Are You Living an Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle?
Chronic inflammation feeds a smorgasbord of chronic diseases, including but not limited to the following: allergies, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, arthritis, asthma, cancer, COPD, Crohn’s, chronic fatigue, depression, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease and stroke, migraines, high blood pressure, lupus, multiple sclerosis, obesity and osteoporosis.
While acute inflammation is the life-saving component of your immune system that initiates the body’s healing and repair processes (along with fending off microbial invaders), chronic inflammation does not serve any useful purpose. In fact, an estimated 80 percent of visits to doctors’ offices are for issues relating to chronic disease. According to the CDC, seven of every ten Americans die of a chronic disease.
Inflammation becomes chronic when there is ongoing irritation. This can come from an army of free radicals launched from factors that we are exposed to every day, including:
- Foods made with processed vegetable oils (e.g. French fries, fried food, non-fat dried milk, powdered coffee creamer, most salad dressings, crackers, cookies, chips, and a cornucopia of other processed and convenience foods)
- Allergies to gluten or other foods, which can inflame the gut
- A low-grade lingering infection
- The growing burden of heavy metals, pesticides, and chemicals that are omnipresent
There is a lot of opportunity in today’s contaminated, junk food-filled world for a combination of the aforementioned factors to constantly irritate and disrupt the body’s normal functions.
How serious is your exposure?
Initially, chronic inflammation falls below the threshold of perceived pain and symptoms and could be called the “silent killer”. Eventually, depending on your genetics and family history, the smoldering fire within you upsets the homeostasis within your body’s major systems: endocrine, central nervous, digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory, and disease(s) ensue.
In a healthy body, these systems communicate with each other, however, with chronic inflammation, that communication becomes distorted.
The Obesity Connection
The correlation between type 2 diabetes and obesity is so well established that some researchers refer to the two collectively as “diabesity”.
Obese individuals have an increased number of fat cells generating inflammatory compounds, promoting insulin resistance, and eventually leading to metabolic syndrome.
Excess weight can come from excess calories, as well as toxins stored in our fat cells. Essentially, the more fat one has, the more potential for the storage of toxic compounds.
Given the ubiquitous exposure we have to toxins in our food, environment, self-care products, furniture etc., our bodies have become virtual dumping grounds for thousands of toxic compounds, thus setting the stage for a gradual yet inevitable decline in health. The EPA estimates there are more than 20,000 chemicals that our bodies cannot metabolize. These stored chemicals find their ways into our livers, and then migrate to fat cells throughout the body where they are stored. Some studies show that most of us have between 400 and 800 chemical residues stored in our cells.
Industrial chemicals called organochlorines have been shown to adversely affect leptin. Leptin is known to raise metabolic rates, so a decrease would slow metabolic rates.
While I see the term detoxification often being abused in the alternative medical community, there is certainly some credence to helping obese individuals in escorting toxins out of their bodies through a systematic process that involves the major pathways of elimination:
- Respiratory system
Inflammatory Markers- C-Reactive Protein and Cytokines
A critical inflammatory marker is C-reactive protein. This marker measures inflammation in the arteries that can cause heart attacks. C-reactive protein is regulated by pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as Interleukin-6.
C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 were significantly higher among those who subsequently developed diabetes compared to those who did not.
Food is the real key to chronic inflammation
The food you eat can affect the expression of your genes. That field of study is called “epigenetics.”
A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, pigmented spices and herbs (e.g. curcumin, ginger, garlic, etc) and omega-3 fatty acids tones down inflammation.
On the other hand, a diet high in refined/processed foods, including genetically modified soy and corn, hybridized wheat, sugar, refined carbs (pasta, chips, crackers, cookies), and store-bought milk from conventionally farmed cows, results in a significant inflammatory effect on the body.
In addition, if you are allergic/sensitive to dairy or any of the other foods mentioned above, the immune reaction to these foods feeds chronic inflammation.
