Inflammation: the gateway to disease
Inflammation is a buzzword in the health industry. Why? Because inflammation is connected to nearly every ache, pain, and chronic disease.
We know that poor diet, lack of exercise, too much stress, and lack of sleep all increase inflammation. But why? What is inflammation? Why is it bad for us? And how do we get rid of it?
Inflammation is one of our body’s first lines of defense against infection or injury. It is our body’s attempt to protect itself against harmful stimuli like damaged cells, irritants, antigens, and pathogens. Inflammation directly results from an increased production of immune cells working together to heal the body. Without inflammation, the body cannot heal itself. But when inflammation becomes excessive it can cause a great deal of damage.
Today, the majority of our health issues are directly related to inflammation. Unfortunately, the standard American diet (SAD) is a huge part of the problem. The SAD (pun intended) is loaded with inflammatory foods. Foods that trigger an inflammatory response include gluten, processed sugars, trans fats, artificial sweeteners and flavors, and dairy. These foods disrupt the immune system’s ability to work properly, leading to significantly increased inflammation, which is the gateway to all disease.
If you’ve ever struggled with a health condition ending in “itis” (meaning inflammation) like arthritis, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, appendicitis, or colitis, this article is for you. Making a few lifestyle changes to decrease inflammation helps prevent and reverse most diseases and also slows the aging process.
Causes of inflammation:
1. Omega-6 overload.
Inflammation has been linked to an imbalance in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (read more here). The body does not produce these fats, the only source is foods containing them. Both omega-3 and omega-6 are critical to our overall health, but they must remain balanced. When omega-6 intake exceeds omega-3 intake, inflammatory markers go up.
Get this: the omega-6: omega-3 ratio is supposed to be 2:1. Today, that ratio is 20:1.
What does that tell us? The standard American diet (SAD) significantly increases inflammation.
Elevated omega-6 intake is directly associated with an increase in inflammatory diseases such as:
irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease
So, what foods are high in omega-6?:
Vegetable oils (soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil)
Most packaged foods (cookies, candies, cakes, pastries)
Highly processed foods
2. Consuming too many inflammatory foods.
Please, hear this: “What we eat can cool or fuel inflammation.”
Here’s a list of the most common inflammatory foods:
Gluten. Gluten-sensitivity is an autoimmune condition that creates inflammation throughout the body and affects all organ systems, including the brain, heart, joints, and digestive tract.
Dairy. According to renowned author Dr. Amy Meyers, “Dairy is one of the most inflammatory foods in our day modern diet. Our bodies like to maintain a neutral pH balance: not too much acidity, not too much alkalinity. Milk, like most animal products, is an acid-forming food, meaning whenever you consume dairy, your body must compensate for the increased acidity in order to restore a neutral pH balance.”
Processed meat. Conventional and processed meat is loaded with chemicals like MSG, nitrates, and preservatives.
Refined carbohydrates. Pancakes, baked goods, pizza, breads, juices, tortillas, and cereals are examples of refined carbohydrates.
3. Stress. Chronic stress increases inflammation. (More here).
4. Medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like Advil, Aleve, ibuprofen, aspirin, Excedrin, and Motrin are medications prescribed by most conventional doctors to treat/decrease inflammation. But, guess what? If you’re popping painkillers on a regular basis, they’re causing gut irritation, which significantly increases inflammation. (Study here). Yes, painkillers increase gut inflammation. Here’s a safer alternative to alleviate pain and inflammation.
5. Lack of exercise. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce inflammation. Get moving!
6. Poor blood sugar regulation. High blood sugar levels trigger inflammation. To regulate blood sugar, do not skip breakfast or any other meal, eat protein with every meal, and avoid eating foods that cause a drastic rise in blood sugar. Read more about how to regulate blood sugar here.
Factors that decrease inflammation:
1. Omega-3s. Optimizing your omega-6 to omega-3 ratio has been proven to decrease inflammation and risk of disease. Here is a list of foods high in omega-3:
Flax seed milk
Fish and fish oil
Spices; cloves, ginger, turmeric and rosemary
Wild Alaskan salmon
2. Anti-inflammatory foods. Here are some of my favorites:
3. Remove foods that cause inflammation, including:
· Gluten. This gluten-free movement is not just a fad or trend. Recent studies have proven otherwise. Gluten is one of the most inflammatory foods we eat. Get rid of it! Read more about how gluten may be making you sick here.
· Processed sugar. Sugar increases inflammation and has zero health benefits. Say goodbye to processed sugar for good!
· Pasteurized dairy. Dairy can lead to numerous health issues and quite often, dairy causes more harm than good. Studies contradict conventional wisdom that milk and dairy consumption make our bones strong. So please, don’t assume that dairy is the best or ONLY source of calcium and be aware that dairy is one of most inflammatory foods in our modern-day diet. Read more about The Dangers of Dairy. Here’s five non-dairy sources of calcium: broccoli, kale, spinach, collard greens, and almonds.
· Processed foods. Most foods that come in a bag, box, or package are loaded with trans fats, which are extremely inflammatory.
· Common cooking oils. Vegetable oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil contain omega-6s and increase inflammation.
4. Manage stress. Remember, stress comes in many forms and can be caused by emotional, physical, or chemical triggers. Here are a few helpful tips.
5. Regulate blood sugar. Don’t skip meals. Start your day with protein. Avoid carbs in the morning, while steadily increasing them throughout the day. But be careful, not all carbs are created equal! Learn more about blood sugar management here.
6. Move. Moderate exercise decreases inflammation. How? Our blood contains a type of protein molecule called “cytokine.” When you exercise, your adipose (fat) and muscle tissue release cytokines into your blood stream, which help lower inflammation. Read more here.
Make an effort to decrease inflammation! You’ll feel better and look a lot younger too!