- 1 What is Inflammation?
- 2 Acute versus Chronic Inflammation
- 3 The Effects of Chronic Inflammation
- 4 Leaky Gut
- 5 The Damaging Cycle of Inflammation and Insulin Resistance
- 6 Leptin Resistance is a Key Factor
- 7 What Causes Inflammation?
- 8 Food can Trigger Inflammation, too
- 9 Anti-Inflammatory Food Choices
- 10 Other Anti-inflammatory Lifestyle Habits
- 11 Small Steps Lead to Big Results Over Time
Inflammation is a common underlying factor in weight gain and many degenerative diseases based on recent studies. According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 20% of Americans are affected by chronic inflammation and that number is growing. It is implicated in most chronic illnesses including stroke, COPD, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, asthma, auto-immune diseases, liver and kidney disease, all manner of allergies, IBD, and obesity.
The good news is that you can do a lot to reduce your level of inflammation by simply making changes to your diet and lifestyle.
What is Inflammation?
When your body detects a threat or experiences a trauma, it takes steps to defend itself and repair damaged tissue. Inflammation is the first line of defense against injury, infection, and foreign invaders such as toxins, viruses, mold, and bacteria.
If you smash or cut your finger, your immune system kicks into action. Blood vessels dilate and become more permeable, blood flow increases, and white blood cells are dispatched to fight against invaders. This triggers a series of events that lead to swelling, redness, heat, and pain. Acute inflammation is relatively temporary and it facilitates healing. But what is meant as a short-term healing process can quickly escalate into too much of a good thing.
Acute versus Chronic Inflammation
Chronic stress and inflammatory diseases mimic an invader. They create an environment that triggers inflammation that can last months to years to decades.
If the inflammatory response goes on too long, it can be very damaging. One difference between acute and chronic inflammation is that the short-lived neutrophils (a type of white blood cell) are replaced by longer-lived macrophages and lymphocytes. These are the big guns of the immune system. They produce substances like cytokines, growth factors, and enzymes that stimulate tissue damage. Ultimately, these can harm your DNA and lead to organ and tissue scarring.
The Effects of Chronic Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can promote the build-up of plaque in our arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and dementia. It can increase pain from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, tension headaches, and general muscular pain. It can affect the small tubules in your lungs and kidneys and create shortness of breath, high blood pressure, and even kidney failure.
Inflamed cells in the lining of your stomach and intestines may become scarred and stiffen. This creates gaps between the cells that allow toxins to leak into your bloodstream. As a consequence, inflammation can develop throughout your entire body. Leaky Gut can facilitate a number of digestive issues including Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD), vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and gastric reflux. It also contributes to fatigue, headaches, skin issues, weight gain, and frequent infections.
The Damaging Cycle of Inflammation and Insulin Resistance
When you are overweight, you are more likely to have chronic inflammation. Conversely, chronic inflammation promotes obesity and makes achieving and maintaining optimal weight even more difficult.
In particular, extra weight around your middle sets up a cascade of inflammatory events that lead to insulin resistance and constant hunger.
One of the substances released in the inflammatory pathway is cytokines. Cytokines increase inflammation and also increase insulin resistance. That leads to higher blood sugar. When blood sugars are high, the pancreas releases more insulin which triggers the body to store fat, especially in the abdominal area.
With that spare tire comes greater inflammation, likely triggered by metabolic hormones. Fatty liver is a common outcome of abdominal fat, which leads to even more insulin resistance and weight gain.
Leptin Resistance is a Key Factor
Leptin is the hormone that tells your brain when you are hungry or not hungry. It helps the brain control how fast or slow your metabolism runs. When you are carrying excess weight and/or have inflammation, Leptin levels are low. This increases your appetite and decreases your metabolism. In other words, your body thinks you are starving. Leptin resistance is now thought to be one of the major factors in obesity.
What Causes Inflammation?
