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Inflammation in very simple terms.
Inflammation is the body’s defense against irritation, infection, or injury. This can also be caused by lots of stress, eating foods that cause inflammation, inadequate rest, or excessive training.
Inflammation is not always a negative thing (more on that later), but when we generate more of it than we are designed to handle, all sorts of issues can ensue, including GI issues, joint pain, weight gain, and compromised immunity. Your body can handle these things for short periods, as in after a hard workout or to recover from an injury, but when your body has to deal with elevated inflammation levels for long stretches, things just don’t work right.
Lowering excessive inflammation is one of the goals of proper nutrition and hormonal balance.
Now, if you think you have screwed up hormones, don’t take my advice on it. I am not a doctor. Even most MDs will refer you to an endocrinologist in order to help with a suspected hormone problem, which they would only confirm through blood or saliva tests. So, don’t diagnose yourself as having some hormone or adrenal issue via the internet.
But, here are some super simple bits of information I’ve learned about inflammation and how to help minimize it.
Your body works in a coordinated fashion, meaning all the systems work together and must be looked at together. You can’t just look at your training without paying attention to nutrition and expect to look, feel or perform better.
Excess inflammation means fat gain, muscle loss, and “Man-Boobs”
When levels of inflammation go up, the body’s defense is to increase the stress hormone cortisol as an anti-inflammatory hormone. This becomes a priority for your body, instead of producing sex hormones like testosterone, DHEA, androstendione, and progesterone. This is important because having these sex hormones working correctly helps you to train hard, build muscle, burn fat, and make other humans.
If these hormones aren’t in sync, one of the outcomes is estrogen dominance. Both men and women have to have the correct amount of estrogen, and when estrogen levels are too high one of the first things is fat gain in the stomach, legs, and chest (the dreaded “Man-Rack”). This can be more than just cosmetic, in that estrogen dominance has also been linked to things like breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Fatty Acid Balance
One of the ways to combat excess inflammation is to balance your fatty acid intake. Which in the simplest terms, means balancing the amount of omega3 fats and to omega6 fats.
While experts debate the exact ratio of omega3 fats to omega6 fats needed to stay in balance (some say it should be 1:1, while others say it should be 1:3 or 1:4), the important thing to realize is that if you are eating a standard diet of corn-fed beef and chicken, farmed fish, and seed oils like canola and soybean, you are getting bombarded with omega6 fats and your ratio is way higher, like in the neighborhood of 1:20-1:25. This causes your body to produce excessive inflammation.
Good sources of omega3 fats are fish oil, flaxseed oil, grass-fed beef, wild fish, free-range chicken and chicken eggs. Try to eat as much of these as possible.
You still need omega6 fats to be healthy, though. It is not like you ONLY should consume omega3 fats. You should still be getting a good amount of fats from nuts and seeds, and lots of meat. Avocados and coconut oil are some of my favorite sources.
Excess carbs and sugar cause inflammation.
Excess carbohydrate intake causes inflammation by causing high insulin levels for sustained periods. We don’t want insulin to be high all the time. It constricts arteries and raises blood pressure, and also causes excess fat storage and if prolonged, eventually diabetes.
Insulin resistance is caused by having high insulin levels. Your body gets used to having it high, and it takes more and more to get the desired effect (of moving sugar and nutrients into cells). It becomes less and less sensitive to it because it is high all the time.
This is a precursor to diabetes, and is almost always accompanied by excess bodyfat. In fact, almost every obese or nearly obese person is insulin-resistant. It goes hand-in-hand with obesity and all the other corresponding issues that accompany obesity.
What we want to build is insulin sensitivity. Insulin is not a bad thing, but having too much all the time is. We want our insulin levels to rise temporarily in response to a meal, but not too much. 95% of this is done by getting rid of excess sugars and starchy carbs in the diet.
The most direct way to do this is limit carbohydrate intake to non-starchy vegetables, and very little fruit. NO processed carbohydrates, like bread, pasta, cereal, granola, etc.
Another important aspect of this is to take at least 4 hours between meals, as a minimum. 6-8 hours is preferable, in order to help make your body more insulin sensitive.
Everyone is different.
Yes, everyone is different and some people will have inflammation from foods that don’t bother others. I recommend starting with a strict paleo diet for at least a month, and then maybe experiment with adding certain foods back in one at a time. Kind of find what you can get away with.
For example: Let’s say you’ve gone strict paleo and eliminated grains and dairy completely for a month (and actually did it, and didn’t cheat). After a month, you decide to eat some bread.
For someone that is sensitive to the gluten or excess of carbohydrate, they will immediately experience a massive amount of inflammation, and will add a few pounds of weight on the scale the next day and will look puffy, kind of like their whole body is bloated. That is inflammation. Different foods affect different people differently.
This response is your body telling you that you SHOULD NOT be eating these foods.
Again, this is not a one-size-fits-all thing. I know people that are fine with one type of food, but maybe another has that effect on them. Everyone is different.
Personally, I can eat a dry cheese and have no problem. If I have a small amount of ice cream, though, I am 3-5lbs heavier the next day, puffy and have dark circles under my eyes. Any wheat or bread, and I am pounds heavier and my nose runs.
Get your magnesium.
One of the critical elements to fighting inflammation is maintaining adequate levels of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is chronic for many people eating highly processed foods and grains, which deplete your body of magnesium and calcium.
Here are a few reasons to get your magnesium:
It helps to lower cortisol, a hormone that is elevated as a response to stress.
It helps to raise DHEA levels, which is an anti-inflammatory hormone.
Magnesium deficiency makes it hard for your body to metabolize essential fatty acids.
Magnesium can help with sleep and recovery from hard exercise, which can also cause inflammation.
Inflammation is also caused by having poor gut health. Completely eliminating grains, legumes and sugar is an important first step, and I would argue that as long as you are still consuming these anti-nutrients, you are pretty well stopping your body’s ability to attain proper gut health, and leaching minerals like calcium and magnesium from your body. Beyond that, however, taking a good probiotic is important for some people. Another strategy is eating fermented foods like sauerkraut or kim-chee is a good move.
High-inflammatory versus low-inflammatory foods.
There are lots of anti-inflammatory strategies out there. One of the major ones is simply eliminating foods that are highly-inflammatory, or consuming them in very small quantities. Here are some examples of how just a few different foods rank.
Feedlot-raised beef, pork, chicken.
Seed oils, like corn oils and canola oil.
Any refined carbohydrate
Green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
Wild game and pastured meats
Natural oils like olive oil and coconut oil
Fruits like papaya, pineapple, cherries, and blueberries
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