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Welcome to this talk entitled, “The Truth About Inflammation.” For those of you who don’t know, I’m Dr. Trish Murray. I’m a physician, I’m a best-selling author, and I consider myself the Health Catalyst Speaker. I am also the founder of Discover Health Functional Medicine Center in Conway, New Hampshire.
I will, tonight, be sharing with you an excerpt from my first book entitled, Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease, during this presentation. In that excerpt it’s going to talk about how your immune system works and some of the oversight into the truth about inflammation.
Inflammation is a biological response triggered by the immune system, but in order to understand inflammation it is helpful to have a basic understanding of how the entire immune system works. In the very first chapter of my book entitled, Make a D.E.N.T. in Chronic Disease, I explain how your immune system works and inflammation works. So, now I’m going to share a portion of this first chapter with you. So, here we go!
HOW THE IMMUNE SYSTEM WORKS
The immune system is an extremely complex system to understand, so I’m going to break it down into parts. Your immune system is your defense system. It’s your military: your navy, your air force, you marines, and even your police. Its responsibility is to keep you safe in your world.
Once any foreign substance enters your body, your immune system goes into action to protect you by initiating what’s called your innate immune system. These are the ground forces, and they go in as your first line of defense against any invader or threat. The cells of your innate immune system initiate battle against any infection, but they also train your adaptive immune system to send in reinforcements during the battle against any invader. So, your immune system has multiple levels of defense.
You see, we live in a dangerous world in which we’re exposed to many health risks: everything from chemicals to bacteria to viruses (obviously during the COVID pandemic), molds, toxins, injuries, and even stress will irritate your immune system.
You can think of these risks as threats to the optimal health of your body, like invaders or strangers. In our external world, we talk about stranger danger as having an awareness of potential threats from people we may not know. We teach our children not to talk to strangers and we keep alert in situations that seem to be risky if someone uninvited or unrecognized approaches us in a threatening way.
If there is a threat to your internal environment – for example, through a wound or a cut in your skin – your innate immune system sends in the ground forces in response to this immediate stranger danger. This initial response to any invader comes from our innate immune system and typically involves inflammation.
All of you are familiar with inflammation. Whenever you have cut your finger or sprained your ankle, for example, the area of the injury hurts. It becomes swollen, it becomes red, and it becomes warm. The body part also may not be very functional and not function normally because of all these things that are going on. These are the typical external signs we see and feel when inflammation occurs due to a wound in the skin.
But, when the injury or threat, folks, is internal, it’s below the skin and it’s a different experience. You can’t see the inflammation because it lives below the surface of your skin. Internal inflammation of your nervous system, your digestive system, or any other of your organs can occur below the surface of your skin kind of like the parts of an iceberg that you can’t see. You may have some signs or symptoms that you are aware of above the surface, but much larger mass of this iceberg or level of inflammation truly lives below the surface so you are not aware of its true size.
The ground forces of your innate immune system go into action whenever any dangerous bug or trauma or injury occurs. Its first job is to engage any foreign invader and to kill it or destroy it.
How exactly do they accomplish this?
Well, there are different ways that the innate immune cells can try to destroy the stranger danger. All innate immune cells contain chemicals that can be used as a weapon when they are in danger.
Another defense your ground forces can employ is called phagocytosis, in which an innate immune cell – a phagocyte, from the prefix phag, meaning “to eat” and the root word cyte meaning “cell.” A phagocyte is a cell that will eat and engulf a bacterium, engulf a virus or a chemical and devour it and destroy it or neutralize it.
If your ground forces of your innate immune system cannot eliminate any invader completely, then they have a third method of protection. They can place signals on their membranes of their cells and of the membrane of the immune system cell, the innate immune system cell, that can train reinforcements – your adaptive immune cells – how to identify the enemy.
These signals communicate to the adaptive immune system: We have a stranger in the house, and we need your help!
Now, once the innate immune cells attack the stranger danger and engage it in battle, they also place these chemical receptors on their own membranes that they then present to your adaptive not your naïve adaptive immune cells. This information activates your adaptive immune system and delivers crucial information about who the enemy is.
The naive adaptive cells are then trained to look for these signals and then attack the enemy. The adaptive immune system cells are your reinforcements. They come in as a second form of attack. However, you’ve got to realize this takes time. Your innate immune system reacts for the first ninety hours of any invasion from a bug or bacteria or infection, but the adaptive immune system won’t come into play for those four or five days. Now, once it is in place, it will have long-term memories of what to attack and what to kill. The virus you have today takes as much as seven to ten days to get rid of because first your innate immune system comes into play immediately, and then your adaptive immune system takes four to five days to be trained and activated. Then, the two systems work in full force to eradicate and neutralize any invader or toxin.
