This is Part 2 of a 3-Part series.
The Western diet contains 30 times more pro-inflammatory foods than a century ago and this is largely linked to food processing, fatty acid manipulation and a massive change in the ratio of the essential fatty acids in our diet. The ratio between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids should be 2:1, although it was actually 1:1 in the caveman diet. The current ratio in Australia is around 20:1, in favour of omega-6, while it is 26:1 in the US.
This imbalance has a major pro-inflammatory effect. There are ten times more building blocks (omega-6 fats) for the inflammatory phase of the two-stage repair process, than there should be. There are also insufficient tools (omega-3 fats) available for the healing phase.
How did We Mess Up The Balance?
One man can change the world and not always for the better. Research can have a powerful effect so it is important that the researchers get it right! This was not the case in 1957, when US nutritionist Aneel Keys published a study, which appeared to demonstrate a powerful link between saturated fats and heart disease. Key’s research was based upon an unrepresentative sample (using data from just six countries, when he should have compared 24 countries) and by the time his mistake had been uncovered, the wheels of industry were rolling and no one was allowed to derail the gravy train. On the basis of this mistake the diet of the world changed. Some of those changes included the following:
Butter was demonised and margarine was promoted as a healthier alternative. The conversion of unstable polyunsaturated oils into hydrogenated transfats (to keep them solid at room temperature) is a toxic substitute for natural butter. The widespread use of margarine has proved disastrous for our health.
Super-healthy coconut oil was removed from cakes and biscuits and replaced with omega-6-dominated, hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Most of our fast foods were deep-fried in omega-6 transfats instead of the animal fats, which are actually preferable.
We compounded the growing imbalance by feedlotting beef using omega-6-rich grain as their principle food source. Not only did we destroy the animal’s EFA balance, but the grains are converted to palmitic acid (the undesirable form of long chain saturated fat, which can clog arteries if over consumed). Grass-fed beef contains 10% saturated fat and plentiful omega-3 while the feedlot counterpart has 50% saturated fat and an overdose of omega-6 fats.
What's Wrong With Excess Omega-6?
The inflammatory process involves a delicate dance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory hormones. Your body makes two families of hormone-like compounds called prostaglandins, which either promote or reduce inflammation. Balance determines the potential for ongoing acute inflammation. The parent molecules of these prostaglandins are found in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The balance between these nutrients strongly impacts inflammation potential. Most polyunsaturated vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower, corn, peanut and soy and many margarine products are high in linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that the body converts to arachidonic acid, which is pro-inflammatory.
These same oils contain very low levels of the strongly anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which are found in oily fish, flaxseed, leafy green vegetables and grass-fed animals. Saturated fats have little effect upon inflammation but transfats, found in vegetable oils and margarine, interfere with the enzymes needed to process omega-3 fatty acids. The use of these ‘bad’ oils creates a vicious cycle as most of them are omega-6-dominated and they have been hydrogenated (involving formation of transfatty acids) to improve their consistency and shelf life.
Omega-3 Fats and Cell Sensitivity
Most people know that fish oil supplements reduce inflammation but don’t know that they are also key tools in restoring your insulin sensitivity. It is possible to increase receptor sensitivity by increasing the fluidity of the cell membrane and improving movement into the cell. Fatty acids are the main component of the cell membrane and omega-3’s are the fats most missing in the equation. Omega-3 supplementation should always be combined with vitamin E (400 IU), as these oils are easily oxidised and the fat-soluble vitamin E will prevent associated free radical damage. Good saturated fats, like butter, also improve the uptake and utilisation of omega-3 fatty acids.
When Eating Becomes A Liability!
There are two ways our food can become a liability. Food sensitivity is much more common than is realised and it can be the hidden cause of low-level inflammation. In a more general sense, foods can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory and the key is to get the balance right. Diet is the biggest player in inflammation because it directly impacts the cellular environment and the capacity of 10 trillion cells to communicate.
Food Sensitivity and Allergy
Allergies and sensitivities are the root cause of many problems including those affecting the skin, respiration, mood and gastro-intestinal tract. Allergies can be classified as acute (anaphylactic shock), chronic (always responding to the same allergen), or subclinical (seemingly disconnected symptoms that can be difficult to recognise). The difference between allergy and sensitivity is really just a matter of degree. In both cases the immune system is responding inappropriately and inflammation is the result.
