Are you living with some kind of chronic pain or inflammation?
That's actually a trick question because we all live with inflammation of some sort happening through our bodies. Inflammation is actually part of a body's healthy response to injury or foreign invaders. Wondering what's happening underneath that red itchy scab on your hand? That's a good inflammatory response that is leading to bacteria being killed, foreign particles and dead skin being cleared away, and beneficial blood cells being ushered in.
However, our body is not designed to have inflammatory compounds circulating through our systems on a regular basis. When we do, those compounds may turn from attacking their appropriate targets to attacking healthy body tissue. While researchers have yet to narrow down the precise processes behind inflammation and how it causes disease, when we look at markers of inflammation in our blood and diseases, there is a very clear link.
Philip Hunter, in his review titled The Inflammation Theory of Disease, points out inflammation's role in cancer and tumorigenesis, ALS, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, Alzheimer's, and what is a hot topic today- even the severity of upper respiratory tract infections. He comments that possibly ALL non-infectious diseases are linked to inflammation to some degree. While he argues that this understanding opens up the possibility for new drugs to be created for the treatment of these diseases, many in the medical field are already figuring out that plants are actually nature's best medicine when it comes to inflammation. Not only that, but certain foods contribute significantly to the amounts of inflammatory markers floating through our systems.
Take for example a woman who was treated by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. She was so ill with psoriatic arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome that she could barely move. When Dr. Fuhrman helped her completely reverse her disease she referred to herself as a "miracle". This was Dr. Fuhrman's response:
"You are not a miracle. This is just what nutritional excellence can do for people."
He went on to say in this interview:
"These are inflammatory conditions and it seems like a miracle because the conventional medical approach is to give people chemotherapeutic agents to suppress the immune system, instead of excellent nutrition to remove the inflammation and allow the body to resolve these conditions." (1)
What is this diet that Dr. Fuhrman and many other physicians and dietitians are seeing helps reverse inflammation? It's made up of 2 dietary shifts.
Step one is to remove the dietary components that are leading to more inflammatory markers in the diet. We know that meat is associated with higher rates of inflammation. We also know that animal products contain high amounts of endotoxins which may also lead to inflammation. While the science isn't complete enough to conclude which compounds in animal foods cause inflammation, we know it's true because of the way inflammation improves the less we humans have these foods in their diet.
Step two is to add in the foods with high levels of antioxidants, which our bodies use to fight free-radicals and therefore inflammation.
Without getting into the biochemistry, free radicals are responsible for damaging DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. They are formed by both natural processes such as exercise, but can also be triggered by external sources such as tobacco smoke. If it's true that our bodies naturally produce these damaging molecules, surely there is a way to deal with them or we would have all died of cancer shortly after birth. Our bodies have developed a dependence on external sources of antioxidants.
What are these external sources? Broadly we can speak of 3 vitamins (A, C, and E) which are known antioxidants, but there is more and more research indicating the similar effects of phytochemicals (especially polyphenols and carotenoids). These antioxidants are thought to work through several different mechanisms: prevention of the formation of free radicals, scavenging free radicals, and repair of DNA, etc, damaged by free radicals.
The crazy thing about inflammation is we often don't even realize we have it! Chronic low-grade inflammation may not change how you feel all that much, but in the end, it is doing damage whether we realize it or not. That's why it's important for EVERYONE to work to have a diet that reduces inflammation. How can we do this?
Reducing our consumption of animal foods, even if just by a serving a day. If you are going to leave any in your diet, leaving vegetarian sources and avoiding red meat may be the most important step to take. This is due to the research linking a more vegetarian diet to lower inflammatory markers.
Changing the plant foods you eat to be those packed with antioxidants. These include dark green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, flaxseed, avocados, spices, mushrooms, onions, garlic, beans, and choosing red wine (if you are going to drink at all). Choosing these foods also improves your gut health, which has a HUGE role in our immune response.
Avoid added salt and sugar as these are linked to inflammation. Use natural plant foods to sweeten and flavor foods like dates for dessert recipes and fresh spices for dinner.
Exercise: it is also anti-inflammatory.
Lose weight: it is a critical determinant of the amount of low-grade inflammation you have in your body. A plant-based diet just happens to be a great diet for weight loss.
For those of you wondering what to do about your chronic pain or diagnosis with an inflammation-related disease, reach out to me about a counseling session that includes a free anti-inflammatory meal plan.
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Need some additional inspiration? Check out this heartwarming success story of someone once bedridden with chronic disease now pain-free.
A Conversation with Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Disease Reversal and Prevention Digest; 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFQACBY5js8|0. Accessed February 10, 2021.