Inflammation is the underlying mechanism that initiates and exacerbates majority of disease, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, autoimmune conditions, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, mental health conditions and many more. Chronic inflammation also impedes recovery and can increase the risk for further injuries.
What is inflammation?
When you cut or injury yourself, you will experience pain, redness, heat and swelling. These are all signs and symptoms of inflammation. Basically your body’s immune system is responding to an irritation. Many different immune cells can be involved and when switched on (react to an irritation), they release various substances known as inflammatory mediators. Some of these include the hormones histamine and bradykinin, which act to cause your blood vessels to dilate, allowing for more blood flow to the injured site. This is why the area gets red and feels hot. Extra blood flow results in more immune cells being carried to the injured tissue, where they help with the healing process. Histamine and bradykinin also irritate nerves, which is why you feel pain. Pain can be useful because it generally makes you protect the affected part of your body (e.g. twisted ankle... limping).
Furthermore, different immune cells leak out into the affected tissue, which causes more fluid to follow, resulting in swelling.
In summary, inflammation is a function of our immune system and is a response to cellular injury, characterised by:
increased blood flow
blood vessel dilation
immune cell (leukocyte) infiltration
production of chemical mediators that help to remove toxins and repair damaged tissue
Inflammation is your friend, but can also be your enemy…
Inflammation is an essential part of your immune system, defending your body against foreign invaders, as well as helping with healing, however... when inflammation is chronic (long-lasting), it can result in ongoing damage to your bodies cells, tissues, organs and whole body systems.
Chronic low-grade inflammation is a pathological feature of a number of chronic conditions, including metabolic syndrome (obesity, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, low healthy cholesterol levels and insulin resistance), fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It is also likely behind a number of other diseases before and after they develop, including obesity and cancer.
Gut health and inflammation
Your gastrointestinal tract contains trillions of bacteria cells, which outnumber your body cells by a factor of 10 to 1, and contain approximately 150 times as many genes as your genome (all the genes in your body). These gut bacteria are referred to as the microbiota and they influence your health in a number of significant ways. For example, they play a big role in your immune function via promoting the development and maintenance of your gut mucosal immune system, which in turn protects you against invading pathogens (bad bugs). Your microbiota also maintain your gastrointestinal tract barrier integrity; this is the thin lining that separates your digestive tract and your internal body.
Ongoing research is continuously showing that gut microbiota health (richness and gene expression diversity) is significantly altered as we get older, as well as with weight gain.
The more excess body fat you carry, the more you can compromise your gut microbiota's health.
Further to this, a number of studies have demonstrated that a high-fat-low-fibre diet is strongly associated with increased gut permeability, endotoxaemia and adipose tissue inflammation. In lay-mans terms this means that if you eat lots of fatty processed foods, and little plant-based wholefoods, your gut lining can become more permeable (aka leaky). This way of eating also results in the growth of undesirable bacteria (e.g. Proteobacteria: E.Coli) and the generation of lipopolysaccharides (LPS); a potent inflammatory stimulant and endotoxin. Increased LPS production combined with increased permeability of the gut lining, results in more LPS moving (leaking) through the gut wall and into the body's circulation, ultimately triggering low-grade systemic inflammation.
Food and Inflammation
We confidently know that inflammation is behind every illness and every disease. We also know that inflammation can cause chronic pain, slow our healing and recovery, as well as make us more vulnerable to injury and illness. Further to this, inflammation can influence us to gain weight more easy and likely makes losing weight much harder.
What you eat can be the difference between promoting inflammation (pro-inflammatory), or reducing/preventing excess inflammation (anti-inflammatory). To manage disease, recovery or prevent illness, below are some general tips to follow for anti-inflammatory eating:
Eat a plant-based wholefoods diet
Eat lots of high fibre foods
Eat foods rich in polyphenols
Limit/avoid processed foods
Limit/avoid unhealthy fats (saturated, trans and oxidized fats)
FOODS THAT INFLAME... avoid
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
Soft drink and other sugar-sweetened beverages
Red meat (burgers, steaks)
Processed meat (hot dogs, sausages, deli meats)
Refined oils (margarines, some vegetable oils)
FOODS THAT COMBAT INFLAMMATION... eat more of
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and collard greens
Nuts, such as almonds, macadamias and walnuts
Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines
Fruits, particularly blueberries, cherries, strawberries and oranges