Why Integrative Health?

Scientist working with petri dish in laboratory

For more than three decades, one of my most important callings has been to empower people to adopt scientifically backed diet and exercise strategies that improve health and prevent disease, especially those associated with inflammation.

Our nation is suffering from an epidemic of inflammatory disease. The typical American lifestyle, which promotes chronic system-wide inflammation, is just plain making us sick. Heart disease and cancer remain our number-1 killers, and diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, allergies, asthma, and obesity are at all-time highs. If I can help educate the public about how they can reverse these trends and live longer, fuller, healthier lives—and they actually do it—well then, I’m doing my job.

Let me say, in the beginning, I had a deep distrust of the alternative health industry. I believe it took advantage of people and manipulated their hopes and fears, and to a certain degree, I believe it still does. At the same time, I believe that we should be using the very best traditional and integrative approaches possible to live healthier lives. In fact, I’ve helped develop the science behind a number of important pharmaceutical drugs. However, I think that, when possible, we should use approaches that address the underlying causes of disease, such as inflammation. My initial interest in integrative medicine began for a personal reason.

When I was just starting out as a young assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, I watched from the sidelines as my sister, Tammy, continued to battle juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She had developed the disease when she was in her teens, and it continued to have devastating effects. The disease caused persistent joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, along with other short- and long-term problems. Typical treatments at the time consisted of pain control and systemic steroids to reduce inflammation to try to prevent joint damage.

Despite the best efforts of her physician, Tammy was progressively getting worse and she had already had several joint replacements on her hands. In a final attempt to slow the disease, Tammy was put on the cancer chemotherapy drug methotrexate. This can be a harsh drug that can cause vomiting, blurred vision, headache, and dizziness. Even worse if used long term, it has potentially life-threatening effects on the liver, lungs, and kidneys, so patients who use it require careful monitoring.

I desperately wanted to help Tammy. Since I was an expert in polyunsaturated fatty acids, I specifically began to examine the omega-3 literature. I was amazed and had no idea how much work had been done in the area of inflammation—especially as it related to rheumatoid arthritis.

In particular, a very high-impact paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1987 stated in its conclusion that, “Fish oil ingestion results in subjective alleviation of active rheumatoid arthritis”.1

Studies over the next 25 years revealed the story to be more complicated, but there continued to be consistent positive findings from some of the best medical centers in the world. During the same period of time, new studies were emerging from other prestigious universities suggesting a role for fish oils in other inflammatory diseases such as asthma.2

I was so intrigued by the anti-inflammatory potential of fish oils that we began to do studies in my laboratory and also published several high-impact publications. Based on all this work, I began to see the anti-inflammatory potential of omega-3 fatty acids and suggested Tammy try supplementing with omega-3s. They did not cure Tammy’s arthritis, but they helped reduce her signs and symptoms a great deal.

This powerful experience taught me a great deal about natural medicine. Just because it’s natural does not mean it’s less effective. It also revealed to me how badly we need world-class science in this area.

I have now been carrying out research in this area of both traditional and integrative approaches, such as omega-3s, for over 20 years. This has (hopefully) benefitted not only the people who have followed my research or read my books, but also me.

I’m in my 50s. My great-grandfather and grandfather both died in their 50s of heart attacks, and my father died at 66 of cancer. All of these problems are driven by inflammation. Rather than take this family history lying down, I am fighting my genetic blueprint with what I believe to be the best inflammation-cutting measures. I have designed my anti-inflammatory diet, lifestyle, and supplement regimen to live an exciting, high-spirited life for a very long time.

Every week, I plan to share with you many scientific findings that have come to light on how you can help fight the modern western diet, turn back your genetic predispositions to certain diseases, and reduce one of the greatest disease causes of our time—inflammation.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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