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 .

Monday, April 27, 2009

Inflammatory Protection from Swine Flu

Inflammation causes allergies, autoimmune and degenerative diseases, and is the foundation for cancer, but it does provide protection against infection.

One of the reasons that older people are less prone to infectious diseases, is that their immune systems have already been exposed to earlier versions of pathogens. Another reason for the relative good health of the parents of baby boomers, is that chronic inflammation increases with age and protection against pathogens is the adaptive advantage of inflammation.

As of now, the new swine flu pre-epidemic is very scary in Mexico City, but doesn’t pack much of a punch north of the border. Maybe it is too early to be optimistic, but it is tantalizing to speculate that the diet-based chronic inflammation that stuffs the coffins in the US, may be good for something besides stuffing the coffers of agribusiness.

One of the symptoms of high chronic inflammation is many years without a day of sick leave. It is hard for a pathogen to get a foothold when the immune system is already provoked by inflammation. Even food and harmless pollen is attacked with vigor and lots of sneezing.

Swine flu is attacking the young and healthy in Mexico. King Corn has already wiped out those targets in the US. Obesity fed by starch, vegetable oils and corn-fed meat, produces chronic inflammation and a potential resistance to swine flu. The US diet provides the inflammatory benefits of old age for the young.

This explains why I live in Idaho. Here it is easy to maintain an island of health in a sea of inflammation. Few visitors with infectious diseases can travel from healthy countries fast enough to transmit the diseases before they show symptoms. Everyone else who reads my advice, lowers their inflammation and lives longer, healthier lives free of chronic diseases, had better start washing their hands and wearing face masks.


Anonymous said...


Interesting post. Are you saying that "healthy" people are more at risk for infectious disease? Are you familiar with the work of Weston Price? Your post seems to be contrary to his observations, which found that populations free from chronic disease also enjoyed superior immunity to infectious disease.

Dr. Art Ayers said...

My comments are rooted in my early work with plant disease resistance. Plants produce a new set of toxic phytochemicals in response to pathogens. Mutant plants can be selected with the defensive compounds constitutively produced. The result is a non-infected, but stunted plant -- the plant is protected by its elaborate chemical defense, but suffers from the toxic consequences of its military economy.

I am a product of my history. My father was never sick, until he died of cancer and heart disease. It was classic chronic inflammation. I see the same pattern in many professional athletes -- they balance extreme dietary inflammation with extreme anti-inflammatory exercise.

My post was a little self-mocking and a little watchfulness for the unexpected. Coastal fish eaters are at higher risk for tuberculosis than fish-deprived landlocked comparable populations.

I am sympathetic toward Weston Price's contention that diet is destiny and I enjoy the hyperbole, but it is unlikely to be so simple. There will be tradeoffs. Normalizing the level of inflammation is probably a much better general strategy, but extreme chronic inflammation may be helpful during the plague.

The world is now selecting for diseases that thrive at high population densities. The question is, are those populations chronically inflamed or do traditional diets moderate inflammation. Is the swine flu adapted for type II diabetic soccer moms?

Thanks for your interesting comment.

JohnN said...

Dr Ayers,
Your theory is intriguing but I do have com concerns. An over-active immunity causes inflammatory response in the body of the host but does it provide safeguard against death by swineflu where it may well be due to an all-too-energetic response to the virus by the host (a cytokine storm, if you will)?
Perhaps we should also discuss the body's innate immunity and the contribution from the gut microbiota. It could very well be the differential factor between recovery and death.
Best regards,

Dr. Art Ayers said...

I am in the middle of writing an article on the cytokine storm that results in fluid retention in the lungs and death in swine flu.

The problem in a cytokine storm is the balance between the initial inflammation promoting cytokines (IL-1, IL-6, TNF) and anti-inflammatory IL-10. This isn't understood, so I have to speculate.

Sudden production of IL-10 triggered by flu may prevent the completion of the inflammatory process, which uses the inflammatory enzymes to limit inflammation. The result is unresolvable acute inflammation, similar to the consequences of system-wide infection, septicemia.

Lung and other organ failure can be blocked by other anti-inflammatory interventions, e.g. mega doses of omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), turmeric (curcumin) and aspirin. These work with septicemia cytokine storms, but they haven't been tested on the flu.

We can expect that direct attack on the flu virus will lead to immediate selection for drug resistance. Mutation frequencies are very high for RNA viruses -- no proofreading. Antiviral drugs and vaccines cannot work after an epidemic starts. All that is needed to save lives is to make the symptoms less severe. The answer may be nothing more profound that eating intensely spicey fish and chasing it with yogurt. Babies using formula (inflammatory) are at high risk.

Thanks for your comments.

pooti said...

Dr. Art,

Nice thread. I too read where the biggest threat to us with the potential pandemic is in having healthy immune systems.

Here is a link to an older discussion about flu pandemics that has a lot of good information in it.

