Updated: Mar 3, 2019
Let’s talk health. We now know that a wide array of health problems, including but not limited to obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, periodontal disease, stroke, and heart disease all have inflammation as a part of the disease. That’s a partial list by the way, you can add to that arthritis, fibromyalgia, GERD, and a host of other health issues.
We also know that pain, especially chronic pain and inflammation is associated with your diet. When we put it all together we find something startling. Not only do most diseases begin as inflammation, but also the majority of inflammatory diseases start in your gut.
While the subject doesn't exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, inflammation is the body's healthy response to injury and infection. It is a way of defending ourselves by sending immune cells and key nutrients to the areas that need them the most.
How do those fighter cells get there? Via increased blood flow, which in turn creates the redness, warmth swelling and pain you likely associate with the word "inflammation." Say you roll your ankle, and notice it turns a little red and gets puffy. That's inflammation, it helps to heal you.
But a small red cut, or a swollen ankle that heals over time is entirely different from a state of chronic inflammation. This can be quite dangerous, in fact. When inflammation as an immune response is never "shut off," the constant production of immune cells can do permanent damage, leading to cancer, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer's, among other health concerns.
Chronic inflammation in your gut can disrupt the normal functioning of many bodily systems. There also appears to be a connection between certain types of bacteria and body fat that produces a heightened inflammatory response and drives the inflammatory process.
Your gut is made of an incredibly large and intricate semi-permeable lining, meaning it allows some things to get through while blocking others. The surface area of your gut, the parts that absorb nutrients, can cover the area of two full size tennis courts if stretched out flat.
The guts degree of permeability fluctuates in response to a variety of chemically mediated conditions. For example when your cortisol is elevated due to the stress of an argument, debt, work, or your thyroid hormone levels fluctuate due to burning the midnight oil, or you have allergies to certain foods, your intestinal lining becomes more permeable. In other words, stress, hormones and certain foods increases the ability to absorb the things we eat!
If you were then to sit down to eat, partially undigested food, toxins, viruses, yeast, and bacteria have the opportunity to pass through the intestine and access the bloodstream, this is known as leaky gut syndrome, or LGS. Now imagine being stressed all the time or not getting enough sleep, all the time, or eating foods all the time that cause inflammation!
When the intestinal lining is repeatedly damaged due to reoccurring leaky gut syndrome, damaged cells called microvilli become unable to do their job properly. They become unable to process and utilize the nutrients and enzymes that are vital to proper digestion. Eventually, digestion is impaired and absorption of nutrients is negatively affected. As more exposure occurs, your body initiates an attack on these foreign invaders. It responds with inflammation, allergic reactions, and other symptoms we relate to a variety of diseases.
Eventually, the constant presence of inflammation is what makes most disease perceptible to an individual. It can and often does occur for years before it exists at levels sufficient to be apparent or clinically significant. How long it has been smoldering really determines the degree of severity of a disease and often the prognosis assuming the inflammation can be controlled. One could also argue that without inflammation most disease would not even exist.
Recent research suggests that superantigens—toxic molecules produced by pathogenic bacteria such as staph—may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes through their effect on fat cells, giving credibility to the idea of chronic inflammation. The idea is that when fat cells (adipocytes) interact with environmental agents -- in this case, bacterial toxins -- they can trigger a chronic inflammatory process by causing the release of molecules called cytokines, which promote inflammation.
The chronic inflammation caused by the superantigens may also hinder wound healing in diabetic foot ulcers, and if that’s the case, then healing from any infection or condition would also be affected.
Since inflammation is the common denominator, mediated by the gut, it is a logical starting point in any treatment process. There are seven common areas that should be considered when looking at causative factors for gastrointestinal dysfunction that create the environment for chronic inflammation. These include:
Diet: Alcohol, Gluten, Casein, Processed Foods, Sugar, Fast Food, MSG, Omega-6 fatty acids
Medications: Corticosteroids, Antibiotics, Antacids, Xenobiotics
Infections: Such as H-Pylori, Yeast or Bacterial Overgrowth, Viral or Parasite Infection
Stress: Increased Cortisol, Increased Catecholamines
Hormonal: Thyroid, Progesterone, Estradiol, Testosterone
Neurological: Brain Trauma, Stroke, Neuro-degeneration
Metabolic: Glycosylated End Products (inflammatory end products of sugar metabolism), Intestinal Inflammation, Autoimmune
The truth is; FOOD MATTERS, EXERCISE MATTERS. That’s right, good diet and exercise is not just something your radical neighbor does. It’s what everyone should be engaged in. Hyper-permeability of the gut, regardless of whether you can feel it or not is often a significant cause of an extremely long and ever growing list of conditions. The inflammatory cascade that takes place by any inflammatory trigger (diet, medications, infections, stress, hormonal, neurological, or metabolic) can break down the intestinal permeability and allows for the leaky gut mechanism to initiate.
Previous research has shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people because of their diets. Lean people also tend to have higher amounts of various healthy or beneficial bacteria compared to those who carry a lot of excess weight, who tend to have greater colonization of pathogenic bacteria.
