Today there are upwards of 120 known autoimmune diseases which inflict people with very serious and painful conditions such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, some cancers, and many other non-communicable chronic conditions.
A common symptom of many of these diseases is inflammation in some form. As a result a doctor will often prescribe an anti-inflammatory such as a steroid or an NSAID such as ibuprofen in order to minimize the inflammation. Unfortunately this is sometimes the only action taken. A prescription such as this will mask symptoms which can relieve the associated pain, but may not address the real cause of the problem. What is causing the inflammation?
This approach is very common with many prescribed medicines merely masking symptoms and not really getting to the root cause of the problem. Many chronic diseases are treated this way such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, hypertension, alzheimer’s, irritable bowel and celiac disease, amongst others. Often there is no attempt to find the cause and the prescription can be for life.
What is inflammation? If you damage your skin with a splinter, a blister, a cut or a burn, the area around the damage becomes red and inflamed. This is acute inflammation, it is a good sign and is part of the normal response by the body to some form of insult. The redness is from an increased presence of blood and with it comes self treatment and healing by your body. The inflammation is temporary and a normal step in your repair and recovery
However, not all inflammation is benign. If you have some form of continuous insult happening within your body, the inflammation response can be widespread and chronic (continuous). It may not be apparent to you but may be going on inside you constantly. For example, an excess of glucose in your diet can cause low level continuous inflammation in your arteries leading to heart disease. Consumption of oxidized food such as seed oils (vegetable oil) or excess omega-6 oil, can cause inflammation in your whole body.
If you are being prescribed anti-inflammatory meds, this may relieve the symptoms, but your body is trying to tell you something. While the immediate symptoms have been suppressed, the problem that your body was reacting to, may still be present.
If you ignore this message from your body, you are ignoring its cries for help. Something is causing the inflammation and if it is continuous, such as with arthritis or chronic back pain then you would be well advised to try and identify the cause or at the very least, reduce the factors which may be causing the inflammation.
Finding the cause is not easy to do, but your health might depend on it. It can be physical, such as when a disc has moved in your back. Posture or sleeping problems, strained muscles are also suspects. Pollution or smoke could be the culprit. Often inflammation is your body’s reaction to something you are eating that your body is sensitive to.
Plants contain a wide range of toxins, as this is their usual way of protecting against being eaten. They can’t run away or fight back. Most plants are poisonous to us and often those we eat have to be prepared in specific ways to remove toxins. Pesticides or ultra-processed food (factory made) containing chemicals which we can’t pronounce could be causing inflammation.
My suggestion is to actively remove the most likely dietary causes of inflammation over time.
The first change I suggest is to remove all vegetable oils (seed oils) from your diet and replace with olive oil, coconut oil, butter, avocado oil or animal fats, as the omega-6 vegetable oils are inflammatory. Vegetable oils contain high levels of omega-6 fats which enhance inflammation, platelet aggregation and blood vessel constriction. Reducing these by changing your oils and avoiding packaged food containing vegetable oils should help.
The science suggests that omega-3 and omega-6 oils compete within the body for resources and have balancing impacts. Omega-6 promotes inflammation while omega-3 reduces inflammation. Both are essential oils and we need them in very small quantities, but the critical point here is that we must have them in the right proportions. Too much of either stimulates the wrong activity. The right mix is 1-5 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3. Our modern diet is low on oily fish but heavy on nuts and seed oils, especially soy, corn and sunflower which overloads the body with omega-6. We see dietary ratios up to 40 to 1. That is a recipe for whole body inflammation. As an example research has shown that at 2-3 to 1 ratio suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
There is a need to restore the balance. Unfortunately, the ALA form of omega-3 oil available in vegetables is difficult for humans to convert into the EPA and DHA forms required. Oily fish like salmon and sardines (in spring water) can provide additional omega-3’s to help the balance and eating these about 2 times a week can make a difference. I don’t suggest fish oil supplements as these are very often oxidized which negates any benefit.
The second change I would suggest is to minimize grains including products made from grains. Most people know that wheat is problematic for those who are gluten sensitive, but many do not know that there is a relatively common condition known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) whereby even without showing anti-bodies to gluten, the wheat can cause gastric distress. But gluten is also in other grains and it is not the only problem with grains.
Grains contain phytates, glutens, lectins, and saponins, all of which can be problematic for many people promoting inflammation and other problems. Archaeologists have identified that when humans added high levels of grains to their diet, they became sicker, shorter, gained tooth decay and many other health problems. A healthy whole grain is only slightly healthier than a refined grain. Our diet has become way too grain heavy.
Our factory made “ultra-processed” foods are based on a mix of vegetable oils, grains and sugar. As we consume more of these “foods” our health is declining. I recommend eating real food, avoid grains, vegetable oils and sugar. Our bodies are not designed for this mix and inflammation is your body’s way of protesting.
If you are on anti-inflammatory medication, it might be time to look at your diet and see if you can identify the cause. My website includes a one page downloadable summary here of common anti-nutrients which may be helpful if you are looking for an inflammation culprit.
Seek professional medical advice before making dietary changes, particularly if you have underlying health problems. I can answer questions.
Good health, George Elder, Diet Researcher, Dip. Nutrition.