How many times have you seen the word “inflammation?” You’ve probably heard a lot about “inflammatory” and “anti-inflammatory” foods. I know I talk a ton on HH about my quest to fight inflammation in my personal life and with my clients. Do you have any idea why you should care and what the buzz is about?
When you think of the word “inflammation.” What comes to mind? Most people, they think of a situation of “acute” inflammation, like when you sprain your ankle, and it swells to the size of a basketball. That’s an acute inflammation response. Inflammation is the body’s immune system doing what it does best, alerting itself to a potential problem to begin the repair process. In the case of the swollen ankle, the swelling and inflammation drive the immune system workers (including platelets, neutrophils, monocytes/macrophages, masts cells, and fibroblasts). These activate the repair process.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, is a low-grade constant activation of the immune system due to minor irritations of body tissues. Think of it as if you lightly scratched yourself in the same place every hour.
The first hour you would probably not feel it. In fact, the first day or so, you might not feel it, but that doesn’t mean your immune system isn’t responding. You can bet that if you irritate the same spot every hour, eventually, you will feel it.
By the time you feel it, the immune system is already doing its thing, releasing inflammatory signals. The damage would have already been done to your skin, and you would require healing. The thing is, healing can only occur until you stop scratching yourself in the same spot every day.
The same thing happens to the tissues inside your body, but it can be difficult to tease out the causes of the inflammation. It’s a bit of the age-old chicken or the egg question, which came first, the illness or the inflammation?
It is different in every condition, but teasing out contributing sources and eliminating them is the goal to ease inflammatory symptoms related to health or a poorly functioning metabolism.
There is research to back up chronic inflammation’s involvement in almost all chronic conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Types 2 Diabetes
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Joint Pain and Osteoarthritis
- Autoimmune conditions
- others not listed
The problem is we are constantly being assaulted by things that could trigger an immune response leading to inflammation, including:
- trans fat
- an overabundance in omega 6
- weight gain
- excess refined sugar
- chemicals such as preservatives and food additives
- chemicals in our personal care products
- the development of leaky gut
- food sensitivities
These things are like that constant hourly scratch. As you can see, many of these are related to the food we consume, and so the gastrointestinal tract takes the brunt of the damage, day in and day out. Like the scratch on your skin, you might not feel it the first day, but eventually, you will feel it. This is one of the reasons why so many people don’t feel right when it comes to digestion.
It happens all the time, I assume a Hungry Hobby RD client is okay, I’ve asked them about their digestion, and they say it’s not a problem. Eventually, it comes to the surface. Their GI issues are way more intense than they made them out to be. Pain, diarrhea, vomiting, reflux, constipation, etc., is not normal. The damage to the GI tract primarily decreases the structural integrity of the tissues. The damage leads to an inflammation response, and the inflammation leads to symptoms. Eventually, this permeability, known as “leaky gut,” creates a susceptibility to infections and allows particles to pass the gut barrier that otherwise wouldn’t be able to pass.
Since 80% of the immune system is in the gut, this permeability can begin to wreak havoc on the rest of the immune system. Even without symptoms, a leaky gut can perpetuate cognitive, mood, and physical symptoms because it keeps the immune system in a perpetual heightened state. Again, it becomes the chicken and the egg question, did the inflammation trigger the condition, or did the condition trigger the inflammation? We might never know, but getting rid of the sources of inflammation is often the key to obtaining relief. This is why so many medications for inflammation-related conditions focus on shutting off or downregulating inflammatory pathways in the body. Unfortunately, those medications come with side effects. One of the most effective things you can do is fight inflammation by limiting its sources of it (see above) and healing a leaky gut with testing and a tailored GI protocol.
I see a lot of “inflammatory” foods and “anti-inflammatory foods” on blogs, in the news, on Pinterest, and pretty much everywhere. Heck, I wrote a post last week about making your very own anti-inflammatory oats. In general, inflammatory foods are those listed above, and anti-inflammatory foods are those rich in omega-3 fatty acids. However, if you have symptoms of IBS, IBD, Migraines, autoimmunity, or pain-related conditions, it could be that your body is now over-reacting to random foods due to the damage your GI tract has sustained (also known as food sensitivity related to leaky gut.) So I can tell you to make anti-inflammatory oats, but if you have a sensitivity to one of those ingredients, it will do more harm than good. Yes, you can be sensitive to healthy foods like lettuce, apples, etc. Wheat, gluten, and dairy are not the only culprits. In fact, I find this to be highly individualized, which is why I don’t recommend elimination diets.
In general, you shouldn’t have to avoid things like lettuce and apples forever, it should be temporary while you heal the “leaky gut” and re-establish oral tolerance to what should be benign foods!
Depending on your health status and condition, you may or may not benefit from food sensitivity testing. Regardless, if you aren’t feeling well, make sure that you find someone to work with that can help you fight chronic inflammation by helping you find the triggering sources and eliminate it (again, this may or may not be related to food). As always, I’m here to answer questions, and if you are interested in working with me, you can check out my nutrition services website at www.hungryhobbyrd.com.
Question, of the day:
How do you fight inflammation daily?
Take my omega-3 fatty acids, eat lots of fish, and chill out when I’m getting to cray cray.
What is your favorite way to relax?
Why don’t I hot tub more?
I’ve often wondered about the hype surrounding so-called ‘anti-inflammatory’ foods. Some of them seemed downright outrageous. Your explanation makes a lot of sense, though. I’ve got a skin condition that is suspected to be related to or affected by inflammation (among other things), so perhaps getting tested for food sensitivities could help.
Kelli Shallal MPH RD says
I’m glad it helped! It could, but it totally depends on what the skin condition is. Feel free to message me if you questions about it.
Hi Kelli- I read your post and have a question- I’m realizing lately that I may be abnormal… I have gas problems every single day… It’s always been something I’ve just accepted and made modifications to my life to accommodate (finding private places to go), but it is often really inconvenient and stress inducing. I’m wondering if you think this could be inflammation related and if testing could benefit me so I can maybe decrease the frequency of these issues? I’d love to never have to worry about where/when to go. I can’t even picture it, it’d be so wonderful! Any thoughts would be appreciated!