Updated: Oct 31, 2019
Have you heard someone talk about inflammation lately?
It has become a main topic in the world of health and wellness. You may have seen an ad pop up on the internet of ‘3 Things You Must Stop Right Now That Cause Inflammation!’ or you may have heard it mentioned by a celebrity endorsing a new diet regimen.
There is much talk about the topic of inflammation, but not as much education behind it. My goal as a holistic health coach is to educate and empower you to live a high-quality life by taking control of your health. For the next few weeks, in this inflammation series, I want to empower you by sharing the knowledge and tools you will need to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, as well as helping you understand why this is important for you and your loved ones.
This first article will aid you in understanding how our bodies are designed to use inflammation as a means of protecting and healing us. You will also learn how inflammation unabated can cause negative effects, including chronic and painful diseases.
Inflammation: Necessary and Helpful
The truth of inflammation is that at its core it is a necessary and vital part of our bodies immune response. When our bodies are faced with a problem, inflammation can be the answer needed to keep us healthy.
The following is an example of how inflammation can help our bodies in a positive way.
Imagine you are stung by a bee.
Once you are stung, the site of the sting will become red, painful, and swollen. This is the initial reaction with any kind of sting, bite, or wound to the body. After the pain subsides, the swelling will recede and the site of irritation will eventually heal.
This process of pain, redness, and swelling is inflammation in action. When your body has damaged cells (site of bee sting) and begins to perceive pain, it will send out a signal to release a few different chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins. These chemicals allow the blood vessels in the affected area to become leaky so that fluids can enter, which results in the swelling effect. Part of the fluid that rushes into the area, is blood plasma. This plasma prevents more harmful substances to enter the area. At the same time, those cytokines began to use the powers of immunity to eradicate the area from infection. At the end of this process, the cytokines will release one last message to the body to signal that the process is done, and the inflammatory response can end.
First and foremost, I like to point out that your body is so amazing. The fact that it works so hard to protect us, is nothing short of wondrous. It has a whole slew of ‘conversation’ to signal what action needs to be taken. And this is not the only process in the body that requires this constant communication & action protocol. We have hundreds, if not thousands of processes just like these happening in our bodies every single day. That’s pretty impressive.
Second, it is obvious from the illustration above that the inflammatory response is necessary and pertinent to our survival. A bee sting is a very mild example of a wound, but imagine your arm being wounded with a cut that makes it all the way to the bone. Without the inflammatory response, you would most likely die from infection very quickly, or from excessive blood flow.
When Things Get Out Of Control
If the inflammatory response is necessary and positive, how can it be negative for us?
The simple answer is that too much inflammation wreaks havoc on the body.
Remember how those cytokines signal to the body to stop the process of inflammation, so the body can return to homeostasis?
The problem begins when the body cannot turn off the inflammatory responses.
So, how does this happen? What is it that triggers the inflammatory response, and then keeps assaulting the body so that it cannot stop the inflammation?
We will talk about a few different ways, but I want to start with one of the most important factors involved; what you eat.
In our modern society we are eating diets laden with heavy refined carbohydrates, sugar, and chemical substances that are termed as ‘processed’ foods. The average person is eating the SAD diet, or Standard American Diet. Let me paint a picture of what this looks like for most of us eating the SAD way. Breakfast usually begins with a sugar and cream filled coffee with a pastry, bagel, or other sweet treat. At lunch it may be a microwaveable meal or some fast food. And then for dinner a meal that includes a conventional meat source, high starch item such as potatoes, and possibly some canned vegetables. Throw in some chips and candy bars for snacks, as well as soda and energy drinks throughout the day, and we have an accurate depiction of a very SAD diet indeed.
In reality, we should be eating a diet rich in fresh whole foods such as vegetables, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, meat without antibiotics or hormones added, and legumes.
The foods most often consumed within the SAD diet, are heavily inflammatory to our bodies. There are many different ways in which these foods contribute to inflammatory responses in the body, but it comes down to the simple fact that these foods were not designed to fuel and nourish our bodies appropriately. Ingredients in these foods or processes by which these foods are cooked trigger inflammatory reactions in the body.
Just like the body will recognize the venom of a bee sting into the body as a foreign irritant, it will also recognize these foods as foreign irritants that do not belong in the body. In which case, the inflammatory response continues to be sparked each time you eat these trigger foods.
So which foods are triggers in the body?
Later in this series you will receive a video outlining specific foods to avoid that promote inflammation in the body, so that you are better prepared when making food choices.
How Did We Get So Fat?
Obesity is far too common, serious, and costly for our economy.
There are 160 million Americans currently overweight or obese. This means 1 in 3 people are overweight, and obesity affects 1 in 5 children.
The annual cost of healthcare related to obesity is 150 billion, and people who were obese had average medical costs of $1,429 more than the average person.
Obesity puts us at risk for many health issues including hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and mental illness. It also includes an overall increased risk of death from all causes.
The facts above are only a peek into the problems that exist when it comes to obesity. It is obvious to most that the issue of obesity is large and problematic, but what is not as obvious is the preventative measures to be taken when tackling the issue. Part of this preventative approach to obesity, is living an anti-inflammatory lifestyle.
