There’s no doubt about it, we are a sick society. Our modern lifestyles, unhealthy diets, polluted atmospheres and highly stressful environments create the perfect conditions for inflammation and chronic illnesses. The good news is that certain nutrients can help protect your body from inflammation and potential long-term health problems.
Inflammation and Chronic Illness
Inflammation is your body’s natural reaction to irritation, injury or infection. It’s your body’s way of protecting itself and starting the healing process. There are two types of inflammation:
Burns, chemical irritants, foreign bodies (such as a splinter), infection or physical injuries can all result in acute inflammation. Although uncomfortable, this type of inflammation is beneficial. Your immune system sends cells to the damaged or irritated area and helps its healing. Cytokines (messenger cells) are released into the blood to trigger the appropriate immune system responses and begin the healing process. Usually inflammation is accompanied by redness, swelling, heat and pain caused by increased blood flow to the affected tissues.
Acute inflammation doesn’t usually last very long, a few days or weeks, until the injured area has started to heal. However, if left unchecked, acute inflammation can evolve into chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation, also known as silent, systemic, hidden or low-grade inflammation, develops in the presence of a persistent acute inflammation or an autoimmune reaction — when the immune system mistakes healthy cells for pathogens and attacks healthy tissue.
Unsurprisingly, diets high in fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates and chemical additives cause chronic inflammation to develop:
High blood sugar has been shown to raise inflammation markers in the blood.
Being insulin resistant results in higher concentrations of leptin in the blood. This triggers the release of inflammatory cytokines, exacerbating chronic inflammation and disease. Experts believe that many people are insulin resistant without even realizing it. Regularly consuming high amounts of sugar and carbohydrates can cause your body to produce too much insulin, which in the long term can result in insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats like hydrogenated vegetable oils cause inflammation by damaging the cells that line the blood vessels. Earlier this year the FDA announced its plans to ban trans fats from food within 2018.[ii]
If you suffer from food allergies, for example intolerance to gluten, your immune system is already over-worked and stressed, and you are more likely to experience chronic inflammation.
Many diseases have chronic inflammation at their root cause:
- Allergies — inflammatory cytokines trigger an autoimmune reaction.
- Alzheimer’s disease — chronic inflammation destroys brain cells.
- Arthritis — inflammatory cytokines destroy joint cartilage and synovial fluid.
- Psoriasis — inflammatory cytokines trigger dermatitis.
- Cardio vascular disease — inflammation of the blood vessels caused by a poor diet, stress and smoking increases the risk of suffering from a heart attack.
- Cancers — research has shown that chronic inflammation increases a person’s risk of suffering from cancer.
Many chronic inflammation conditions predispose cells to mutation. One example of this is the link between inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. People suffering from Crohn’s disease, an inflammation affecting the gastrointestinal tract, are five to seven times more likely to develop colon cancer.[iii]
Chronic Inflammation: The Root Cause Of A Multitude of Diseases
Another factor that contributes to inflammation is free radicals, also known as Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
Your cells use around 90 percent of the oxygen you breathe to create energy, for example transforming the food you eat into glucose that is then used to power their many functions. When your cells produce energy, a small percentage of oxygen escapes into the body in the form of free radicals. These are highly reactive molecules that attach themselves to DNA chains and over time can cause your cells to age and mutate.
Under optimal conditions, if you have a healthy diet and inhabit a toxin-free environment, a small amount of free radicals are produced that your cells can easily protect themselves against. However, poor nutrition, a polluted environment and high levels of stress create amounts of free radicals that are too high for your cells to cope with. Over time these free radicals can destroy DNA, proteins and fats within your cells, increasing your risk of inflammation, premature aging and chronic diseases.
If you live or work in a city, there isn’t much you can do about free radicals from pollution. However, your diet can play a key role in keeping you healthy and protecting you from free radical damage.
Anthocyanins — Nature’s Medicine
Anthocyanins are part of the flavonoid group of phytochemicals present in teas, honey, wines, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, and cacao. These water-soluble pigments give certain fruits and vegetables their bright color.
The six principle types of anthocyanins are:
All of these have been shown to be beneficial to health thanks to their antioxidant capabilities and anti-tumor properties.
