Is your body currently fighting a silent battle with inflammation – or do you just not have enough information to know how to listen?
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s response to irritation or injury. The body perceives a threat to a tissue and so the immune system comes to the rescue by mobilizing cells that arrive to handle the injury. This most often involves clearing out or repairing damaged tissue. You have probably seen the outward signs of inflammation after an injury such as a sprained joint. The area will become painful, swollen, red, and warm to the touch. The reason the injured area acts this way is because the body is sending more blood and blood plasma containing immune cells into the damaged tissue.
Unfortunately, the inflammation happening within your body cannot be as easily identified as these types of outwardly visible injuries. Dietary habits and other environmental factors can be causing inflammation responses inside of your body, especially within the digestive tract. A sprained ankle will be glaringly obvious – unable to bear weight, red, warm, and swollen. But inflammation occurring within the gut cannot be seen so easily. Instead, your body is going to find other ways to express that something is amiss.
Signs and symptoms of Gastrointestinal Inflammation (Due to diet)
Some signs of Gastrointestinal (G.I.) inflammation are to be expected such as nausea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and cramping, constipation, diarrhea, blood in stools, or pain/difficulty having bowel movements. Fever and fatigue are also two symptoms that are very broad and may be overlooked. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is an overarching term for several inflammation related diseases in the digestive tract.
Several other symptoms are less obviously related to the digestive tract and could be blamed on other issues, but keep in mind that these could relate back to the digestive tract and how it is digesting its food:
- Painful or aching joints
- Bloating/water retension
- Unexplainable weight gain or loss
Inflammation means my body is repairing itself, so what’s the problem?
Although it sounds like a positive thing, it is taking a heavy toll on your body. The body has to exhaust valuable immune system resources to handle the inflamed tissue, and if factors within your diet are constantly creating more inflammation your body is constantly under stress to react to these threats. You can imagine the toll this may take on your health. Your body is designed to use inflammation as a quick response to take care of an injury, heal, and move on, not to perpetually endure this state of stress. Chronic inflammation (inflammation lasting anywhere from several weeks to years) puts your body through this process and creates the need for reactive proteins to address the inflammation. Chronic inflammation can eventually lead to diseases/conditions including some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, periodontitis, and hay fever. A recent study was published in JAMA Oncology following a 26 year cohort study of the relationship between pro-inflammatory diets and the risk of colorectal cancer and concluded that inflammation is a “potential mechanism linking dietary patterns and colorectal cancer development”. The study identified that individuals who rated the highest on the pro-inflammatory diet scale were 44% (for men) and 22% (for women) more likely to develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime.
Think about it this way – if an irritant in the diet is damaging tissue within your intestines, that tissue is going to need to be repaired and replaced. This increases the demand for “cellular turnover” (generating new cells to replace the old, damaged tissue). Have you ever heard the phrase “haste makes waste”? When your body is rushing to create new cells to replace the old cells it can make mistakes replicating and reproducing its DNA into new cells. This poses a major threat and is the pathophysiology for the creation of cancer within the body when these malformed cells reproduce out of control, creating a large amount of cells like it whose DNA was improperly made and now serve no useful function.
Pro-inflammatory (inflammation causing) dietary components:
According to Harvard Medical School, the most common and inflammation promoting foods are:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Fried foods
- Soda / high sugar beverages
- Red meat
- Margarine, shortening, and lard
Certain foods may have the potential to cause inflammatory chemical reactions within the body of certain individuals. This is referred to as a “Food Intolerance”. Click here to read my post explaining the differences between allergies and intolerances and consider whether this could be a source of inflammation for you.
Anti-inflammatory diet and activities
Harvard Medical School also offers the most common inflammation fighting foods:
- Olive oil
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Fatty fish
Exercise is an extremely important factor in reducing inflammation. Studies have found that just 20 minutes of exercise has the ability to reduce inflammation. To see the full extent of these benefits aim to make exercise a part of your regular routine. The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 and 1/2 hours of moderate cardio or 1 and 1/2 hours of vigorous cardio per week at minimum.