It is true the biggest threat is in the cytokine storm that fully plays out in response to the viral load. That is why I'm going to have a war chest here in our home to start attacking the virus with homeopathic anti-virals at first sign of illness, until we can get to the doc for a script of Relenza or Tamiflu. Then we will use both homeopathic anti-virals such as Sambucus (black elderberry), Monolaurin, Green Tea catechins in the form of garlic and cranberry gargle.

The other thing we will be doing is throwing down mass quantities of anti-inflammatories.

The scary thing in all this is that many of the cures cause an increased tendency to bleed. So you have to be careful about altering your clotting factors to the extent that you end up with cranial bleeds...

Your thoughts?

Stay healthy up there in Idaho!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dr Ayers,

Thought provoking post. You don't mention vitamin D, although I wuld guess you are aware of people like Cannell, Vieth, et al. Here's a popular article by Cannell:

Any thoughts?


Melchior Meijer
(The Netherlands)

Dr. B G said...

DR. Ayers,

The cytokine storm reminds me of DICC... which is often fatal once it starts.

In the ICU, both higher serum estrogen and higher testosterone are protective apparently and are associated with less ICU mortality. I bet that correction of hormone imbalances (including vitamin D) whether they are chronic or acute will play out to be important 'tx' modalities for I.D. later in the future.

Insulin IV therapy in ICU and cardiac ICU (esp post-MI) has already begun across the U.S. after increase in survival was strongly demonstrated.


Would love to hear your brilliant thoughts on this one below...!

Bone turnover in prolonged critical illness: effect of vitamin D.

Van den Berghe G, Van Roosbroeck D, Vanhove P, Wouters PJ, De Pourcq L, Bouillon R.

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Oct;88(10):4623-32.

Thank you,

Dr. Art Ayers said...

The vitamin D contribution to inflammation is vitally important and the interplay with K and A make the vitamin situation a multibody problem -- each component impacts the others. When I was in grad school our cell bio lab involved working out optimal nutrient compositions with Dick Hamm for culture of chrondrocytes -- this became Hamm's F12. The point was that adjustment of each amino acid or vitamin, altered the optimal concentration for all of the other components.

All of the historic studies indicate that optimal daily vitamin recommendations are way off and dependent on many factors.

It is also important to keep reminding ourselves that vitamin D acts like a hormone and not an enzyme cofactor.

I was going to put estrogen into my extreme treatment of cytokine storms suggestions (next post), but forgot. Steroid hormones seem to be magically protective against inflammation damage in a variety of traumas, e.g. head injury (this also suggests that it should be tried in burns and spinal injuries.) Inflammation also follows mentsrual cycles.

The article that Dr. B G, recommended on vitamin D and immobilized patients shows that immobilization spiked IL-6 by 400 fold, and TNF by five fold. CRP is also very high. At the same time vitamin D plummets. It is not surprising that bone calcium was lost. Those conditions are causing dramatic inflammation! I guess that we should be shocked that there are any hospital survivors. It would also be interesting to follow the changes in their inflammatory gut flora. Clostridium must explode.

Thanks for the comments.

Dr. B G said...

Thank you Dr. Ayers. You are wonderful. My immunology sucks... so I appreciate all your insights. I am surprised such little molecules, strings of amino acids like peptides can exert such powerful forces and interplay amongst more potent steroid hormonal actions.

Perhaps we all work together as well just like the steroid hormones... eh?

Synergy. *haa*

For survival.


Dr. Art Ayers said...

Dr. B G,
A decade ago I used to teach immunology and I still only claim a passing understanding. Before that I produced libraries of monoclonal antibodies in what used to be one of the first P3 facilities in the Harvard Biolabs. That was also where I had my first exposure to plant biology, by teaching plant physiology. I felt the same about teaching immunology as plant phys.-- both were very anecdotal. There were lots of descriptions of experimental results, but the conceptual integration of all of the components was very contrived. The role of the immune system in most diseases seems very rudimentary. Look at allergy for example -- a major breakthrough is feeding kids a few peanut each day to block lethal peanut allergic reactions. Very crude.

The people who are honest, are the ones who don't claim to know anything about immunology.

Dr. B G said...

Dr. Ayers,

The more I understand, the less I find that I know... (I think I'm retarded)

You are such a trail blazer! The depth of your experiences sheds light on why you have such an appreciation for even the tiny gut microflora, as well as larger fauna and flora!

I worked in Plant Bio for a little while. My lab studied calmodulin of all things and the influence of ABA and GA, potent hormones for growth, reproduction and proliferation. Vitamin D and calmodulin in humans are naturally related -- and here I am observing quantam leaps in practical vitamin D applications. Homology between kingdoms and phyla is very interesting to me lately. I've wondered if Vitamin D and other hormones share homology with ABA and GA?

