01 Dec Chronic Inflammation and Metabolism
Inflammation and Poor Health
If you live in the 21st century, chances are you’ve heard of the term “inflammation” and may even be currently taking steps to lower your levels in an effort to reduce risk of disease and improve your health. Of course, not all inflammation is evil- acute inflammation is a sudden and relatively short process that protects and heals the body following physical injury or infection. Today I’ll be discussing CHRONIC inflammation as it relates to metabolism and weight issues while covering ways to detect and combat inflammation in the body.
The Fire in Our Bodies
Inflammation is an interesting condition as it relates to weight and metabolic function (and really a number of other conditions) as it can be difficult to distinguish between which came first- the inflammation or the metabolic dysfunction/weight gain. Oftentimes we find that these conditions actually go hand-in-hand as excess body fat increases the levels of inflammatory cytokines and has an adverse impact on protein synthesis and muscle function (i) resulting in difficulty losing weight. Furthermore, increased adipose tissue leads to increased levels of insulin resistance (ii) and imbalances of estrogen causing additional inflammation. You can see how quickly this vicious inflammatory cycle can spin out of control and wreak havoc on ones health and waste line.
Even those in today’s world not currently struggling with a weight issue may still be dealing with chronic inflammation as a result of diet, alcohol and tobacco abuse, environmental toxins, genetically modified organisms (GMO
s), chronic mental and emotional stress, low sex ho
rmones (sex hormones regulate immune/inflammatory response), excessive exercise or work, lack of rest and even age. With so many inflammatory factors, it seems that those not dealing with some degree of chronic inflammation may actually be the minority in today’s world.
Besides difficulty losing weight and excessive weight gain, chronic inflammation has been linked to at least 7 of the 10 most common causes of mortality in the United States including heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and nephritis. (iii) Most often, individuals don’t even realize they are dealing with inflammation until they are diagnosed with one of these (or a number of other) common diseases.
Blood Testing for Inflammation
While it can be fairly easy to tell whether a patient is dealing with inflammation by simply assessing their lifestyle or health status, there are a number of diagnostic tests that can be used to assess one’s inflammatory burden. The diagnostic markers that I tend to look to most frequently include C-Reactive Protein (CRP), White Blood Cell count, Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate and Albumin Levels. With these markers, I can often estimate the likelihood for disease as well as monitor overall improvements in health as dietary and lifestyle modifications are made. Other diagnostic signs indicative of inflammation include high levels of homocysteine, elevated ferritin levels, elevated monocytes, and even elevated blood glucose.
Besides diagnostic testing, inflammation can be detected with some simple “red flags” which include symptoms such as chronic aches and pains, blood sugar dysfunction, food or environmental allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, GI dysfunction or IBS, chronic fatigue, and skin issues.
While inflammation is certainly a significant and serious health condition, the good news is that there are simple ways that we can reduce and manage chronic inflammation.
Ways to Reduce Inflammation
- Avoid Refined Carbs and Sugars: In addition to poor glucose and insulin regulation being highly inflammatory, its no secret that empty calories found in these low-nutrient foods can add to unwanted fat accumulation, resulting in greater inflammation.
- Seek out phytonutrients: When cutting out refined carbs and sugars, the best replacements come in the form of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruits. Some of my personal favorites include greens, berries, cruciferous vegetables, cocoa/cocao, and green tea. Consuming more fruits and vegetables makes it easier to avoid those high sugar foods and naturally reduces one’s caloric intake making these an optimal choice for reducing inflammation.
- Balance the fats: Another essential change for reducing inflammation is to balance out the fat intake. The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the typical Western diet is about 16:1, yet it is estimated that humans evolved on a diet with an omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of about 1:1. Simple ways to achieve this ratio include increasing omega-3 rich foods such as flax, walnuts, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and salmon while cutting out vegetable oils and processed foods and swapping conventionally raised meats and eggs for grass fed/farm fresh varieties.
