27 Jul How to stop inflammation from robbing your health
Inflammation creeps around inside our bodies, like a cat burglar, quietly robbing you in the night. You may not realise it as you go about your daily life, but it sneaks from place to place, aggravating your cells and breaking things along the way. For many, we notice it in our guts first. Some of us get sore joints. For those unlucky souls – you notice it when you clutch your heart and go numb in your left arm when having a heart attack. Over time, the presence of inflammation in to body is going to have adverse effects. In the first part of this series, I discussed how inflammation has begun to run amuck in many bodies across the world. We now know and understand, that inflammation can break and enter at any time and under any circumstances – be it nutrition, too much or too little exercise, high stress levels, smoking, alcohol consumption, poor gut health and so on. And while it may seem like the most logical explanation to attribute inflammation in the body to a poor diet, I hope that we can all agree that diet and lifestyle are interconnected. With this knowledge under our belts, we hopefully understand that we can take control of our bodies, install a security system and make meaningful changes in our life that drastically impact our health in the long run.
I won’t deny that modern medicine is amazing and is combating so many diseases and conditions. We can live to the age of 95 with current advancements. Yet, for so many, we aren’t helping ourselves get to 95 on our own. Particularly in western countries, we spend most of our lives fueling our body with dirty petrol (high sugar and fake foods) and overheating our vehicles (working long hours, not getting enough sleep, taking no time to experience joy). We then later rely on the medications and surgeries to save us from the diseases we very well could have given to ourselves. I am only early into my health coaching journey, but I am a few years into self-study on healing the body. Regardless of how many modules I complete, books I read, podcasts I listen to and lectures I study – I see a common trend…Almost every scientist, doctor or forward thinker in nutrition discusses inflammation and how adjusting your diet and lifestyle to minimise inflammation almost always works for any number of conditions. Inflammation impacts cancer, obesity, depression and anxiety and Alzheimer’s (to name a few). While we may have spent years damaging our genome and DNA with junk food and lifestyle choices when we were younger (and up to now), it is not too late to heal. For those who can feel in their bodies that things aren’t right, small changes won’t cut it – it is the long-lasting changes that last a lifetime.
Fighting or preventing inflammation is something I recommend everyone adopt. If we want to stop all the break ins and robberies to our health, we need to arm ourselves against the deadly characteristics of inflammation. There are many changes we can make across the board to maximise security for our bodies and protect our assets. We only get one body, so we must do our best to protect it.
Across the literature, the main recommendations for reducing inflammation are:
Stop eating refined, processed or manufactured food
Somehow in the past two generations, we have gone from eating a more traditional diet focused on whole foods (meat, fresh fruit and vegetables, some dairy products and a small amount of whole grains) to eating food that isn’t really food! Often, mornings begin with starchy cereals and/or white bread toasts, for lunch – burgers, sandwiches, and for dinner – pastas, an over reliance of starchy vegetables, white flours or chips fried in nasty fats. Throughout the day we are snacking on high sugar foods and devouring desserts after dinner to satisfy our sweet tooth. We get oils out of the strangest foods (canola beans, soy beans, corn) and cook with it when we have perfectly stable choices to begin with (butter, olive oil, coconut oil). We eat things out of packets with ingredients that we can’t pronounce. Our foods are packed with chemicals and preservatives so they make their way into our body at regular points throughout the day. While this is a gross generalisation, what I am trying to highlight is that for many – inflammation isn’t breaking into your body through a side door. You are welcoming it in through the front entrance with a delusional smile on your face! Modern diets have somehow transformed “sometimes” foods into “all the time” food!
Reduce or eliminate the consumption of sugar and artificial sweeteners
Sugar added to your food, in your tea, in canned drinks and juices has absolutely ZERO nutritional benefits. If this is somehow sneaking its way into your diet at varying points of the day, you could be in big trouble. Sugar not only increases and spikes your blood glucose levels, it increases inflammation, feeds the nasty bugs in your microbiome (bacteria in your gut) and lowers your good cholesterol. It leads to obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Likewise, excessive “natural” sugars (think lots of high sugar fruits) has a similar effect on your blood sugar levels as eating the refined sugar. In The Clever Guts Diet, Dr Michael Mosley, describes them as “a wolf in a sheep’s clothing.” Your body recognises and sugar in the same way. Consider this when adding sugar alternatives (agave, honey, rice malt syrup) to your baking and recipes. Treat it like sugar – minimise it.
My tip: Stop snacking on “treats” during the day or after dinner, you are only treating yourself to health problems later down the track.
Artificial sweeteners (equal, splenda, anything containing the chemical aspartame and diet drinks) are also another group of foods to steer clear of. As much as you think that an artificially sweetened beverage or sweetener is better for you than the sugar version – I am sorry, you are very much mistaken. There is mounting research that drinking these leads to inflammation of the gut and increased risk of obesity, insulin resistance, heart disease, stroke and dementia. While low in calories, they are feeding the wrong gut microbiome and killing the good! Studies show that these products damage the balance of beneficial gut bacteria that you need these to protect you against infection, produce important vitamins and nutrients and even help regulate your immune system. Not only this, they are also one of the causes of gut dysbiosis, which is linked to a number of inflammatory problems. This may explain why those drinking diet drinks are scratching their heads wondering why they aren’t skinny or continue to feel like rubbish!
