There is a lot written about anti-inflammatory diets, and there is a ton of research looking at the anti-inflammatory effects of foods and supplements. Fish oil and tumeric are examples of supplements that have been extensively researched. Take a minute and google 'anti-inflammatory diet', or 'top anti-inflammatory foods', and you'll see just how much information is out there. Dietary approaches that are anti-inflammatory emphasize vegetables, fruit, healthy fats such as olive oil and the omega-3 oils found in fish, and nuts and seeds. At the same time they eliminate foods that contribute to inflammation such as refined grains, sugars, and deep-fried foods. The Mediterranean Diet is a good example of a well researched anti-inflammatory diet.
People can experience some great benefits when they make changes to their existing food choices that include more anti-inflammatory foods. There is a dilemma with this approach though. The problem is that an anti-inflammatory diet just manages inflammation. It does not address why there is inflammation in the first place. It can be a bit like trying to put out a fire that is still being fed fuel at the same time. Imagine a fire that is being sprayed with water, while at the same time gasoline is also being continually added. A similar thing can happen in your body. You can be feeding it anti-inflammatory foods, but if the inflammation is still being fuelled, then the inflammation might diminish, but will never go away. If you have an ongoing health condition, then this is likely the case.
WHAT IS FUELLING MY INFLAMMATION?
All chronic health conditions have an inflammatory component. Whether you have a skin condition, a brain condition, an autoimmune condition, heart disease, digestive struggles or any other ongoing health issues, inflammation will be part of that condition. Inflammation is a normal part of your body's healing cascade. It is a part of your immune system's response to fix whatever is wrong in your body. When a health problem becomes chronic, you need to ask yourself "what's fuelling my inflammation?"
HOW DO I FIGURE OUT WHERE MY INFLAMMATION IS COMING FROM?
To understand what is fuelling your fire, it is important to start digging into possible contributing factors. Here are some steps you can take to help determine where your inflammation is starting.
1. Visit your family doctor and request some blood work. Good markers of inflammation include:
- CRP (C-reactive protein) - this test is a good indicator of overall inflammation
- Fasting insulin and Hemoglobin A1C - these tests will provide a good picture of blood sugar imbalances, which can help you determine if this imbalance is fuelling your fire
2. Visit a naturopathic or functional doctor. There are some private lab tests that will help you figure out where your inflammation is stemming from.
- Urine Element Analysis - this test identifies heavy metal toxicity. Heavy metals can include mercury, aluminum, cadmium, arsenic, lead, and thallium. If you have worked with any of these substances in your job, if you wear lipstick (many contain lead), if you eat a lot of predatory fish such as tuna, shark or swordfish or if you have received vaccinations, then you may have accumulated some of these metals in your body. These can be inflammatory, and your doctor can help support safe removal of these from your body.
- Environmental Toxicity - in addition to heavy metals, we are constantly being exposed to other toxins through the air we breathe, the body care products we use, the cleaning products we use, the pesticides and herbicides that are sprayed on our food etc. As with heavy metals, these can accumulate in some individuals and contribute to inflammation.
- Food sensitivity testing (IgG and IgA) - these tests measure whether or not certain foods are causing an immune reaction. Any immune reaction involves inflammation. If you are reacting to foods, then there is something deeper going on, so you'll still need to go one step further to figure out the origins of your inflammation, such as testing for leaky gut.
- Leaky gut - there are a variety of tests available to test if your intestines are permeable. Intestinal permeability (or leaky gut) allows a variety of molecules (including food molecules that trigger an IgG response) to leak through the intestinal barrier into your body. When this happens your immune system reacts, resulting in inflammation.
- Comprehensive Stool Analysis - this test gives you a general picture of what is going on with your gut microbiome. Your microbiome plays a large role in modulating and regulating your immune system, so if something shows up with this test (an overgrowth or an insufficiency) it can directly or indirectly impact inflammation. Food sensitivities can result when your microbiome is imbalanced. This test can also help determine if you have a parasitic infection.
- Organic Acids Test (OATS) - sometimes metabolic products resulting from your body's own processes, or those produced by your gut microbiome can contribute to inflammation. This test will show you if some of your metabolites are outside of the normal range. I find this test useful when you have had some of the other tests done, and have addressed those aspects of your inflammation, but are still struggling with ongoing inflammation.
- Infections - infections can be bacterial, fungal, parasitic or viral. Acute infections are easy to identify, but low-grade chronic infections can be harder to figure out, and might be fuelling your inflammation. The kind of testing you do will be based on a doctor's evaluation, but might include the amount and type of antibodies found in your blood, white blood cell counts, or testing for something specific like H. pylori. It's important to work with your doctor to figure out if any type of infection is present.
A DIET THAT ADDRESSES INFLAMMATION
There are dietary approaches that address the root causes of your inflammation. A Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Diet, and Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) are all designed to address leaky gut, and feed your microbiome in a way that supports beneficial species and starves out pathogenic ones. An AIP diet also addresses many of the most common food sensitivities, but SCD and GAPS can also be customized to address these. All three of these protocols can be considered Paleo or ancestral types of diets that are gut-healthy.
Once you have explored possible sources of toxicity or low-grade infection, then the option exists to pursue various treatment options through your naturopathic or functional doctor, and you can support those treatments with dietary recommendations specific to your area of concern.
If you are eating a lot of anti-inflammatory foods, then keep up the good work! You are already well on your way!
If you are still struggling with your symptoms, then maybe its time to start digging a bit deeper, and ask yourself where your inflammation is coming from. Start by scheduling an appointment with your family doctor.
What is fuelling your fire?
Happy, Healthy Eating!
PS - I'll be taking a break for the summer, so you won't see a blog article until the fall.