So this is the first in a series of blogs about how nutrition can help with things other than, whether you look good in your bikini or not.
If you are reading this, then you will have at some point in your life experienced pain and swelling after a bump or fall, itching or streaming eyes in response to an allergy or cramping and internal discomfort due to bad bacteria in a food you have eaten.
Inflammation is the body's immediate response to protect and heal itself from damage caused by either virus, bacteria, environmental toxin or injury. It can therefore, occur anywhere in the body. After rest, once the allergen has gone or after a short period of taking medication, the body returns back to normal. This short-lived response is known as acute inflammation.
Inflammation can also occur, however, for a prolonged period of time. If the inflammatory agent keeps being re-introduced or the body is in a weakened or stressed state, it continuously has to fight off the repeat offender and the inflammatory response fails to shut off. This is chronic inflammation.
Acute inflammation serves a purpose and is crucial to keeping us alive, offering protection and stimulating an immune response. Chronic inflammation, however, can be managed and lessened, if you implement a healthy diet and lifestyle.
The inflammation process is like a light bulb. When turned on, the light bulb will burn out a lot quicker than if it’s turned off. When the inflammation process fails to turn off, it will quickly blows out the immune system. Once the immune system is compromised because of this overuse, ALL forms of chronic disease can occur—not just inflammatory diseases. Chronic inflammation that persists for a long period could also be killing us slowly over time. When low doses of pro-inflammatory substances continue to be released into the body for an extended period, they attack healthy cells, blood vessels and tissues instead of protecting them. These attacks may not always trigger pain and are nowhere to be seen, unlike a bruise or a cut to on your skin. Like a slow poison, the inflammatory cells and hormones destroy our body gradually as we continue to live, work and play with a false sense of good health.
It is now widely believed that chronic inflammation that goes undetected for years is the underlying cause of many illnesses such as type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers (e.g. colon cancer), neurological diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s and dementia), autoimmune diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), inflammatory bowel diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease), as well as other diseases which have unknown causes, like allergies, fibromyalgia and migraines.
Here are just some of the common causes of chronic inflammation:
Good Fats vs Bad Fats There are certain fats that have a pro-inflammatory effect, like Omega 6 essential fatty acids. These are naturally occurring in the body and can be found in abundance in polyunsaturated vegetable oil, such as sunflower, safflower, soybean and corn. Once in the body, they are converted into arachidonic acid, which is then used to generate pro-inflammatory cells and hormones. As this essential fatty acid is produced in the body there is no need to get it any excess from our food sources. Check the label on packaged and processed foods. You will see that most of them contains some form of Omega 6, therefore by removing packaged foods from your diet, you can eliminate some of the aggravation cause by Bad Fats.
Not all fats are bad, however, Omega 3 fatty acids are not produced naturally in the body and so we must get them in our diet to remain healthy. Omega 3's can be found in extra virgin olive oil and oily fish. Incorporate these into your diet then you will be supplying your body with eicosapentaenoic acids, which have a potent anti-inflammatory properties. By eating fish like Salmon, Sardines and anchovies, 3 times a week and consuming olive oil in either dressings or dips, like hummus, then you can go some way to shifting the Good Fat/Bad Fat balance.
Insulin Spikes Foods that spike our blood sugar levels quickly, like white breads, cakes, cookies and sodas, prompt our body to produce more insulin. It does this to normalize our glucose levels. All of the goodies in the picture opposite would only increase the production of cells and hormones that are pro-inflammatory. Now, that’s another good reason to avoid refined carbohydrates and excessive sugars. Try to eat whole grain options whenever possible, not only do they leave you feeling fuller for longer, they better manage our blood sugar level and do not cause a dramatic insulin spike.
Insulin levels also rise when you allow your blood sugar to drop, say after a long period with out eating or first thing in the morning. I find that eating 5-6 small meals a day helps keep my blood sugar levels constant. Eat wholegrain complex carbohydrates, to start the day the anti-inflammatory way.
Stress It will not come as a surprise that stress can increase the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. People deal with stress in different ways so whether it is staying physically active, taking time for quiet meditation or finding a relaxing hobby outside of work that allows you to chill out, then it is not only important for your sanity but your long term health too.
Ensuring you get a good nights sleep will also help with both stress levels and reduce inflammation.
Stress affects the stomach more commonly than not. A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fish, wholegrains and good fats will help to reduce your intake of mood altering chemicals found in processed foods, which can also contribute to stress.
Studies also found that mental stress can cause changes to our immune defense systems, too. This makes us more vulnerable to infectious diseases and slows down the healing process by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory hormones in places where they are needed most.
Food sensitivity Food intolerance, as opposed to a food allergy, doesn’t cause an immediate reaction in your body. Instead, it festers quietly in your gut and causes low-grade chronic inflammation for, as long as, years. So, many of us are unaware we actually have a food intolerance and so keep eating the foods that cause our persistent headaches, arthritis or low immune function. Ask your GP for advice on food sensitivity testing. You never know, by excluding one item from your diet you may solve the mystery of your perpetual black under eyes or chronic fatigue.
Fat cells Scientists found that fat cells aren’t just dormant repositories of excess fat. These fat cells actually secrete arachidonic acid which, eventually, turn into runaway pro-inflammatory substances that circulate throughout our body. The more fat cells you have, the more inflammation you potentially have brewing inside. No wonder then, if inflammation is the precursor to chronic diseases, like Type 2 Diabetes and Obesity, then the higher your total body fat %, the more likely you are to develop these conditions.
In summary , it would appear that once again, the answer lies in a healthy well balanced diet and fitness regime, if you are to manage chronic inflammation. With the exception of specific food sensitivities you can start implementing an anti-inflammatory lifestyle today. With the introduction of small, regular meals to prevent insulin spiking, the elimination of processed food to remove Omega 6 fatty acids and lower total % body fat and exercise to manage stress levels, you' ll probably find that a wonderful side effect of this type of diet is that, you will not even need to worry about your weight. An anti-inflammatory diet is all about looking good on the inside for your long term health.
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