Inflammation The Unwelcome Guest
Most of us have come to realize that the food we eat can have a
direct effect on how we feel. Some have discovered how much more alert and energized we are by ingesting certain foods, while we get bellyaches from other foods. But honestly, can broccoli, kale, and raspberries help us fight off illness? Is it true that a sizeable daily dose of turmeric can keep us healthy? Isn’t that taking things a bit far?
According to current research, it isn’t. We live in very exciting times— every other day uncovers new studies related to intestinal flora and inflammation, their results demonstrated that by changing our lifestyle and what we eat, we can play an active role in preventing an array of maladies such as infections, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, achy joints, MS (Multiple Sclerosis), diabetes, headaches, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), skin problems, sleep disorders, and cancer. The fact is, the food we chomp down on makes a difference deep down at life’s cellular level. In the same way that excess sugar and processed foods can make us sick, fiber-rich vegetables, colorful spices and grains, and cereals rich in antioxidants can help us stay healthy and vital.
Before getting to know our own in-house professor, Stig Bengmark, we used to call ourselves “positive hypochondriacs.” We thought often about illnesses and called the health hotline a bit more often than the average person, yet we still looked to the future with optimism. It ’s easy to make light of one ’s preoccupation with health—that nagging worry that sickness may strikeout of the blue—but it ’s not so easy to live with. To be honest, not many afflictions have escaped our paranoia over the years, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, rheumatism, and a few other choice ailments. Then we met Stig. That ’s when our obsession with inflammation began.
You’re probably thinking: Inflammation? That doesn’t sound so bad.
Nope, and it took us by surprise, too. We were worried about lumps and bumps and stiff joints, and then here comes Stig, throwing a big pile of
scientific articles in front of us, insisting that inflammation is the real villain.
And he ’s not going on about inflamed cuticles, either; he ’s talking about
SO, WHAT IS CHRONIC INFLAMMATION?
First, we need to understand the difference between common and chronic inflammation.
The clinical definition of inflammation is “the body’s attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli.” Common inflammation isn’t particularly complicated—it is simply the body’s natural defense against foreign invaders such as bacteria, toxins, or a virus. The affected area attracts immune system cells—white blood cells—from the blood, and those cells emit different substances to root out the cause of the inflammation and repair any harm caused to the body’s cells.
The body is a total pro at protecting itself against bacterial and viral invaders, and in those instances, inflammation is a good thing. Except in one case: chronic inflammation. The word chronic means that it is long-
lasting and persistent. Chronic inflammation is as damaging to the body as a run-of-the-mill, short-lived inflammation is beneficial. Chronic inflammation is silent and vicious; it differs from a common, acute case of
inflammation in that it is as discreet as the Millenium Series’ Lisbeth Salander, and it can be just as challenging to deal with. The signs are there, but they’re so subtle that their little warning bells might be difficult to hear, at least at the onset.
SIGNS OF CHRONIC INFLAMMATION
Unexplained breakouts and red, blotchy skin
Dry mouth or excess saliva
Unexplained chronic constipation or diarrhea
Frequent, unexplained infections and influenza
Frequent mental depression
Unexplained shortness of breath
Sweaty feet and sweaty palms
Don’t panic—exhibiting the above symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean that you suffer from chronic inflammation. Sweaty palms might be from nervousness and sudden shortness of breath is a common reaction to
falling head over heels in love.
But since we know that chronic illness is preceded by chronic inflammation and that the rate of these chronic diseases is increasing, it is not unreasonable to conclude that many of us could be walking around
with chronic inflammation and be completely unaware of it. It ’s enough to make one think long and hard about countries that have embraced the Western diet and that are also experiencing surging rates of allergies,
rheumatism, ADHD, diabetes, and cancer.
However, if so many of us have chronic inflammation, why is it that we can’t feel it? Maybe we think it ’s no big deal to feel constipated, or to have breakouts, or to suffer from unexplained fatigue. Perhaps we have simply
learned to live with our aches and pains and believe it ’s the normal run of things. It would be a shame if that were the case, knowing as we do now that chronic inflammation is an important factor in chronic illness, and
that today’s research indicates that if one develops a chronic illness, the odds of suffering a second and third ailment are greater. However, what has not been understood yet is why the disease process begins with cancer
in one individual, starts with diabetes in someone else, and triggers Alzheimer’s disease in yet another.
Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer are some of the most common chronic diseases.
HOW DOES CHRONIC INFLAMMATION EMERGE?
Let ’s go back to the body. Chronic inflammation develops when the immune system is exhausted.
Each time we take a breath we inhale about 500 ml ( 1 pint) of oxygen into our lungs. From the lungs, the oxygen is sent out via the bloodstream to our blood cells, which need oxygen to produce energy. Not only is vital
energy made during this process, something called free radicals is also produced, which in large quantities can damage the body’s cells and cause inflammation.
The formation of free radicals also happens through our lifestyle choices. Let say, for instance, that you don’t take care of yourself—you eat a bad diet, suffer from stress, don’t exercise, and smoke. A great many
free radicals would be formed in the cells, too many for your body to guard itself against. This wears out your immune system, and chronic inflammation ensues.
Antioxidants can effectively disarm those free radicals. As the name implies, antioxidants defend us from the damage inflicted by free radicals on the body’s cells. A small number of antioxidants are produced by our bodies, but as we age our ability to make antioxidants decreases.
From about twenty-five years of age, the body stops producing its own antioxidants entirely, which is why it ’s critical that we obtain them through our food in the form of vegetables, fruit, and berries. In the next chapter,
we’ll show you that there are two types of bacteria to be found in the gut—good and bad bacteria—but we can already reveal at this point that it ’s the good bacteria in our gut that extracts antioxidants from the food we eat.