What is inflammation,and what does it have to do with being overweight? Remarkable new research links obesity and inflammation. Being overweight promotes inflammation and inflammation promotes obesity in a terrible, vicious cycle. More than half of Americans are inflamed, and most of them don't know it. Getting to the root of inflammation and cooling it off is key to reducing the obesity epidemic and your own waist size.
What is inflammation, anyway? Most of us are familiar with inflammation. The classic signs are pain, swelling, redness, and heat as with a bad sore throat or infected hangnail.This is a good thing, as it fights foreign invaders of all types.
Inflammation is part of the body's natural defense system against infection, irritation, toxins, and other foreign molecules. A specific cascade of events occurs in which the body's white blood cells and specific chemicals (cytokines) mobilize to protect you from foreign invaders.
But sometimes the natural balance of the immune system, which produces just enough inflammation to keep infections, allergens, toxins, and other stresses under control, is disrupted.The immune system shifts into a chronic state of alarm or inflammation,spreading a smoldering fire through- out the body.This fire in the heart causes heart disease, in the brain causes dementia and Alzheimer's disease, in the whole body causes cancer, in the eyes causes blindness, and, as we are just discovering, in our fat cells causes obesity.
While on the one hand this inflammatory process is protective, it can go awry, not only in individuals with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis but in otherwise healthy individuals whose lifestyles and/or environments expose them to substances the body perceives as irritants, such as low-grade infections from gum disease, food allergens, toxins, and even inflammatory foods such as sugar and animal fat.
Mark Hyman discusses how to achieve greater health and vitality and lead an age-defying, disease-free life.
Likewise, while inflammation is sometimes obvious, such as when an injured area becomes swollen, red, and warm to the touch, what science is teaching us is that inflammation can occur much more quietly and insidiously. It can occur silently without any symptoms. It is even emerging as a major cause of heart disease, diabetes, cancer,Alzheimer's disease, and aging in general. It is also connected to weight gain.Inflammation is a silent killer, and unless it is adequately dealt with it can have disastrous effects on your weight and your health.
Anything that causes inflammation can make you gain weight, and any weight you gain can cause more inflammation. The most common cause of systemic inflammation is our modern diet (sugar, animal fat, and processed food, or the high-glycemic-load diet most Americans are eating) and lack of exercise. Other things contribute but to a lesser extent, such as food (particularly gluten) and environmental allergens,infections, stress,and toxins.
To help you get a sense of whether or not you are suffering from chronic inflammation, take the following assessment exam.
HOW INFLAMED ARE YOU?
Score 1 point each time you answer yes to the following questions by putting a check mark in the box on the right. See page 78 for a reminder on interpretation of your score.
Do you have seasonal or environmental allergies?
Do you have food allergies, or do you feel poorly after eatingb (sluggishness, headaches, congestion, confusion)?
D o you work in an environment with poor lighting, chemicals, and poor ventilation?
Are you exposed to pesticides, toxic chemicals, loud noise, heavy metals, and toxic bosses and coworkers?
Do you get frequent colds and infections?
Do you have a history of chronic infections such as hepatitis, skin infections, canker sores, and cold sores?
Do you have sinusitis and allergies?
Do you have bronchitis or asthma?
Do you have dermatitis (eczema, acne, rashes)?
Do you suffer from arthritis (osteoarthritis/degenerative wear and tear)?
Do you have an autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus)?
Do you have colitis or inflammatory bowel disease?
Do you have irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon)?
Do you have problems such as ADHD, autism, mood, or behavior problems (actually part of a family of problems called neuritis)?
Do you have heart disease, or have you had a heart attack?
Do you have diabetes, or are you overweight (BMI greater than 25)?
Do you have Parkinsons disease or have a family history of Parkinsons or Alzheimers disease?
Do you have a significant amount of stress in your life?
Do you drink more than three glasses of alcohol a week?
Do you exercise less than thirty minutes three times a week?
If you are inflamed for any reason, it is very important to find the cause and reduce the inflammation,not just for the purpose of weight loss but because it is a major cause of all the major degenerative diseases of modern civilization: heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and cancer. Now that you know how inflamed you are, you can take action to turn off the fire that's burning in your body.This chapter will teach you how to do that.
Step 1: Eliminate the FactorsThat Cause Inflammation
We have to find the factors that increase inflammation and get rid of them. You can take all the anti-inflammatory drugs you want (or eat all the fish oil or chocolate nibs you want), but if you don't get rid of the cause you will simply be covering up the symptoms.
It's like the old adage from my mentor, Sidney Baker,M.D.: "If you are standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make you feel better.The treatment for standing on a tack is removing the tack." The treatment for inflammation comes on your plate and in your shoes.What you eat and how much you exercise are the most important factors governing inflammation.
