Anti-Inflammatory Diet

All health care starts with diet. My recommendations for a healthy diet are here:
Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Lifestyle.
There are over 190 articles on diet, inflammation and disease on this blog
(find topics using search [upper left] or index [lower right]), and
more articles by Prof. Ayers on Suite101 .

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Tooth Fairy Killed My Father

My father died of inflammation -- cancer and heart disease initiated by smoking and gum disease

My father died during the summer of my graduation from high school. Without his social security benefits, I wouldn’t have attended UCSD and become a research biologist.

He died of colon cancer followed by a heart attack. After surgery for colon cancer he had stopped smoking, a forty-year habit. I must have inherited some potent tolerance for bodily abuse, if he could inhale and swallow a huge barrage of carcinogens and inflammatory compounds for decades before showing the effects. But I think it was his poor dental health that nailed his coffin. He was physically active in his youth and was a boxer in the marines before the Second World War. I think that he had a reasonable diet and active lifestyle, but smoking, cavity-prone teeth and poor dental care led to gum disease and dentures. This is the huge inflammatory event that ultimately shortened his life.

Gum disease can shorten life expectancy. Alternatively, flossing and good oral hygiene can lengthen your life by an average of two years. What this means is the accumulation of a biofilm of bacteria on your teeth, plaque, next to your gums will cause your gums to become inflamed. That constant chemical annoyance triggers chemical signals, inflammatory cytokines, that move from your teeth throughout your body. This chronic inflammation can ultimately lead to other symptoms, and in the case of my father, to cancer and heart disease.

My father had a reasonable diet -- he had avoided many of the modern killers, vegetable oils, high starch/sugar, trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. He also got plenty of exercise, because his job required that he walk five miles a day. He could not, however, survive the double whammy of periodontal disease and smoking. Once the colon cancer reduced his physical activity, the coronary artery disease accelerated in his inflammatory context and he didn’t have a chance. The inflammation in the lining of his coronary arteries led to the deposition of fat and calcification, and these arteries could not stretch adequately with the contractions of his heart.

Today people can exercise, avoid smoking and have good oral hygiene and the prevailing Western diet will still lead to inflammation and ultimately to cancer and degenerative/autoimmune disease. The sequelae to a life of chronic dietary-induced inflammation are dependent on personal genetic predispositions (diabetes, arthritis, cancer, etc.) and experience, e.g. sports injuries leading to arthritis. These Western diseases are associated with aging, but are symptoms of chronic inflammation and they can be avoided by an anti-inflammatory diet.

My father was assassinated by Joe Camel and the Tooth Fairy.


Anonymous said...

I don't think i appreciated the roll of gum disease until recently. I have Psoriasis on my elbows knees and fingers, and have adopted the antiinflammatory diet/lifestile in an attempt to reduce it, with little effect even though I am otherwise much healthier (including a > 20 pound fat loss around the middle!). I have always had a little gum inflammation due to some hard-to-clean gaps between my teeth after my wisdom teethe were removed. I recently started using a water pick to clean these 2 times per day+lysterine, and saw an almost compleste remission of my psoriasis over the course of about 2 weeks, starting a day or two after. Concidence? maby. But I dont think so.

Unknown said...

Dr. Ayer,

What is your take on the relationship between mouthwash and oral cancers?

Dr. Art Ayers said...

I think that most people dismiss sources of inflammation, such as gum disease, as contributing to inflammatory diseases, such as arthritis or rosacea. I heard of one case of rosacea that was cured by eliminating a persistent infection from an unsuccessful root canal.

Some gum disease is also autoimmune and shares the same autoantigen with the source of autoimmunity, celiac.

Lysterine is sort of like Vicks Vaporub for the mouth. It includes many of the same anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as anti-microbials, but it also has a substantial dose of alcohol. I question the routine use of alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and other ingredients that also kill the surface cells of the lining of the mouth. Afterall, part of the basis for oral and esophageal cancers from drinking alcohol is due to the constant replacement of killed cells. Most mutations leading to cancer result from replication errors during routine replacement of shed cells.

Thanks for the insightful comments.

Dr. Art Ayers said...

As I indicated in the previous post, mouth wash is very helpful in reducing mouth bacteria that may contribute to inflammation. I would expect that biofilms will become resistant to the active ingredients in the mouth wash, so flossing and brushing is still the best approach. Regular dental cleaning, ca. once a year, would also help. This type of preventive care could significantly reduce the overall healthcare budget of any nation. Uniform use of a healthy anti-inflammatory diet, combined with preventive dental care could eliminate 90% of the current expenditure on healthcare, just by eliminating the source of most diseases.

Thanks for the question.

Unknown said...

Thanks Dr. Ayers,

Do you agree with the assessment that using Listerine should be done once in a while, say weekly, if your diligent in brushing the teeth? Or should one just abandon it altogether, unless their is a specific need?

Further, the same logic would seem to apply to skin cleansing routines as well.

Matt Metzgar said...

I would say that oral probiotics seem like a better option than mouthwash:

Anonymous said...

For about a year I've followed your diet and avoided processed food almost completely. I've felt many improvements!
Also a year ago I started to address my dental health. This started with a thorough cleaning and a week of Chlorhexidine gluconate (don't know if I'd use the stuff today). I followed up with regular flossing, cleaning and oil pulling (swishing oil around in your mouth and spitting it out). This is an ayervedic treatment. I came across some scientific explanations for why oil pulling works, but I don't really need convincing. When I do it regularly, I don't have plaque. When I take a break, I do. I seem to naturally produce a truck-load of plaque.
The good news is that I've had a year with no bleeding gums for the first time in a couple of decades. My gums, however, are still bright red, which I believe indicates that I still have residual inflammation. A short 2-week break from oil pulling is enough to get bleeding gums again.
Is there anything I can do to achieve healthy, normal pink gums?