What is Inflammation and what is its Link to Health.....
Inflammation may be the underlying cause to many of our chronic health conditions including mental health and depression which is why it is so important to understand its behaviour. Toning down inflammation in our body may be the key to starting to work towards better health.
Inflammation is an important bodily function, it is the bodies healing response to trauma, injury, damaged tissues or cells or an infection (bacterial or viral) triggering our immune system. Cells and chemicals react to the signals in the body from the injury, infection or toxins - which can be external or endotoxins (toxins produced by our bodies), allergies and/or sensitivities creating inflammation - in a healthy person once it is dealt with the immune system and inflammation should die down.
But the bigger problem is when inflammation becomes chronic, which can be for many different reasons and underlies many health conditions. Chronic inflammation can be linked to auto-immunity where the bodies immune system attacks itself resulting in a variety of conditions - Celiac and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, Type 1 Diabetes and Hashimoto (thyroid), just to name a few.
Chronic inflammation can be linked to many physiological imbalances – oxidative stress, gastro-intestinal problems, poor detoxification, imbalanced immune system, blood sugar balance, hormonal imbalances and stress and adrenal fatigue. But what I have become more interested in is the role that inflammation can play in these imbalances and particularly in mental health.
There is growing research that suggests inflammation plays a role in depression, and not just depression, but other mental health conditions. Stress, the food we eat, over exercising, often put a strain on the body which can inflame the body. It is thought that reducing and calming inflammation can help chronic conditions, even depression. This is a different way of thinking about mental health conditions, and maybe diet and lifestyle can be starting points to help heal mind and body.
When we think of diet some foods can be pro-inflammatory – such as highly processed, fatty, sugary foods like fast foods and others can be anti-inflammatory, we think of omega 3 in oily fish and a variety of plants - fruit and vegetables along with herbs and spices.
But it may not be that simple, which is where personalised nutrition comes in - for example tomatoes contain anti-inflammatory phyto-nutrients but for people who react to the nightshade family they may create inflammation in the body; or strawberries which again contain anti-inflammatory nutrients but are also high in histamine and for some people promote inflammation. This is why I often start a personalised nutrition plan for clients.
This plan often starts with an elimination diet cutting out the common foods that cause reactions – gluten (wheat and other grains), dairy, eggs, soya, corn, then possibly the nightshade family and high histamine foods. I might even suggest an IgG food intolerance test to get a snapshot of foods creating an immune reaction. Starting with diet and gut health is important as these foods may cause inflammation in the gut; if you have an impaired gut wall (a leaky gut) and food molecules are getting into the blood stream and body they can cause inflammation in different places in the body including in the brain. Inflammation in the brain can be caused by particles crossing the blood brain barrier.
By cutting out foods (normally for a few months) that may be triggering an immune response can help reduce inflammation and alongside this having nutrients and foods to help improve the gut wall integrity so that foods can be re-introduced and then see which ones may or may not be needed to be cut out long term. It can be a long process, but clients do see an improvement of symptoms with a reduction of inflammation.
A well-balanced gut microbiome also plays a role in inflammation so having probiotics – kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables and cultured yogurts along with prebiotic foods to feed the good bacteria (artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions and garlic) is important to add into the diet.
Sugar and fats also play a role in inflammation, too much sugar can be inflammatory and affect blood sugar balance so having a low GL diet is a must. Fats higher in omega 6 and low in omega 3 can also be pro-inflammatory, good fats are particularly important for brain health, so including oily fish and flaxseeds and other nuts and seeds in the diet is important and avoiding trans and oxidised fats that can cause inflammation.
Having a wider range of fruit and vegetables adds in anti-oxidants and helps with oxidative stress, which can cause cellular damage and inflammation. So include orange, berries and dark green vegetables and there are also more specific nutrients which can help with inflammation, such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, green tea and cinnamon along with other herbs and spices.
All this shows that diet plays an important role and it is possible that having more of an anti-inflammatory diet will help improve chronic health conditions including depression and mental health conditions.
Lifestyle also plays a role, as does stress; exercise can be good but over exercise can put a strain on the body. Adequate sleep is important too and getting enough sunlight and boosting Vit D levels helps support the immune system.
I believe in personalised nutrition and lifestyle advice, but often an anti-inflammatory diet is a good place to start, as inflammation is frequently one of the underlying factors for nearly every health condition, including mental health.