The aim of this article is to look at the pros and cons of the inflammatory response within the body and what we need to do to keep inflammation at a healthy level.
Inflammation is the body's first self defence mechanism when fighting against infection and dying cells. Whether it be from a disease, wound or an injury, the body will naturally produce inflammation to protect itself from further damage.
How Inflammation Occurs
When an infection occurs within the body the blood vessels constrict and dilate around the affected area to slow the pace of blood flow, hence the swelling and heated response. The reason for this is to saturate the infected area with white blood cells, it is the white blood cells job to mop up and clear any dead tissues away.
If left to prosper in the body inflammation can create chronic issues, leaving us with a lot of the diseases and disorders we face today, obesity, cancers, Alzheimer's and osteoporosis to name a few. In a perfect world our immune systems will produce pro inflammatory compounds that indicate the infected or weakened cells, stimulate repair and then switch off ready for the next time they are needed.
In the case of excess inflammation this response will not turn off, this leads to thousands of pro inflammatory compounds to circulate the body affecting already healthy cells, such as blood vessels, pancreatic tissues, joint tissues and also gut mucus. As you can see this will pre dispose our bodies to more infection and more illness.
Modern day diet and lifestyle
The way we live our lives in the 21st Century is at a very fast pace and everything we do needs to be here and now, which I believe is the root cause to why we reach for poor nutritional and lifestyle choices. The reason I highlight poor diet and lifestyle choices is because they are the sole reasons why we have become so inflamed and genetically damaged. Whether it be from not enough sleep, excess simple sugar intake, alcohol the list goes on they all contribute to why we are so hormonally out of balance.
One of the big issues we need to tackle is the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids...
What are Omega 3 Fatty acids?
Omega 3 fatty acids or Alpha-Linolenic acids are anti inflammatory compounds that are essential for good health, we cannot make them within our bodies we have to get them from food sources.
Foods such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, and organic grass fed beef contain high levels of omega 3 fatty acids. All of these foods we would associate with our primal ancestors, we believe to be the most natural and organic sources of food available.
What are Omega 6 Fatty Acids?
Omega 6 fatty acids or Linoleic Acids are Pro Inflammatory compounds that are also essential for good health. The difference between the two is that an excess of pro inflammatory compounds can produce an inflammatory environment for disease and infection to thrive.
Omega 6 fats can be found in a lot of modern day foods i.e. Vegetable oils, some nuts contain far higher levels of omega 6 to omega 3 (walnuts), grain and cereal based foods also a lot of dairy and processed foods are considered to be pro inflammatory.
Grains and Gluten
There is a lot of talk about gluten free and grain free diets at the moment and the benefits they can bring. In a world where everything needs to be snappy these types of foods seem to be the cheapest and most accessible to us e.g. cereals, sandwiches, pastas……. So why would we avoid them?
The main reason behind the argument is inflammation and inflammation caused by a protein within any grain based foods called Gluten. Gluten is the culprit behind celiac disease, it has its own self defence mechanism as does any other living organism. To put it simply when a grain is ingested the gluten will attack the lining of our small intestine causing it to become damaged and inflamed, the knock on effect to this is that we are unable to absorb the key nutrients to keep us healthy and balanced leading to all sorts of auto immune diseases and conditions.
To conclude this article I'd like to make a few points on how we can bring ourselves back to a balanced state.
- Eat fresh foods (organic if possible)
- Lower omega 6:3 ratio closer to 1:1, using fats such as e.g. avocados, coconuts, olive oils, fish oils as a supplement and substitute to vegetable oils and man made fats.
- Get more sleep - lack of sleep has been linked with stress related inflammation and swollen bellies… get at least 8hrs quality sleep a night.
- Reduce sugar intake including that found from fruits (fructose) - limit fruit to 1-2 portions a day to keep insulin levels in check.
- Get your carbohydrates from leafy green vegetables instead of starchy and grain based produce.
- Base your meals around your protein.
- Stay hydrated with the bulk coming from water (green teas and herbal teas are good also).