Chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world. The World Health Organization ranks chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health. And at least 3 out of 5 Americans is chronically inflamed.
That should scare the crap out of you. I know it does me.
Inflammation is part of the body’s defense mechanism. When our immune system recognizes harmful stimuli, inflammation is the body’s answer — remove it and then move on to healing.
But when the harmful stimuli never get removed, because we keep putting more and more of it into our bodies (think sugar, processed foods), the body never gets a chance to move on and heal. This is what’s called chronic inflammation. It’s when your body is inflamed for months or, for most of us, years.
The documentary “Un-Inflame Me: Reversing the American Diet and Lifestyle” was pretty eye-opening for me. I hadn’t heard much about chronic inflammation up until a few months ago when I first watched this documentary. But once I heard it, I started hearing it everywhere. Either it’s a current buzzword, or I wasn’t listening before.
Overall, I found the film very informative. It was a little less professionally done than a lot of documentaries out there (not glaringly so, mind you – it just had a bit of a home movie “feel” to it). But that was fine with me. Information is information. Kudos to Angela Lamb, the creator of the film, for doing whatever she could to get the word out.
Some other reviewers of the film complained because they’d heard all this information before, but I hadn’t. And sure, some of it is more commonly known stuff. But there was a lot of new information, as well, at least for me.
Angela Lamb was overweight at the start of her journey, though not obese. But she’d been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that she never names explicitly. She goes in search of what might have caused the condition, rather than just treating it with pills. Again, good for you, Angela!
The film talks about a staggering amount of diseases directly linked to chronic inflammation:
- Type II Diabetes
- Cancer (not all types)
- Heart Disease
- Autoimmune Conditions
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
- Hyperlipidemia (High Cholesterol)
- Kidney Disease
- And more!
If you look at the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, that’s 7 of the 10 that are potentially caused by inflammation. The only three that chronic inflammation isn’t causing are the flu, suicides, and accidents (unless you’re reading this article while driving and run into someone — but please don’t do that!).
So it’s no wonder that chronic inflammation is an important topic and something that we need to learn how to control.
So what’s causing our chronic inflammation?
“Is it all genetic? Is it environment? Is it a combination of both? And most of the time it is a combination and by adjusting your lifestyle, you can actually address the underlying cause of these problems, which is chronic inflammation.”Dr. Hamid Bashir, Rheumatologist
I finally understand what causes my high cholesterol, thanks to Dr. Michael Thwyman, the cardiologist interviewed in the film. He said that since inflammation is basically your immune system turned on all the time, you have all this stuff going through your bloodstream trying to fight off the offending toxins. And your arteries tend to get damaged as “innocent bystanders” — they get scratched.
“You have to repair those scratches. And cholesterol is one of those things that is part of the repair mechanism that helps make new outer shells to repair that damage. But if the inflammation is ongoing, those cholesterol particles,Dr. Michael Thwyman, Cardiologist
they get damaged… and then they get stuck below the walls of the arteries and cause growing plaque.”
So, chronic inflammation is killing us. How do we stop it?
“Oxidation and inflammation, they tend to go hand in hand. The more oxidation you have, you tend to have more inflammation. The more inflammation, the more oxidation.”Dr. Michael Thwyman, Cardiologist
What is oxidation? It’s the gaining of oxygen and the loss of electrons. It’s what makes an apple turn brown once you cut into it. It causes rust. It’s our body slowly aging and dying. It’s now directly linked to various cancers.
So you’ve probably heard of spiffy little things called antioxidants (or superfoods). You’ve been told they’re good for you. Break down the word antioxidant into its parts and now you know why.
Anti = nope, not happening.
Oxidants = what’s slowly killing you.
So we want more antioxidants. Yes. Please. Things like:
- dark chocolate (the kind with low to no sugar, if you can)
- red berries
- purple, red and blue grapes
- dark green veggies (artichokes, kale, broccoli, spinach)
- sweet potatoes and orange vegetables
- fish (high in omega-3 fatty acids)
Dr. Thwyman says you should eat way more vegetables and fruit than you think you should. Ten servings a day would be optimal, and a very low percentage of Americans get anywhere near that amount. Dieticians and nutritionists seem to agree that at least 50% of our plate should be colorful vegetables.
So that’s one thing that vegetarians and vegans get right, and probably one of the reasons that they feel so great on that particular nutritional approach.
Incidentally, this is absolutely nothing like what the USDA’s guidelines for healthy eating look like. But we’ll get into the reasons behind that at a later date.
It’s these antioxidants that give our body the ability to fight off the other bad stuff that you may be fueling your system with. So, when you give in and have some sugar or processed food, it’s not the end of the world as long as you’re providing your body with enough antioxidants. They act like the emergency response team that comes in after an accident and cleans up the scene.
On top of eating antioxidants, we want to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Harvard Health has some guidelines online here. It’s very similar to a Mediterranean Diet. In Un-Inflame Me, this is where Dr. Jessica Black, ND comes in. She’s written a book called The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book.
She suggests adding turmeric and garlic to our diets and removing inflammatory foods like gluten, sugar, dairy, unhealthy grains, and nightshade foods like potatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes.
The interview with Dr. Black was a really informative part of the documentary and made me want to read more from her. So I’ll be reviewing her book within my next few articles, once I finish it.
