Inflammation: The Root of All Chronic Health Problems and Premature Aging.

Stomach inflammation

What Is Inflammation?

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation is necessary. Inflammation is the body's attempt at self-protection; the aim being to remove harmful stimuli, including damaged cells, irritants, or pathogens to begin the healing process. A simple example is a sprained ankle. After an injury, the ankle swells up because it is supposed to. We are not able to nor are we supposed to continue to run around on it. We have just torn tendons and ligaments and they need time to heal. We limp around on it for a few days, depending on the severity of the sprain. The swelling begins to go down as the tissue is repairing. The body heals and the acute inflammation is finished.

We can also develop acute inflammation to help the body fend off bacteria, viruses, other pathogens, damaged cells, or other irritants. People who have suffered from a flu virus understand the symptoms of this acute inflammation. Body temperature rises, the body has aches and pains, the head is pounding are all symptoms from acute inflammation.

After you cut your finger and the bleeding is stopped there is still increased blood flow to a body area to bring in immune system support and tissue repair support. That is the redness you can see around the cut. The body does this to begin an inflammatory process that neutralizes harmful microorganisms, helps to repair the tissue, and cleans up the debris resulting from the injury.

The body can heal from a sprained ankle, a viral infection, or a cut on our finger because of its inborn intelligence. This inborn intelligence is something we all have within us, from the moment of our creation until we die. It is always working; not only to keep us alive, but to also keep us healthy. It does so magnificently if put in the right ingredients and not too many of the wrong ingredients.

Chronic Inflammation

Researchers have known for some time now that the cornerstone of almost all chronic health conditions is chronic inflammation. Unfortunately, most Americans suffer from chronic inflammation, caused by a variety of factors that seriously undermine health and ages us prematurely. Resulting from an “inflammatory cascade,” common inflammatory diseases include allergies, Alzheimer’s, asthma, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, bursitis, cancer, cervicitis, colitis, cystitis, diabetes, gastritis, heart disease, hepatitis, infections, myocarditis, nephritis, neuritis, osteoporosis, prostatitis, and sinusitis… any disease we know is Chronic Inflammation. Inflammation is beneficial when needed, but it is disastrous when chronic.

It is not the passage of time that creates the symptoms of aging and degeneration that we feel. It is the accumulation of damage from stress that causes chronic inflammation. The stressors are numerous but can be summarized under three main categories. Physical, Chemical, and Emotional. It is the build-up of stress that our cells do not have the health to handle. Our cells make up our tissues, our tissues make up our organs, our organs make up our organ systems, and our organ systems make up our body as a whole person. To be healthy we must reduce the effects of stress and inflammation at a cellular level.

There is no benefit to chronic inflammation. Chronic, low level inflammation, is like a slow burning, smoldering flame in the body. It causes tissue damage and destruction. When we get enough inflammatory damage in a tissue, an organ or a system we get a diagnosis of a disease. Cytokines are chemicals that your immune cells release to begin an inflammatory process. They should be short lived as in acute inflammation. They should be but poor diet, digestive problems, too much sugar, insomnia, environmental toxins, chronic exposure to bad bacteria, emotional stress, food sensitivities, and too much body fat can promote excess cytokine production. These chronic stressors create a “inflammatory cascade”. Too much cytokine production leads to systemic inflammation which is inflammation all over the body. This keeps your tissues chronically inflamed and prevents healing. This is why chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of almost all chronic diseases. Chronic inflammation is also the common denominator in chronic pain. Almost all people who have chronic health problems also suffer from chronic pain. Unfortunately, most Americans suffer from chronic inflammation, caused by a variety of factors that seriously undermine health and ages us prematurely. Chronic inflammation means that the immune system has become over stressed and confused over time. It’s called “Inflamm-Aging.

How Do We Develop Chronic Inflammation?

There are several reasons why chronic inflammation goes out of control. We are going to start with a primary contributor.

“All disease begins in the Gut” 

More than 2,000 years ago the father of modern medicine Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the Gut” and research is now proven he was mostly right. To understand and eliminate most chronic inflammation, we need to start with where most the immune system lives in the body. 70%-80% of the entire immune system of our body lives in the digestive tract. From our mouth to our bottom is literally the outside world inside of our body. Other body areas of outside world inside our body would also include our sinuses, our lungs, and our genitourinary tract. The average small intestinal length is 24 feet long. Then we have another 6 feet of colon. The surface area of the gut can cover a tennis court when stretched out flat. Just below the thin intestinal lining is where most our immune system is located. It then becomes quite logical that what goes in our mouth and down that digestive tract can have a significant impact on the health of our immune system. That means both healing or damaging. Damage to this gut lining is called “Leaky gut syndrome” (LGS) or “Intestinal permeability”.

The surface area of the gut is called the gut barrier. The internal lining of the gut barrier is one cell thick. Under this one cell layer is where most of our immune system lives. A strong and healthy barrier is essential for good health. These cells are sealed together by something called “tight junctions”. In healthy intestines, these junctions work like gatekeepers, which essentially allow or prohibit particles to move through the gut and into the circulatory system. With leaky gut syndrome, particles can slip through the cells and tight junctions and literally leak into bloodstream or lymphatic system, and move freely throughout the body. LGS is essentially like having the gates broken from your intestines to your blood stream so many of these particles that should never have been able to enter have now gotten through.  When this happens, it causes inflammation throughout your body leading to a variety of diseases.