- Pinpoint and Avoid Allergens: Sensitivities or allergies to ingredients such as gluten, dairy and soy are a very common cause of inflammation. Simply avoiding these foods is a strong start for those suspicious of allergies and hoping to decrease inflammation. Pinpointing other allergies/sensitivities via a food allergy test can also be extremely helpful in reducing the inflammatory burden caused by food allergies and sensitivities. And of course avoiding environmental chemicals and triggers is also very helpful.
Exercise, but don’t over do it: Exercise promotes fat loss and a healthy body composition while reducing stress and improving insulin sensitivity. However, too much exercise without adequate recovery (aka “overtraining”) has been linked to ongoing/excess inflammation. Allowing 1-2 rest days during the week for optimal performance while focusing on a variety of activities including weight training, functional circuit training, yoga, and some form of continuous outdoor activity to avoid exercise induced inflammation.
- Address vitamin and mineral deficiencies: Possibly two of the most common deficiencies include vitamin D and magnesium, however ALL vitamins and minerals play vital roles in one’s overall health. Studies have found that people who lack enough Vitamin B6 have higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a common marker of inflammation. Maintaining a balanced diet is key for preventing deficiencies, however supplementation can be useful (and recommended) for those with specific or significant deficiencies.
- Dysbiosis: Gastrointestinal flora imbalances (bacterial or yeast overgrowth) are strongly linked to inflammation, particularly in the gut. With 80% of the body’s immune system in the GI system, this dysbiosis leads to excess inflammation in addition to a weakened immune system. I recommend those suspicious of dysbiosis work with a qualified health practitioner who may address imbalances with dietary changes (low sugar and/or low FODMAP diets are helpful) while possibly supplementing with fermented foods and/or a quality probiotic supplement.
- Emotional stress and toxic relationships: Studies show stress promotes inflammation, impairs wound healing, negatively affects metabolic function and promotes dysbiosis and GI dysfunction. For more on stress, feel free to check out my last article in Paleo Magazine.
- Increase Intake of anti-inflammatory foods and spices: Some of my favorite natural anti-inflammatories include turmeric (curcumin) (iv) and ginger, as well as the herbs Boswellia serrata, and Rosemary, which have been shown to inhibit the pro-inflammatory pathways. Omega-3 fatty acids are also powerful anti-inflammatories with some studies showing these fatty acids can replace common NSAIDs in certain conditions. (v)
- Balance: In case you haven’t picked up on the pattern, a major key in preventing and reducing inflammation is balance… balance in diet, exercise habits, food choices, work, rest and life in general. In fact, I have yet to see a case of chronic inflammation that didn’t involve some form of imbalance in the body. While finding balance in today’s world isn’t always easy, it is always beneficial and is key for those struggling with metabolic/weight issues or really any other chronic health condition.
-Jason M. Kremer, DC, CCSP, CSCS
i. Zoico E, Roubenoff R. The role of cytokines in regulating protein metabolism and muscle function. Nutr Rev. 2002;60(2):39-51.
ii. Steven E. Shoelson, Jongsoon Lee, and Allison B. Goldfine. Inflammation and Insulin Resistance. J Clin Invest. Jul 3, 2006; 116(7): 1793–1801
iii. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011; Bastard et al. 2006; Cao 2011, Jha et al. 2009; Ferrucci et al. 2010; Glorieux et al. 2009; Kundu et al. 2008; Murphy 2012; Singh et al. 2011)
iv Araujo CC, Leon LL: Biological activities of Curcuma longa L. Mem Inst Osawaldo Cruz 96:723–728, 2001
v. Marienfeld R, Neumann M, Chuvpilo S, Escher C, Kneitz B, Avots A, et al: Cyclosporin A interferes with the inducible degradation of NF-k B inhibitors, but not with the processing of p105/NF-k B1 in T cells. Eur J Immunol 27:1601–1609, 1997