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Dr. Barry Sears
Dr. Barry Sears
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A Silent Killer in Our Midst, Part 2


A Silent Killer in Our Midst

Dr. Barry Sears
Zone Living Silent inflammation is the first sign that your body is out of balance and you are no longer well. You can’t feel it, but it is affecting your heart, your brain, and your immune system.

There are three underlying hormonal changes that are linked to silent inflammation. They involve the overproduction of three distinct types of hormones:

• Eicosanoids
• Insulin
• Cortisol

Each of these three hormones contributes to silent inflammation.


Eicosanoids were the first hormones developed by living organisms. Eicosanoids are produced by every cell in your body. Although they might be considered primitive hormones, they control everything from your immune system to your brain and heart.

There are two kinds of eicosanoids, those that promote inflammation (pro-inflammatory) and tissue destruction and those that stop inflammation (anti-inflammatory) and promote healing. You need to have both kinds in the proper balance in order to be in a state of wellness. Unfortunately, most of us produce too many pro-inflammatory eicosanoids which leads to increasing levels of silent inflammation and eventually to chronic health risks.

Eicosanoids form the command center of your immune system. Knock them out completely, and the immune system gets knocked out as well. This occurs in those who have immune-deficiency diseases, such as AIDS. A more common occurrence, however, is when pro-inflammatory eicosanoids stage a military coup of the immune system. Like rogue soldiers, if the pro-inflammatory eicosanoids aren’t called back to the barracks, inflammation runs amok and your immune system starts attacking your body. In fact, an imbalance of eicosanoids is at the foundation of chronic disorders that affect the Heart, Brain and Immune Function. It is the imbalance of these eicosanoids that causes silent inflammation.

You can tip the balance back toward anti-inflammatory eicosanoids in a number of ways. First and foremost, you have to modify what you eat. Anti-inflammatory eicosanoids—which I refer to as the “good” ones—come from eating a diet rich in long-chain omega-3-fatty acids (found in fish oil) and low in omega-6 fatty acids (found in high concentrations of vegetable oils like corn, soybean, sunflower, and safflower). This is because long-chain omega-3 fatty acids reduce pro-inflammatory eicosanoids, whereas omega-6 fatty acids increase the production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids.

Until about eighty years ago, our population ate a 2:1 ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats. We ate a lot more fish back then, and many of our grandparents took a daily dose of omega-3 rich cod liver oil. (Yes, it was disgusting, but it was anti-inflammatory, too.) Furthermore, refined vegetable oils were a very small part of our diet. Now all of that has changed. We’re eating a lot more omega-6 fats and far fewer long-chain omega-3 fats, with the ratio of these two groups of fatty acids being closer to 20:1. With that dramatic increase in omega-6 fatty acids in our diet, the amount of silent inflammation in our society has correspondingly increased. Chronic disorders that affect the Heart, Brain and Immune System are all on the rise because they are initiated by silent inflammation.

How can the type of fat you eat cause silent inflammation? As a lipid (i.e. fat) researcher, I have been intrigued by this question for more than twenty years. It turns out that certain pro-inflammatory eicosanoids (primarily consisting of prostaglandins and leukotrienes) are derived from arachidonic acid (AA), a long-chain omega-6 fatty acid. The classic symptoms of inflammation are due in large part to these eicosanoids. Prostaglandins cause the pain, and leukotrienes cause the swelling and redness associated with inflammation.

Prostaglandins and leukotrienes are the usual suspects when you have bad pain, and they are also the cause of silent inflammation. This is why every anti-inflammatory drug works to stop the over-production of these particular eicosanoids.

To call off the rogue soldiers in your inflammatory army that are derived from arachidonic acid (AA), you need to increase the good anti-inflammatory eicosanoids. These anti-inflammatory eicosanoids are derived from long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Ultimately the balance of AA to EPA in your blood determines the levels of silent inflammation in your body. That’s why I call this ratio of these two fatty acids your Silent Inflammation Profile (SIP). The higher the SIP, the less well you are and the more likely it is that you are going to develop some type of chronic health disorder. In other words, SIP gives you a glimpse into your future. This is why I believe it is the single best test in medicine--because it reveals your state of wellness (or lack of it) with laser-like precision.


Insulin is the storage hormone that drives nutrients into cells. It is vital for your survival since it allows cells to either store nutrients or immediately use them for energy. Without adequate levels of insulin, your cells would literally starve to death. And this is exactly what happens in type 1 (childhood-onset) diabetes, in which the patient is producing no insulin. (In fact, only a small percentage of diabetics have this type of diabetes.) Without injections of insulin, death is the inevitable outcome. But most of us are much more likely to have the opposite problem: we make way too much insulin. This is bad news, since it is excess insulin that makes you fat and keeps you fat.

