That sweet spot of optimal function varies with the system in the body under discussion. In some cases these values are quite clear. Optimal body temperature measured under the tongue is universally acknowledged at 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, for example, and there are well identified health risks associated with temperatures that vary only slightly on the upper end and vary by a greater amount on the low end.
Inflammation presents an interesting case in that it is a body system which is both boon and bane. Having a muscular inflammatory response is important in resisting infection; but switching off that inflammation when it is no longer needed is vitally important, too.
How much is too much?
Deciding how much is too much is a point of delicate balance and there is no thermometer one can point to that would show the optimal value.
“Inflammation is a different condition in every person in whom it occurs. It can depend on body adiposity or genetic variation,” said Cheryl Kos, ND, a member of the regulatory group at practitioner channel specialist Metagenics. “The right amount of inflammation is exactly enough to address the immune challenges that exist in a body at any given time and bring them to the right resolution.”
Aiding in this quest are a host of natural ingredients ranging from omega-3s, to any number of polyphenols claiming to quench free radicals, to direct supplementation with endogenous antioxidants such as glutathione or SOD.
Glutathione has been known for more than 125 years. The accumulated body of research continues to elucidate this molecule’s wide-ranging activities in the body, said Karen Todd, RD, director of global brand marketing at Kyowa Hakko, which supplies a stabilized form of glutathione called Setria.
“Glutathione is sometimes called 'the master of all antioxidants' as it is the most abundant endogenous antioxidant and it is a critical regulator of oxidative stress and immune function,” Todd told NutraIngredients-USA. "But, for many reasons including age, prescription and OTC medication intake, health conditions, lifestyle, diet, weight and even time of day, the body’s stores of glutathione may be in short supply. An optimal diet rich in glutathione or oral supplementation has shown to be effective at enhancing body stores of glutathione and supporting the immune system."
The issue with blood pressure
Blood pressure is another bodily system in which benefits from proper regulation. Overly low blood pressure carries its own risks, but far more prevalent in Western societies is high blood pressure. While not directly linked to chronic inflammation, HBP has similar effects in that if it persists over time it raises the risk of a host of diseases and lifestyle conditions.
"If you focus on the CARDIA and SPRINT studies, one of the things that is really starting to surface there is the huge potential to prevent disease by controlling blood pressure,” said James Kennedy, PhD, vice president of Polyphenolics, which manufactures a branded form of grape seed extract called MegaNatural-BP. “We are finding that blood pressure levels that are only slightly elevated can lead to long term consequences.”
Polyphenolics, which is a division of the wine giant Constellation Brands, offered a blood pressure test to visitors at its booth at the recent Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas, NV. While not a scientific sampling, the data they gathered there was in line with what researchers are finding. Almost all of the participants in the Las Vegas test fell within the prehypertensive range.
“It was surprising to me how many prehypertensive individuals were out there,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said that researchers are staring to redefine where to draw the line between blood pressure that is dangerously elevated giving rise to immediate concerns about heart attack and stroke and that which is sending a less acute signal through the body’s systems, but one that nevertheless can have damaging consequences if allowed to persist.
Risks of prehypertension
Dr Wayne Heidenreich, MD, associate editor of the Journal of Insurance Medicine, agreed that controlling blood pressure was one of the key factors toward lessening the risk of life altering health conditions. These range from congestive heart failure through more acute conditions. And he said the medical community is starting to view what for many years was known as ‘prehypertension’ as being almost as damaging as full blown high blood pressure.
“High blood pressure is starting to be redefined as anything over 120/80. This level and above has been associated with increasing risk of cardiovascular disease, and by this I mean not just heart disease but also stroke. Both of these can change your life,” he said.
The risks of high blood pressure, whether you define that as 120/80, 130/90 or another value, have been known for decades. But Dr Heidenreich said that more recent research is starting to associate higher than optimal blood pressure with increased risk of developing another condition that seems to be a facet of modern life—Alzheimer’s disease.
“Increasingly the relationship of vascular disease to dementia is being recognized. So I would say that having good blood pressure is not only key to heart health but also to brain health,” Dr Heidenreich said.
Pre-hypertension as a facet of modern life
Kennedy said Polyphenolics’ strong suite of research with MegaNatural-BP, including a recent trial in South Korea, has shown that the extract can support the maintenance of blood pressure within the normal range, including helping to blunt the effects of pre-hypertension, which seems to be a facet of modern life.
“The modern world really necessitates that we stress ourselves out from time to time. For example, we’re going into the holiday season, and these events are well known for creating stress. These periodic moments of stress and panic have increased over time. In hunter gatherer times, there was a lot of idle time when we were just hanging out,” he said.
“Here we have an opportunity to supplement the diet with well characterized natural ingredients for which we have data on vascular health,” Kennedy said.