Although inflammation has long been linked to immune related conditions like asthma, arthritis and Crohn’s disease, research is now suggesting that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, cancer, heart disease, diabetes may all be related to persistent inflammation in the body.
When we take a closer look at any of these common illnesses, it’s clear that early intervention and long-term lifestyle changes are needed. What might not be as obvious is the common thread that ties them all together: inflammation may be at the core of most diseases.
What inflammation really is:
When inflammation occurs under normal, healthy circumstances, we readily understand its purpose and we appreciate it as a necessary mechanism for survival. For example, if we catch the latest flu bug or cut our skin while gardening, a healthy immune system immediately senses the danger and goes into combat mode to fight off any virus or bacteria. The physical effects start to appear immediately as the body inflames the damaged area with a swarm of white blood cells. These classic signs of inflammation – such as swelling, redness, and warmth all indicate that the body is doing what it should: sending white blood cells, immune cell-stimulating growth factors, and nutrients to the damaged areas. However, when white blood cells and powerful proteins called cytokines (designed to kill viruses) continue to proliferate over the course of weeks or months, long after the infection has passed, problems can occur.
This longer-term version of inflammation, often called chronic inflammation—wreaks havoc on a number of body functions. Since cytokines travel freely through the bloodstream, they can easily damage tissue, encourage plaque buildup in the arteries or even instigate the growth of cancerous tumors. A specific type of chronic inflammation, over-activity of microglia (immune cells in the brain) is what researchers believe may be the true source of depression and pain.
In terms of cardiovascular disease, inflammation is a deadly enemy. When inflammatory cytokines are released into the blood or tissues for extended periods they result in irritation and wearing down of cartilage and tissues. When the epithelial lining of blood vessels are constantly exposed to circulating cytokines, small tears in the vessels can occur. Over time, the body will attempt to repair the tears by layering cholesterol over the damaged areas, until eventually the vessel becomes thickened and potentially blocked.
As integrative health expert Dr. Isaac Eliaz puts it, “this process creates a type of heat and friction on a physiological level, similar to rubbing fabric together repeatedly – eventually it begins to degrade. In the body, however, the process of degradation can be viewed as changes in normal cellular function and abnormalities in the healing process. Even further, inflammation can affect internal organs and has been linked to mental and emotional imbalances, digestive disorders, skin problems, musculoskeletal conditions, and more.”
What Causes Inflammation?
As we mentioned above, in a healthy body, inflammation is the normal and effective immune response that facilitates healing. Chronic inflammation occurs when an overactive immune system floods the body with defense cells and hormones that damage tissues because they are no longer needed to fight off an injury or infection.
Unfortunately, some of our most challenging habits to break – a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, lack of sleep, smoking, and alcohol abuse are also some of the biggest contributors to harmful inflammation. These modern lifestyle tendencies can cause the body to launch into a prolonged immune response in an attempt to cope with these constant demands. Once the cycle begins, the inflammatory response will stay as long as the irritation does. Another major contributor that is hard to avoid is stress. Considering each of these factors, coupled with high stress levels and dietary or environmental toxins that build up in the body, it’s not hard to see how a person’s immune system can end up in constant overdrive.
Thankfully, there are a number of simple steps we can all take to keep chronic inflammation at bay. And the good news is, for once, you can even ease your pain with food! Since all foods can be categorized as naturally pro-inflammatory, neutral or anti-inflammatory, the combination of foods you feed your body each day can have a tremendous impact on the way your immune system functions.
To reduce inflammation, each meal should include a balanced portion of:
- low glycemic index vegetables
- high quality protein – grass fed beef, free range chickens, wild caught fish (in moderation, due to the risk of mercury contamination in fish)
- healthy fats – especially first cold pressed extra virgin olive oil and unrefined organic coconut oil, real butter (organic if possible)
- filtered water
Foods that promote inflammation are:
- “Vegetable” (safflower, grapeseed, Crisco, canola), Corn and Soybean oils with high ratios of Omega 6 fatty acids
- Pasteurized dairy products
- Refined carbohydrates
- Conventional meat
- Trans fats – found in almost all processed snack foods
Did You Know?