As you age, your cells become less responsive to insulin, and your pancreas needs to continually churn out more and more insulin to get the message through to the cells in the liver and the muscles that incoming dietary nutrients (primarily sugar and amino acids) need to be taken up by the cells. This is called insulin resistance. In general, the more excess body fat you have, the more insulin resistance you have, and the more insulin your body needs to produce in order to overcome this resistance.

It is also excess insulin that increases silent inflammation. An over-abundance of insulin increases the production of arachidonic acid (AA), the building block for all pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. This is the smoking gun that links excess body fat to a wide range of chronic health risks.

As noted, excess insulin’s link to silent inflammation stems from the fact that it increases the production of arachidonic acid (AA), the building block for all pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. And if that isn’t bad enough, recent research shows that insulin induces inflammation by increasing the production of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a pro-inflammatory cytokine that causes the formation of C-reactive protein, another marker for silent inflammation. The bottom line: controlling insulin is essential if you want to reverse silent inflammation and move toward a state of wellness.

Simply consuming a lot more fish oil and a lot less vegetable oil will begin to reverse silent inflammation. Changing your dietary habits by following the Zone Diet can also have an immediate impact because that will reduce the levels of the hormone insulin, which indirectly affects silent inflammation.

The Zone Diet was developed specifically to reduce excess insulin production, and as a result the Zone Diet also reduces silent inflammation. You’ll get all the added benefits that go along with this--including a loss of excess body fat, a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and other insulin-related illnesses, and an increased lifespan. Not a bad deal.

The power of the Zone Diet is that you can see a difference in your blood test results within seven days. In fact, it has been shown by studies at Harvard Medical School that even one meal can begin to reduce insulin levels and then begin to drive you back to a state of wellness. You’ll notice it right away in terms of your energy level and overall well being. Of course the opposite is also true: One meal that increases insulin levels can begin to drive you out of the Anti-Inflammation Zone.

The hormonal systems of both eicosanoids and insulin are intricately linked. They both trigger silent inflammation if they’re out of balance. They both reduce inflammation and silent inflammation when they’re brought back into balance. Neither operates in a vacuum, since they are inter-related. The bad news is most of us have both systems out of balance at the same time, and it only gets worse as we age. The good news is the Zone Diet can normalize both systems, which is why it’s the ultimate antidote to silent inflammation.


When your body is in a constant state of silent inflammation, it reacts to it by having your adrenal glands pump out high amounts of cortisol, the primary anti-inflammatory hormone used to decrease excess inflammation. We tend to think of cortisol as a stress hormone, but in reality it is an anti-stress hormone. At the cellular levels all stress creates an inflammatory state caused by an over-production of pro-inflammatory eicosanoids. Cortisol is sent out to lower the levels of these eicosanoids, which is fine over the short run when stress is temporary. But having a high level of constant silent inflammation means you are going to have high levels of cortisol on a permanent basis, causing a number of nasty consequences such as increasing insulin resistance (which makes you fatter), killing nerve cells (which makes you dumber), and depressing your entire immune system (which makes you sicker). This is the collateral damage that comes from increased silent inflammation.

The diet and lifestyle prescriptions of The Anti-Inflammation Zone allow you to decrease silent inflammation and prevent the need for your body to increase cortisol levels. In fact, the more successful you are, the more control you’ll have over cortisol.

Is Silent Inflammation in Your Genes?

Why do we have this growing epidemic of silent inflammation? Blame it on your genes. Evolution tends to favor those biological characteristics in a particular species that make them better equipped to pass their genes on to the next generation. In Part II, I’ll discuss how our modern lifestyle plays havoc with our genes.

Excerpted from The Anti-Inflammation Zone - Reversing The Silent Epidemic That's Destroying Our Health. Copyright 2005 by Barry Sears, Ph.D. Used by permission.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. As with any natural product, individual results will vary.

For more information about Dr. Barry Sears, his incredible fish oil supplements, or the popular Zone Diet, please visit

If you purchase any Zone Labs, Inc. products, part of the proceeds support CBN ministries.

Dr. Barry Sears is a leader in the field of dietary control of hormonal response. A former research scientist at the Boston University School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Sears has dedicated his efforts over the past 25 years to the study of lipids and their inflammatory role in the development of chronic disease. He holds 13 U.S. patents in the areas of intravenous drug delivery systems and hormonal regulation for the treatment of cardiovascular disease.

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