The Allergy Plague
60 million Americans and 5 million Australians suffer allergies and the number is growing rapidly. The conventional response is to prescribe anti-allergy medication and sales of these drugs have sky rocketed in recent years. Genetic factors play a big role but emotional inheritance, diet, lifestyle and physical environment play a bigger role because they all contribute to the “body burden” or toxic load that must be managed. Your level of allergic response at any given time is linked to how well you are processing this “body burden”.
Diet is the starting point when attempting to lighten the load and you need to make sure your food is a support rather than a burden. The strategy is to improve your body’s capacity to process its toxic load by providing the right nutrients while reducing the pressure by eliminating dietary allergens. An elimination diet in conjunction with a “wellness diary” is one way to determine problem foods. Gluten should probably be the first cab off the rank.
The Gluten Gene
Over 90 million Americans have a genetic variant that makes them sensitive to gluten and almost one in four Australians are similarly predisposed.
Hunter-gatherers, prior to the advent of agriculture, were not equipped to process this grain protein. In many cases our bodies have not yet adapted to a modern diet, jam-packed with cereal grains. Wheat, for example, now comprises a disproportionate percentage of many diets. We start the day with breakfast cereals and toast, eat sandwiches for lunch and cap off this flood of wheat with a pasta dinner. Many of us are not aware that we are gluten sensitive because not all symptoms are related to the digestive tract, i.e., infertility and poor cognitive function. Unrecognised gluten intolerance, left simmering, is a major cause of systemic inflammation, chronic disease and a snowball effect of other sensitivities. There is also the potential for wheat intolerance, which is not actually linked, to gluten. Allergy specialists agree that many of us have become inadvertently sensitive to this ubiquitous grain.
The Key Allergens and The GM Specter
There are three major players in terms of allergen sources and they include food (and food additives), inhalants and contact substances. The key problem foods include dairy, wheat (and other grains containing gluten), corn, soy, shellfish, eggs, nightshades, nuts, chocolate, caffeine, and yeast. It is the protein in the foods that sponsors the allergenic response but now a whole new group of completely unresearched proteins are entering our food via genetic modification. BT crops, for example, involve the combination of key food crops with the genes of bacteria which release a biochemical that is toxic to caterpillars. The crop then produces this toxic substance and becomes inherently resistant to this pest. This new BT crops now involves proteins which animals and humans have rarely encountered so there is obvious potential for allergic response. It must be noted that corporate greed has driven the uptake of GM technology and there were no long-term food safety studies before widespread introduction. British researchers noted a substantial increase in allergic responses following the first large-scale importation of genetically modified into the UK. There has been a similar increase in allergies since the introduction of GM food in the US.
The food additives that have generated most problems include sulfites, salicylates, MSG, aspartame, artificial food colouring, preservatives and pesticide residues.
Many of us are familiar with the hay fever season, which is often driven by seasonal pollen, but there are many other inhalants that can provoke sensitivities and allergic reactions. These include mold, dust, dust mites, animal hair, cleaning products, flea treatments, fire retardants in furniture, carpets, scented candles and perfume.
There is also the issue of phthalates (the softening agent in plastics) constantly out-gassing at a rate of 1% per year. This might seem relatively insignificant but in the US alone, it equates to 10,000 tonnes of this noxious chemical released into home environments each year.
The chief culprits in terms of contact substances include water pollution, cosmetics, sunscreens, shampoos, hairsprays, latex and other body products. Transdermal absorption is so effective that it is fair to say that one should be prepared to eat the materials we apply to our skin, as the ingredients enter our bloodstream as readily as those consumed orally.
Seven Allergy Tips
Your doctor can organise a scratch test, which measures an IgE antibody response. However, for non-acute allergy or sensitivity, the ELIZA test , which measures both IgE and IgG, is preferable.
To self identify, try eliminating a particular food for 2 weeks and then eat a lot of this food in a single day and monitor your response. Alternatively just eat fruit and vegetables for a few days, gauge how you feel and then re-introduce dairy, wheat, sugar etc.
Leaky gut syndrome allows poorly digested, offending proteins directly into the blood where they trigger an immune reaction. Try probiotics, proteolytic enzymes and glutamine to seal the leaks and improve protein digestion.
Some lactose sensitivities are actually an allergic response to calcium due to a magnesium deficiency.
Try to identify and address areas of emotional stress that can amplify allergies.
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a proven tool to address any hidden emotional underpinning in allergic response. This remarkably simple strategy involves a fascinating combination of positive affirmations, verbal acknowledgement of the problem and tapping on specific acupuncture points. It involves mind/body medicine where the brain is virtually programmed to solve physical health issues.