The cells of the adaptive immune system, because we’re not done yet, while they are being activated by the signals from the innate immune system cells, can be trained into one of two different pathways or branches of your military. In the same way that a soldier can enlist in the navy or they can enlist in a different branch of the military like the air force, an adaptive immune cell can enlist into one of two different branches of the active adaptive immune system. It could go down what’s called the Th1 pathway. This Th1 branch of your adaptive immune system activates T-cell mediated activation of certain cells called macrophages and neutrophils, whereas the Th2 pathway activates B-cell mediated activation of mast cells, eosinophils, and basophils. It’s the Th2 pathway that creates, typically, antibodies.
If your adaptive immune system becomes hypersensitive or overreactive, it can initiate what’s called an autoimmune reaction where your own immune system attacks you and attacks self – your own tissues. If hypersensitivity and dysfunctions happen to your Th1 adaptive immune cells, then particular autoimmune disease processes will develop. The ones that may develop in the Th1 pathway are rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and thyroid-related disease like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. If the Th2 branch becomes dysfunctional, then more allergy-related diseases develop, like asthma, eczema, or psoriasis.
Now, folks, what you’ve got to understand is that this very complex system, which consists of an innate immune system and an adaptive, trained immune system with long-term memory, must also have some tolerance. For example, let me give you an analogy. Imagine you are sitting on your front porch and all of a sudden you hear some really weird, loud kind of strange noises coming down your street. You look down the street and you see a group of strange people walking down the sidewalk of your neighborhood.
You think to yourself: What the heck is going on? Who are these people? What are they doing?
You even notice that the hairs on the back your neck go up, and you’re quite alarmed by this annoyance that’s coming down the road and disruption.
Then, your son or your daughter walks out on the porch and looks down the street and sees these people and says, “Hey Charlie! Hi Johnny! Hey Susie! How are you guys doing?” and they wave to this group of people.
Now you realize that these strangers in your mind are your child’s friends, and immediately the hairs on the back of your neck go down. You’re no longer nervous, and you’re no longer scared. What have you just developed? You’ve just developed tolerance for their behavior.
Well, your immune system does this same thing constantly. If your innate immune cells have seen a foreign substance before, and it’s never caused danger, then they let each other know to tolerate that substance’s presence.
On the other hand, let’s take this example and look at it another way. You’re sitting on the porch and the same situation occurs. A group of people is walking toward you, down the sidewalk of your neighborhood, making again strange noises, and acting very differently and disturbingly. You stand up to get a better look and you’re nervous. Again, the hairs go up on the back of your neck, and all of a sudden, your daughter, son, or spouse come out, and they see this group of people. They don’t know the group either.
They say to you, “What the heck is going on? Who the hell are they?”
Now you’re both scared. You’re both nervous. You both start reacting to this stranger danger, and you’re watching. You start moving to get a better look at the strangers and start contemplating your next move.
How are we going to make sure we stay safe and protect ourselves and our family?
You might even think about calling the police or you may go out and possibly question these people and interact with them yourself.
In this situation, folks, tolerance does not exist. You’re more concerned. You want to know why these people are in your neighborhood and if they are dangerous, then you’re going to act.
In the end, you must be able to discern whether something is true strange or danger or not. What you need to realize about this whole talk is that your immune system is constantly trying to figure this out before it reacts. When your immune system has lost its tolerance that’s when it becomes hyperreactive and you’re more likely to develop an autoimmune condition.
So many of us go through our daily life and don’t feel well. Do you feel like you are as productive as you could be? Do you feel like your brain is working with optimal abilities?
If your answer to the above questions is not yes, it could be that there are imbalances in your body and that underlying inflammation or immune system dysfunction is causing these problems. Of course, I’d like to help you understand why this is so and what indicators to look for to determine if your immune system may be out of balance.
So, this is what your immune system is all about, and this is how the immune system functions.
