Chronic inflammation is linked to serious disease and can be avoided Satchel Paige spent decades pitching in the American Negro Leagues. His blazing fastball, quirky pitches and overall unmatched skill on the mound took him to the baseball Hall of Fame. It wasn’t until Major League Baseball broke the color barrier and Paige was signed to the Cleveland Indians by legendary baseball innovator Bill Veeck that Satchel Paige became a household name. Though considered one of the greatest pitchers ever, Paige’s status as a social icon grew after a 1953 interview in Collier’s Magazine. Paige surrendered several quotes in that article that became nuggets of homespun wisdom. Perhaps his most famous uttering was, “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” The ’Bama-born African-American pitched in the Negro League since age 16 but wasn’t signed to a Major League Baseball contract until he was 42. Paige is still listed as the oldest rookie to play a major league game and reportedly pitched in his last game at 63, striking out Hank Aaron and Don Drysdale. Asked about his secrets for staying young, Paige offered one of the all-time great quotes on nutrition: “Don’t eat fried food. It angries up the blood.” Now, I am pretty sure that “angry blood” is not a medical term and I’m confident that any medical doctor would be stumped to explain Paige’s statement, despite agreeing that fried food may not be the most healthful item on a menu. But to me, and perhaps to those trained in Chinese medicine, which has a more holistic and elemental way of looking at health and energy, the meaning is clear. Red flag Anger evokes images that can actually be quite useful in thinking about health. Anger jeopardizes wellness. And when one aligns the image of anger with a color, red comes to mind. If choosing between hot and cold to describe anger, it would definitely be “hot.” The emotion anger could easily be associated with the idea of a racing pulse or throbbing, even a swelling. Let’s see. Heat, throbbing, redness, swelling — what physical condition comes to mind that might include those references? In simple clinical terms, inflammation seems to display at least those gross characteristics. So in Paige’s folksy way of delivering health advice, he hit upon the recent interest conventional medicine is finally showing in the precursor to several serious diseases. Inflammation is suspected as a preliminary condition associated with everything from heart disease to cancer, obesity to osteoporosis, diabetes to stroke and a host of autoimmune diseases. Inflammation is the body’s reaction to imbalance. That imbalance may be signified by the presence of too many bacteria or virus or by an injury or other assault on the body. Immune system cells rush to the site and attack the compromising cells, whether they are invaders or dying cells. It’s like calling in the National Guard: they do a lot of fighting and also a lot of cleanup. The resulting condition is one of heat, redness, swelling and what we identify as inflammation. That is a pretty good description of acute inflammation. However, there is another kind of inflammation more accurately described as chronic. If inflammation is the reaction of the body to an insult, chronic inflammation is its reaction to an ongoing condition of imbalance. That imbalance can appear to be caused by infection, diet or organ malfunction. Of course, in terms of Eastern medicine, one cannot ignore the energy component. Paige pitches, Western medicine catching up Recent observation and research by Western medicine has linked chronic inflammation to various health problems. What is not clear is whether inflammation is a cause of disease or an accompanying factor. To Eastern medicine, it is seen differently: Inflammation is not a cause; nothing physical is. It’s an energy imbalance. Although inflammation is Nature’s way of addressing a physical imbalance, chronic inflammation that may be caused by other factors can nonetheless be addressed. No question, diet has far-reaching impact on health. And there is a significant link between food choices and inflammation. Just as diet choices can affect whether our overall body pH is acidic or alkaline (another important health consideration that Western medicine is only now becoming aware of), different foods are related to contributing to inflammation or ameliorating it. Satchel Paige had that notion over 60 years ago. Omaha cardiologist Richard M. Fleming, M.D. was among few Western medicine practitioners who identified the inflammation connection with disease nearly 20 years ago. His research and study pioneered the use of the CRP blood test to check for chronic inflammation. C-reactive protein is released into the blood when inflammation is present and is a marker for chronic inflammation. In reductionist science, as usual, it is just a small part of a huge equation, though new and trendy evidence tends to get triggered as the “silver bullet” answer to diseases. C-RP tests may indicate an inflammation imbalance, but more importantly there are steps that are as simple as Satchel’s advice to reduce inflammation risk. We didn’t start the fire — so don’t feed it Anti-inflammatory foods are a great way to quell the fire within. Paige gave one piece to the puzzle: Avoid fried foods. But presumptively, nutrition gurus have described nearly every food as having the ability to increase inflammation or reduce it. Data may not be the answer to common sense healthfulness (after all, does one not know the difference between and apple and an Almond Joy?) but it can give helpful hints. For those of us who like to assign numbers to what we eat, there is a fantastic website that amasses vast amounts of information about nearly every food. Simply visit nutritiondata.self.com and enter any food or food type to get a nutritional profile of the item. It is truly amazing. Not only will you get the typical “product label” that we see on packaging that tells calories, fat, sugars and so on, but you will see a detailed listing of minerals and nutrients, a designation as to whether the food is acidifying or alkalizing; and newly added, a graphic indicating whether the food promotes inflammation or reduces it. Satchel Paige had good enough numbers to access the Hall of Fame. Perhaps the numbers on nutritiondata.self.com will give you access to the hall of health. Be well.