Do you suffer from a condition that has an inflammatory process? Many of the most commonly known health issues in modern society have their roots in metabolic inflammation.
Inflammation involves the activity of our immune system and traditionally is caused by tissue injury or when pathogens or toxins enter our body. When this inflammation is not resolved it becomes chronic and will start to damage surrounding tissues and whole-body systems.
Chronic (long term) inflammation is often silent and can occur inside the body without any noticeable symptoms. It has been linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, fatty liver disease and may also lead to autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid arthritis. It can even cause DNA damage and possibly lead to some forms of cancer.
A key risk factor for this inflammation is having excessive belly fat and fat around our internal organs. When a person gains weight, their fat cells become stressed and inflamed as they try and store excessive amounts of fat, this in turn will develop impaired insulin sensitivity which allows an increase of fatty acid into our circulatory system and in other tissues which are not designed for fat storage.
For example; droplets of fat are released when the fat tissue cells are overloaded and become deposited in the skeletal muscle. The muscle tissue will start to work much less efficiently when asked to exercise.
Our skeletal muscle is responsible for clearing approximately 80% of sugar in the form of glucose from our circulating blood and this is then used as fuel to move our muscles.
When our muscles become fatty, they are not able to take up glucose in response to our insulin hormone. This means that our blood sugar levels rise which could eventually lead to diabetes.
There is also a strong link between chronic inflammation and the development of heart disease. This is because inflammation is present in the arterial vessel wall following damage by high cholesterol, smoking, high blood pressure or infection and the vessel wall allows (bad cholesterol) LDL to enter the underlying tissue and cause a plaque that when combined with fatty material could cause a blood clot.
Other lifestyle factors include:
- Psychosocial stress.
- Cigarette smoking.
- High body mass index (overweight and obesity).
- Processed foods.
- Poor nutrition.
- Lack of exercise.
Often, we are not aware of this low grade chronic inflammatory process that is slowly causing damage.
Chronic inflammation can also occur in our gut wall, where it can affect our body’s ability to absorb nutrients from food, leading to a number of other chronic diseases. Our guts contain millions of bacteria which have an important role in helping to break down food products. When inflamed, these cause a disruption to the protective lining of our gut wall and it becomes leaky and allows bacteria to invade the gut tissue. So, this is quite significant because it demonstrates the ability of molecules from our gut to actually get into our body and stimulate inflammation!
This can be caused by excessive use of antibiotics, viral infection, low fibre diet, high saturated fat diets, medications or even an intolerance to gluten or lactose etc. This means that we have an overgrowth of bad or unhealthy bacteria that outbalance our good, healthy gut bacteria.
So how can we decrease the inflammation markers in our body?
Different foods have different effects on the inflammatory response in the body. Certain foods, such as those high in antioxidants (berries, spinach, broccoli, foods high in vitamin C etc.), have anti-inflammatory properties due to their role of helping to protect our tissues from damage.
Anti-inflammatory foods such as foods with omega 3 fats, play a role in the normal inflammatory response itself and also in reducing our inflammation.
Many of us consume a higher omega 6 (found in olive oil, palm oil, sunflower oil) to omega 3 fat ratio and although they are both important components of our diet there is a need to achieve a balance between the two fats in order to have an effective immune system. The optimal ratio is not currently clear, but consuming more omega 3 (oily fish, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil) will help to improve inflammation.
Decreasing our intake of processed foods and increasing our intake of nuts, seeds and oily fish can help us get closer to an optimal ratio. A whole foods approach to our diet is the best way to achieve this and in some clinical situation’s supplements may be required.
A whole lifestyle approach is key, and we need to be aware that exercise and Vitamin D/sunshine also has a role to play in our immune system.
We are all different individuals and we all have differing gut microbiome. What works for one person may need to be adapted for another. Patients need to work with their nutritionist to see what works best for them.