To really understand what inflammation is let’s first start with where the major concepts of inflammation began, back in the Roman days thousands of years ago. The Romans described inflammation as 4 symptoms:
- Calor (heat)
- Rubor (redness)
- Tumor (swelling)
- Dolor (pain)
These symptoms occur because of increased blood supply to the infected area.
Now when we talk about inflammation, we aren’t just talking about the body’s response to trauma – let’s say, when we first sprain our ankle. Yes, this type of inflammation (acute inflammation) occurs allowing an increased blood supply to the infected area. However, this is not the only cause of inflammation.
Hmmm….so inflammation is bad, right?
Well, yes and no. The inflammatory process is designed to defend and repair the body against pathogens and trauma (a process with a purpose!). The immune system’s inflammatory response uses a complex exchange between different branches of the immune system. Certain signals are conducted that transfer information to sensors, which perceive foreign substances, danger or damage, into a sequence of biochemical cascades. These branches are essential to our survival, as without them we are asking for a death sentence. Therefore, having a balanced inflammatory process is needed to ensure our health and survival.
Aside from the above-mentioned acute inflammation, we also have chronic inflammation. Foreign invaders (such as bacteria, viruses and toxins) are just a few of the harmful causes of chronic inflammation. You might not be able to see or feel the inflammation, like you would a sprained ankle, but overtime these causes can lead to a whole list of health issues, including:
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Body aches and pains
- Skin outbreaks
- Accelerated aging
- Resistance to weight gain and weight loss
- Frequent infections
These above are just a few of the signs and symptoms the body portrays, informing us of health issues that must be addressed. When the dysfunction occurs due to a host of systemic imbalances, inflammation becomes the root cause of all diseases. Diseases such as:
- Diabetes mellitus
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Liver disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Parkinson’s disease
So, whether the immune response is initiated by the release of debris from injured cells, AGEs (advanced glycation end products) or oxidized LDL, or the exposure to environmental or antigens (pesticides, PBCs, etc), a chain of specific pathways are initiated, leading to the increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. By getting rid of the inflammation you are able to improve your overall health.
You might be asking, “so how do I turn off the heat, redness, swelling and pain?“
Simply put, through the foods we eat!
Certain foods are able to “put out the fire” while other foods “fuel the fire.” Pro-inflammatory foods cause the body to continue to fuel the inflammation keeping us in, or working towards, a chronic disease state. While other foods are anti-inflammatory, helping to suppress the entire inflammatory response.
A big pro-inflammatory substance that most people consume way too much of on a daily basis is SUGAR!
Sugar is, of course, in candies, donuts and desserts, but they are also hidden in every day foods. Most people don’t even know they are eating sugar. Many foods that some might think are “healthy” are actually pro-inflammatory.
- Fruit yogurt
- Spaghetti sauce
- Soda, vitamin water and sports drinks
- Granola cereal and granola bars
- Dried fruit
- Juices, such as V-8 juice and apple juice
- Condiments, such as ketchup and thousand island dressing
To minimize inflammation, it is wise to limit the amount of sugar intake. That means for women it is less than 24 grams per day and for men less than 36 grams per day. The task might feel daunting at first, but in looking at food labels and seeing how much sugar and inflammation your body is truly taking on will definitely be worth it.
An important thing to remember is that the structural and functional cellular level of inflammation is closely interrelated. Inflammation is not an isolated occurrence, but instead is greatly intertwined with the overall health of your body.
We only get one body, which currently works so hard to perform at it’s best every day for you. Let’s allow it to have an impeccable balance with limited pro-inflammatory affects, enabling you to live a healthy, active life.
Hello, my name is Stacy Peterson, Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health, Wellness and Strength & Conditioning Coach with a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals around the globe.
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