Conventionally raised beef is another common problem. These animals are fed an unnatural diet of grains, hormones, steroids and antibiotics. Their meat clearly increases inflammation.
Grass-fed meats (e.g. beef, lamb, buffalo) are generally readily available, and are a healthy source of omega 3 fatty acids. While grass-fed sources are more expensive, the solution is simple – eat less meat and more colorful vegetables.
Cooking foods at high temperatures causes Advanced Glycation End products (AGE). AGEs are naturally in our bodies, but we drastically add to them by eating foods cooked at high temperatures. AGEs are excreted by the kidneys, whose capacity may be easily exceeded. As the level of AGEs builds, cells start to signal the production of inflammatory cytokines. In general, frying, roasting, broiling, and “blackened” BBQ result in the most AGEs.
Good Fats Are Anti-Inflammatory
Unfortunately, the low fat diet craze continues to be promulgated by mainstream nutrition and government policy.
Good fats in our diet promote a favorable immune response as well as cleanse and lubricate the body. They provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances which we need.
People on low-fat diets typically suffer from symptoms of depression, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, hypoglycemia, insulin resistance, constant and insatiable hunger, gall bladder problems (gas, bloating, “acid-reflux,” loose stools), hormonal imbalances, dry and brittle hair and dry and wrinkly skin.
Ideally, there should be a balance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. An imbalance, as seen in the Western or Standard American Diet (SAD) can create a propensity towards inflammation.
We evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of ∼ 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15/1–16.7/1.
Anti and Pro Inflammatory Fats
|Anti-Inflammatory Fats||Pro-Inflammatory Fats|
Most people recognize that drinking soda is unhealthy. The phosphoric acid weakens bones, and the sweeteners are partially to blame for the obesity epidemic.
Despite what we know, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) partners with PepsiCo to “help consumers make improved choices and promote healthful, active lifestyles.” And the American Diabetes Association still recommends you choose calorie-free “diet” drinks instead of regular soda.
While we are talking about food politics, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the premier association that recommends how to eat for optimum health and sets the standards for the education of dietitians, advocates sponsors with questionable foods (if they are even foods at all).
Exercise and Inflammation
Chronic, low-grade, systemic inflammation is involved in pathogenesis of many diseases, e.g. cardiovascular, diabetes and obesity. Petersen et al (2005) looked at the effects of physical activity and the production of cytokines with anti-inflammatory properties. They assert that physical exercise exerts an anti-inflammatory effect and thereby protects against chronic medical disorders associated with low-grade systemic inflammation.
Controlled, experimental studies on the effects of sleep loss in humans have shown that mediators of inflammation are altered by sleep loss. This is likely mediated through the nervous system, which will affect metabolism.
Holistic versus Component Approaches to Medicine
Conventional medicine makes use of pharmaceutical drugs to suppress the inflammatory mechanism. Although pain medications can be very effective at providing temporary relief, they are powerless to stop what’s causing the inflammation in the first place.
It takes an integrative approach to put out the fire. Here is a list of strategies:
- Eat organic produce, organic range-fed poultry, grass-fed meat, and organic eggs.
- Eat a rainbow of vegetables of every day
- Cook with anti-inflammatory foods like ginger and turmeric
- Balance your blood sugar by eating more protein and complex carbohydrates and avoiding sugar
- Eat cold water fish 2-3x/week
- Don’t overheat your oils. Olive oil is delicate and damaged by high heat so should be used for low heat cooking or salad dressings. Use coconut and avocado oils for moderate heat cooking.
- Drink water (half your weight in ounces) and green tea
- Deal with your stress- meditate, walk, go for a massage, get some acupuncture
- Get adequate sleep
- Get the chemicals out! Use natural self-care products (e.g. toothpaste, shampoo, moisturizer, sunscreen, laundry detergents and soaps)
- Exercise in moderation
Challem, Jack. “The Inflammation Syndrome.” (2003).
http://thedailyshow.cc.com/videos/fsdtvk/the-snacks-of-life (not a reference, but a satirical look at fast food)