Finding the causes of inflammation is not always easy.The most common and obvious causes are our diet and being sedentary. But there are many factors, and at times specialized testing is needed to find hidden causes. Dietary factors such as excess sugar, refined carbohydrates, saturated and trans fats, or just too many calories can also cause inflammation. Sometimes the cause may be a hidden infection, something you eat or breathe that you are allergic to, or an environmental toxin.
Stress will also make you inflamed.And though just sitting around doing nothing also causes inflammation,regular exercise is one of the best-known anti-inflammatories on the planet.9 Multivitamins are also a great natural inflammation-fighting tool.10
By identifying the sources of inflammation, sugars and refined highglycemic- load, rapidly absorbed carbohydrates; saturated and trans fats; lack of exercise; gluten; food allergies; mold in damp basements or moldy bathrooms, or hidden in walls; a hidden infection such as a virus, parasite, or bacterium that doesn't cause immediately obvious symptoms; or a medication you are taking and getting rid of them, you can stop chronic inflammation.
Sometimes this requires detective work, testing, and working with an experienced doctor, but the results for your weight and your health will be worth the effort.
Step 2 : Direct Your Genes to Turn Off Inflammation Signals
To turn off the inflammation in your body,you need to send the right messages to your genes. Lack of exercise (see chapter 13) and stress (as we learned in chapter 10), in addition to a processed, high-glycemic-load diet(see chapter 9), all tell your genes to produce more inflammation.
The key message of this book is that food communicates with your genes. Food affects your weight (and everything else) by sending messages to burn or store fat. It does this through something called transcription factors.Transcription factors are regulatory proteins that initiate the transcription of certain genes upon binding with DNA.That means these little proteins actually make certain parts of your genetic code readable while ignoring other parts of it. Depending on which parts of your DNA these transcription factors decode, your body gets messages to put on weight or burn fat more rapidly.These transcription factors are regulated in part by what we eat.This is how food "talks to" your genes and tells them to either turn on genes that cause you to become inflamed and overweight or turn on genes that cause inflammation and weight to be reduced.
One of the most important transcription factors is called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB).This little molecule creates much damage. If activated by emotional stress, toxins, or free radicals or certain toxic, inflammatory, or allergic foods, it can unleash the production of more than 125 inflammatory molecules; a fireball of inflammation that affects your whole system.
The good news is that antioxidants from food and supplements can turn this off.We will come back to our new friend, NF-kB, in the chapter on oxidative stress,but I bring it to your attention now because oxidative stress is another major cause of inflammation, and it is oxidative stress that activates NF-kB, starting the terrible cycle of inflammation.
Step 3: Eat Foods That Reduce Inflammation, and Avoid Foods That Cause It
Your diet is the most important factor in helping you reduce inflammation. The UltraMetabolism guidelines for an optimal diet (see chapter 16) are an anti-inflammatory diet by design. In addition to typical foods that increase inflammation, such as sugar, processed foods, and trans fats, certain food allergies, sensitivities, and gluten sensitivity can be common sources of problems with weight and metabolism.
Foods to Avoid That Cause Inflammation
In addition to following the basic guidelines outlined in chapter 16, specific foods may be a particular problem for some people.
Food allergens (the most common are wheat, dairy, eggs, corn, soy, and peanuts). Elimination and reintroduction of these foods, as in Phase I of the UltraMetabolism Prescription, is the best way to find out if you react to these foods, though testing can be a useful guide as well.
Gluten. I pull this out separately because it affects 1 percent or more of the population (millions of people) and is an often undiagnosed cause of inflammation.Testing can confirm if this is a problem. Gluten containing grains includes wheat, rye, barley, spelt,kamut, and oats.
Step 4: Use Herbs to Reduce Your Inflammation
Using anti-inflammatory herbs can have remarkable results. Try adding these herbs to your regimen for inflammation reduction either in your diet or as supplements.
Capsaicin (from cayenne pepper) Green tea Ginger Quercitin (in fruit and vegetable rinds) Turmeric (the yellow spice found in curry) Cocoa
Step 5: Use Supplements to Reduce Your Inflammation
Taking the following supplements is an additional way to decrease the fires of inflammation.Try adding them to your standard supplement regimen of multivitamins and minerals and fish oil, which by themselves are powerful anti-inflammatories.
Probiotics Enzymes (bromelain and other proteolytic enzymes)
Step 6: Test for Inflammation and Its Causes
If you scored in the moderate to high range on the quiz at the beginning of the chapter, you can pinpoint the causes of your inflammation and confirm that it is indeed a problem for you by taking the tests described below. More advanced testing is also available. In addition to the tests, I strongly encourageyou to seek professional medical assistance if you scored high on the quiz.
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Mark Hyman discusses how to achieve greater health and vitality and lead an age-defying, disease-free life.