Anything that causes stress or trauma can trigger an inflammatory response. This includes toxic exposure, nutritional deficiencies, bacteria, viruses, lack of enough sleep, smoking, sitting for long periods, low levels of testosterone or estrogen, chronic stress, and physical or emotional trauma.
Food can Trigger Inflammation, too
Certain foods can also trigger inflammation. A major culprit is a diet rich in saturated fat, trans fat, and refined sugar. Diets low in anti-oxidant rich fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains can create nutrient deficiencies.
Fortunately, the effects of chronic inflammation do not have to be permanent. They can be reversed. You can make simple healthy lifestyle choices to reduce inflammation, no matter where you are in your health journey today.
Anti-Inflammatory Food Choices
- If you are overweight, weight loss is the most effective way to get rid of inflammation. Studies show that even a small amount of weight loss is beneficial.
- Eat a diet low in simple sugars and refined carbohydrates. These create acid in your body and elevate your blood sugars. Inflammation flourishes with sugar.
- Eat the right kinds of fat. Reduce total fat and saturated fat. Get rid of trans fat from your diet, altogether. The best fats are those that can be squeezed from the plant, like olives, nuts, avocado. Avoid refined oils that are highly processed with heat and pressure such as corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and canola oils. Avoid any processed foods that contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. NOTE: If you are eating less than 50 grams of carbohydrate per day or if you are following a strict Keto diet (20-50 grams/day), you burn fat. You are likely in ketosis and fat should make up 70% or more of your calories. That said, you should still be focusing on healthier fats, rather than saturated and trans fats.
- Eat more colorful fruits and vegetables. These provide antioxidants that reduce reactive oxygen particles that contribute to inflammation. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Eat enough fiber. Most people need 25-35 grams of fiber in your diet every day. Whole grains, seeds, nuts, vegetables, and fruits are generally good sources of fiber.
- Drink tea. Studies have shown that the phenols in green and black tea are anti-inflammatory.
- Spice up your food. Spices such as turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and many others provide nutrients that reduce inflammation.
- Get enough vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies in vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, E and minerals Magnesium, Zinc, Selenium, and Calcium have been found to be pro-inflammatory.
- Get plenty of repairing proteins from Omega-3 rich cold-water fish, nuts, seeds, poultry, and eggs. Eat fish twice a week. Limit your intake of red meat to once a week.
Other Anti-inflammatory Lifestyle Habits
Other health enhancing practices that can reduce inflammation include:
- Intermittent Fasting – There are many ways to practice IF. A common practice is to eat for 8 hours of waking time and not eat for the other 16 hours. Allowing your body at least 14 hours between the last meal of today and the first meal tomorrow facilitates the replacement of old, tired cells with new, healthy cells. This works as a reset for your metabolism.
- As much as possible, go organic. Reduce your exposure to toxins in food, cleaning products, and skincare. Minimize the number of exogenous antibiotics you consume, often found in conventional meat and dairy products.
- Eliminate NSAIDS from your medicine cabinet. NSAIDS attack the lining of the GI tract and damage your gut flora. Your microbiome (all the bacteria that live in and on your body) is an essential component of your immune system.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise reduces stress, strengthens your immune system, helps with weight management, and reduces inflammation independently of weight loss.
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. This allows your cells to detox, repair, and regenerate.
- Practice meditation, yoga, or deep breathing to reduce stress.
- Take a good whole food-based multivitamin to ensure that you are getting optimal nutrition. There are a lot of options, but it’s challenging to find one that is pure. A lot of vitamins have synthetic ingredients which reduce absorption. You want a vitamin that provides clean nutrition and contains the nutrients listed on the label. This is the one I take.
Small Steps Lead to Big Results Over Time
No matter where you are now if you make a commitment to a few small, yet significant, changes in your diet and lifestyle, you will begin to feel better. You don’t have to do everything on the list all at once. Just begin with 2 or 3 changes that you can sustain. As a result, you will want to do more. As you create healthy habits, you will greatly reduce the inflammation in your body.