One of the most significant medical discoveries of the 21st century is that inflammation is the common thread connecting not just the obvious autoimmune and allergic diseases but most chronic disease, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and depression. In fact out-of-control inflammation causes insulin resistance. The insulin resistance then creates even more inflammation, and the whole biological house burns down. This is how Dr Mark Hyman opens his chapter on explaining the link between inflammation, insulin resistance and chronic disease (p 98-99, The Blood Sugar Solution).
What is insulin resistance you might be asking? I was asking this too after diagnostic testing in April 2017, indicated that if I did not address my blood sugar issues I could tip over into pre-diabetes and insulin resistance.
Insulin is a fat storage hormone that like other hormones it is a regulatory agent. It’s job is to regulate or monitor the amount of sugar in the blood. Insulin is made by the pancreas and is designed to reduce the circulating blood sugar by helping cells take in and use the glucose (sugar) from the foods we eat. It’s primary job is to control rising blood sugar by driving the sugar out of the blood stream and into the cells residing in the liver, muscles or fat.
In order for the body to run at optimal levels, the blood sugar must be maintained within certain parameters. When the level of sugar in the blood is either too high or too low, the body takes steps to “correct” the problem. To combat too much sugar, the body secrets more insulin to remove the sugar from the blood. You can see the problem. If we continually spike our blood sugar by eating foods high in sugar the bodies mechanisms become tired.
Insulin resistance is when your cells refuse to accept the sugar, so there is too much sugar in the blood and not in the cells where it is used as energy. High levels of circulating blood sugar create a lot of heat and free radicals in the body damaging the cells, which then turns on the inflammatory response.
The scary thing is inflammation that drives obesity and chronic disease is invisible and doesn’t hurt. Not like when you stub your toe or cut your finger. That hurts and you can see the inflammatory process at work healing your injury. It gets red, it swells, it throbs and then it heals. That is your immune system at work.
Internal inflammation that is chronic, is a hidden smouldering fire created by your immune system as it tries to fight off the baddies in your body. It is not until it has done damage like destroyed cartilage (arthritis) or injured your blood vessels (heart attack) that you feel the pain.
So what triggers inflammation and what can you do about it? These are the main culprits.
- Sugar, refined carbohydrates and artificial sweeteners
- Trans fats and too many Omega-6 fats from processed plant oils (such as soybean or corn oil)
- Hidden food allergies and sensitivities
- Chronic infections
- Imbalances in gut bacteria
- Environmental toxins
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Sleep deprivation
Which of these factors is the source of inflammation for you? The answer will be different for everyone. You must locate all the sources of inflammation in your life and eliminate them if you want to avoid disease.
Nine tips to reduce the inflammation in your body.
- Dietary sugars, refined flours, and artificial sweeteners
These are the biggest triggers of inflammation. They cause insulin to spike and start a cascade of biochemical reactions that turn on genes and lead to chronic and persistent inflammation. The best way to avoid these foods is to eat a diet high in unrefined food sources, lots of vegetables and fruits, legumes, lentils beans and grains that are not highly processed (eg. jasmine rice is more processed then brown rice or wild rice).
- Refined sugars, such as white four, white rice and soft drinks (liquid sugar).
- Think bread products like hamburger buns and donuts; grains like white-flour pasta and sugary cereal; and sugary drinks like soft drink and sweetened juices.
- Also sauces like tomato and barbecue sauce, and jams.
- Eat less bread, white potatoes, crackers, chips, pastries, and sweetened drinks. There is less fibre in these foods and low fibre diets also lead to inflammation.
Avoid anything with aspartame or Splenda as a sweetener. Artificial sweeteners disrupt the normal hormonal and neurological signals that control hunger and satiety (feeling full) actually leading to weight gain and therefore increased inflammation. You don’t want that!
- Inflammatory fats
For your body to work efficiently you need both Omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs), these are the anti-inflammatory fats, and Omega-6 EFAs, fats which promote inflammation. These essentials fats need to be kept in balance for good health.
Problem is, due to industrialised food manufacturing, and the heavy use of soybean and corn oil in so many processed foods (and fed to cattle and chickens), you get way too much omega-6 fats which drives your inflammation up. Diets low in omega-3’s (think oily fish like salmon and sardines, walnuts, flaxseeds) contributes to the development of systemic inflammation.
Add to this trans fats from oils that are heated to a high temperature which makes it stable at room temperature and therefore makes foods last longer – margarine and hydrogenated oils that are used in store bought muffins, cakes, crackers, muesli bars etc, and you can understand why you don’t feel so good.
Your cells don’t recognise trans fats, and therefore do not know what to do with the foods that contain it. This confuses them, and the messaging (communication network) between your cells gets all messed up!
Ditch the processed and fast foods for unprocessed foods instead, and choose organic meats that are raised ethically and not primarily on a diet of corn and soybean.
- Food sensitivities and allergies
Acute allergies to things like peanuts and bee stings that cause the throat to swell and shut nearly immediately (known as IgE – mediated responses) is not what this factor is about.
