It seems there are quite the multitude of factors that cause all of our health woes. Tell me if you've heard of any of the following being the "real" cause of anything from heart disease to chronic fatigue:
- Lack of sleep
- Too much stress
- Too much fat in the diet
- Too little fat in the diet
- Too much of the wrong fats
- The wrong ratio of one particular kind of fat to another kind of fat
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Destruction of the gut microbiome
We're going to focus on the last one. It's a popular buzzword that's been going around recently - purported to be the real cause behind things like heart attacks, autoimmune disorders, and apparently difficulty in weight loss.
According to JJ Virgin inflammation is one of the big drawbacks of eating foods you are intolerant to. But just how true is that? Before we can figure that out, we need to know what, exactly inflammation refers to.
What Is Inflammation?
Inflammation is part of our immune system's response to threats. Traditionally, we think of inflammation in terms of what we can see: a big red bump from a mosquito bite, breaking out in hives after eating peanuts, a swollen, purple ankle after you've twisted it, or an inability to put on shoes or even walk when you get an infected toenail. These are cases of acute inflammation.
Acute Inflammation = A response to one particular event, such as a bug bite or eating a food you're allergic to. Relative to chronic inflammation, symptoms of acute inflammation occur quickly and are resolved quicker.
Ever wondered why the body would do something so annoying and sometimes painful to you? I mean, hell, if it wasn't enough that you got punched in the face, you had to go and swell up like a balloon so that you can't even see out of that eye. What gives?
Here's what each of the symptoms do:
- Heat - Caused by increased blood flow to the area. Blood delivers all of the tools your body needs to repair the damage at the site or fight off invaders.
- Redness - Same as heat, caused by increased blood flow to the area.
- Swelling - Increased blood flow to the area results in an increase in blood plasma. Blood plasma is mostly water, and its job is to help fight infection (helpful for say, a bug bite) and form clots (helpful for a wound), among other repair tasks.
- Pain - Irritation of the surrounding tissue from whatever injury you sustained, pressure from swelling, and an increase in nerve sensitivity can all lead to a painful inflammation experience.
Note that these are all good things in terms of helping your body repair itself or fight off infection! You want these things to happen so that your blood clots, preventing you from bleeding to death, or for antibodies to arrive at the site of infection, preventing it from spreading.
So if inflammation is good, why is it being cast in such a negative light?
Enter "Chronic Inflammation"
You probably know someone with some type of chronic inflammation. Here are some more well-known disorders:
...Among other autoimmune disorders.
It may be that even if you live the worst kind of lifestyle (smoking, sleeping 5 or less hours a night, high stress, no fruit or vegetables, no exercise, over-eating, etc, etc), you'd never increase your chances of developing these conditions without a genetic pre-disposition. It's hard to say.
What about something like heart disease, however, which is the leading cause of death in the United States? If you've been keeping up-to-date with your news headlines, you may have seen that inflammation has replaced cholesterol levels as the secret cause of heart disease.
The idea goes something like this:
- Your arterial walls get injured somehow
- Immune response and inflammation come to the rescue to repair it
- Sometimes the cells that promote clotting (usually a good thing, like we described above) can get gummed up, and then other things can get all gummed up with them, forming plaque.
- If this happens enough you can completely clog your artery, or parts of the plaque can break off and completely clog up a smaller blood vessel down the road.
So how do you prevent your arteries from getting injured in the first place? Don't have high blood pressure. Try not to be stressed. Don't get stabbed around the area.
Unfortunately knowing you have high blood pressure can be pretty stressful (as would getting stabbed, presumably). On top of that, being overweight or obese can increase your chances of having high blood pressure - and being overweight is pretty stressful too. It's a bit of a vicious cycle.
So what if you're suffering from a multitude of symptoms - aching joints, abdominal cramping or bowel issues, and on top of that you just can't seem to lose the extra weight around your middle. Is it an issue with chronic inflammation?
I know, isn't the ambiguity insufferable?
Just keep in mind, this area of research is relatively new, so not a lot of certain conclusions have been made. This doesn't stop quite the multitude of websites from making extremely certain statements, however.
However, there don't seem to be any definite links between chronic inflammation and having a difficult time losing weight, unless you have a condition like Hashimoto's. In fact, fat cells produce inflammatory substances.
Does food intolerance cause chronic inflammation?
Eating a food you're allergic to does cause an immune response, which would result in some inflammation. Ever seen someone's swell up after eating peanuts? Not pleasant, potentially life-threatening!
- Ingest lactose-containing food.
- Your body lacks the enzymes to break down lactose
- Lactose arrives at the large intestine un-digested
- Bacteria ferments lactose, causing gas and bloating
- Diarrhea typically follows due to you having only partially digested your lactose.
None of these steps involve the immune response, thus it would stand to reason eating something you're 'intolerant' to would not cause chronic inflammation.
"But Kat," you say, "I read something about leaky gut one time. Something like food gets into my bloodstream. That sounds bad."
As I went over in Part I of my food Intolerance posts, there is spotty evidence that food intolerance causes "leaky gut." Is it possible that intolerance causes chronic inflammation due to leaky gut?
Isn't science fun??
In any case, if you fear that you are intolerant to a specific food, you'd likely want to avoid it simply due to the fact that it causes uncomfortable gas and bloating. And if you're really afraid that you suffer from chronic inflammation - go see a doctor.
That's the most responsible advice that anyone can give you.
Stay tuned for Part II next week, where I'll go over the specifics of what JJ Virgin says about inflammation, its causes, and its cures.
As always, if you have any thoughts or information to add, please share them below!