When TV host and nutritionist Julie Daniluk developed ulcerative colitis—inflammation of the large intestine—several years ago, it ravaged her body. She not only developed severe digestive problems, she also had debilitating muscle and joint pain. But it wasn’t medication alone that ended up curing her disease; it was a healthy, nutrient-rich diet. “After one and a half years, I’m completely in remission,” Daniluk says. “If I can come back from this disease and be 100 percent healthy, imagine what you can do if you don’t have a serious health problem like this. We can do so much to shift the course of our health by just eating an anti-inflammatory diet.
But what’s all the fuss about inflammation, a so-called health bad guy that seems to gain more notoriety with every passing year? Despite its bad reputation, not all inflammation is bad; in fact, inflammation is the core of our body’s healing—and immune—response. When something harmful or irritating affects a part of our body, an inflammatory cascade of events is set in motion: Blood flow increases to that area, and along with it healing proteins and infection-fighting white blood cells. Without inflammation, wounds and infections would never heal.
As with stress, though, some inflammation is healthy, but chronic inflammation—which some experts describe as an immune system response that’s out of control—is not. “Inflammation is a form of cellular and chemical warfare in the body,” says David L. Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut. “But as with all warfare, there is potential for collateral damage. Chronic inflammation stresses and injures cells, causing them to malfunction and age.” This malfunctioning, in turn, can trigger disease. Study after study suggests that everything from cardiovascular disease and cancer to joint issues and even skin problems like psoriasis can be the result of unchecked inflammation in the body.
How to Reduce Inflammation
Research finds that the more sugar, red meat, processed meat, fried foods and dairy people eat, the higher their indicators of inflammation. In one study, researchers at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City found that fried and processed foods can increase inflammation, while cutting back on these foods can “restore the body’s natural defenses.” In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Greek researchers found that those who eat a plant-based, healthy-fat Mediterranean diet (heavy on produce but light on meat, white flour and white sugar) have lower inflammation levels. The reason: The right nutrients seem to guard against inflammation, and some even help to calm inflammation already present.
Just as there are plenty of ways to trigger the body’s inflammatory cascade, there are plenty of ways we can ease chronic inflammation. “The same six lifestyle factors exert the greatest influence on all major chronic disease risk factors,” researcher David L. Katz says. “These are feet (physical activity), forks (a healthy diet), fingers (don’t smoke), sleep (get enough), stress (learn to manage it), and love (cultivate loving relationships).” But most experts agree that, when it comes to inflammation, food is the first, and most important, place to start.
Incidences of allergy and asthma among the infants during their first few years of life, comparing this data to levels of exposure to potential allergens. Upon analysis, the team observed lower rates of wheezing among children at age three who were exposed to high amounts of mouse and cat dander, as well as cockroach droppings, during their first year of life. In other words, early exposure to these allergens helped build a tolerance in the exposed children compared to those who were sheltered from the germs.
More than half of all children who grow up in “clean” homes with very few germs suffer from wheezing as toddlers. At the same time, only 17 percent of children from dirtier homes develop the condition, illustrating the sometimes beneficial role that bacteria and other germs can play in building strong immunity. “The combination of both — having the allergen exposure and the bacterial exposure — appeared to be the most protective,” stated Dr. Robert Wood, co-author of the study and chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Johns Hopkins. Germs are nature’s vaccines. The findings support those of earlier studies linking exposure to outdoor pathogens — that is, the critters and crud lurking in your garden — to decreased inflammation and stronger immunity.
One study published several years ago in the journal Nature Medicine, for instance, found that being too clean can cause children to develop health problems. Children need to spend more time outdoors getting dirty, in other words. If they don’t, their chances of health success are diminished, at least according to science. Germs are essentially nature’s vaccines, gradually training the innate immune system how to react properly to the many foreign substances that it will encounter throughout life.
In fact, this is exactly how the body is supposed to build immunity — through natural exposure to things during early immune development. The chemical vaccines peddled by the pharmaceutical industry mimic this process to some degree, but as we’ve pointed out in previous articles, they bypass the innate immune system and elicit an unnatural and oftentimes damaging immune response.
“[T]he route of entry [for vaccines] is different [from] a naturally occurring disease,” explains the Vaccine Awareness Network. “Most natural diseases would enter through the mouth or the nasal cavity, not the skin. “Vaccination breaks the skin with a needle and injects foreign matter into the blood supply. “This bypasses the skin’s role in immune function, as well as the tonsils, the mucous membranes, and so on.”
• Sugar and processed foods, particularly those with unhealthy trans fats: “White sugar is the most inflammatory substance on the planet,” says Daniluk, who adds that anything that causes a fast spike in blood sugar levels, such as white sugar and white flour, triggers an inflammatory response. Eat them regularly, and we’re keeping our inflammation levels on overdrive. Better sweetener bets include stevia and coconut sugar—which don’t raise blood sugar levels like processed sugar does. Raw honey and maple syrup are also good options.
• Genetically modified (GMO) foods: There’s a reason so many health experts are speaking out against GMOs. “Any food modified from its original self is no longer the same food,” says Jeffrey Morrison, a doctor and author of Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind. While to date no formal research has studied the effect of GMO foods on humans, in vivo studies have shown that when a body encounters a GMO food (or any food that doesn’t “agree” with us, Morrison says), it doesn’t recognize it and tries to protect us from it with symptoms of inflammation (this could range from bloating and digestive upset to gas and pain). Ignore our bodies’ red flags and, over time, the inflammation could become chronic.
• Chemicals in our environment: “From pesticides to parabens, chemicals in our environment have a strong estrogenic effect on our bodies,” Morrison says. “Too many estrogens can cause an inflammatory state.” To avoid as many environmental chemicals as possible, Morrison recommends eating organic fruits and vegetables whenever you can; avoiding plastics, which can contain the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) and other estrogenic chemicals; and avoiding food in cans lined with BPA. A few brands such as Eden Organic offer BPA-free cans; otherwise choose fresh food or food packed in glass jars.
• Heavy metals: Mercury (from fatty fish such as swordfish and tuna) and lead are heavy metals that are toxic to the body and can fuel inflammation. “Heavy metals essentially cause our bodies to rust because of oxidative stress—the same mechanism that causes rust to form on metal,” Morrison says. To find out if your levels are high, have your doctor order a whole-blood mercury test and a lead test, two separate blood tests typically covered by insurance. Then stick to lower-mercury seafood sources such as wild salmon, tilapia, clams and mussels.
Lead with Love,