The good about your immune system and especially inflammation is that the body’s inflammation is the body’s first line of defense against harm. It is the body’s attempt to self-protect and to begin the healing process. This process is called acute inflammation. But the bad is that long-term inflammation lasting for prolonged periods of weeks to several months to years is called chronic inflammation. The ugly is that chronic inflammation can eventually cause several disease conditions such as some cancers and autoimmune conditions like I listed off earlier, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Now let’s take a deeper look into the ugly side of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation can result from some of the following things:
- When the body fails to eliminate the cause of an acute inflammation situation such as infectious organisms, fungi, and other parasites the harmful agent remains in the affected tissue and your immune system is chronically trying to eradicate it.
- Exposure to a low level of a particular irritant or foreign material including substances or industrial chemicals that cannot be eliminated, let’s say heavy metals like mercury or cadmium or lead.
- An autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells.
- Biochemical inducers leading to excess oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction (the mitochondria are what produce the fuel and the energy of your body), and increased production of free radical molecules. Most people have heard of free radicals, and you know that free radicals cause oxidative stress and breakdown of tissue.
Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) presently ranks chronic diseases as the greatest threat to human health, and years of research conclude that chronic inflammatory diseases are the most significant cause of death in the world today. This is a big shift from the last century when acute infections were the greatest threat to human health.
Again, years of research have identified some common signs and symptoms that develop as a result of chronic inflammation. So, if you have a number of what I’m about to list off, you probably have underlying chronic inflammation going on. The list includes:
- body pains, such as headaches, joint pains, and back pain that’s not resolving
- constant fatigue and insomnia
- depression, anxiety, and mood disorders can be a sign of chronic brain inflammation
- gastrointestinal dysfunction like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
- weight gain that you can’t seem to get control over
- frequent infections
- night sweats
Many diseases have been attributed to chronic inflammation. Some examples include:
- heart disease
- neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease
- gingivitis (chronic inflammation of the gums)
- autoimmune diseases, like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjogren’s disease
- ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- type 2 diabetes
Folks, all of these chronic conditions are a sign of relationship to chronic inflammation. Today the majority of people in our country over fifty years old are walking around every day with three or more chronic diseases that they’re dealing with. What does that say? That says that our population, the majority of our population, is chronically inflamed.
Now, numerous risk factors have been identified that promote a chronic low level inflammation response and these include one thing you can’t do much about – age. We’re all aging, and we can’t reverse it. Other things you can control such as usually weight is something, obesity is something we may be able to modify. Poor diet or food sensitivities and allergies put us at risk. Smoking, low sex hormones, and stress and sleep disorders all are putting you at increased risk for chronic inflammation.
Again, the good news is that all of these risk factors, besides age of course, can be modified through lifestyle changes. We’re going to spend the remainder of our time together discussing ways to prevent chronic inflammation. So, we’ve talked about what it is and why it’s important and how it can be bad, but let’s talk about what to do to try and reverse it.
Smoking is a significant contributor to inflammation. It is a lifestyle factor that is controllable. Cigarette smoking is associated with lowering the production of anti-inflammatory molecules and inducing and causing inflammation. Now, you can always talk with your doctor for help to kick the habit or there are many sites online that can give you information on how to quit. I will list some resources, as I always do, for you tomorrow in our Discover Health Facebook Group that will include some of these sites. If you are a smoker, that may help you to get on the road to getting off of the tobacco cigarettes.
One of the best ways to reduce inflammation, folks, lies in the refrigerator. An anti-inflammatory diet should include foods such as:
- olive oil
- green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, collard greens, and many more
- nuts like almonds, pecans, and walnuts
- fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, cod, or halibut
- fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges and many more of all different colors
These foods that I’ve listed are high in what are called polyphenols. Polyphenols are in all plants, and they protect the plant from inflammation and danger, so they’re going to also protect YOU from inflammation and danger from outside sources. The number one focus I always teach everyone is to eat the colors of the rainbow every single day you can. I mean, of course, things that are red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, but I do NOT mean M&Ms and Skittles! I mean real foods.
If you’re looking for a complete diet overhaul, and one of the best diets known to reduce inflammation, I would try the Mediterranean Diet. Numerous studies have shown that the Mediterranean Diet is associated with weight loss. It’s associated with reduced risk of heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and premature death.
Let me just give a couple examples of some sample meals for a Mediterranean Diet. Let’s say a breakfast with Greek yogurt with strawberries and oats. A lunch with a with salad with an assortment of colorful vegetables. Maybe a dinner with tuna salad dressed with olive oil with a piece of fruit for dessert. Another day, a day might look like breakfast with oatmeal with raisins, a lunch with leftover tuna salad from the night before, and maybe that day you’d have a dinner with some more fish with salmon and a salad with tomatoes, olives, and feta cheese. These are examples of lots of color and things that are more anti-inflammatory in the Mediterranean Diet.