If I can make one solid recommendation today: STOP DRINKING YOUR CALORIES and cut out canned drinks and juices now. Opt for water. If you like something flavoured, infuse your water with fruit.
Reduce and minimise the consumption of refined grains
The rule goes – The more white you put on the plate, the more inflammation you create. Deadly white powders are not foods which nourish our bodies. Refined, processed or manufactured flours found in breads, pastas, baked goods, frozen foods and pastries are high glycemic index foods. This means they are quickly digested and spike your insulin levels as your blood glucose levels rise consistently and at varying points throughout the day. These foods get into your bloodstream quickly and this process increases the inflammatory response. This explains why you feel sleepy after a big plate of pasta for lunch (that is the crash in blood glucose levels that follows the quick rise). The more inflammation you invite into your body, the more likely you are to face dangerous health conditions. While personally I avoid grains, they can be added into some diets if tolerated. The key is to choose whole grains as they are more slowly digestable. Here, the grain hasn’t been stripped away during the manufacturing process, leaving you with only the deadly the white powder as the remnants. Many store-bought products are processed within an inch of their life. The burger you eat, the pizza you inhale, the sandwich you pack for your child for lunch is having the same effect as if you fed them sugar. To that end, eating grains (even high in quality) should not make up the bulk of our diets. It should be a complimentary addition to our plate, not the bulk of it.
My tip: Reassess how much of your meal and diet is made up of grains and try to prioritise vegetables, followed by protein and healthy fats. If grain products are something you enjoy – learn how to cook and prepare whole grains or source high quality whole grain products (bread, pastas etc).
Avoid processed and refined foods
Food laden with preservatives (most things from a shelf and some kept in the fridge) feed and increase a gut bacteria called firmicutes – a sortof bacteria linked to obesity and inflammation. In particular, when consuming foods with added emulsifiers (a detergent like substance, added to processed foods for texture and to extend shelf life). The biggest culprits, “shelf stable” milks, canned foods, gravy, sauces, anything in a jar really. In his book, The Clever Guts Diet, Michael Mosley explains that if you feed the firmicutes in your gut, you are likely to tilt your biome into a unhealthy direction. This growth in bacteria, attacks the mucus lining of your gut. In turn, this leads to inflammation and leaky gut which contributes to diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity. Read this article to review a list of ingredients to look out for on food labels: https://www.foodmatters.com/article/22-additives-and-preservatives-to-avoid
My tip: if it has a barcode, seriously reconsider its place in your diet. Look after your gut and make most, (if not, all) of your diet made up of whole foods (those that came from the earth, sea or sky).
Another thing to steer clear of is sodium nitrate or oxidised salts. Sodium nitrate is added to foods, such as bacon, deli meats and jerky to help preserve them and extend their shelf life. There are a number of health problems associated with products containing sodium nitrate. Studies show that sodium nitrate increases your risk of heart disease as it can damage the blood vessels around your heart – causing them to harden and narrow, which leads to heart disease. In addition, sodium nitrate may reduce glucose tolerance, which increases your likelihood of getting diabetes. Studies are linking sodium nitrate to cancer, neurological and intestinal problems. Likewise, manufactured salts are just as concerning. Steer clear or table salts and go for pink Himalayan, sea or celtic salts.
My tip: Source an organic butcher who produces ‘Nitrate Free’ bacon and deli meats. Also consider replacing deli meats with meat your roast or cook yourself.
Totally avoid trans fats found in highly processed vegetable oils
Manufactured trans fats are a nutrition no-no! Yet we find them in most foods on our shelves. Manufacturers love the because they make food taste crisp and crunchy, they are more stable so food lasts longer on the shelves, and, the clincher – they cost less. While they have the word ‘vegetable’ in them, they are anything but healthy. These oils are rancid, toxic and in excess are very harmful and highly pro-inflammatory. They are responsible for a rise in bad cholesterol and the lowering of good cholesterol. Trans fats have a history of poor communication associated. In his 1958 ‘Seven Countries Study,’ , Ancel Keys conducted a number of clinical trials to explore heart disease around the world. To make a long story short he “found” that saturated fats were to blame. Butchering the study completely, he left out probably the most important point which has been found in multiple studies since – that it is in fact a diet rich in high omega-6 fatty acids (found in trans fats) and low omega 3 (healthy fats found in vegetables, fruits and animal products) which causes health problems. Unfortunately, with this botched study and omitted information, it all led to the “low fat” craze. When scientists went back and properly analysed Key’s work and complimented with other studies they found that we need to be eating fats – just the right kinds. In addition, because of this study, butter was also shunned. Quickly, we replaced butter with margarines, thinking they were better for us. When infact, it is these spreads which are made with highly processed vegetable oils and are high in omega 6 fatty acids.
