Inflammation explanation: Friend or foe?


Tracy Cook, NP-C

Inflammation is a signal to our body’s immune system that something is wrong, and our body’s natural processes go into repair and protect mode. There are two different types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is typically the response to a specific event such as an injury, surgery or joint deterioration. Acute inflammation, not unlike pain, is actually a friend to our body because it triggers the body’s natural repair processes. Acute inflammation is a signal of a problem and is not itself a problem. Chronic inflammation on the other hand can be a problem. We tend to think that stiff joints, lack of sleep, high cholesterol and higher risk of heart disease or diabetes are simply part of growing old. The fact is that these conditions are not part of the ageing process. We are doing it to ourselves by slowly ingesting food that causes a slow but steady exposure that produces chronic inflammation.

So what foods cause inflammation? It is all the usual suspects.

Sugar: increases levels of pro-inflammatory messengers called cytokines.

Trans-fat, Vegetable oils (soy, corn, sunflower, safflower or palm oil): They have a high concentration of the inflammatory fat, Omega-6 and low in anti-inflammatory fat, Omega-3. The average person has an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of around 20:1 when it should be 1:1.

Processed foods: Fried and processed foods contain high levels of inflammatory advanced glycation end products (AGEs). This occurs when food is cooked at high temperatures, pasteurized, dried, smoked, fried or grilled. (High temperatures occur at over 190 degrees)

Refined wheat flours: Manufacturers have stripped the wheat of their slow-digesting fiber and nutrients.

Dairy: It contains a source of inflammation-inducing saturated fats. One in four adults has some type of allergy to milk and this can trigger inflammatory reactions through the release of histamines.

No sugar added, “Diet” products: Artificial sweetener consumption enhances the risk of glucose (sugar) intolerance by altering our gut microbiome. Artificial coloring (think sodas) is made from petroleum oil. This has been implicated to cause disruption of hormone function, hyperactivity in children and tumor production. Our body attempts to defend itself by activating the inflammatory cascade.

Meat: Stock animals did not evolve on a grain-fed diet; therefore, producers have to load the animals up with antibiotics and hormones to keep the animals healthy and to help them (and us) gain weight faster.

Alcohol: While some research shows one drink daily can lower levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive Protein (CRP), too much alcohol has the opposite effect. The body’s process of breaking down alcohol generates toxic by-products that damage liver cells, promote inflammation and weaken the body’s immune system. We can’t say it enough, “Everything in moderation!” especially with alcohol.

Making small but important choices daily can change our exposure to inflammation and long term help us lead a healthier and happier life.

Next month we will talk about the foods that actually decrease inflammation.

Tracy Cook is an Adult Nurse Practitioner who owns and operates her private medical practice Adult Health Services. She is a resident of Robson Ranch and a Living Well committee member. For any questions or more information please visit her website