A new born baby has an absorbent mind, like a sponge! This allows the baby to easily learn the language spoken by the people around them. It does this learning so effortlessly it might appear that it was destined by its DNA just like the colour of its hair. But this is not the case! Language does not grow like hair and teeth. Acquiring a language is a learning skill that involves lots of interaction between the brain and the outside world. The child’s mind is particularly suited for this task. Amazing as this is, acquiring language doesn’t end with childhood. Have you noticed that when you embark on a new project, interest, area of study or line of work, there is a whole new language that goes with it? It dawns on me sometimes when I’m happily listing off the health benefits of a particular food, saying it’s anti this that and the other, that perhaps people don’t really get it. As adults we have a tendency to skim past what we don’t immediately understand. It’s like a foreign language, you just blank it out. So, I’d like to pause and explain a couple of very important ‘anti’s’ as they relate to nutrition and health.
Getting the Anti’s
Oxidation, inflammation, cancer, bacteria and viruses etc. are enemies to the health of the body which needs supportive nutrients and other factors to fight back. Simply put, if you wanted to address a bacterial threat you would choose anti-bacterial properties. So, in general, ‘anti’ as a prefix is a good thing! It is pretty obvious what anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-histamine, anti-aging and anti-cancer mean. Foods, supplements, essential oils, remedies etc. that have these ‘anti’ properties support the body in fighting that particular threat.
Inflammation and oxidation are less easily understood. We loosely associate inflammation with pain. We seek out anti-inflammatories at the Pharmacy for this, yet the harmful effects of inflammation go way, way beyond aches and pains! And, when it comes to oxidative damage, unless you have studied nutrition or biochemistry, you might easily glaze over with this one too.
So, if you want to read on, I will explain a little bit more about the insidious effects of inflammation and oxidation on the body, how it gets there and why we all need the support of anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.
When I was studying nutritional therapy, understanding the immune system was challenging to say the least. It’s complicated! Very complicated! In functional medicine it is called ‘defence and repair’ because this is how the immune system responds to injury, infection, trauma, allergens, toxins etc. A whole host of cellular work kicks-in to heal and restore health in response to a threat. The classic example given is, if you cut your finger it quickly becomes red, swollen, hot, painful and you may lose function [signs of inflammation]. This is the immune system responding to injury. Over the next few days the cut heals. Resolution! The fever that comes with a bacterial or viral infection is the immune response to keeping those microbes from multiplying in your body. They don’t like intense heat any more than you do. Sounds like inflammation is a good thing? It can be! Acute inflammation serves a purpose in defence and repair, however, when the immune system is exposed to ongoing triggers or when it does not have the resources to counter-regulate or dampen down that fire, inflammation becomes chronic and persistent. Most chronic diseases have been linked to excessive inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is a contributing factor and sometimes a root cause in the following disorders: Autoimmune disorders like – lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, gluten intolerance, Type 1 Diabetes, psoriasis etc. It is also present in eczema, Type II diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, accelerated aging and psychiatric and brain disorders.
What triggers inflammation?
There are many factors that lead to chronic unresolved inflammation. And, as with all diseases, prevention is better than cure but once tissue damage has set in, complete healing is very hard to achieve. However, knowing what fuels the fire and what dampens it down may help to reduce, alleviate or even suspend symptoms.
Triggers include: body traumas (injury, extremes of temperature), stress, cellular waste from within the body (oxidation), pathogens (bacteria, viruses), chemical toxins (organic, heavy metals, smoke) and inflammatory foods (high glycaemic load diet, simple sugars, rancid oils, free radicals, allergens (airborne, wheat and dairy) and lectins.
Analogy: You come out the front door of your house and someone throws a tennis ball at you, it hits you and hurts a little, but its no big deal! Next day, as you come out you’re hit by several tennis balls, you have a few more injuries this time, and you’ll need more time to get over this incident. Next day, you’re assaulted from all sides by tennis balls coming at you. You can’t get away! You’re struggling to move and escape the scene of injury. If this were to continue your energy would be consumed with just surviving the assault and beginning the process of recovery would be pushed further away. This may not be the perfect analogy, and the daily threats to the immune system are not visible like tennis balls, but hopefully you will understand that the more ‘threats’ that are fired at your immune system on a consistent basis, the harder it becomes to move past injury and on to resolution.
One way of supporting the body in dealing with inflammation is to remove or reduce ‘inflammatory’ foods in the diet.
