What is inflammation and how can it affect your body?
The immune system responds to injury and diseases by providing you with inflammation. This is a normal process that is important for healing. One the other hand, not all inflammation is healthy for you.
When inflammation gets out of hand, it can attack the normal cells of your body and the process that is supposed to heal you becomes self-destructive. It is now well known that chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses, especially those related to the aging process.
Persistent stress, over-exposure to environmental toxins, and poor diet can all contribute to this type of inflammatory process.
How Does Inflammation Start?
When a woman feels foggy, run-down, easily overwhelmed, and flat, we know that her hormones as messengers between her gut and brain are out of balance. From my perspective; however, hormone derailment is a downstream effect of cellular dysfunction from oxidative stress and inflammation. Inflammation stems from many sources, including, hallmarks of the modern American lifestyle:
• Sugar. Sugar, particularly in the form of fructose and sucrose, spikes insulin and triggers release of inflammatory cytokines. It forms advanced glycation endproducts when it binds to proteins, and oxidizes lipids which form cell and mitochondrial membranes.
• Chemicals. Pesticides, environmental pollution from industrial waste, hormonally-modulating plastics, fire retardants, and cosmetic additives all stimulate our immune systems to varying extents and disrupt optimal production of energy on a cellular level, particularly in vulnerable tissues like the thyroid.
• Pathogens. The culprits, and notably herbicides, gluten grains, and genetically modified foods, promote intestinal permeability, changes in our intestinal flora that facilitate growth of pathogenic bacteria, yeast, and fungus which keep our immune systems in a state of alarm,
• Stress. This catch-all term, broadly defined, represents the ultimate link between hormones and inflammation, because stress, whether it’s psychological or physiologic, triggers the release of cortisol. Cortisol helps to mobilize blood sugar so that you can run effectively and efficiently from that tiger chasing you. It also acts as a systemic immune suppressant, lowering levels of secretory IgA, an important body guard of the gut mucosa.
Cortisol and insulin are like stress-response sisters, and high cortisol states will also contribute to insulin resistance, or high insulin and high sugar while the cells, themselves, are starving. Insulin protects fat storage (inhibits lypolisis), and fat cells secrete their own inflammatory signals in addition to aromatizing testosterone to estradiol contributing to states of estrogen dominance, while also increasing DHEA and androgens to fuel that process (as well as acne, hair growth, and agitation).
Cortisol also inhibits the conversion of storage thyroid hormone to active hormone leading to states of hypothyroidism even with normal-looking labs.
What Does Inflammation Do?
Once inflammation is active, it is highly self-perpetuating. These inflammatory cytokines travel throughout the body causing oxidating stress to the fragile machinery of the tissues and mitochondria, specifically. In the brain, inflammation serves to shunt the use of tryptophan toward production of anxiety-provoking chemicals like quinolinate, instead of toward serotonin and melatonin. They produce a replicable collection of symptoms called “sickness syndrome”, noted for it’s overlap with “depressive” symptoms: lethargy, sleep disturbance, decreased social activity, mobility, libido, learning, anorexia, and andhedonia. Psychiatric researchers have observed that patients with higher levels of inflammatory markers (like CRP) are less likely to respond to antidepressants, and more likely to respond to anti-inflammatories.
Where Do We Begin to Heal?
Can something be done?
The good news is that there are some lifestyle choices that can help this process. Following an anti-inflammatory diet is one way to control the aging process. While it sounds like a good idea, be wary. The anti-inflammatory diet is an eating plan you follow through on throughout your life in order to combat the aging process. It isn’t technically geared for weight loss but rather helps improve your overall long-term health. How is any of this good news? This approach to chronic illnesses like depression views it as a complex, non-specific symptom reflecting a state of bodily disharmony. It isn’t that you were born with bad genes or low serotonin. It is far more likely that you are experiencing an unhealthy inflammatory balance, driven by cortisol dysfunction, and stemming from a sick gut. We can come at modifying your system from many angles, but here is a basic starter kit:
• Exercise – Burst exercise is my primary recommendation. It is the most bang for your buck in terms of cardiovascular benefit and specifically enhancing mitochondrial health because it puts a special kind of stress on the body when you move to your max for 30 seconds that then recover for 90. I recommend 8 intervals 1-3x/week.