Delayed, or hidden, allergies (known as IgG-mediated responses) play a significant role in driving inflammation that you may have no idea about. Being sensitive to certain foods like gluten (a protein in wheat) and dairy create systemic low-grade inflammation in the body that can manifest itself in any number of ways.
How do you know if you are sensitive to these foods? Testing does not always tell you, and if you are highly allergic to certain foods you probably know this by now. Go with your instincts. Tell tale signs are bloating and sometimes tiredness after eating foods that contain gluten. A stuffy nose, increased mucus, or sinus issues usually are signs that you are sensitive to dairy. You might also get a slight headache, or experience rashes or flaking of the skin. Eliminate these foods from your diet for 7-14 days and see how you feel. Introduce them back one a a time and notice any body changes. Tune into your body and become aware of how certain foods make you feel.
- Chronic hidden infections
These can trigger inflammation. Makes sense as an infection is something that the immune system wants to immobilise and rid the body of. New studies show that infections such as adenovirus (the kind of virus that causes upper respiratory infections or infectious pinkeye) may be linked to obesity and insulin resistance. If you suspect you have a virus (glandular fever, aka Epstein-Barr virus, is one that lingers in the cell), look for a functional medical doctor to help treat you. They usually use specific herbs. Also have your teeth checked regularly, and if you have root canal fillings, find a holistic dentist who will inform you about the potential for parasites to live in the root canal and cause infections. You can boost your immune system in order to suppress and control these latent infections.
These are the USANA products that we use to boost our immune systems:
- CellSentials (vital antioxidants and core minerals)
- BiOmega (fish oil – free of contaminants)
- USANA Vitamin D
- Proglucammune (beta glucans, + zinc + brewers yeast)
- USANA Probiotics (contains 2 probiotic strains clinically proven to reach the lower intestine alive)
The increasing load of persistent organic pollutants (such as PCB’s and pesticides) and heavy metals (such as arsenic, mercury and lead) inflames the body. Replace toxic home cleaning products with non-toxic options, wear gloves when using chemicals and don’t breath in the fumes (wear a mask), don’t heat food in plastic in the microwave, or drink water from a plastic bottle that has been sitting in the car as heat causes chemicals to be leeched out of the plastic into the water or food you are about to consume!
If you have mercury fillings I urge you to read ‘A Mouth Full of Poison’, by Dr Myron Wentz.
If you smoke cigarettes – quit!
- Chronic stress
Acute stress skyrockets your blood sugar, which is a good thing if you need to act quickly to save yourself from a dangerous situation. However if this stress becomes chronic and your blood sugar levels remain high, inflammation results. That is why stress is a killer! Sadly we live in a highly stressed world and most of us don’t know how to relax. Learn how to deep breath and calm your mind so that you can do this anywhere any time that you feel your stress elevating. Take time out to just sit and watch the trees move and the clouds pass by. Read a book, watch funny movies and take a break from listening to the news and watching violent movies. Get out into nature and enjoy the moment.
- Sedentary lifestyle
Can you believe it? Doing nothing actually can actually make you inflamed! Lack of exercise creates low-grade inflammation in the body. And regular exercise dramatically reduces inflammation. Get moving. Aim to exercise a minimum of 20-30 minutes, three days a week and then increase to five days. Brisk walking is a good start. Dancing is marvellous exercise (flat shoes please). If your knees are shot and you are unable to walk, find a pool to swim in or do chair yoga. You need to move and move regularly. Find a way.
- Nutritional deficiencies
Studies show that deficiencies in basic nutrients such as vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants promote inflammation, and that simply taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement is as effective for lowering inflammation as taking a statin medication, with a lot less expense and fewer side effects. (p 110, Dr Mark Hyman)
9. Sleep deprivation
There has been significant research into sleep over the past twenty years and it is now known that adults should get eight hours of sleep each night. But what is really stunning is how a chronic lack of sleep can drive our blood sugar and insulin levels high and destroy our immune systems. Diets high in sugar impact on our quality of sleep as does not giving ourselves an opportunity to sleep 8 hours.
Tips: stop eating three hours before you intend to go to bed, get into a regular sleep schedule, reduce caffeine intake after 12 noon and reduce your consumption of alcohol as this affects quality of sleep. Please find other solutions to taking sleeping medication. These put your brain into a sedative state, which is not deep or quality sleep required for optimal brain function and good health. If you are taking sleeping pills work with your doctor to wean yourself off them (do not take yourself off them cold turkey. That is very dangerous). Alternatives to sleeping medications include cognitive behavioural therapy to help rewire the brain, exercise, certain nutrients and avoiding diets high in carbohydrates and sugar, which interfere with the quality of your sleep.
I hope this article helps you in creating a plan to reduce the sources of inflammation in your life.
Be Healthy……Be Happy
Sources used for this article include:
- Is Your Lifestyle Killing You? Dr Karen Wolfe
- The Blood Sugar Solution, Dr Mark Hyman
- Food As Medicine, Monash University online course
- Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker