Sydney Loney was conducting the interview and is a senior editor at Chatelaine magazine. She can be followed @SydneyLoney.
SL: I know it’s a fairly complex topic but I wanted to ask you about inflammation generally: what is it and what affect can it have on the body?
Dr. E: Inflammation is happening in our bodies continuously, when there is tissue damage, an infection, toxins or irritants, the process of inflammation occurs to ‘clean up’ debris and heal the surrounding area. It involves a complex process of white blood cells and chemical signals that is closely monitored by the body. In small, finite amounts, inflammation is beneficial, but can and often does become pathologically chronic. An injured shoulder that never fully heals and atherosclerosis are examples of chronic, damaging inflammation. I previously wrote another blog on inf
SL: How big a role does what you eat play when it comes to inflammation?
Dr. E: Food that we put in our bodies on a daily basis will either work for us or against us – adding to, or taking away, from our health. Certain foods are unrecognizable to the body (ex. trans-fatty acids), or toxic to the body (ex. alcohol), but in general, most foods will either promote or reduce inflammation. So, in a nutshell, food plays a huge role in our level of inflammation!
SL: What are three of the best anti-inflammatory foods that might help fight/protect you from inflammation and what makes them beneficial?
Dr. E: My favorite anti-inflammatory foods are brightly-colored, dark leafy vegetables, fish oils, and curcumin, a polyphenolic extract of turmeric (the spice commonly used in Indian cooking). Vegetables are extremely important as they contain large amounts of antioxidants and phytonutrients that quench the inflammatory fire. Chronic inflammation abounds because the “stop signal” that normally halts the process is not properly being heard by the body’s immune cells. Antioxidants rush to the aid by repairing some of the oxidative damage that inflammation is famous for.
The omega-3 fish oils DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are anti-inflammatory in nature, helping to balance out our omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratio. They have been studied and used therapeutically to alter the inflammatory process in cardiovascular disease, hypertension, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and diabetes.
Lastly, curcumin has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects; it mediates inflammation in the body by acting on the enzyme cyclo-oxygenase much like common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen do.
SL: What are three foods that can cause inflammation in the body that people should be aware of and what is it that makes them potentially harmful?
Dr. E: Dairy foods are far from the ideal food for human consumption, which is in sharp contrast to what we are often taught. Humans lose 90-95% of the enzyme lactase by the age of four years old which creates a population with mild to severe lactose intolerance. Both the lack of lactase and the acidic nature of pasteurized milk products create an overgrowth of bacteria in our intestines which ultimately disrupts our natural, protective flora and can contribute to permeability in our intestinal barrier. This will create inflammation in our bodies as partially digested food matter is able to cross our gut barrier before it’s properly broken down, creating a hyper-active immune system that is constantly in a state of attack. Also, milk is one of the top allergens (gluten being the second most common) and it can trigger inflammatory responses evident by skin rashes, acne, hives, breathing difficulties, constipation and diarrhea.
A second food group that affects the level of inflammation in the body are grains, especially those in a highly processed form such as white flour. For the better part of human existence grains were void from our diet as we traditionally hunted and gathered wild greens, berries, game and fish. Then, in the past 10,000 years, the advent of agriculture came to be and our digestive tracts had to quickly adapt to break down, absorb and utilize this form of carbohydrate. Also, grains contain phytic acid which will bind to minerals and prevent absorption when the grains are improperly prepared. The result is that many people do much better on a grain-free diet.
Lastly, any food that you know you are sensitive or allergic to will contribute to inflammation in the body. The most common food sensitivities are gluten (a protein in wheat), dairy, grains, sugar, and yeast, and the most common food allergies are milk, eggs, peanuts, citrus fruits, shellfish, and soy. The defining feature between a food sensitivity and a food allergy is which part of the immune system is involved. A type of antibody called immunoglobulin G is involved in sensitivities and is a delayed reaction, meaning you can have symptoms such as gas, bloating, digestive upset, rashes, eczema, asthma, itchy dry skin, nasal congestion, frequent colds, headaches, fatigue and brain fog up to a couple days after ingesting the food. Food allergies, on the other hand, tend to be immediate onset and are orchestrated by an antibody called immunoglobulin E. When eating foods that you are reacting to, it creates an overburdened immune system that is constantly on guard – creating antibodies which maintain a high level of damaging inflammation in the body. You can either get your food sensitivities and allergies tested for by a natural health care practitioner or you can try an elimination and challenge diet (the gold standard) to deduce your reactions yourself.
SL: Thanks so much again Dr. Elliott.
Dr.E: You’re welcome!
More Information from Previous Posts about Inflammation:
- Antioxidant Power (April 2012)
- Counteracting Inflammation (November 2011)
- Proteolytic Enzymes (June 2011)