There’s been so much talk about inflammation lately and how the body responds to it. It's a good thing our bodies know how to mount an inflammatory response to trauma or injury. However, it’s important that we understand the different types of inflammation and we can do to avoid the kind that’s bad for us.
Here’s what you need to know about inflammation.
There are two types of inflammation: Acute and Chronic. In both cases, our body has a natural response to try and heal itself. But it’s important to know what happens when the body can't heal itself.
Acute Inflammation is when the body protects itself from an injury or irritation, or when it starts the healing process post surgery. An example of an acute inflammatory response (which we've all probably gone through at some point in our lives) is what happens when you get a splinter in your finger. Your body goes through a massive inflammatory process to try and heal that wound. It basically mounts an attack on the splinter by increasing blood supply to the area, which makes it turn red, get hot and swell and then it sends white blood cells to combat any infection that may arise from the trauma. In time, it will push the splinter out of the body and the area will close up and heal. So without you doing anything, the body knows how to heal itself from an acute trauma to keep you safe and alive.
Chronic Inflammation, also know as Systemic Inflammation, is like having thousands of splinters inside your body, either in your gut, in your joints, in your brain, or on your nervous system. This low grade internal chronic inflammation is what leads to diseases like: asthma, allergies, arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, depression- to name a few.
It's easy to spot inflammation in medical practice because it's anything ending “itis”. For example; arthritis, bursitis, colitis, tonsillitis. If you have tonsillitis,, for instance, general medical practice is to remove your tonsils. But that doesn’t necessarily get to the root cause of the inflammation. Or in the case of bursitis, doctors generally administer a cortisone injection to relieve the inflammation or the pain associated with that area, but again, it doesn’t address why the inflammation is there in the first place. The reason that you get tonsillitis or bursitis or any "itis" in the body for that matter, is that the body is telling you it’s trying to protect itself in that area against an irritation, just like it did with the splinter in the above acute inflammation example. The key is to find out where this irritation is coming from and what's causing this inflammatory response in the first place, in an effort to treat the root cause of the problem.
But what happens when the body can’t heal itself?
At the far end of the chronic inflammation spectrum is autoimmunity. This is when the internal chronic inflammation you've been living with has persisted over a long period of time and the body can no longer defend itself. The body turns on itself and either attacks an organ, the nervous system, the brain, the joints, the cells etc. Not a pretty sight! There are 50-70 million people who have some form of an autoimmune disease and those are just the ones we know about. Many people are walking around with joint pain, fatigue, rashes, brain fog etc. and they just haven’t gotten the diagnosis yet. It takes on average 6-10 doctors and up to 5 years after antibodies have shown up, to actually get an autoimmune diagnosis.
So, you're probably thinking right about now...I don't want any of these diseases so how do I know if I'm walking around with low grade chronic inflammation?
Well for starters, you need to know that the majority of your immune system is housed inside in your gut. Which means that the seeds of chronic inflammation start in the gut. If you’ve ever experienced consistent digestive disorders like diarrhea, constipation, gas, IBS, heartburn, acid reflux or bloating then you know you have the early signs of an inflamed digestive tract.
Have you ever heard people saying, "Fix your gut, to fix your health?" What if the answer was as simple as: what’s at end of your fork can and will alter everything going on in your gut and thus effect your immune response to chronic inflammation.
Let's take a closer look and what's going on in there. The gut microbiom or "Gut Bugs" are all of the bacteria, yeast and organisms that reside in our gut. We have between 500-1000 different organisms living in the large intestine, and most of them should be beneficial species (about 75-85% are the good guys), and the rest are harmful species and yeast. Don't worry though - for the most part they're controlled because the good gut bugs outcompete the bad gut bugs for food and recourses when there is a balance.
The gut microbiome has certain tasks and responsibilities that it's supposed to be doing for us:
- They help us digest food
- They communicate with our immune system
- They communicate with our endocrine system (which is our hormones)
- They release little particles that influence the digestive environment in our gut
- They also act as regulators when we have something foreign in our body or have an invasive species
- They convert minerals and vitamins for us
Problems arise when this gut bacteria is out of balance. When you have more “Bad Bugs” and not enough “Good Bugs” in your digestive tract and an imbalance of yeast you have what is called dysbiosis.
The first signs of this can be any type of digestive distress. A lot of people live with this distress and think that its just the way their body responds, but it’s important to note that Digestive Distress is not Normal!
When the stomach does not make enough acid, it is not able to kill the parasites, the "bad bugs" and the harmful bacteria that come into contact with the gut either from the foods we eat or from the environmental toxins surrounding us. We all come in contact with them, there's no way to avoid them. Your stomach thus needs to have a low PH balance to function properly.
