Inflammation. A Choice?

As you are aware, if you catch a cold your immune system swings into action. Did you know it also becomes involved with a sprained ankle?

Both infection and injury are triggers for inflammation and the familiar heat, pain, redness, and swelling associated with inflammation are also the signs that your immune system is involved!

Inflammation begins when inflammatory hormones in your body activate your white blood cells in order to clean up infected and damaged tissue. These agents are matched by equally powerful, closely related anti-inflammatory compounds, which should be activated once the infection or damaged tissue has been acted on and it is time to begin the healing process.

Acute inflammation is inflammation that comes at the first sign of an injury or infection and leaves the tissue when it is done. This type of response is the sign of a well-balanced immune system. Chronic inflammation however is the same process without the off switch. It literally stays on red alert all the time. Generally, with chronic inflammation, what started as a healthy and normal response, just won’t shut off.

Chronic inflammation has its roots in the digestive system and while there is no definitive test for inflammation we can sometimes identify it by use of tests for C-reactive proteins, fibrinogen, or homocysteine or by testing the erythrocyte sedimentation rate.

Our society is vulnerable to chronic inflammation. Our diet here in the United States of processed food in lieu of unprocessed foods that take a bit more effort to prepare, and our overuse of antibiotics in ourselves and in our meat/dairy are expressed in our rising rates of allergies, obesity, gut health issues, autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain.

The good news is, once we understand what causes inflammation we can start improving our choices and over time minimize our inflammatory response.

The root of chronic inflammation, autoimmune issues and other chronic disease states often start with poor gut health. It is no surprise really that over seventy percent of your body’s immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract. We were designed this way in order to eliminate viruses and bacteria we might ingest while ensuring the maximum absorption of nutrients. Unfortunately, our current health care model works to mask the symptoms of chronic inflammation, rarely looking at the gut as the true cause behind the symptoms.

Intestinal bloating, frequent bouts of diarrhea or constipation, gas and pain, heartburn and acid reflux are early signs of an unhappy digestive tract and, by default, of an unhappy immune system. Our evolution from the hunter-gatherer diet to the convenience and fast foods of the past century is overwhelming our gut health and ultimately our health and quality of life. Our modern diet offers the wrong essential fatty acids, too much sugar, too many carbohydrates, and extremely high levels of wheat, dairy, and other common allergens.

Foods that cause inflammation

  • Polyunsaturated vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut and soy are high in omega 6 (inflammatory) fatty acids. These oils contain almost no omega-3s which reduce inflammation.
  • High-carb, low-protein diets. We took proteins and fats out of our diets in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and have trended for obesity and inflammatory diseases since that time. Low carb diets are generally much healthier.
  • Refined sugar and sugary foods raise insulin levels creating inflammation.
  • Common food allergens will trigger the inflammatory cascade in those sensitive to them. Food sensitivity testing is an easy way to identify what foods to avoid.
  • Foods high in trans fats create LDL’s, or “bad cholesterol”, create inflammation of arteries.

To reduce chronic inflammation you must watch what you consume!
If you are watching your sugar consumption, cooking with the right oils, raising the percentage of fruits/vegetables and unprocessed foods in general while reducing your processed food carbohydrate load, you should see reductions in your inflammatory response over a period of a few weeks. If you have tried this with no appreciable results, you may want to consider that foods you have always eaten (which never seemed to effect you) may now be triggering a low grade allergic response (known as a food sensitivity). Additionally, If you have been on long term antacid use or on many rounds of antibiotics, you may need to consider digestive enzymes or probiotics (supplements containing the “good” bacteria that support healthy digestion) to help your gut health and immune system get back on track so you can naturally lower your inflammation.

But your digestive tract is only the beginning of the story. Let’s take a look at some other causes of chronic inflammation.

Inflammation and menopause
Changing levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone have a role to play in age-related inflammation. We still don’t understand all the connections, but it appears that a decrease in estrogen corresponds with a rise in inflammation. This response is exacerbated by poor Vitamin D levels (Vitamin D is an estrogen regulator.)

Weight gain, around the waist in particular, is another risk of menopause. There is clear evidence that extra fat cells around the trunk raise your risk of inflammation.

If you have ever almost been in a car accident you know the feel of a cold sweat with your heart pounding in your throat. This “fight or flight” response is orchestrated by your nervous system and triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol from your adrenal glands which are part of your endocrine system.

Cortisol affects both insulin levels and metabolism and It is involved in chronic inflammation. Coping with persistent stress, producing cortisol on a daily basis to deal with the stress, affects your immune system, your adrenals, and your central nervous system. It is important therefore to deal with life stressors as part of dealing with inflammation.

Growing evidence shows that diet and lifestyle can either create a pro-inflammatory environment or an anti-inflammatory one. Here are some everyday steps you can take to cool the heat of inflammation with good nutrition:

    1) Don’t smoke or be around smoke 2) Exercise 3) Identify your physical and emotional stressors and figure out how to improve things to reduce the stress 4) Consume more water 5) Eat a healthy diet including 7 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day

Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and cauliflower are high in inflammation minimizing compounds.

Eat fewer foods made with flour and sugar, especially packaged snack foods, as these refined carbohydrates promote inflammation. If you enjoy pasta, eat it in moderation and cook it al dente (firm to the bite).

Favor healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil or flax oil.

Include moderate amounts of avocados, nuts and seeds in your meals or snacks.

Avoid heavily processed foods.

Move beyond meat. Fish, with its healthful omega-3 fats, and plant-based proteins like legumes and less-processed forms of soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk) can help reduce inflammation.

Spice it up. Spices are more than just flavoring agents — they are also packed with phytochemicals. Ginger and turmeric are particularly noted for their anti-inflammatory properties.

Drink tea, green, oolong and black. They all contain inflammation-fighting phytochemicals although green tea does this best. Herbal teas (unless ginger) don’t have the same benefit

While coffee has inflammation fighting phytochemicals, in excess it can create inflammation.

Eating more calories than your body needs can promote inflammation. If your weight stays fairly steady, you are probably eating the right amount of calories for your level of activity.

Alcohol is inflammatory. If you drink, red wine in moderation is the healthiest option.

To satisfy a sweet tooth, fresh fruit or small amounts of plain dark chocolate are your best bets.

Alcat food sensitivity testing is a great way target specific foods associated with your inflammatory issues. The Yale School of Medicine conducted a study on the Alcat Food Sensitivity Test and found that “identification of activation markers can provide a biological understanding of food sensitivity, and may form the basis for more targeted clinical management.”

Call to set up an appoint to see if Alcat testing is right for you today. (636)928-5588