Inflammation and the truth about fats

Eating certain fats can help, as these can be either anti- or pro-inflammatory. Proper fat intake is essential, which means that no-fat diets do not work.

by Dr. Shelley Crombach — 

Have you ever gone to the doctor while experiencing pain? Did the doctor diagnose inflammation, or give you anti-inflammatory medicine or supplements? What exactly are we fighting with these remedies?

Inflammation is an immune reaction that aids in the body’s healing process. Despite its bad name, it is important for health. A major component of pain comes from excessive inflammation. Acute inflammation can last for approximately three days as part of a normal response to injuries, including trauma, microtrauma (repetitive activities), strenuous exercises, chemical stress, infection, increased body fat, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy and consuming the wrong type of fats. When these stimuli are introduced to the body, inflammation is necessary. It is when inflammatory processes are chronically present or unopposed that inflammation earns its bad reputation.

Long-term inflammation is often associated with serious disease, including, but not limited to, autoimmune conditions, heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes and strokes. Symptoms include: fatigue, decreased immune system function (susceptibility to infections, colds, flu, etc.), hormonal imbalances (stress on adrenal glands, altered sex hormones responsible for libido and menstruation, and decreased thyroid function), nervous system imbalances (increasing blood pressure, anxiety, depression), altered digestion (gas, heartburn) and chronic pain.

Eating certain fats can help, as these can be either anti- or pro-inflammatory. Proper fat intake is essential, which means that no-fat diets do not work. The appropriate balance of fats can decrease our risk of unnecessary inflammation. Fats (called lipids in the body) have both structural and functional roles.

Lipids help compose every cell membrane in our bodies. In fact, 50 to 60 percent of the total dry weight of the adult brain is fat, with one-third of these fats being DHA polyunsaturated omega-3 essential fatty acids. These fats are responsible for promoting neuron growth and improving learning and memory. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are “essential,” in that the body cannot manufacture them. Some EFAs produce inflammation, and others fight it. Fat is also a great source of energy.

Read food labels

Perhaps out of fear, we have altered our diets to eat food products that contain trans fats in the place of saturated fats, hoping to improve our heart health. In fact, all three groups of fats — saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — when consumed in balance, are all good for the body. Trans fats, however, are not real, as they are synthetic and very toxic. According to the FDA, the average American’s daily intake of trans fats is approximately 5.8 grams.

Trans fats are commonly hidden in cakes, cookies, crackers, bread, margarine, chips, shortening, salad dressings and candy. Margarine is not real food and is very harmful. Trans fats are disguised on food labels as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. These are man-made fats that actually place us at higher risk for heart disease.

Trans fats change the makeup of our cell membranes and inhibit the enzyme reactions that tigger metabolism. Reactions from trans fats continue for 51 days within the body after consumption, causing disruption and destruction. Trans fats are responsible for the chronic diseases and symptoms listed above. Consuming good fats and oils such as black currant seed, evening primrose, borage, flaxseed or fish oils, while removing trans fats from the diet can decrease these symptoms in as little as three to four weeks.

There are three groups of real fats in our diets. Group 1 consists of the omega-6 polyunsaturated oils. These are primarily from vegetable sources. (Note: this does not mean vegetable oil, which is typically partially hydrogenated oil, or trans fat.) Examples include corn, safflower, peanut and soy oils. These natural oils are typically anti-inflammatory, but can lead to inflammation.

Group 2 fats consist of pro-inflammatory saturated fats, including dairy, meats and shellfish. That doesn’t mean we can never eat them, it just means they cause inflammation.

Group 3 consists of omega-3 polyunsaturated oils. The sources include: fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), flaxseed oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds and beans. Groups 1 and 3 have anti-inflammatory effects on the body, meaning they decrease inflammation while Group 2 fats are pro-inflammatory and increase the amount of inflammation in the body.

The best way to keep inflammation under control and balance in your body is to eat a two-to-one ratio of Group 1 and 3 fats to Group 2 fats. Having the right balance of good fats and oils actually helps you lose weight. With proper exercise, our bodies enjoy burning fats as great sources of energy.

It is difficult to consume enough essential fatty acids to fulfill our body’s requirements. Remember, great sources of essential fatty acids include seeds, nuts, oils and cold water fish. Sadly, diabetes, poor diet, alcohol consumption and genetic predisposition can block the effectiveness of essential fatty acids. The importance of good fats is demonstrated above, but our habits may create an even greater need for these essential fatty acids. Adding the appropriate EFA supplement and making better dietary choices may have a profound effect.

The overall message is not to fear fats; be smart instead. It’s not a no-fat diet that works; it’s the right-fat diet. No-fat and low-fat diets can be dangerous. With the help of your physician, you can start using fats to your advantage. Fats on your plate do not have to mean fat on your waist. Understand this, and you will start feeling the difference.


Bond, Bruce. “Functional Medicine and Nutrigenomics,” Standard Process Seminar Series. 2007.

Maffetone, Phillip. The ABCs of Inflammation: Most People Have It and Don’t Know It, First Organics. 2000.

Schmitt, Walter. Get These Out of Your Family’s Kitchen. 2000.


Dr. Shelley Crombach is a chiropractor and Applied Kinesiologist. 480-563-4256 or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 27, Number 3, June/July 2008.

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