Obesity and inflammation have a strong link, and one that cannot be ignored when we speak about the obesity epidemic. But you will see the link is a slippery slope because although inflammation causes obesity, obesity also drives more inflammation. It becomes a big, fat mess.
First, let’s get back to food.
We are living in a society that is overfed and undernourished.
This causes us to overeat, leading us to weight gain.
Let me give you an example.
Let’s say you have two options for dinner.
The first is a fast food meal that consists of a feedlot burger with a side of fries.
Extra-large, because you’re really hungry.
The second option is an organic chicken breast with steamed cauliflower and half an avocado.
Which meal would you guess will leave you feeling hungry again after about 2 hours of eating?
If you guessed the first option, you are correct.
While the fast food meal will leave you feeling hungry two hours later (even though it was extra-large), the healthier chicken dinner will keep you satisfied for much longer.
This is because the fast food meal was filled with empty calories, and devoid of nutrients.
The fast food satisfied a hunger craving, stuffing you full of simple carbohydrates and cheap protein, but because it was void of nutrients such as monounsaturated fats and fiber it was not able to sustain the body for longer than a few hours.
This process leads us to overeating. You started with an extra-large meal, and because you’re still hungry you will go looking for more food to fill you up later, usually in the same category of nutrient deficiency. Not only are these foods leaving you feeling hungry, you are consuming excessive amounts of food and in turn calories that contributes to fat storage in the body.
The quality of food you eat matters when it comes to your hunger cues.
Feeding ourselves with real food will keep us fuller longer, and keep weight gain at bay.
So how does being overweight relate to inflammation?
Research has shown that elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines predict future weight gain.
Our fat cells are the first to be affected when we begin to develop obesity. Once our fat mass starts to expand, inflammation increases. These fat cells begin to expand beyond their capacity while trying to do their job storing our extra calories as fat. When this happens, they start to add on to the inflammation already present in our bodies. These cells are no longer only storing fat, they are little markers of inflammation, sending out signals to active immune system inflammatory response.
Quite simply, our fat cells are specifically sending out signals to the immune system to turn on the inflammatory process.
Another major problem that arises within the obesity inflammation parallel is the onset of diabetes. Today, the term 'diabesity' has become incredibly popular among health professionals as the link between obesity and diabetes is found to be closely intertwined.
This diabetes issue arises because the fat tissue mentioned above begins to cause insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is the hallmark of diabetes. The hormone insulin helps control the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood. With insulin resistance, the body's cells don't respond normally to insulin. Glucose can't enter the cells as easily, so it builds up in the blood. This can eventually lead to diabetes.
During studies of weight gain and inflammation researchers studied things such as amounts of weight gain and C-reactive protein or CRP.
CRP is a chemical that shows up in the body when the immune system is activated, which triggers the inflammatory response.
CRP has also been shown as one of the factors that contributes to insulin resistance.
Studies show that as weight gain increases in the body, so does CRP, and in totality we have higher levels of inflammation. More weight means more inflammation.
This shows us that losing weight should help us to regain control of inflammation AND more weight gain in the future. Taking care to eat the right foods, exercise, and stay away from foods that are making you overfed and undernourished will help you to achieve weight loss.
Inflammation and Chronic Disease
Today, almost every modern disease can be traced back to inflammation in the body.
We are seeing an influx of chronic diseases in the U.S. and over the past decade the research has been consistently pointing to inflammation as the root.
In fact, everything from autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and cancer to obesity, diabetes, and dementia — is caused by inflammation!
The ways in which inflammation causes each disease can vary, but often has to do with inflammatory cells.
For example, Harvard Medical School states that "Nearly 150 years ago, the pathologist Rudolf Virchow termed cancer a "wound that doesn't heal." He noticed that tissue from malignant tumors contained high concentrations of inflammatory cells and hypothesized that the tumors often formed at sites of chronic inflammation. Recent evidence suggests that he was right. About 15% of cancers — including cancers of the liver, cervix, and stomach — are closely linked to infectious diseases. Cigarette smoke and asbestos contain inflammatory substances. Exposure to cigarette smoke is a notorious cause of lung cancer, and exposure to asbestos is linked to mesothelioma, a cancer of the tissue lining the chest. "
These chronic diseases affect 125 million Americans.
That means in the average family of three, at least one person has a chronic disease caused by inflammation.
Stat News writes "In a new Milken Institute report, U.S. health care costs for chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease totaled $1.1 trillion in 2016. When lost economic productivity is included, the total economic impact was $3.7 trillion. This is equivalent to nearly 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product."
Chronic disease is costing us our lives, our loved ones, our mobility, our physical and mental health, and it is costing us financially as a country.
A health-care model that focuses on preventing disease, rather than focusing on how to meet the high costs of treating disease, is necessary and crucial at this time.
As we continue this series, you will read more about factors outside of food that contribute to inflammation, as well as how inflammation is contributing to our brain health.
It may seem as if the doom and despair of inflammation in the body and the effect it has on us and our economy is overwhelming, but take heart because there will still be much more to learn about the positive effects of prevention thereafter!
Knowledge is power, and once you know how to combat inflammation in the body, you will be able to live confidently in your good health and help others do the same.
I hope you will continue to join us on this journey and better your health.
Health + Happiness,
Holistic Health Coach