Anthocyanins have strong antioxidant properties, which make them incredibly useful in protecting the body from oxidative stress caused by Reactive Oxygen Species. Not only do they repair the damage caused by free radicals, they also prevent the generation of free radicals in the body.
A study published in Free Radical Biology & Medicine put rats on a vitamin E deficient diet for 12 weeks, to make them more prone to oxidative stress. They were then fed a diet rich in anthocyanins. The diet improved the rats’ general antioxidant status and reduced DNA damage, proving that an anthocyanin rich diet can markedly improve your health.[iv]
Anthocyanins and Cardio Vascular Disease
Anthocyanins also have a particularly protective effect on endothelial cells.[v] These cells form the endothelium, a thin layer of cells that lines the inside surface of both blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. Endothelial cells line the entire circulatory system, from the heart to every tiny capillary. They also play a key role in blood pressure management.
Protecting these cells dramatically reduces your risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease. A study published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Biology found that the anthocyanins in grape juice and red wine in particular reduce the risk of suffering from a heart attack by decreasing inflammation and strengthening blood vessels.[vi]
Anthocyanins and Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise, with over 29 million Americans suffering from the disease and 86 million being pre-diabetic.[vii] Research has found that anthocyanins decrease blood sugar levels and body mass, pointing to a potentially protective role against both Type 2 diabetes and obesity.[viii]
Anthocyanins and Cancer
Anthocyanins have been found to impede the formation of cancer cells and prevent the development of tumors.
Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that anthocyanins contained in blueberries hindered the growth of leukemia cells and colon cancer cells in vitro.[xi]
A study presented at the American Chemical Society in Boston, US, found that anthocyanins have colon cancer fighting properties. During the animal study, scientists induced colon cancer in rats, then fed some a diet rich in anthocyanins. Compared to rats that were kept on a normal diet, the rats fed the extra nutrients showed a 60 –70 percent reduction of colon tumors.[xii]
Swap Junk Food for Wholesome Food
Your diet plays a huge role in how many free radicals your body has to cope with. In order to protect your health from the damage they cause, aim to avoid the following foods:
- Fried foods
- Baked goods
- Refined sugars
- Refined carbohydrates
- Any food with E-numbers or additives you cannot pronounce
- Any food containing mono-sodium glutamate (MSG)
Focus instead on a diet high in fruits and vegetables — choosing those that contain the highest amounts of anthocyanins — pulses, nuts, seeds and lean protein.
Including More Anthocyanins in Your Diet
The scientific community has yet to pin point exactly how anthocyanins work. This is because the pigments almost never act independently; instead, they act synergistically with other nutrients such as flavonoids and non-flavonoid phytochemicals. This makes sense because in nature all these health-giving compounds are mixed together — fruits and vegetables all contain different cocktails of various nutrients. Eat a rainbow every day to ensure you’re getting a wide selection of inflammation fighting vitamins and minerals.
Anthocyanins are found in higher concentrations in purple, blue and dark red foods, but you can also find them in many common foods:[xiii]
- Apples (red)
- Grapes (red or black)
- Red cabbage
- Red leaf lettuce
- Red radish
- Red onions
- Black beans
- Red wine
- Purple broccoli
- Purple cauliflower
- Purple potatoes
- Purple carrots
Antioxidant - Rich Acai Berries
A food’s antioxidant strength — how well it can combat free radical damage — is measured by its Oxygen Radical Absorbent Capacity (ORAC). Açai berries have the highest ORAC value known, twenty times higher than blueberries and red wine![xiv] Although the berries aren’t available fresh outside South America, açai supplements and freeze dried powder can be found in most health food stores and online.
Set The Foundations For Your Future Wellbeing
It’s no secret that a healthy diet reduces your risk of suffering from degenerative diseases. A multitude of scientific studies have confirmed the link between a nutrient rich diet and a healthy body. Including more anthocyanins in your diet can go a long way to helping protect your body against inflammation, free radical damage and chronic illness.
[vi] Folts J. Antithrombotic potential of grape juice and red wine for preventing heart attacks. Pharm Biol. 1998;36(suppl):21–27.