Inflammatory foods include: Sugar! High glycaemic load foods, sweets, cakes, biscuits, dairy chocolate, processed foods, highly processed seed oils (rancid oils), high fat foods and animal products. Many people are sensitive to the proteins in dairy and wheat products. These may represent ongoing triggers for immune response and unresolved inflammation.
What resolves inflammation?
Anti-inflammatory foods include: Green leafy vegetables: Kale, Cabbage, Lettuce (rocket). Bok Choy, Celery, Beetroot, Broccoli, Blueberries, Pineapple, Fish oils (Omega 3s), Salmon, Bone broth, Walnuts, Chia seeds, Coconut oil, Extra Virgin Olive oil, Flaxseeds, Avocados, Garlic, Onions, Turmeric, Ginger, Lemon water.
Immune modulators: Beta-glucans have immune modulating properties and can be found in rolled oats, barley grains, rye and medicinal mushrooms like maitake, shiitake and reishi, seaweed and algae products. Adequate intake of probiotics or fermented foods and vitamin A and D will have an immuno-modulatory effect on the body via the gut. Adaptogenic herbs like ginseng, holy basil, ashwaganda, licorice etc. modulate the immune response, particularly in relation to stress and this reduces inflammation as a consequence.
Any form of stress reduction, be it yoga, deep breathing, mindfulness, gentle exercise, talking therapy, basically anything that allows your nervous system to switch from sympathetic dominance (highly stressed) to parasympathetic mode (rested and relaxed) will also help to calm inflammation.
If ‘prevention is better than cure’ and ‘inflammation is at the root of pain and chronic disease’, then it makes sense to take special note of those anti-inflammatory dietary and lifestyle factors. Even if you are well now, preventive measures could include reducing or removing inflammatory triggers, increasing anti-inflammatory foods and practising calm.
Okay, so oxidation is also tricky to explain in simple terms. An example of oxidation in action is what happens when you cut an apple in half. The apple is prone to oxidation once it is exposed to oxygen molecules in the air. It quickly begins to rot (oxidize). Rusting is a slower version of oxidation when iron comes into contact with oxygen and moisture. Oxidation also occurs in the chemical processes that takes place in our body cells. Our body not only produces oxidants, it also produces its own anti-oxidants. It’s a balancing act. Our cells are a bit like factories that produce energy, protein etc. but in the process of doing so, it also creates waste called oxidants or free radicals. When oxidants outweigh antioxidants in the body, this is called oxidative stress.
Apart from the body’s own contribution to oxidation, other factors increase oxidative stress (below) and a build-up in the body is another contributing factor to inflammation. Free radical damage contributes to premature aging and a whole host of chronic diseases.
What adds to oxidation?
It’s the usual suspects from the diet! Sugar, white refined carbohydrates, junk food, processed chemical laden foods, mouldy foods, rancid oils (refined seed oils or oils cooked at high temperatures), hydrogenated oils, margarine, alcohol, charred or burnt food. Lifestyle factors including high intensity exercise, no exercise, smoking, medications, high stress levels, pesticides, air pollution, exposure to radiation, household chemicals etc. These oxidants build up in the body creating a toxic load. The body attempts to dismantle and eliminate this load by various means and by using anti-oxidants. But, even the anti-oxidants produced by the body itself rely on correct nutrition from the diet.
What decreases oxidation?
Reduced calories (because everything you eat needs to be processed by the body), light exercise, organic whole foods diet (less toxins to dismantle and eliminate), low stress levels and restorative sleep. Toxins can be eliminated in sweat via the skin so working up a sweat or having a sauna can help.
Anti-oxidant nutrients and foods: The pigmented phytochemicals of vegetables and fruit (a rainbow of colours) are rich sources of anti-oxidants. Especially high are green vegetables, all berries, pecans, boiled artichokes, kidney beans, grapes, cacao (dark chocolate), green and white tea and most herbs and spices including cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, rosemary and oregano. The main anti-oxidant vitamins are A, C and E. The B vitamins are also important co-factors in clearing toxins from the body. Copper, zinc and selenium are important anti-oxidant minerals. Supplementing with a natural multivitamin and mineral is also a good way to boost your anti-oxidant reserves.
You will see that while there are some foods that are top anti-inflammatories and others that are top anti-oxidants, there is considerable overlap so that if you are supporting the fight against inflammation you are also fighting oxidative stress. The same goes for implementing supportive lifestyle factors “what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander” 🙂
So, I hope that by getting the anti’s, you’ll get more of the anti’s 🙂
© Limelight Nutrition 2019