Another interview I really enjoyed was one with Kristen Brokaw, the founder of SLiiM, which is a group made up of a bunch of doctors that focus on the why behind your symptoms rather than just treating and suppressing them with pills.
“Over time, we came up with the disease theory, which… here’s a medicine that’s gonna fix this. And that works. That’s awesome for acute care. But we took that model and we developed more pharmaceuticals for conditions that are truly lifestyle [based].”Kristen Brokaw, Founder of SLiiM
How true that is! We break an arm, so we go in and get it fixed by patching it up with a cast. Great! Trauma fixed. But we know why we broke our arm. We fell, or maybe we tried to update our Facebook status while ziplining. Either way, there’s not a mysterious “why” behind trauma.
But when you have high blood pressure or diabetes or high cholesterol, if you only get “patched up” by taking a pill rather than addressing the reason behind why you have high blood pressure or diabetes or high cholesterol, that’s not the right response. You’re ignoring the “why.” You’re putting a band-aid on a gaping wound, and that’s not enough.
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”Ann Wigmore, author and pioneer in the use of wheatgrass juice and raw and living foods for detoxifying and healing the body
Unfortunately, this isn’t something most doctors can help you much with. But that’s not necessarily your doctor’s fault. Medical school is long, and the people that decided the courses needed for graduation must not have thought that food was important enough to add in there. Besides, that’s what nutritionists are for, right?
But nutritionists shouldn’t be the ones treating your life-threatening conditions. A doctor should.
Thankfully, some doctors spend their own time and money and further educate themselves. This area is called functional or integrative medicine, by the way. In case you decide you want to change doctors.
But read the Wikipedia page on functional/integrative medicine first. They call functional medicine “alternative medicine” and say it “has been described as pseudoscience, quackery, and [is] at its essence a rebranding of complementary and alternative medicine.”
I don’t understand. Treating diseases with food is “quackery,” but shoving chemicals in the form of pills down our throats to mask the symptoms instead is the norm? There is now study after study directly linking food to these various diseases. So I suspect there’s some prejudices at play from the people making these “quackery” claims.
Additionally, the members of SLiiM (the group featured in the film) all seemed to be actual MDs that believe strongly in the medicinal power of food. They’ve spent their own time and money to continue their education beyond what they receive in medical school.
So there are good functional medicine and naturopathic doctors out there. We’ll simply need to make sure we look at their credentials before switching our doctors. Never a bad plan anyway.
From a quick online search of functional, integrative, and naturopathic doctors in my area, I can tell you right now that most of them aren’t going to take insurance. Insurance companies and “alternative medicine” don’t really mix well. Even though this shouldn’t be “alternative medicine.”
So that right there removes the majority of the American population from having access to them.
But that’s why documentaries like this exist. And why books like Dr. Black’s exist. We don’t need a prescription for food. We need to get our hands on the information and educate ourselves.
“It doesn’t even really matter sometimes what diet you’re choosing. But if you’re choosingDr. Jessica Black, ND
change, it’s important. So change your lifestyle, make sure you’re active, and cut out sugar. And I guarantee you that almost every diet that is out there is gonna cut out sugar.”
Dr. Black emphasizes that understanding moderation is critical. Not everything has to be so black and white. If you can start slow and eat less sugar, or lower your intake of dairy, or eat more vegetables, then you are making a change for the better and you are going to be healthier because of it.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by jumping headfirst into the diet and then give up because one day you have a cookie, telling yourself that you failed and you couldn’t do it. This diet change is a lifestyle change–something you’re trying to do for the rest of your life. If you have a day that you cheat, then you had a day that you cheated. Go back to eating how you should eat the next day. Or even the next meal.
This is one of my weaknesses. I’m horrible at giving up for an entire day (or maybe even week) because I messed up and ate something I shouldn’t have. “Oh, I already messed up. I may as well eat crap for the rest of the day because it’s ruined.” I know I’m not the only one!
She also points out that a lot of people that seem to have less willpower than others when it comes to eating right. She thinks there’s a reason behind this, and that it has to do with if their body is significantly lacking in something, like some nutrient that they’re not getting enough of. They’re eating that food to fulfill something.
I think this holds true for more than nutrients, as well. For many of us, eating is emotional. Food fills a void for many of us, and it doesn’t always have to do with nutrients. But this is getting into the psychology behind emotional eating, and I plan to do a whole post or two on that, so we’ll save this for another day.
“Right now I think we have a crisis in healthcare, especially when it comes to the health of children… We have a generation of children… for the first time… who’s life expectancy is going to be shorter than their parents.”Dr. Anu French, MD, FAAP, integrative medicine pediatrician
She’s talking about a study posted in the New England Journal of Medicine that predicts just such a change in life expectancy, due to obesity. That’s sobering. And infuriating.
There needs to be more education out there for people on these issues, and companies to stop throwing sugar into everything, for goodness sake!
According to the World Health Organization, we can change our own destiny when it comes to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
“Adopting a pessimistic attitude, some people believe that there is nothing that can be done, anyway. In reality, the major causes of chronic diseases are known, and if these risk factors were eliminated, at least 80% of all heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes would be prevented; over 40% of cancer would be prevented.”The World Health Organization
So as I said earlier, this documentary was very eye
By the way, Angela lost weight, is no longer chronically
Stay tuned for more info on an anti-inflammatory diet in the next post or two! And in the meantime, have a great day!Other References: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/