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The Natural Anti-Inflammatory Drug

By Barry Sears

To be a triathlete often means that inflammation is your constant companion due to over-training. As a result, the use of anti-inflammatory drugs (Aspirin, Motrin, and Aleve) is exceptionally common. These drugs reduce inflammation by inhibiting pro-inflammatory hormones known as eicosanoids.

Unfortunately, they also inhibit the formation of anti-inflammatory eicosanoids which results in the collateral damage that comes with long-term use. Even in short-term use in ultra marathoners, it was demonstrated that taking anti-inflammatory drugs prior to and during a race actually produced more oxidative stress (1) and inflammation without improving the muscle damage and soreness in a matched group of runners who were not taking any such drugs (2).

So what is a triathlete to do, simply live with constant pain?

Actually it turns out that following an anti-inflammatory diet will dramatically reduce the need for such anti-inflammatory drugs. An anti-inflammatory diet is one that reduces the production of arachidonic acid (AA). AA is the molecular building block for the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Reduce AA by the diet and you automatically reduce inflammation induced by training.

The foundation of an anti-inflammatory diet is one that is based on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. The reason is that the color found in fruits and vegetables is a result of compounds known as polyphenols. Polyphenols not only act as anti-oxidants to reduce oxidative stress (i.e. free radicals), but they also have anti-inflammatory properties as they inhibit the same enzymes that are blocked by anti-inflammatory drugs. Now combine the consumption of fruits and vegetables with adequate intake of protein and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and you have a true “drug” that not only reduces inflammation, but improves performance.