Increasing numbers of people are suffering from inflammatory diseases that wreak havoc across various body systems. Many of these conditions come with the suffix "-itis" - such as osteoarthritis, colitis and prostatitis.
But many common health ailments, such as asthma, Crohn's disease, various cancers, osteoporosis and atherosclerosis also have inflammatory features, and the list of conditions linked to inflammation lengthens as research continues.
As with many of today's chronic health concerns, the modern American diet and lifestyle is one of the major culprits. Stress, inactivity, toxins and lack of sleep also worsen inflammation in people of all ages.
As a result of poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and other factors, roughly one-third of Americans are obese, and what research has now shown conclusively is that central adiposity, the beer belly - also known as visceral or intra-abdominal fat - contributes to the inflammatory environment because the inflammation occurs around fat cells.
Pioneering health-care providers are familiarizing themselves with the potential of an anti-inflammatory diet. Along with additional exercise and quality sleep, such a diet would be a safe antidote to obesity and its complications.
To start with, people who want to reduce inflammation should eat lots of whole foods, especially vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, some meat and fish and liberally add fresh herbs and fragrant spices.
For many years, I've told clients that dieting without concurrent exercise is often fruitless. The link between inflammation and chronic disease serves as an example of why exercise must be part of the weight-loss prescription.
I usually recommend that people start exercising slowly, doing an equal amount of stretching and weight training, and completing the picture with ample cardiovascular exercise. All types of exercise are important.
Weight-training will help transform one's body (over time) to one that harbors less fat and contains more muscle.
Stretching makes all other types of exercise both easier and more effective, while reducing pain and preventing injury.
Yoga, Pilates and other simple, traditional forms of stretching can help with osteoarthritis pain and increase range of motion.
Cardiovascular exercise helps you burn calories and feel better because rhythmic cardio, such as riding a bike or hiking in the hills, tends to boost levels of serotonin, a brain chemical known to contribute to a good mood.
The fact that modified diet, more exercise and the resulting reduction of inflammation may save us from a stroke or heart attack may be an afterthought. But hey, it's worth mentioning!
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness in Medford and the Centre for Natural Healing in Ashland. He also teaches at Southern Oregon University and College of the Siskiyous. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.