Inflammation: A double edged sword

Inflammation is a normal response to an external attack. It is a survival mechanism and means that, when we cut ourselves, we heal. When we fall ill with a virus, we recover. This is ACUTE inflammation. In an ideal world, when we've recovered, it goes away. 

Sadly, modern-day living exposes us to so many of these triggers that inflammation can become a daily and constant occurrence where it turns into CHRONIC inflammation.  

What this means is that cytokines (the messengers our body sends out to recruit help) NEVER goes away. These cytokines cause changes in our physiology and lend to chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, to Alzheimer's.

 What are some of these triggers of chronic inflammation?

 Food - foods we may be allergic to can trigger an immune response and thus inflammation; toxins in our food like pesticides, additives, chemicals can also sound the alarm. Refined sugar, processed foods containing inflammatory oils like sunflower oil rich in omega 6 can contribute to inflammation. 

Environmental toxins - this is why I am always talking about reducing our body toxin burden. We don't have to be 100% toxin-free, but we just need to give our bodies some breathing space to eliminate what we encounter, otherwise, these toxins can confuse our immune system and ramp up inflammation.  80/20 rule is what I try to play by. 

 Gut dysbiosis and endotoxemia - are related to food AND toxins because both can contribute to gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in the friendly bacteria in our gut). We know that when we have an excess of unhealthy bacteria, this can lead to inflammation and leaky gut. Endotoxemia is just a fancy word for what happens when we have leaky gut and dysbiosis - bugs that should stay inside the lumen leaks into our bloodstream. Some of these bacteria, particularly the gram-negative ones with a lipopolysaccharide coating, are potent triggers of the immune system. This then leads to a constant background level of inflammation until you correct gut dysbiosis and leaky gut. 

 Sleep deprivation - 40% of people in the US get less than seven hours of sleep per night, which is the minimum requirement to fully function. Sleep deprivation can induce an inflammatory response in our body or make existing inflammation even worse

 Stress - Stress, whether it be physiological (e.g. from an infection), or emotional, alters our HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) to get us into the fight or flight mode. This is helpful in getting us out of dangerous situations. However, chronic stress can impact our hormones, gut health and lead to cytokine changes that cause inflammation

 

It's not all doom or gloom though - the good news is that lifestyle changes CAN make a big difference and reduce inflammation. 

 

Here are a few key lifestyle changes...

 

1. Remove inflammatory foods from your diet

These include refined carbohydrates and sugars (e.g. table sugar, white flours, baked goods/pastries), red or factory-farmed meat, vegetable oils, trans fats, and processed food, which tend to contain additives, inflammatory oils and sugar. 

If you suspect you may have food allergies/sensitivities - work with your doctor to identify these. 

2. Add-in anti-inflammatory foods to your daily meals

The key to an anti-inflammatory diet is to eat a diverse whole food rich in plants: high fiber, unprocessed, and unrefined. Foods with anti-inflammatory properties include vegetables packed with phytonutrients (nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in plants) - aim to get the rainbow of colors on your plate.

Since it's fall, who's excited for pomegranates? Studies have shown that the ellagitannin in pomegranates can increase Akkermansia which is correlated with lower inflammation scores. I don't want to hyper-focus on one specific food though... I truly believe in balance and diversity - fruits especially berries/grapes, herbs and spices like turmeric, ginger, and of course, tea, with green tea being the superstar. (I will be writing more about flavonoids in particular in a separate blog post - be sure to subscribe to my newsletter so you don't miss it).  

Getting enough fiber and a variety of plants is key to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. 

3. Get adequate and quality sleep

Aim to get over 7 hours of sleep if you can. It's not just about the hours spent in bed though... the quality matters - melatonin, the sleep hormone, is a powerful antioxidant, and things like screen time before bed can really impair its secretion. So either avoid using blue-light emitting devices 1.5 hours before bed or use quality blue light blockers. I like Blublox  and platefulhealth15 gets you 15% off, and for more sleep tips, click here 

4. Reduce stress

Who isn't stressed in 2020? Although we cannot control unfolding events, we CAN control our reactions, which will augment our stress response - I have a whole newsletter coming next week with tips on this. 

5. Exercise regularly

Try to incorporate movement into your daily routine. Exercise is a simple yet powerful tool to reduce inflammation. Regular movement and exercise can protect against chronic inflammation and related diseases. Even if it is just 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day, you will still reduce inflammation in your body and lower your risk of many chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  

6. Reduce toxin exposures - this is particularly important in the context of indoor air quality now with the colder weather. Our windows will be shut, and festive traditions like candle burning may increase VOCs in our indoor air, directly impacting lung health. Some of these particular matters (PM2.5) may travel via our bloodstream to affect other organs like the heart, too. Avoid traditional paraffin-based candles scented with synthetic fragrance (blog post on better candle choices coming soon). Be sure to ventilate your house, damp dust regularly, and if you can afford to, invest in an air filter. There are many options on the market, I personally use the Air Doctor, but other good brands include Austin and IQ air. You can get $300OFF the air doctor via this link

 

Stay well and keep that inflammation at bay! 

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