When it comes to reducing inflammation in the body, it’s not only about the foods you eat but also the foods you should not eat. Try to avoid or limit these foods as much as possible:
- refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pastries
- French fries and other fried foods
- soda and other sugary, sweetened beverages
- red meat such as burgers and steaks
- processed meat like hot dogs and sausages
- margarine, shortening, and lard (all made of what’s called hydrogenated fats)
Hydrogenated fats are fats that have been modified so they do not go rancid, and they are horrible for your health. Most processed foods that are in a box or a bag that can sit on a shelf for the next ten years and not rot are – guess what? Made with hydrogenated fats.
Another diet that can be used to keep inflammation in check is called the Low-Glycemic Diet. The Low-Glycemic diet is based on the concept of what’s called the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure that ranks foods according to their effect on your blood sugar levels. There are three categories of glycemic index ratings. The glycemic index rating goes from zero to a hundred. Low glycemic index foods are from 55 or less, medium glycemic foods have a rating of 56 and (above up to 69), and high glycemic foods have a rating of from 70 or more up to 100.
Again, research on these different diets is out there, and studies have shown that the Low-Glycemic Diet may result in weight loss, reducing blood sugars, and lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. To learn more and get a list of low-glycemic foods, all you’ve got to do is simply Google “low-glycemic index foods” and you’re going to get a list of foods that fit into that low glycemic index of 55 or less.
Also, let’s look at some suggestions to incorporate when following a Low-Glycemic Diet. Let’s look at breakfast and particularly breakfast cereals. You could consider a porridge made with rolled oats or muesli or all bran. These are lower glycemic index grains.
Fruit such as all types of berries – strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries – are all very low-glycemic index fruits. Apricots, peaches, plums, pears, and kiwi also would fit into the low-glycemic index fruits. A rule you can pretty much follow, just a kind of rule of thumb, is any fruit that is colored all the way through, like a blueberry, is usually a lower-glycemic index piece of fruit than let’s say an apple or a banana that’s colored on the outside but white on the inside. White on the inside and colored on the outside fruits typically have a higher glycemic index than ones that are colored all the way through.
Vegetables: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, celery tomatoes, zucchini. All of these are going to be lower-glycemic foods. Starchy vegetables you’re going to want to look up, but sweet potatoes, corn, and yams are of a lower-glycemic category. Legume examples include lentils, chickpeas, baked beans, butter beans, and kidney beans. These do fit into the lower-glycemic index category.
How about some grains? Some other grains – quinoa, buckwheat, semolina, and I don’t know if anybody out there has called a heard of freekeh. Freekeh is a cereal food made from what’s called a green durum wheat that is roasted and rubbed to create its flavor. It’s an ancient dish derived from Levantine and North African cuisines, and it’s remaining popular in many countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Basin where durum wheat actually originated. Now it does contain gluten for those avoiding gluten or who have celiac or sensitivity to gluten, but if you don’t have a sensitivity to gluten this is an interesting example of a grain that is a low glycemic index.
Another category of low-glycemic index foods, of course, are nuts – almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, for example.
Exercise is another essential step to reducing inflammation. Now, a typical recommendation for amount of exercise would include thirty minutes of aerobic exercise and ten to twenty-five minutes of weight or resistance training at least three to four times per week. One also needs to move in ways that will maintain the optimal health of your connective tissues, your fascia, and at Discover Health Movement Membership we help you do exactly this!
Our Discover Health Movement Membership program is all online, so you can do your exercise in the comfort of your own space whenever it fits your schedule. Discover Health Movement Membership includes three classes per week: a Discover Yoga class, a Self-Myofascial Release class, and a Movement for Longevity class. All of these three classes focus on optimizing your flexibility, strength, and balance and give you the tools to know how to treat your own minor injuries when they occur.
I can tell you that time and time again patients of mine that do this program, if they’ve strained this or sprained that and within a day or so they’re calling my office for an appointment but they can’t get in for let’s say a week or more, by the time they get to me within seven to ten days or maybe two weeks or so they’re telling me, “Well, I called right away because I hurt myself, but Trish I’ve been using the tools that I’ve learned in your program and Discover Health Movement Membership and I’m doing 95% better. I wanted to keep the appointment so you could, you know, make sure I’m all set, but I was able to use your tools and fix myself!” They’re so excited about that! If you want to learn more or to join, simply go to my website discoverhealthfmc.com and click on the link right below my image on the home page for Discover Health Movement Membership.
