It is no longer a question as to whether or not inflammation contributes to chronic disease. While it is a process essential to human existence, it can easily get out of control thus worsening our health. It is always important to search for the cause of disease, so we must consider the potential sources for persistent inflammation. More often than not, the answer lies in our diets.
It is the unfortunate reality that our food source is continuing to diminish in quality; a reality that means it is harder to nourish our bodies through food. As we try to understand how the implication of food quality contributes to disease, we must first understand the natural role of inflammation and how it is affected by what we eat. Obtaining this knowledge will enable us to take control of our health and make choices that will impact the future of our wellbeing.
Inflammation: the Good and the Bad
Inflammation is a natural process that occurs throughout our bodies and serves the purpose of protecting us from disease. It is the activation of the immune system, particularly white blood cells, which fights infections, destroys cancerous cells, and heals injured tissues. In this view, our immune system is a powerful and thorough response whose main goal is to keep us healthy. However, chronic inflammation is entirely different. In this situation, the body’s immune system is over active, and instead of it fighting harmful substances, it can begin to cause damage to healthy tissues. Take any autoimmune condition as an example. In these cases the immune system is over active and essentially confused as to what is normal. Our bodies natural defense begins to attack organs, joints, red blood cells and so on, contributing to chronic disease.
Food Allergies and Intolerances
Food allergies and intolerances are major contributors to chronic inflammation. A food allergy is a reaction driven by the immune system in response to a food one is allergic to. Once present, the food can cause an immune response that can result in symptoms such as itching, throat swelling, or hives. These reactions can range from mild to severe to life threatening.
Food intolerances on the other hand are not driven by the immune system, however still feed into the inflammatory cycle. Symptoms of food intolerances vary in manifestation and severity, but often include fatigue, headaches, pain, skin problems, or digestive issues.
When trying to control inflammation within the body, it is crucial to know if you have an allergy or intolerance. Specific tests can help determine this. Avoiding certain foods is usually enough to make people feel drastically better.
General Inflammatory Foods
Diets high in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, and saturated or trans fats also contribute to chronic inflammation. Examples of these foods include breads, pasta, candy, vegetable oil, and red meat. Conversely, diets high in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and protective to our health. One good anti-inflammatory diet is the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is great for heart health, autoimmunity, and musculoskeletal conditions.
The Health of the Digestive Tract
Sometimes it is not our diet that is the problem, but rather the health of the digestive tract. The proper breakdown and metabolism of food depends on our stomach acid, digestive enzymes, the microbiome within our intestines, and the structural integrity of the intestinal lining. If any of these factors are suboptimal food does not get broken down adequately. Subsequently larger, more undigested molecules pass through the intestines into the blood stream. Because this is not how food is normally presented, an inflammatory cascade is triggered as the immune system defends the body against the unknown substance. This is a contributing factor to the inflammatory response that feeds into autoimmune conditions, as well as the development of multiple food allergies. This process goes to show we need to not only focus on the foods we eat, but also the health of our digestive system.
Avoiding Chronic Inflammation
The first step is to work with your physician to determine any specific food allergies or intolerances you may have and find healthy alternatives. Next, the health of your digestive system can be evaluated. Additionally, as a general principle, eating foods in their fresh, unprocessed, and whole forms and minimizing foods that are highly processed is a great way to avoid chronic inflammation to begin with.