What is Inflammation?
If I told you to close your eyes, and think of inflammation – do it as we speak – what comes to your mind? This is what my mind will conjure: redness, swelling, rawness, pain and infection. Even if you thought of two of the aspects I listed, then we are on the same page. Inflammation is the body’s coping mechanism to outside elements that it cannot assimilate or recognize. Now imagine all that I had told you happening within the body over time, which turns into systemic inflammation. Modern medicine has recently started recognizing the correlation between inflammation and disease. You could have varying degrees of inflammation, that manifests as a health condition. In the macrobiotic approach, we use foods alone to restore the body to its original state; i.e., a state of no inflammation.
Everyone remembers studying white blood cells in school. I remember my teacher saying they are our soldiers, that help us supposed to ward off external elements in the body. Our body is constantly protecting us, and for this our white blood cells need to be fortified well. When white blood cells lose the ability to realise what needs to be done to protect the body, the body’s response is to go into an autoimmune condition. This phrase is used often these days, especially concerning thyroid disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, lichen planus and many health conditions emerging. Inflammation and immunity are interlinked. Chronic inflammation will eventually lead to weakened immunity. Like the lady who walks the rope in a circus, and does a perfect balancing act, our body attempts to achieve that perfect balance between inflammation and strong immunity. A key factor in this whole act (think of the stick that this lady holds to balance herself) is the microbes in your gut. If you were exposed to the right ones and have ones with the right characteristics – the balancing act is easy. But if your gut houses more of the bad variety, then you are a prime candidate for inflammation.
How does inflammation happen?
Before I move on to how inflammation impacts you on several fronts, I’d like to get into what happens before you become a candidate for inflammation. I keep bringing up the word ecosystem – defined as a community of microorganisms that house your digestive tract. So, when we are going down the ski slope of our lives, we are gathering momentum and taking in everything that our environment is throwing at us food and stress-wise. We are no longer mindful of what we put into our bodies or our minds. We are responsible for destroying this intricate balance of our ecosystem. A happy ecosystem within the gut achieves is a delicate balance between friendly, unfriendly and neutral bacteria. However, chemicals that we ingest if we eat food that is not washed properly (that’s why the stress on organic), junk food, sugar, dairy, white refined flour (maida), popping medication (especially pain medication) and stress strip us of everything on the immune system front, leading to systemic inflammation. It pre-disposes you to an autoimmune condition. (From The Detox Diet by Shonali Sabherwal)
Signs of inflammation
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Yeast infections in women or recurrent Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)
- Failing to lose weight
- Constant allergies
- Food Intolerances
- Pain in joints and swelling
- Irritable bowel disease/syndrome (IBD/IBS)
- Autoimmune disease
- Brain fog
How do we stay away from inflammation?
We stop eating foods and lessen our exposure to environmental factors that will cause inflammation. These are –
- Sugar and sugary foods (includes honey [over-use], jaggery colas, beverages with sugar)
- Refined flour (maida)
- Pain Medication
- Dairy and dairy products
- Minimize meat intake
- Excessive fruit
- Processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
- Foods with additives
- Stay away from refined oils, trans fats, hydrogenated fats
- Overeating poultry and eggs
- Minimize exposure to household solvents, and plastics (Bisphenol A or BPA)’ these are in styrofoam products, detergents, flame retardants, plastic toys, pesticides and any other environmental toxins that we are exposed to daily unknowingly. These are compounds that are referred to as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). They are consumed, inhaled or taken in through the skin.
Specific inflammation triggers and what they do –
- Wheat – If you are gluten intolerant- also in many sauces, and packaged foods, know to release cytokines of an inflammatory nature. Change to gluten-free flours: sorghum (jovar), amaranth (rajgeera), buckwheat (kuttu).
- Dairy -Releases insulin rapidly, and today’s milk is not assimilated. Instead of leaves us with un-digested protein sticking to our gut making our intestines absorb very little. Substitute with almond, soy (minimize), and nut milk.