Unfortunately, basic defense mechanisms, eg immune systems, are so tightly regulated for complex systems (humans) that even the smallest kink can throw it off (like GLUTEN or legumes/ lectins/ peanuts). Now in modern neolithic living, we have multiple kinks. Vast vitamin ADEK deficiencies, omega-3 deficiences and a constant barage of toxins (wheat/gluten, omega-6, etc). Then add to that synthetic hormones/ pheromones and environmental estrogenlike pesticides and chemicals.

Is it really a wonder everyone is chronically ill and/or hypersensitive/ allergic.

I was really surprised to discover the role of omega-3 PUFAs and short- and essential medium-chain saturated fatty acids in inflammation. Butyric acid is produced by our gut flora from plant fibers (4-carbon chains). SFAs are natural agonists for PPAR -- a master controller of inflammation and nuclear receptor like Thyroid, Progesterone, Estrogen and Testosterone (and Insulin). It is hard to imagine EPA DHA as hormones but I think they are, in their actions. I'm glad that you have covered omega-3s indepth great depth. You probably won't find it shocking but Omega-3s are also crucial for bone development and osteoblast formation and regulation. It is so neat you worked on chrondrocytes. One of my fave books right now is Your Inner-Fish. Have you read it? Shubin talked about evolution and how the internalization of BONE was critical for our immune system and evolution. Our bodies (haven't verified) according to the bk is 90% collagen. Optimizing and balancing amino acids and vitamins (and manipulating energy DEMAND) I think optimizes health/lifespan . . . like those in vitro Hamm cultures...!


Dr. Art Ayers said...

Dr. B G,
Western culture seems so far off. I have now looked at more than 2,000 protein molecular structures. The bottom line is that I think that the structures that result from crystallography and NMR are frequently wrong. I think that the conditions needed for these studies systematically corrupt the structures. The implication is that most of the predictive modeling for drug design is bogus and all the resulting drugs are active against many different proteins, hence all of the cross-reactions. Most commercial drugs don't work.

But it doesn't matter. The future is not miracle drugs, but rather the use of cheap phytochemicals that have already been identified and used in traditional health practices, such as spices. Our bodies can do most of the regulation. We just have to stop extremely destructive behavior, such as eating processed foods and being sedentary. The slow food movement will provide some very simple solutions. But first, we have to be prepared to acknowledge that most medical advice is flawed. Can we live without authorities?

Thanks for your comments.

Dr. B G said...


2000+ ?!?!?!


Recently it was 'discovered' that SSRIs for mood/depression cause osteoporosis and bone fractures. OK, actually, not that shocking (5HT has a role in collagen, bone formation). Disturbing serotonin re-uptake in the BONES has some grave consequences (in addition to SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction which occurs 90% of the time -- ok no longer unhappy but now patients can't have s*x).

Yes, NUMEROUS phytochemical and food-derived molecules exert mood balancing effects (without SSRI like adverse effects). I observe it ALL the time (migraines and headaches are obliterated as well).
--gluten free, low carb, low omega-6 diet
--mod fats, veggs
--vitamin ADEK
--vitamin C, Bs (high dose)
--magnesium, trace elements
--phytochemicals -- fenugreek, pycnogenol, carotenoids, astaxanthin, ashwaganda, all flavonoids, mushrooms, fucocidin, etc
--bioidentical HRT (not synthetic progestins, NOT horse-hormones) -- these are the BEST antidepressants. (Interestingly, even testosterone is important for strong bones too)

Agree . . . Western medicine is whacked.

JLL said...

Very interesting post/theory. I recently made a post on my blog about avoiding the cytokine storm. Turmeric was on my list also, as were things like green tea. All those lower inflammation, however.

On your later post you recommend a low-inflammation diet for cytokine storms. Am I reading these two posts wrong or are they contradictory?

Dr. Art Ayers said...

It is not a clear contradiction, but rather an illustration that inflammation is protective and a natural part of immunity. At the same time, inflammation out of control can be lethal. Dilation of blood vessels is an effective way to aid the recruitment of lymphocytes from blood, but system wide dilation causes shock and death.

The CDC has still not determined how variants of H1N1 cause their problems and who is susceptible. If you are already chronically inflamed are you protected or vulnerable? If you suppress inflammation by diet, are you protected from cytokine storms caused by H1N1?

These are empirical questions and different H1N1 variants may produce different answers. For now, I am sticking to low inflammation.

Thanks for your comments.

Mrs. Ed said...

So should we keep a cheap bottle of salad dressing (soybean oil, corn oil, HFCS) in the medicine cabinant? (heehee!)

My husband has never had the flu or allergies. There was a brief time, about the time our child came down with autism, it seemed like he was a little more prone to colds. Then we drastically changed our diet at home and I started giving him a probiotic. His horrific snoring ceased and I don't think he's even had a sniffle since. We live in a very small town and occasionally people will ask me what the snoring pills are that I give him.

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Anonymous said...

Dr. Ayers, Please consider returning to the blog! We are in need of clarity during these days of the Coronavirus!

Thanks, Indy

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