100 years ago the main issue faced by doctors was how to prevent infectious diseases from harming and killing their patients. As age progressed, and people weakened, they were often unable to mount immune responses strong enough to be able to defeat the infections.
Fast forward four generations, and one of the biggest problems we doctors now face is controlling aggressive inflammation to prevent chronic diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
There is an emerging evidence that many complex chronic diseases, including chronic fatigue syndrome, have strong autoimmune components to them. Autoimmunity means that a person's immune system turns against them, causing damage to almost any organ in the body by a process of uncontrolled inflammation. The immune system has become too aggressive and the fine level of control needed to defend ourselves against invaders while doing no harm to ourselves is impaired.
Many of the drugs we have used in the past to control inflammation – drugs like cortisone and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – have significant problems of either suppressing and impairing the adrenal glands, or damaging the gastrointestinal tract often leading to severe bleeding.
The gut is in fact intimately involved in this process of autoimmunity, and the smart money is on managing the diet and gut microbiome to diminish inflammation. This frequently involves the use of fermented foods and probiotics, and some dietary restrictions (gluten especially) to put out the fire of autoimmunity.
Improving the intake of omega-3 fatty acids, whether through diet or supplementation, is of immense long-term benefit in the control of inflammation for most Australians. Other simple dietary choices and certain supplements specific to the type of autoimmune disease can also change the course of these progressive debilitating disorders.