irritated stomach—all produce inflammation.

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, develops when the body is unable to control the inflammatory mechanism. Often in this situation the body produces both inflammatory and anti-inflammatory chemicals due to nutritional imbalances, specifically dietary fats. Also, other causes of inflammation—such as stress, overtraining or too little rest—may contribute to the problem.

Without proper anti-inflammatory actions, even an easy workout can complicate ongoing inflammation issues. Even worse, a multitude of chronic illnesses and diseases, including asthma, allergies, cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, can all be triggered by chronic inflammation. Balancing dietary fat intake is the key to reducing chronic inflammation.

The Balance of Fats

Step One

The most important first step in managing the inflammatory process is to assess your use of concentrated fats and oils for cooking, salad dressings and other foods. Removing the types of fats that promote inflammation from your diet and replacing them with more healthful options is the key. Here are some tips:

  • When using fats for cooking, baking or sautéing, use only organic butter, ghee, coconut oil or lard.
  • Avoid all vegetable, grain, seed and nut oils, including soy, safflower, corn, canola and peanut. These unhealthy oils promote inflammation.
  • Organic extra-virgin olive, sesame, and avocado oils can be used if raw, and not cooked.
  • Avoid all trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated).
  • Restaurant food, as well as packaged and pre-prepared food, should also be avoided, as it typically contains unhealthy fats.

Step Two

The second step in managing inflammation is to balance two key fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats. Most people consume too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. Overconsumption of Omega-6 fats has been tied to chronic inflammation. This generally leads to more injury, illness, and ultimately, disease. In the case of athletes, performance is often impaired.

Omega-6 fats are contained in many vegetables and vegetable oils, and these oils should be avoided. Consuming fresh, raw and lightly cooked vegetables at each meal is ideal to get appropriate levels of omega-6. These foods contain an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid, which can have powerful anti-inflammatory effects when taken in smaller amounts. Common omega-6 dietary supplements include black-currant seed, borage, and primrose oils.

Omega-3 fats are found mostly in cold-water ocean fish, and also in beans, flaxseed, walnuts, vegetables, and in wild and grass-fed animals (although in much lower quantities). Fresh, coldwater fish such as salmon, sardines and anchovies, can be helpful because the fat in these fish contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which has powerful anti-inflammatory actions.

Omega-3 fats from non-animal sources such as flax must be converted to EPA by the body. Because the body isn’t particularly good at this, and most people consume too little EPA, it’s best to take a dietary supplement of fish oil containing about 1,000 mg of EPA or more each day.

Other Dietary Factors

In addition to balancing dietary fat and obtaining adequate EPA, a number of other dietary factors also significantly affect inflammation. These include:

  • Refined carbohydrates, including sugar and flour, can convert omega-6 fats to inflammatory chemicals.
  • A balanced, healthy diet void of junk food provides specific nutrients that assist in controlling inflammation, including vitamins B6, C, E, niacin, and the minerals magnesium, calcium and zinc.
  • Adequate intake of quality protein foods.
  • Certain phytonutrients found in ginger, turmeric, citrus peel and foods in the onion family—shallots, chives and garlic—reduce inflammation.
  • Excess stress generates inflammatory chemicals.
  • Aging increases the risk of fat imbalance, and we can compensate for this by being as strict as possible with diet and lifestyle, starting right now.

Testing for Inflammation

The best indicator of chronic inflammation is a blood test for C-reactive protein. If this test finds levels higher than normal, you should temporarily eliminate all anaerobic exercise—including strength training—and perform aerobic-only workouts, while being very strict with the above dietary recommendations until blood tests are normal.

Monitoring all the factors associated with chronic inflammation—injury, sleep and dietary balance—is vital for optimal health and fitness, especially if competitive performance is a goal.

12 Comments

  • Kevin says:

    So I’ve had the inflammation test and I was low (surprising even to my cardiologist) but my cholesterol is still high? any thoughts on that scenario ? Don’t want to do statins

  • Adam says:

    What are the symptoms of Chronic inflammation? Is that things like tendonitis? Golfers Elbow, Plantar Fasciitis, etc?

  • robert lipp says:

    Hi
    Interesting article: it would have greater strength if it showed the RCT references (URLs) or other supporting URLs – not that I am disagreeing with you, I like to look up and read for myself what the trials say.

    I have an elevated usCRP reading of 1.93 (UK measurement scale) and higher triglycerides 1.35. I am already following LCHF for 2 years. I know that CRP does rise with age (71 years). I am interested what supplements I could consider to lower CRP further?
    Any ideas?

  • Robert says:

    I have a good question. I’m 45 years old and last fall i did 10k in 41:17 and 5k 19:29. This spring 4-1/2 weeks ago, i’ve got injured in the peroneal tendon both feet after doing speedwork training and other wrong pace without HR (i usually train by the MAF method but this winter i tought i could try pace/zone training by feeling). The injury arrived sync with a overtraining syndrome. So i was back to MAF method. My last maf test without injury last fall was average of 8:35/miles. Now i after 4-1/2 weeks of easy pace (100-130 bpm) the pain in my ankle almost gone and my energy is back again. My MAF is 10:23/miles. My good question now : Can a small remaining pain in my ankle be the cause for a raise in my MAF test ? or my overtrain is not 100% heal (even if i’m feeling so) or can it be that i’ve run the wrong pace all winter ? like 8:43/miles instead of 9:25 for easy and long run? I know you’ll say that is a combination but can a small injury by itself raise the MAF? Thank you for everything hope somebody answer this.

    • Robert:

      It’s probably not the pain (or the injury) itself but rather the fact that the body has to devote extra resources than usual to protect and heal it. Also, there could be a local inflammatory response due to the damage that is upping your stress response and inhibiting aerobic function.

  • Manoj Dadia says:

    Hi Ivan

    Can you please recommend vegetarin source of Omega-3 ?

    I have used flax seed oil in past and currently using algae source. However its very difficult to get algae sourced oil in India.

    Regards

  • John Iskra says:

    Hi,

    I thought I had asked this question here but now I can’t seem to find it – anyway, forgive me if I’ve *did* actually already ask this somewhere else on this site:

    In the big book, PM talks about A B and C fats – he does this as a way of simplifying the exposition, but, at least for me, he simplified it so much I can’t understand the classification. Could you tell me how A B and C fats are defined and how one might go about ensuring that they are balanced in the way PM advises?

    Thank you!

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