When the body recognizes these foreign substances, and detects something is wrong, the immune system kicks in, and tries to fight what it perceives to be danger in the intestines. This causes inflammation and inhibits healthy intestinal functioning. The ability to digest food and absorb nutrients is decreased, and our immune system can become compromised and our bodies inflamed. It is important to understand that you do not need to experience digestive problems like gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain to have “Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS)”.

How do we develop leaky gut?

Poor diet, chronic stress and microbial imbalance are key factors in developing intestinal permeability.  The Western diet, typically high in refined sugar, which has been associated with LGS. Chemicals and preservatives in processed foods, gluten, dairy, and other foods that you may be sensitive to, excessive alcohol consumption, parasite infections, medications such as NSAIDs and antibiotics, mercury gas escaping from fillings in the teeth, as well as chemotherapy and radiation all damage the intestinal lining. LGS can start very early in life, especially if infants are not breast fed. Chronic stress will weaken your immune system, affecting your ability to fight off bacteria and viruses and increases the severity of the symptoms of LGS. Dysbiosis is an imbalance between beneficial and harmful bacteria in your gut. It is also one of the leading causes intestinal permeability and inflammation.

When the body is continually trying to repair leaky gut, it can be caught in a never-ending cycle, especially when the source of the problem is not diagnosed. For example, if unrecognized food allergies or a processed food diet are creating leaky gut, and the same foods are consumed over and over, a self- perpetuating, inflammatory cycle will be triggered, and the intestinal lining cannot heal leading us down a path of chronic inflammation.

Common symptoms of LGS

Most people with leaky gut have a combination of unrelated symptoms. They may or may not have bloating and general digestive distress. They may have joint pain, food allergies, chronic sinus infections, asthma or chronic lung infections or chronic cough, thyroid disease, fatigue, skin rashes, headaches, autoimmune conditions, slow metabolism, insomnia, brain fog, memory loss, mood disorders, anxiety and depression are common complaints.

Damage to the intestinal lining interferes with absorption of nutrients and nutritional deficiencies may develop. Multiple food sensitivities are also common with LGS because the partially digested food particles that leak into the bloodstream cause an inflammatory immune response.


Growing Evidence is Beginning to Shift Medical Opinions on LGS

What has happened in just the last few years has created a whole new way at looking at how disease comes about and the importance of inflammation in our immune defenses and in the process of aging. It appears that our gut is a focal point of inflammation, which affects systemic health in all other organs and tissues. When the gut barrier is being damaged, the whole body gets damaged. As we come to understand disease in the 21st century, our old ways of defining illness based on symptoms alone is not very useful. Instead, by understanding the origins of disease and the way in which the body operates as one whole, integrated ecosystem, we now know that symptoms appearing in one area of the body may be caused by imbalances in an entirely different system.

How Food Sensitivities Cause Inflammation?

For example: when the complex proteins casein (milk protein) and gluten (from wheat and some other grains) break down in the digestive tract they form protein fragments that can be viewed by the immune system as foreign invaders. Once they are in the bloodstream, your immune system sends out antibodies and the inflammation begins.

Many people are often less clear about is whether they have a food sensitivity. This is a different antibody mediated reaction – it is an IgG or IgA reaction versus an IgE reaction from an allergic food- and it does not result in a histamine or leukotriene release. In the past I have used labs to attempt to identify food sensitivities using IgG testing and found them to be quite unreliable. Clients with known wheat sensitivities would get tested and tests results would come back negative to wheat. Unfortunately, there is little to no evidence of the efficacy of these tests being used to identify food intolerances.

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Allergy and Immunology: “These results have been shown to not be reproducible, give different results when duplicate samples are analyzed blindly, don't correlate with those from conventional testing, and 'diagnose' food hypersensitivity in subjects with conditions where food allergy is not considered to play a pathogenic role.”

What I have found to be clinically effective to identify food sensitivities is a 28 day “food sensitivity elimination diet”. During this time, you can eat adequate amounts of protein, abundance of healthy fats, and lots of your favorite vegetables. We will simply eliminate the most common food sensitivities and show you a methodical way to reintroduce many of them.

Many people have tried to do this on their own and have been unsuccessful or only modestly successful. I suggest finding a Functional Medicine practitioner who is experienced in this process to optimize your results. It takes knowledge, experience, time, patience, and the understanding that each patient has a unique set of problems and needs.

To address the underlying cause of Chronic Inflammation there is nothing more important than identifying your unique food sensitivities. Food is either anti-inflammatory and repairing to your body or pro-inflammatory and destructive to your body. Discover your ideal nutrition for life.

Dr. Daryl Cooper Dr. Cooper received his doctorate from Northwestern Health Sciences University. He received postgraduate education from Functional Medicine University and the Carrick Institute of Clinical Neuroscience and Rehabilitation. He has postgraduate education in Functional Endocrinology, Functional Brain-Based Neurology, Functional Blood Chemistry Analysis, Nutrition, and Fitness. He is board certified in Peripheral Neuropathy through the American College of Physical Medicine.

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