- Sugar (includes jaggery) and refined carbohydrates – Increase the insulin levels causing free radicals to float around and damaged cells. Refined carbohydrates will raise the body’s load to absorb high glycemic (GI) foods, raising the inflammatory markers three times higher. Reach out for fruit, and whole grains like brown rice, including sweeter vegetables like pumpkin (bhopla), carrots, cabbage, onions, sweet potato and beetroot, to stave off sugar cravings.
- Excessive alcohol – Inhibits the production of an enzyme, that helps convert plant-based sources of omega 3 fats, into inflammation-fighting compounds. Keep it minimal: three times a week not more than three drinks.
- Saturated fats, trans fats and refined oils – Saturated fats from dairy and meats, will increase inflammation. Trans fats and refined oils will do the same causing oxidative damage to the cells. Use olive, sesame, avocado, ghee, coconut oil, oily fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and seeds and take a fish oil supplement.
- Colas, Aerated beverages, artificial sweeteners, additives – everything that disrupts the digestion process feeding the bad microorganisms. Reach out for lime juice instead.
- Excessive Coffee or caffeine – Inhibits the digestion process, increases acidity, first kicking up the production of hydrochloric acid, then depleting it. Less of it makes for an unhealthy digestive environment, promoting bad microorganisms. Reach out for herbal tea instead.
- Obesity and a big belly – Inflammation and weight are co-dependent; the more you weigh the higher your inflammation; the higher your inflammation the harder it will be for you to lose weight. Keep away from processed, refined foods, and eating out. Exercise and avoid everything listed above.
- Stress – A couple of things go wrong which are pre-cursors to things going haywire up there, by this I mean your mind. When you are stressed, a release of excessive cortisol and adrenaline releases inflammatory cytokines (proteins) that affect the behaviour of inflammatory cells even in the brain. Biochemicals in the brain of people with disturbances indicate inflammatory markers are high. Build-in meditation, yoga, any activity that will bust stress, pranayama, exercise to release endorphins, write to release serotonin.
Lifestyle factors that can control inflammation
- Manage stress (Meditate)
- Workout and exercise
- Get your 8 hours of sleep
- Load up on anti-inflammatory foods (focus on whole grains, vegetables [add leafy greens and coloured vegetables], lentils/legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds, fermented foods: Make vegetable half of your plate when eating)
- Control insulin response
- Include healthy fats: Coconut, Flax, chia seeds, olive, avocados, omega-3 fatty acids
- Control food habits like skipping breakfast, eating late at night, cooking on high heat, late-night snacking, skipping meals, pushing yourself with coffee and Indian teas
- Make your diet that is balanced with alkaline and acid-forming foods including whole grains and lentils/beans
In conclusion, inflammation is one of the biggest health conditions we are facing today, all disease stems from this condition. It is in our best interest to control inflammation.
Inflammation testimonial from my client:
I never knew why I was always bloated, uncomfortable and never lost weight. One day I picked up Shonalis’s book The Detox Diet, and could not put it down. I only knew that I had ‘inflammation’ after reading her book. All the signs were pointing me in that direction. I also did not know I had a bad gut, till I finally decided to meet Shonali for a consult. If there is anyone who knows about ‘gut’ health and the digestive system, it is her. She knows her stuff at a level that only a person who suffers from such a condition will know. You can call her a ‘gut guru.’ At least she has been mine. I cannot thank her enough I have lost 6 kilos, my skin is glowing, I look like another person. Most of all I feel unbelievable. Even though I am pre-menopause, I feel amazing, with no real symptoms of being there. For me, she is everything a true Nutritionist should be all about. She follows up routinely with calls, reminds you that you have to talk to her and is all there when you need her. I kept extending my plan with her, as I knew I was in the right hands. If you can spend on jewellery, expensive clothes and bags. Then why not spend it on your health instead of for life-long insurance against any disease. Please do this for yourself. It’s worth it!