Based on an article published in Time magazine, the medical community agrees that the underlining cause associated to most illnesses is inflammation. We all know what inflammation looks and feels like. It’s that patch of red swollen skin after scratching a mosquito bite, or the pain of an abscess tooth. But what if inflammation—like a raging forest fire— was destroying everything in its path? How do we fight it? Usually we seek the advice of a doctor, hoping they’ll provide a remedy. At best they’ll run a series of tests and end up prescribing antibiotics, and or pain medication. But all we’ve done is relieve the symptom, not the problem. The inflammation is still lurking, waiting to flare up at a moment’s notice. Inflammation is the body’s defence mechanism, and acute inflammation is the body’s way of telling us its fighting off the enemy of pathogens, poisons, and irritants, so it can heal. But if chronic low-grade inflammation persists, the body switches to defcon-1, or autoimmune mode. At this level, the body prepares for nuclear armament and attacks healthy tissue; mistaking it for pathogens. Markers include, but are not limited to: Cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, celiac and crohns disease, fibromyalgia, and psoriasis to name a few. How does chronic inflammation develop?
-How changes in diet affects chronic inflammation
More than a hundred years ago between 1894-1904, the first USDA nutritional guidelines were published, advocating variety, proportionate moderation, measuring calories, focusing on nutrient rich whole foods, while lessening consumption of fats, meats, dairy, grains, and starches. A modified republication during World War II, expanded the pie chart from the five basic food groups to seven. And although variety and moderation was still advocated, that all changed in 1992 when the food pyramid was introduced and the Standard America Diet as we know it, was born. The nutritional experts who originally designed the pyramid, laid a different foundation. Their blueprint supported vegetables and fruits, not grains; which is contrary to what the USDA later adopted as seen illustrated in the picture, which promotes a high acidic diet. However, these assessments were rejected by special interest groups representing the highly subsidized agricultural and food industries. In spite of nutritional expert Louise Light’s warning at the time that, if the American public followed the revised plan,”could lead to an epidemic of obesity and diabetes,” these reports were censored by the USDA in favor of the economic self-interest of industry lobbyists.
But diet isn’t the only cause of chronic inflammation. Constant physical, psychological, and emotional stress weakens the body’s immune response to inflammation.
-Stress and depression, the not so silent killers
Traffic jams, getting the kids off to school, meeting deadlines at work, are all part of the fast-paced, ever demanding world we live in. It’s gotten so that we’ve come to accept it as a normal part of life. But that throbbing feeling in our head, hyperventilating sensation in our chest, and churning in our gut, are biomarkers of stress. It seems unavoidable and out of our control. But what we do have control over is how we react and internalize stress. These external conditions, and even our perception of them along with other life stressors affects inflammation, and the cyclical pathway of stress–inflammation that, according to recent medical studies, may in turn link back to depression; an additional trigger of inflammation.
Can damage caused by inflammation be reversed?
Once the underling cause of inflammation is removed from its host, and the body begins to heal, swelling subsides and the discomfort of pain lessens. And although there have been claims of reversing cellular damage due to chronic inflammation— through a change in diet—there isn’t medical evidence to support it. At the very least we can prevent chronic inflammation from occurring or recurring by regulating stress through mindful awareness; switching from a high acidic diet and following a more alkaline diet of fresh organically grown vegetables, fruits rich in antioxidants, natural whole foods, and healthy omega-3 fats.
-The anti-inflammatory diet
The western diet with its over consumption of meat, dairy, grains, and processed foods, promotes a high acidic diet that, medical experts conclude is the underlining cause of inflammation, as well as having a direct impact on the development of osteoporosis. Foods that are acidifying to the body, cause minerals such as calcium to be leached from our bones.
Some supporters of an anti-inflammatory diet recommend that all meat, grain, and dairy be eliminated from our diet, although most nutritional experts concur that unless someone has developed direct allergies or sensitivities related to these foods, they should not be eliminated from a balanced healthy diet. The key is balance and moderation. However, lessening consumption of meat, dairy, and grains and eliminating refined processed food, is suggested as a more optimal approach. Even doctor’s from one of America’s premier healthcare providers; Kaiser Permanente, are challenging patients to take back their health by adopting a high plant-based diet to cure chronic illnesses such as type-2 diabetes.
Most of us can go into our refrigerator/freezer right now and find a stock pile of inflammatory foods. They lay hidden in packaged frozen meals, processed snacks, bottled soda, salad dressings, and condiments. Or in the boxes of crackers, cookies, chips, enriched flours, pastas, refined sugars, and table salt in our pantry’s.
How to be a savvy shopper and food sleuth?
Rather than eliminate everything at once, shift your focus. Next time you’re at the market, instead of shopping the aisles and freezer sections, shop the perimeter. Food manufactures spend millions of dollars on research to better understand what the consumer buys and how they shop. Additionally, they pay top dollar to have their merchandise prominently displayed in supermarkets. In turn, supermarket chains have a vested interest to keep you, the consumer, in the food aisles and freezer sections with the lure of discount coupons. All the more reason to keep your GPS set to the store’s perimeter, where you have the opportunity to make wiser more informed food choices in selecting fresh, organically grown produce, grass fed meat, cage-free poultry, wild caught seafood, and dairy. Better still, shop your local farmer’s markets and smaller independent stores, this way you’re helping support local businesses, and not the mega chains. But if you happen to find yourself in the Bermuda Triangle of the freezer section and cookie aisle, read the labels. I maintain a 5-ingredient rule, anything over that, I toss back.