What is Chronic Inflammation and why it matters to you
Chronic inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system stays active for prolonged periods of time lasting several months to years. A healthy immune system will turn off when not needed, but several health conditions trigger the immune system to stay on.
Autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, stress, heart disease, high cholesterol, allergies, lung disorders, and sleep disorders are among the top contributors to chronic inflammation.
How prevalent are these chronic conditions?
1 in 2 Americans have at least one chronic disease
1 in 4 Americans have 2 or more
Worldwide, these diseases cause 3 out of 5 deaths
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health, chronic diseases are defined as cardiovascular disease (heart disease), cancer, chronic lung diseases (asthma, COPD), stroke, Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes. While arthritis, other joint disorders (chronic pain), obesity, metabolic disease, high cholesterol, and autoimmune disorders are not included in the official definition they are still recognized as causing chronic inflammation.
What causes chronic inflammation?
In response to either an infection, injury, or biological changes due to disease, the body’s immune system starts releasing cytokines (an immune cell) to fight off the infection or changes to return the body to a state of normal. The goal of our immune system, and other systems, is to maintain a state of homeostasis. But due to the nature of these disorders and diseases, the body ends up on an endless loop, never actually achieving homeostasis. Often times there is a worsening of other body systems. For example, chronic high blood pressure has been shown to lead to kidney disorders, and the reverse, chronic kidney disease has been shown to lead to high blood pressure.
Our various body systems are linked and when one is affected by long term disease or dysfunction, other systems follow. Creating a negative loop of chronic inflammation.
There are several natural ways to protect yourself against chronic inflammation or aid your medical treatment plan in reducing inflammation. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to eat healthily and be active. But not all healthy foods are created equally. Here are the top three inflammation-causing foods.
Top 3 Inflammation Causing Foods
Refined sugar is a processed sugar created by extracting sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets. Another form of refined sugar is the chemically-produced corn syrup which is often added to drinks and other manufactured foods to add sweetness.
Sugar occurs naturally in a lot of foods, especially fruit and vegetables. Naturally occurring sugar is not the same as the processed or refined sugars that cause inflammation. These refined sugars are considered “added” sugars and the current USDA 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend limited added sugars to no more than 10% of your overall calorie consumption. For a 2000 calorie diet, that is a max of 200 calories or 50 grams.
Any fat that is solid at room temperature is high in saturated fats, think bacon grease when cool, lard, or coconut oil. Saturated fats are also found in cheeses, dairy products, eggs, etc. Diets high in saturated fats lead to elevated levels of LDL, low-density lipoproteins, or “bad” cholesterol. This dietary cholesterol then adheres to the linings of our arteries, narrowing the pathway for the blood to flow to the heart and other parts of the body. This process is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.
In a 2016 study by UCSF, they concluded that saturated fats may trigger an inflammatory immune system response. The inflammatory response associated with saturated fats affects the linings of many key systems including the liver, which processes and produces cholesterol, both good and bad.
Processed foods take on many forms, from cheese-like products to shelf-stable goods in boxes, to foods that appear to have been created by AI. The actual definition of processed foods is transforming one food into another. Technically this includes all sorts of foods from oils, to flours, to canned goods. For the sake of this article, we are going to focus on Ultra-processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods go beyond a simple addition of 1 or 2 additional foods, like sugar, fat, or salt. This often includes artificial coloring, artificial flavorings, and preservatives. This processing alters the food’s natural state and includes foods like hot dogs, meal replacement shakes or mixes, frozen meals, soft drinks, cold cuts, fast food, and other pre-packaged food.
It’s estimated that 60% of the US diet is comprised of these processed foods, but how does that cause inflammation? Studies conducted worldwide show a strong correlation with ultra-processed foods and higher risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
What’s the solution? Eat a consistent diet that is low in refined sugar, saturated fats, and ultra-processed foods. The more you eat fresh foods the healthier your body. Aim to eat less than 10% of your daily calories from refined sugar, less than 10% daily calories of saturated fat, and reduce your reliance on ultra-processed foods.
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