By Dr Vanessa Ingraham, an expert health adviser and doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Our modern lives are by definition highly inflammatory. The Annual Update of Key Results 2015/16, New Zealand Health Survey, found that one in three Kiwis is overweight. Visceral adipose, or what is affectionately known as belly fat, contains cells that act like little factories, churning out cell messengers that promote inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation unhinges our ability to control blood sugar, and the ability of our liver and muscles to burn fat.
Obesity drives inflammation, and inflammation makes it harder to lose weight. An anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle changes can break this cycle and reduce our risk of chronic disease.
Other common causes of inflammation include:
70 per cent of our immune system resides in clusters known as the GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue). The health of our gastrointestinal tract sets the stage for our inflammatory response. Too much of the wrong type of bacteria and yeast, parasites, food allergies, and incomplete digestion all affect not only our gut health but also our immune response.
When you eat things you are allergic to, the immune system revs up and inflammation increases.
Over-consumption of macronutrients and nutritional deficiencies
Too many carbohydrates and sugar, too much fat or protein — all these can cause inflammation. Nutrient-dense wholefoods are generally anti-inflammatory, whereas most processed foods contribute to inflammation.
Exercise increases the production of anti-inflammatory compounds in the body. Exercise also benefits insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, both of which reduce inflammation.
Chronic or latent infections
Inflammation is supposed to clear infections, so when the immune system is unable to destroy a pathogen, chronic infections may result in chronic inflammation. Common offenders include Lyme bacteria from tick bites, dental infections and viruses such as Epstein Barr, herpes and human papilloma virus. This last one causes cervical cancer in part through the chronic inflammation it promotes (1).
In women, progesterone begins to decline in the mid 30s, and without its balancing effect on estrogen the immune system may become unhinged.
Excessive intake of dietary estrogen-like compounds (dairy and soy) and environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen (known as xenoestrogens and found in personal care products and plastics) are all inflammatory.
Xenoestrogens are closely linked to increased cardiometabolic disease, breast cancer, fibroids and obesity as well as lowered sperm count and infertility (2).
Physical, emotional or psychological stress all drive inflammation and interfere with healing through excess cortisol secretion. Stress also increases the production of certain inflammatory white blood cells, increasing the risk of and severity of such inflammation-related conditions as ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Environmental toxicity and poor lifestyle habits
Excessive alcohol, cigarette smoking and exposure to environmental contaminants such as benzene and heavy metals all increase inflammation and stress the liver. Compromised liver function interferes with fat burning and results in inflammatory metabolites in the bloodstream.