For instance, the human adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) -- a cause of respiratory infections and pinkeye – might play a role in promoting obesity by transforming adult stem cells into fat cells that are capable of storing additional fat.
Researchers have also discovered that certain gut bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and E. coli, trigger fat cells to produce inflammatory cytokines. Researchers have proposed that this interaction can provoke the development of diabetes, which is a well-known “side effect” of obesity.
A related news item further highlights the role of inflammation in the development of chronic disease. According to Medical News Today, it has been long stated that it's generally a wise choice to "reseed" your body with good bacteria, ideally by regularly eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods such as:
Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink)
Fermented milk, such as kefir
Natto (fermented soy)
One of the reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial is because they contain lactic acid producing bacteria, which has been shown to be particularly beneficial for weight loss, as well as a wide variety of other beneficial bacteria. Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximize the variety of bacteria you’re getting. If for whatever reason you decide not to eat fermented foods, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is definitely recommended.
Keep in mind that eating fermented foods may not be enough if the rest of your diet is really poor. Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are vulnerable to your overall lifestyle. If you eat a lot of processed foods for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast. Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to the following factors—all of which should ideally be avoided as much as possible in order to optimize your gut flora:
Antibiotics, including antibiotic-traces found in meats from factory farmed meats and animal products
Agricultural chemicals, especially glyphosate
As you can see, the common denominator linking a wide variety of common health problems—from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and stroke—is chronic inflammation. Clearly, the key to reducing chronic inflammation in your body starts with your lifestyle.
Diet is said to account for about 70 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthful lifestyle, and keeping inflammation in check is a major part of these benefits, the rest comes from exercise which actually produces myokines, a factor that trumps cytokine production and thus inflammation. It's important to realize that dietary components can either trigger or prevent inflammation from taking root in your body.
For example, whereas trans fats and sugar, particularly fructose, will increase inflammation, eating healthy fats such as animal-based omega-3 fats found in krill oil, or the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) will help to reduce them. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology two years ago again confirmed that dietary supplementation with krill oil effectively reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. To reduce or prevent inflammation in your body, you’ll want to AVOID the following dietary culprits:
Sugar/fructose and grains (If your fasting insulin level is not lower than three, consider eliminating grains and sugars until you optimize your insulin level, as insulin resistance this is a primary driver of chronic inflammation)
Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs)
Foods cooked at high temperatures (fried)
Trans fats and most vegetable oils
Replacing processed foods with whole, ideally organic, foods will automatically address most of these factors, especially if you eat a large portion of your food raw. Additionally, there are seven anti-inflammatory foods that should be in you daily diet. These are:
Animal based omega 3 fats: Animal-based omega-3 fats—found in fatty fish like Wild Alaska Salmon and fish- or krill oil—help fight inflammation throughout your body. It’s particularly important for brain health.
Leafy Greens: Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C—all of which help protect against cellular damage. Ideally, opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw. Juicing is an excellent way to get more greens into your diet if you have trouble eating veggies.
Blueberries: Blueberries rate very high in antioxidant capacity compared to other fruits and vegetables. They are also lower in sugar than many other fruits.
Tea: Matcha tea is the most nutrient-rich green tea and comes in the form of a stone-ground unfermented powder. The best Matcha comes from Japan and has up to 17 times the antioxidants of wild blueberries, and seven times more than dark chocolate. Tulsi is another tea loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other micronutrients that support immune function and heart health.
Fermented vegetables and traditionally cultured foods: Optimizing your gut flora is important for a well-functioning immune system, and helps ward off chronic inflammation. Fermented foods such as kefir, natto, kimchee, miso, tempeh, pickles, sauerkraut, olives, and other fermented vegetables, will help ‘reseed’ your gut with beneficial bacteria. Fermented foods can also help your body rid itself of harmful toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides that promote inflammation
Shiitake mushrooms: contain strong compounds with the natural ability to discourage inflammation, such as Ergothioneine, which inhibits oxidative stress. They also contain a number of unique nutrients that many do not get enough of in their diet. One is copper, which is one of the few metallic elements accompanied by amino and fatty acids that are essential to human health. Since your body can't synthesize copper, your diet must supply it regularly. Copper deficiency can be a factor in the development of coronary heart disease and stroke.
Garlic: Garlic has been treasured for its medicinal properties for centuries. It’s also one of the most heavily researched plant foods around. Over 170 studies show it benefitting more than 150 different conditions. Garlic exerts its benefits on multiple levels, offering anti-bacterial anti-viral, anti-fungal, and antioxidant properties. It's thought that much of garlic's therapeutic effect comes from its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. Research has revealed that as allicin digests in your body it produces sulfenic acid, a compound that reacts faster with dangerous free radicals than any other known compound.
So there you have it. Your food IS your medicine and exercise helps to keep your body at optimal levels so that the food you eat is properly utilized. It all begins with you, your lifestyle and the food you eat. You cannot become healthy by eating unhealthy food, nor can you gain optimal health without exercise.