If you could make any changes today, it would be to throw out any vegetable oils in your pantry and reassess all your food labels – most fried and fast foods (hot chips, spring rolls, pizza) and many packaged foods (baked goods, crackers, biscuits, frozen foods, pastries) contain harmful trans fats.
Top tip: Remember that when you eat out or on the run, restaurants mostly cook in vegetable oils (to save costs) – this means that if you often eat out – then you most likely have a diet high in omega 6 fatty acids. Opt for cooking at home (in butter, olive oil and coconut oils) as much as possible.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
A study by Wang et al. (2010) explains that chronic inflammation is often associated with alcohol-related medical conditions. Chronic alcohol use impairs not only gut and liver functions, but also leads to persistent inflammation and ultimately – organ damage. Heavy or excessive and ongoing alcohol consumption contributes inflammation by interfering with the body’s natural defences and impairs the balance of microflora in the gut. This can lead to leaky gut sydrome, hinders the liver’s ability to detoxify and blocks the brain’s ability to regulate inflammation. In layman’s terms, – the more alcohol you drink, the more likely you are to increase the inflammatory response. We know that continued small hits to our body can flair the inflammatory response which promotes inflammation in the body.
Top tip: Limit alcohol consumption to a couple of glasses of high quality and preservative free red wine. Avoid alcohols high in sugar or carbohydrates as you spike your blood glucose at the same time as beating down your gut microbiome.
Reduce stress to mind and body
As stress to our mind and body impacts our ability to heal and regenerate healthy cells, it is important that we take steps to reduce stress in order to mellow out inflammation. Chronic stress is taxing to the heart and pro-inflammatory. The first step is to get enough sleep. Anything less that 7 or 8 hours can make you more prone to chronic inflammation. I often hear people telling me they “only need 5-6 hours of sleep to function.” In all of the literature, the evidence stacks up and does not support that claim. We know that inflammation can build up over time. I would caution people here and say that even if you don’t feel tired, you could be building up low-level inflammation in the body. Alongside adequate rest, it is essential that everyone find time to move their bodies each day. Most of the information out there recommends that we engage in light to moderate cardiovascular exercise and/or strength training. While I do appreciate that high intensity exercise has its place – over exercising causes stress to the body. Overworking your muscles can mean your body is constantly fighting inflammation with little respite.
My recommendation: Limit high intensity or intense heavy lifting to a maximum of 3 times a week.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Reducing inflammatory markers is something that requires patience, dedication and awareness of our bodies. We now understand and appreciate that taking care of ourselves is key. But I think the best advice we can take on came from Hippocrates – “Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food.” An anti-inflammatory diet involves eating certain foods in an aim to decrease inflammation and protect tissues from inflammatory damage. Food choices which prioritise lower glycemic foods and those high in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are shown as more likely to alleviate some inflammatory diseases and in the best case scenario – see them disappear. Through eating less processed foods and more high quality products which are fresh, in season and organic where possible, gives your body the best fighting chance to heal from inflammatory conditions.
Working with a health coach is an excellent way to manage inflammation. It is their goal to listen to you, find out the foods you like and respond well to. They will help you find the right times to eat and which foods to swap in and out of your diet. A health coach can help you to better prioritise sleep and exercise, reduce stress and identify where toxins could be creeping into your food and environment.
In next week’s post, I will delve more into anti-inflammatory foods. Remember: a diet rich in anti-inflammatory food is for everyone! In the meantime, use the information provided to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle. Maybe you could get to bed earlier this week, start reading labels and throw out foods with emulsifiers and preservatives, unhealthy vegetable oils or artificial sweeteners. You could rethink the canned drinks, say no to or reduce your consumption of foods high in sugar. Perhaps you could ask a restaurant what oil they use to cook your food in and if the sauce they use is house made or from a bottle or jar. Take a minute to think about your body and how to best nourish it. I guarantee you will start to feel better within a few days.
References and Bibliography
IIN Health Coach Course Resources, ‘Anti Inflammatory Diet Guide’
IIN Student Resource. Lecture. ‘A Healthcare Call to Action’ – Dr Andrew Weil MD
IIN Student Resource. Lecture. ‘Traditional and Alternative Medicine’ – Dr Frank Lipman MD
IIN Student Resource, ‘Food For Life’ Lecture by Neal Bernard
IIN Student Resource, ‘The Nutrients You Need to Know’ lecture by Joel Furhman MD
IIN Student Resource, ‘The Wellness Zone’ lecture by Dr Barry Sears MD
Book: The Clever Guts Diet – Michael Mosely
Anti-inflammatory food pyramid: https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-pyramid/dr-weils-anti-inflammatory-food-pyramid/
Anti inflammatory foods: https://draxe.com/anti-inflammatory-foods/
What is Inflammation: http://time.com/5235368/what-is-inflammation/
What causes inflammation: https://www.realsimple.com/health/what-causes-inflammation
Artificial sweeteners: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/artificial-sweeteners-and-gut-bacteria
Alcohol and inflammation: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2842521/
Sodim Nitrate and inflammation: https://www.livestrong.com/article/439652-health-problems-with-sodium-nitrate/#