Secondly, if your stomach is not acidic enough, you're actually not going to digest your food properly which means you'll end up with these partially indigested particles of food. If you have Leaky Gut (because you don't exercise, you don't eat right, you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria and not enough good) these particles can leak into your blood stream setting off a host of inflammatory responses and autoimmune reactions.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Leaky Gut is a series of circumstances where your gut lining is not as robust as it should be. Your gut lining is only one cell thick and it’s prone to damage if you don’t take care of it. In between each intestinal cell, which lines the gut, there’s a tight junction. Anything that can’t be absorbed into your intestinal cell wall can be brought into the bloodstream through these tight junctions. What happens over time of consuming these irritant foods is that the junctions become bigger and bigger allowing greater and larger whole food proteins into your blood. They don't belong there!
Gluten and dairy are the two most common irritant foods contributing to leaky gut, but it’s really different for each individual. Other individuals are sensitive to soy, wheat, and peanuts to name a few.
When gluten is consumed, regardless of whether you’re gluten intolerant or whether you have Celiac Disease , it attacks your intestinal lining and causes an increase in production of the enzyme called zonulin. Zonulin breaks down the tight junctions that hold our intestinal walls together. When it breaks down these tights junctions it makes gaps in the lining of the intestinal wall, which in turn, allows bigger proteins to cross into our bloodstream. This isn’t a good scenario. Our body sees these foreign particles, and being that its self healing, wants to attack them and thus mounts an immune response against them. The problem is that the proteins that our body is now attacking might look like the proteins in our other systems. It can't tell the difference between these inflammatory irritants, it just knows that something foreign has entered the bloodstream. For example, to illustrate this further - when our bloodstream is full of protein particles that have wrongly entered, our body sees the proteins in our joints as potentially damaging as well and can end up attacking them too. This creates a situation called Rheumatoid Arthritis. The same situation takes place with other “itisis” as well.
For people with Celiac Disease, zonulin opens these junctions up to such a greater degree and that their symptoms are so severe they must avoid gluten at all possible cost. Others, may just have gluten intolerance or a food sensitivity.
Gluten causes inflammation because typically when we eat gluten we eat it in a form of a refined carbohydrate with some sort of added sugars. So you can see why gluten is not good for you no matter what. Your body creates a defense against gluten. I think everyone should remove all gluten from his or her diet for a period of time to examine the difference it makes.
Additionally, you need your stomach acid to digest your food and you also need it to kill the bad bugs coming in. Most heartburn is not because you have too much stomach acid, most heartburn is because you have much too much bacteria in your gut producing gas and fermenting things in your small intestine and pushing up on into your stomach creating pressure that pushes that acid out. Or you eat too much sugar and dairy. Heartburn is not a problem of too much stomach acid, it's a problem of too much stomach acid in the wrong place.
The symptoms of Leaky Gut are pretty wide range: physical symptoms are fatigue or food sensitivities (it can range from actually food allergies to a foods that just bothers you to full blown Celiac Disease), autoimmune conditions like: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s, PCOS, also skin conditions like: rashes, eczema, and acne, neurological symptoms like: depressions, anxiety, ADD, autism, (remember it may not be the complete cause or the cure but it’s definitely part of it). Additionally, if you’re not able to lose weight, malabsorption of nutrients like vitamins and minerals, deficiencies in micronutrients. The biggest symptoms are GI problems like gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Back to these tight junctions – as mentioned, they’re letting things in that should never get in or don’t belong in the bloodstream. So if you’re eating foods that are not digesting properly or if your stomach is not acidic enough to help this process of digestion you’re allowing these particles into your blood, you're allowing bacteria and viruses into your blood, and you're enabling gluten proteins to make it into your blood. To recap, the body then mounts an immune response to all these foreign things that have entered the bloodstream and the chronic inflammation begins, continues and persists.
The takeaways are:
- Anytime you consume refined carbohydrates, grains, dairy, trans fats, sugars, and gluten you damage your intestinal lining and put into motion a low-grade internal inflammatory response.
- Anytime you continue eating these irritating foods that damage your gut lining over a long period of time, you compromise your immune system and thus develop chronic inflammation somewhere in your body, i.e. joints, muscles, brain, nervous system etc.
- Anytime your immune system is compromised over a long period of time you run the risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
What to do:
If you suspect you have Leaky Gut or just irritations start here:
- Remove the big 3: Gluten, Dairy and Soy.
- Be your own doctor – take out Gluten for 30 days and see how you feel. Know the stuff that makes you feel week, tired and produces cravings. You are the best health detective. The body will let you know if you just listen.
- Add in a good daily probiotic – one with diversity and multiple different species. I like Prescript Assist.
- Consume Bone Broth daily
- Mix in fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut and kombucha into your meals.
- Manage stress and sleep
Leaky gut is such a multi factorial thing that it can take 3-12 months to fix. Stay committed and the results will amaze you! And remember, the majority of your immune system is housed inside in your gut, so take care of your gut and it will take care of you.