Muscle cramping, PMS, joint pain and fatigue are common symptoms of a sugar sensitivity that can go undiagnosed for decades.
Discover Defense Foods
Foods can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory so it is a good trick to balance your diet accordingly. Nutrition researcher Monica Reinagel has developed IF ratings for 1600 different foods and utilised this information in her book “The Inflammation Free Diet Plan”. Her rating system is based upon the relative presence of building blocks for the pro or anti-inflammatory prostaglandins combined with ORAC scores and other factors. Some of her findings are quite a surprise.
The Best and the Worst
According to Monica’s rating system the best fruit are rock melons, blueberries, pink grapefruit, raspberries and strawberries. The inflammatory fruit are bananas and mango. The most anti-inflammatory vegetables include kale, carrots, garlic, onions, sweet potatoes and spinach. The worst vegetables include corn and potatoes. The best meat for reducing inflammatory conditions was lamb shanks, flank steak, prime rib and pot roast. The worst meat included organ meats, lamb rib chops and veal loin. The best pasta and grains were barley, couscous, rice noodles and whole-wheat pasta while the worst included cornmeal, millet and white rice. The best nuts were almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, macadamias and hazelnuts and the most inflammatory, by a long shot, was peanuts. The fish to reduce inflammation were sardines, wild salmon, herring, oysters, rainbow trout and whiting. The fish to avoid is farmed salmon, as these fish are largely fed omega-6-rich cereal grains.
Dangers of Symptom Treating
Cox-2 is an enzyme that helps the body produce inflammatory prostaglandins and cytokines. When we oversupply the building blocks for Cox-2 we produce an excess that creates serious inflammation. NSAIDs, like ibuprofen, shut down Cox-2 enzymes but they also shut down Cox-1 enzymes that protect the stomach lining. 500,000 Americans each year develop complications from NSAIDS with 80,000 hospitalised and 8000 people dying!
The pharmaceutical solution was selective Cox-2 inhibitors (Vioxx® and Celebrex®) but unfortunately the new drugs turned out to kill patients faster than their predecessors.
Tips To Douse The Flames
Free radicals are produced as a byproduct of inflammation and they promote inflammation in their own right. It is a great idea to increase your consumption of foods rich in antioxidants. Vegetables are the best option for four reasons.
Brassicas, beets, onions, beans and greens have high ORAC scores and low sugar levels (ORAC is the scientific measurement of antioxidant value).
Greens are rich in alpha linolenic acid , the building block for omega-3.
Greens also contain small amounts of GLA, which enhances the anti-inflammatory kick of omega-3.
If you make your plate a rainbow you benefit from the protective compounds linked to intense colour. Plants produce pigments as a protective mechanism to ward off insects and pathogens and, more importantly, to protect the plant from UV radiation when it must stand for 12 hours a day in direct sunlight. These pigments are, in fact, antioxidants to protect the plant from free radical damage. It just happens that these pigments also serve as potent antioxidants for people! The more intense the colour, the higher the antioxidant content and the greater the protective effect. Each colour (pigment) features different antioxidants and they all perform different protective functions, hence the benefits of multi-coloured meals!
Natural health professionals will always recommend that patients suffering from cancer should embrace fruit and vegetable juices to boost their antioxidant protection. The obvious lesson here is that perhaps we should all be juicing before we get cancer, rather than as a reactive afterthought.
One way to maximise your uptake of antioxidants is to choose your food in accord with its ORAC value. The chart below offers some guidelines. Note the concentration effect when a food is dried. Plums, for example, increase their ORAC score six fold when they are dried to become prunes. Grapes are similarly enhanced when they become raisins. Kale is the king of the vegetables even though it is second behind watercress in terms of antioxidant value. Kale is much more easily grown. In fact, three or four plants in pots on a verandah can feed a family. Kale is demonstrably superior to the more favoured brassia, broccoli. In fact it has a higher ORAC score and more of everything. Kale contains the highest levels of lutein (for eye health) of any plant.
Our diet can create a range of problems, most of which are correctable with simple changes. However, we need to be aware of potential problem areas to instigate necessary changes and that is the purpose of this 3-part article. The balance between fatty acids is essential for an inflammation-free life as is the identification of food sensitivities. Increasing your intake of antioxidants can help neutralise the free radicals related to imbalances and toxic influences and this can be achieved most inexpensively by filling your plate with brightly coloured fresh food. Make your plate a rainbow and enjoy the multiple benefits of defensive eating.
Disclaimer: Any advice provided is for information purposes only. You should seek professional medical advice before supplementing your diet.