• Meditation – The effects of stimulating the relaxation nervous system, even through listening to a 20 minute guided meditation, can be far-reaching. Enhanced genomic expression of anti-inflammatory genes and suppression of inflammatory ones was demonstrated in this study.
• Diet – I recommend a diet that controls for glycemic fluctuations through elimination of refined carbs and grains, and through high levels of natural fats to push the body to relearn how to use fats for fuel. This is the brain’s preferred source. I discuss some therapeutic foods here.
• Strategic supplementation – Natural anti-inflammatories like polyunsaturated fats (evening primrose oil and fish oil), curcumin (the active component of turmeric), and probiotics to name a few, can help promote a synergy of beneficial effects from the above interventions.
In my practice, despite some suggestion that antidepressants may actually be having their effect through an anti-inflammatory mechanism, these medications have become obsolete. An appreciation of the role of inflammation and immunity in driving hormonal imbalance which directly impacts mood, energy, and wellness, is at the core of personalizing the definition of “depression”. Don’t be lured into the simplicity of a one disease-one drug model. There’s no room for you in that equation.
Anti-Inflammatory Foods And Diet To Combat Aging
Aging gracefully means being as healthy as you can be for as long as possible. Your dietary and lifestyle choices play a big role in that. Even though you make the effort to exercise and eat right, you should always be looking for ways to fight aging through eating anti-inflammatory foods.
All of the anti-aging philosophies, promises, and products can be daunting. You may wonder whether or not eating anti-inflammatory foods is helpful to you. It turns out that the body’s aging process can be accelerated by inflammation in the body. Let's chat to discuss how nourishing your body can help! Book your call HERE!
The Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The anti-inflammatory diet places a focus on whole foods that are whole and unrefined, high in anti-inflammatory spices, high in healthy fats, and high in omega 3 fatty acids.
Some things to include in an anti-inflammatory diet include the following:
Soy products, such as tofu, soy milk, tempeh, an edamame
Healthy fats found in extra virgin olive oil of high quality, beans, avocados, seeds, and nuts
Vegetables and foods that are brightly colored, such as dark berries, fruits, and vegetables
Clean water and green tea as a beverage
Spices that are anti-inflammatory, such as cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger
Foods to Avoid
It is also important to decrease your intake of foods that cause inflammation. Highly processed foods are inflammatory as are carbohydrates that are quickly digested, such as sugar and sugary snacks. You need to stay away from foods containing vegetable shortening, partially hydrogenated oils, and polyunsaturated oils, such as soy, corn, safflower, and sunflower oils.
It may be difficult to know if you are eating any of these foods, which is why you need to read the food labels to see if any of these inflammatory foods are in them. When you’re not sure, you should buy raw unprocessed foods and cook them yourself. Food that are labeled “raw” or “organic” can be seen as good foods to choose in an anti-inflammatory diet.
Does an anti-inflammatory diet work? Read about my Meal Plans
According to many research studies, there is good evidence to show that monounsaturated oils and omega 3 oils can fight inflammation. On the other hand, some of the information is off when it comes to taking anti-inflammatory foods to combat aging. One study indicated that heredity can play a role in who gets the disease and who doesn’t.
While diet is important, genetics also plays a role in the aging process. You can decrease the effects of chronic diseases by eating an anti-inflammatory food diet. Don’t make big changes all at once. Start introducing anti-inflammatory foods gradually into your diet and take away inflammatory foods so that eventually your diet represents an anti-inflammatory diet as much as is possible.
Are there risks to an anti-inflammatory diet?
NO, there are no known risks to taking an anti-inflammatory diet. You should, however, take precautions if you have food allergies. You should talk to your doctor or nutritionist about finding ways to use this type of diet to your advantage, or about food sensitivity testing. Read more HERE.
Inflammation and its discontents: the role of cytokines in the pathophysiology of major depression. Miller et al Biol Psychiatry. 2009 May 1; 65(9): 732–741.
Cytokines and cognition – The case for a head to toe inflammatory paradigm. Wilson et al. JAGS 50:2041–2056, 2002.
A randomized controlled trial of the tumor necrosis factor antagonist infliximab for treatment-resistant depression: the role of baseline inflammatory biomarkers. JAMA Psychiatry 70:31–41.
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