The Inflammation Epidemic: No End in Sight (Part 1 of 2)

The United States is suffering from an epidemic of chronic inflammation, Mark Becker writes. Balancing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid intake is one way to tackle inflammation.

Mark Becker

February 2, 2016

5 Min Read
The Inflammation Epidemic: No End in Sight (Part 1 of 2)

When it comes to inflammation, I consider myself an expert. But I have a unique perspective; for more than 3 decades I have raced more than 300 endurance events, including  more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. Truth be told, I have experienced more inflammation than most.

That said, how have I lasted so long in a sport that hammers the body the way it does? Needless to say, I have had to bolster my knowledge on inflammation on how to best manage it. And much of this article will deal with what I have learned over the years and how it may help you address what is often a chronic body state.

The United States is suffering from an epidemic of chronic inflammation. And, despite the best health care technology in the world, it is getting worse. The statistics are alarming. For example, chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and joint disease affect more than 50 million people in the United States. That’s 1 in 5 people over age 18. This number is expected to surpass 67 million by 2030. According to the American Diabetes Association, 371 million adults and children are living with diabetes worldwide, another chronic inflammatory disease. An additional 79 million have prediabetes, placing them at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. The continued changes to the food supply and lifestyles are escalating the crisis of chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is associated with some of the worst health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's, stroke and cancer. While acute inflammation is a helpful process for the body when you have an injury, chronic inflammation is detrimental.

In fact, scientists have linked chronic inflammation to the previously mentioned disease conditions. And they are currently studying how sugar, refined carbohydrates and excess body weight may increase the risk for these life-threatening conditions. Inflammation is the body's natural response to injury and outside stressors. But when these stressors don't let up, the immune system can spiral out of control and increase the risk for disease. According to health professionals, when inflammation becomes chronic, it can damage heart valves and brain cells, trigger strokes, and promote resistance to insulin, which leads to diabetes. In fact, chronic inflammation can also lead to cancer.

My excessively active lifestyle has made me ultra-conscious of my diet and the importance of supplementing every day. However, in this day and age of processed foods, it takes more than the offering of a balanced, nutritious diet and supplements to address chronic inflammation. And one area that is often overlooked is the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

The Omega-6 and Omega-3 Balance

Many of us were raised to believe that vegetable oils (where most omega-6 fats come from), are supposed to be healthy. However, upon closer examination, “heart-healthy" oils, such as soybean, safflower, sunflower and corn have high omega-6 and low Omega-3 fat profiles—as much as 200:1!

Furthermore, even people that make every effort to avoid processed foods, fast foods or are even a vegetarian can still have a staggering level of omega-6 fat intake. Did you know that many foods found in health food stores are coated with a layer of cheap vegetable oil that enhances taste and texture? Healthy foods, such as nuts, are often coated with this vegetable oil.

If neglected, the imbalance between these two omega fats can promote chronic inflammation which can lead to inflammatory diseases.

In fact, studies indicate that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids disrupts the balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory agents in the body, which promotes chronic inflammation. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids utilize the same enzymes and transport systems to produce biochemicals in the body. When there is an excess of omega-6 fats, increased inflammatory compounds are created. When this happens, there are not enough enzymes available for omega-3 fats to create chemicals that are anti-inflammatory. Moreover, high levels of omega-6 fatty acids can actually replace and reduce omega-3 fats and their benefits.

Simply put, omega-6 and omega-3 fats compete with one another in the body. The presence of one greatly impacts the other. That said, omega-6 fatty acids do play a role in good health. The key takeaway is that when there is an imbalance, the excess omega-6s will diminish the omega-3 benefits. Suppliers and marketers have to understand this and educate their customers.

Stay tuned—tomorrow I will talk about the benefits of antioxidant-rich foods to fight inflammation and about the effects of sugar and refined carbohydrates on inflammation.

Mark Becker is an account manager for Vivion, a raw materials distributor, based in Vernon, California. He has worked as a natural products sales and marketing executive for 20 years. Mark has written more than 300 articles and has hosted or been a guest on more than 500 radio shows. He obtained a bachelor's in journalism from Long Beach State University and did his Master’s work in communications at Cal State Fullerton. For more than 30 years he has participated in numerous endurance events, including more than 150 triathlons of Olympic distance or longer, 103 marathons and numerous other events including ultramarathons and rough water swims from Alcatraz to the mainland. He has relied on a comprehensive dietary supplement and homeopathic regimen to support his athletic, professional and personal endeavors. Follow Mark Becker on Facebook and Twitter. For more information, access or


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