We often think of inflammation as a result of injury due to sprains, strains, cuts and grazes, insect bites and stings, which produce localised pain, swelling, redness and heat. Yet when inflammation is happening internally, it is not so easy to detect. What we do know, though, is that inflammation is a key driver of many degenerative and chronic conditions, including weight gain.
You may not even be aware that you are inflamed . You may think that those aches and pains you feel when you wake up in the morning are a sign of old age, but pain is your body's way of telling you that you are inflamed. Almost all chronic pain is a result of inflammation - including arthritis and other joint, back and muscle problems, digestive disorders like irritable bowel disease and many types of headaches.
Chronic diseases such as dementia, fatigue, heart disease, obesity, arthritis, asthma, depression and autoimmune disease may appear unrelated, but they all share the common underlying state of inflammation.
Many elements of our modern lifestyles can perpetuate and exacerbate inflammation, including: toxicitypsychological stresspoor dietary habitsdrug and alcohol abuselow levels of physical activity.
Toxicity is a major cause of inflammation in our modern, industrialised society. A healthy body has mechanisms for eliminating toxins naturally, but these mechanisms were designed before our society became industrialised and polluted. Chemicals are routinely incorporated into products in our homes, food has become more processed and food production relies on pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. So it's not surprising that over the years you are likely to absorb more toxins than you can easily rid yourself of. Eventually, your detoxification pathways can become overwhelmed.
As a safety mechanism, toxins that can't be eliminated are stored in fat cells. As more toxins are ingested, more fat cells are added to store them, causing weight gain, especially around the middle. Eventually, the fat cells can become unstable and toxins start leaking into the blood. This can set up an inflammatory response to clean up the "foreign bodies".
Toxicity can also lead to leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone responsible for helping regulate appetite and energy production. If the body is in balance and everything working as it should, when a person eats enough, leptin is released from fatty tissues. Leptin receptors in the brain are stimulated to limit food intake and increase metabolism to use up the food consumed, thus preserving a balance between energy consumed and energy used, maintaining an optimal weight.
But when our body becomes inflamed, chemicals are released by the fatty tissues to control the inflammation. Studies conducted at Harvard Medical School suggest the chemicals which help to control the inflammation can have a disrupting effect on leptin. This leads to leptin resistance, which means the leptin receptors in the brain are not accepting the messages properly. In this way, the balance between energy consumed and energy used is disrupted, appetite is no longer regulated and metabolism slows.
The same study showed the same effect on insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. The body's chemicals, which control inflammation, have a disrupting effect on insulin, thus causing insulin resistance. This is why there is a strong correlation between being overweight and insulin resistance.
A number of studies have shown that obese individuals have high levels of leptin, but it is no longer effective. High levels of this hormone are a problem because they further increase inflammation, interfering with the entry of glucose into the cells and with the body's insulin response. This may, in turn, lead to insulin resistance and more fat storage. When you have an increase in fat storage, this will then heighten the inflammatory response and so the vicious cycle continues.
Symptoms to look out for:Fluid retentionHeadachesStubborn weight gainTummy fat that won't budgeUncontrollable cravingsAches and pains
Food has the power to produce or reduce inflammation Fruits, vegetables and good fats from fish and nuts all help to reduce inflammation, while other foods can increase inflammation. Inflammatory foods include high sugar foods, heavily processed foods that are high in colours, flavours and other artificial ingredients and foods that are high in certain fats, such as many processed and fast foods.
Foods that decrease inflammation:Fruit and vegetables especially green, leafy and brightly coloured varieties, packed with phytochemicalsMost herbs and spicesOmega 3 fats from fish, nuts, flax and olive oil
Foods that increase inflammation:Sugary foodsTrans and saturated fatsProcessed foodscontaining artificial colours, flavours and preservatives
Inflammation, obesity, toxicity and leptin resistance go hand in hand. To break the cycle it's necessary to treat all aspects of the problem. Simply going on a diet to lose weight won't help if you don't also address underlying inflammation and toxicity. Diets on their own can, in fact, make the problem worse since this approach encourages leptin resistance, causing your metabolism to become sluggish. This means you put the weight back on again as soon as the diet is finished.
How to overcome chronic inflammation and eliminate toxins:Remove processed foods from your dietEat organic foods whenever possibleEat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetablesLimit your intake of saturated fatsIncrease your intake of omega-3 fatty acids (albacore tuna, wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, leafy greens, flax seeds, soy beans are all good sources)Buy a water filter and drink two litres of filtered water a dayUndertake moderate physical activity.
Effective natural anti-inflammatory and pain relief options
One in four Australians and New Zealanders is currently using pain medications, making these our most commonly used medications. There are many pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories that are immensely effective in alleviating pain and inflammation. But some may cause adverse side effects and people are still in chronic pain - their medication is not providing adequate relief.
Fortunately, nature has provided us with many remarkable herbs which have been used traditionally for centuries to treat acute pain and inflammation. Some of these are:Turmeric which has anti-inflammatory actions and has traditionally been used in herbal medicines to reduce the pain and swelling of arthritic and rheumatic conditions.Boswellia which has analgesic, anti-rheumatic and anti-inflammatory actions, for all types of pain, but specifically for arthritic or traumatic pain associated with inflammation.Ginger which has traditionally been used as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis.
The combination of hops, rosemary, and olive leaf can also provide excellent long term anti-inflammatory relief for chronic pain and inflammation. This combination may assist in relieving the pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatism, and is safe to take long term. Modern formulations containing these ingredients can be rapid in their action, often reducing symptoms within a few days.
There are many natural herbal and homeopathic treatments to help you detoxify and overcome inflammation. These should only be undertaken with the help of a qualified practitioner who can take your individual circumstances into consideration. Some herbs may be contraindicated if taking certain pharmaceutical medications or if sensitive to salicylates. A naturopath can develop a supplement program designed to help you detoxify, overcome inflammation and lose weight naturally and safely.
Finally you will be able to break the weight gain- inflammation-toxicity cycle!
Narelle Stegehuis is a naturopath and recent recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award who specialises in the treatment of women's health. Uniquely her services are offered online through www.massattack.com.au or www.bumpfertility.com.au
References; Current Drug Targets Inflammation and Allergy. 2005 Jun;4(3):281-6. Macrophages in inflammation. Fujiwara N, Kobayashi K. Jane K. Howard and Jeffrey S. Flier, Attenuation of leptin and insulin signaling by SOCS proteins. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 17, Issue 9, 365-371, 1 November 2006 Obesity. Gabriel I Uwaifo, MBBS, Clinical and Research Attending, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology, MedStar Clinical Research Center, MedStar Research Institute and Washington Hospital Center