Back in 1911, Proctor & Gamble introduce Crisco, the first shortening made from hydrogenated vegetable fat. At the turn of the last century, the meat industry controlled the prices of lard and tallow which were necessary to make soap and candles. In order to stay competitive, Proctor and Gamble obtained the patent for hydrogenating vegetable fat from an English company that was attempting to make candles out of artificially hardened fat. With the help of a chemist, P & G fine-tuned the process of hydrogenation – transforming readily available liquid cottonseed oil into a thick, solid fat that looked very much like lard. And so Crisco was born (a short form for “crystallized cottonseed oil”) which was marketed as a cheaper alternative to lard. Over the years, Proctor & Gamble advertised their hydrogenated oil product as a healthier, more digestible, cleaner product than lard, with a lower price tag and a longer shelf life.
In the decades that followed, medical experts and nutritionists jumped on the bandwagon and began warning the general public that traditional sources of saturated fat like butter and lard were unhealthy and bad for your heart. This misinformation led to the development and promotion of margarine and vegetable oils, which were also marketed like Crisco, to be healthy, affordable and nutritious.
However, in recent years, study after study has proven that these genetically restructured vegetable oils can be extremely harmful to the body.
“These oils are highly processed and most commonly genetically modified, unless specifically labeled organic. Many of them, such as cottonseed and soy, carry loads of chemicals. The high heat processing destroys any nutrients that may naturally occur like vitamin E and omega-3 essential fatty acids. To make margarine the spreadable consistency people seem to dig, the oil must be hardened. This is done by hydrogenation or bubbling hydrogen through the vegetable oil at high temperature, a process that enables it to be solid at room temperature. This is the same property that makes it perfect as frosting on cakes. When the carbon bonds are saturated with hydrogen, the product is called a saturated fat or a hydrogenated oil. We’ve all seen the declaration on margarine tubs that it contains “polyunsaturated oil.” However, the processing or hydrogenation removes the flexibility, or natural liquid state, of these oils; hence, it stays solid at room temperature and loses any polyunsaturated fat benefits. Because of this solidifying process, margarine usually contains some trans-fatty acids, no matter what the label says. These are bad kinds of fatty acids that can promote inflammation in the body”.
From the book: The UnDiet: The Shiny, Happy, Vibrant, Gluten-Free, Plant-Based Way to Look Better, Feel Better, and Live Better Each and Every Day By Megan Telpner
How to Put out the Fire Caused by Chronic Inflammation:
The good news is that there are a variety of treatment options for inflammatory diseases. At CHIC we’ll create a treatment plan that is suitable for your age, overall health, medical history, and the severity of your symptoms. Of course, we will also provide practical guidance regarding stress relief measures, diet, good hydration and proper supplementation – which are essential ways to combat inflammation.
Are you wondering what your inflammatory levels may look like? Using a simple blood test, we can monitor our patient’s unique laboratory markers for measuring inflammation. By regularly checking your CRP, homocysteine, white blood cells and antibodies we can ensure that your immune system is working as it should be. If your body is out of balance, human identical hormone replacement therapy to maintain healthy levels of Testosterone, DHEA, Estradiol, Progesterone and thyroid coupled with supplements is one of the safest, most effective way to treat chronic inflammation. If you are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Estradiol in particular has been shown to prevent plaque buildup and rupture.
When your hormones levels and inflammatory markers are at optimum levels, you will notice immediate improvement in your physical health – along with a reduction in unneeded body fat and a decrease in your most troubling symptoms. Get in touch with us today if you’d like to chat more about inflammation or hormone health. If you’re eager to learn more about how your diet can help you cope with inflammation, please stay tuned for a second article in this series, where we’ll delve deeper into Omega 3 and 6 balance and more!