Stress signals the body to a produce hormonal response known as fight or flight. While stress serves as a protection mechanism to alert us to harm, like in the analogy I gave from my first chapter of my book, many people today are living in a state of chronic stress all the time. Guys, chronic stress causes stress-related hormones to be continuously present in the body causing inflammation.
We need to reduce our chronic anxiety, stress-related reactions to things, and there are countless techniques for managing stress. Some can double as physical exercise. A few common methods include yoga or our entire movement modality program that I just finished explaining entitled Discover Health Movement Membership. Another option is meditation. Another is guided imagery. Another is journaling. Gratitude journaling, the more we are focusing on what we’re grateful for more than what we are fearing or concerned about, the more you’re going to reduce your stress. Walking and practicing deep breathing.
I want to share with everybody a breathing technique that I’ve been using over the last three months, and it’s called Wim Hof breathing. That’s actually a gentleman’s name Wim; his last name is Hof. Wim Hof breathing. Wim Hof is also known as the “ice man” because he has the ability to swim actually in the arctic. He teaches this amazing breathing technique that I’ve been doing for the last three months, and it is helping me sleep better and quiet my stress in a way that I’ve not been able to with a lot of other techniques throughout my life.
If you want to learn more and you want to learn his guided breathing techniques, just go to YouTube and search “Wim Hof guided breathing” and you should find multiple options for him guiding you through his breathing technique through a guided breathing session. I highly recommend you try it out.
Getting restful sleep every night is essential in combating inflammation. While we sleep our body performs key healing and restoration processes and breaks down toxins and detoxifies our body. The average healthy adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep every single night. Are you getting enough if you wake up feeling tired or feel sluggish during the day? You possibly need more sleep.
If you are having difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep, try developing a nighttime routine to help signal your body that it’s time to rest by doing this. Some suggestions are avoid drinking any caffeine or eating actually anything for at least three hours before bedtime. Another option is and another thing to consider are participate in calming activities such as going for a walk, meditation, or gentle stretching. Another option is to try turning off electronics an hour before going to sleep. Another is to take a warm bath. Another is, again, do that gratitude journaling, but don’t do it on your computer. Write it out in a notebook or something. What you do as part of your routine is up to you. Just keep in mind a clutter-free, cool room is an ideal environment for sleep.
Now, if you expect that you have a hormonal imbalance your doctor can perform a simple blood analysis to determine which hormones may be off and how to correct imbalances. If you are concerned that your stress level is chronically high, and you are always in a state of fight or flight, then the advanced functional medicine test called the salivary cortisol test is something you may need. The problem is it’s not done by your traditional primary care provider. You would have to reach out to a functional medicine provider like myself in order to have someone that’s trained in how to get this done and how to interpret the results of a salivary cortisol test.
Now, as I typically do for each of the monthly educational webinars, I will post the list of references that were used in the making of this event in our Discover Health Facebook Group tomorrow. If you are not already a member of our Discover Health Facebook Group, then all you need to do is if you do go to Facebook, go to Facebook and look up my clinic, Discover Health Functional Medicine Center and go to our business pa
ge of Discover Health Functional Medicine Center, and simply look for the link and click it to request to join our closed Discover Health Facebook Group. Everyone’s welcome! You just need to, like all the other groups on Facebook, ask to join.
In there we always list the res
ources for all these webinars that were used in order to create the different webinars for you so you can do your own further research. It’s also a place where our Health Coach, Trish Chaput, does a weekly Coach’s Corner. Every day, basically, she posts something educational and informational. It’s a place where you can interact with like-minded people, and you can ask us questions there as well. Definitely look into joining!
Thank you all for joining us today! Chron
ic inflammation has become more prevalent over the years and is linked to a number of diseases that we’ve talked about. While inflammation is essential for acute wound healing, chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on healthy tissues and on your overall health. The good news is there are ways to reduce your risk by making lifestyle changes and modifying what you do have control over.
Thank you all for coming, and I really hope this has helped. I hope to see you on our next webinar next month because I do this free webinar every month. We also transcribe each and every one of these webinars and put it in my podcast, so if you’re not familiar with my podcast, please check out Discover Health Podcast. You can listen to any and all of the topics and all the interviews I’ve done with multiple medical providers over the years.
Take care, everybody!
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