Last week I gave a talk to Sir Richard Branson and a group of his friends that I called, “How to Live Healthily into your 120s” Now, as you might expect, the discussion focused on my Insulin Resistance Tree graphic and how insulin plays a leading role in virtually all the chronic illnesses we are concerned about in Britain today. You will also recall in my last blog how we discussed the importance of keeping our telomeres in good working order to support our healthspan. In this blog, I would like to complete what I see as the Longevity Health Trio by discussing inflammation. Or as I would like you to view it by the end of the blog – inflamm-aging.
What is Inflammation / Inflamm-aging?
If you have ever suffered a sports injury, I’m sure you have experienced swelling or inflammation around the joint or muscle that you hurt. This is the body’s self-defence system that protects the damaged area. Inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system dispatches white blood cells (plus a few other substances) not only to protect the injured part of the body but also to create barriers against viruses and bacteria and other stuff it just doesn’t understand.
Inflammation is associated with many different modern world diseases. From Alzheimer’s to cancer, from heart disease to strokes, from multiple sclerosis to ADHD, inflammation is a root cause of most diseases of the Western world.
Think about it logically – if we are living a lifestyle very different to the one we were designed to live, it is going to put a huge amount of stress on our immune system.
The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues and organs that work as a team to protect our body. But like a modern car with electrical sensors for literally everything, when they go wrong, they can go really wrong. Our body was designed to hunt and gather, to eat healthy foods and to move around more. The immune system was developed to protect against viruses and bacteria. It wasn’t created to deal with a daily overdose of sugar, an onslaught of toxins, repetitive and frequent over-eating patterns - all while sitting on our backsides for 14 hours a day. The immune system has tried to do its best, but it’s fighting a battle on multiple fronts that it neither understands nor is equipped to deal with!
As you will know, most diseases don’t appear overnight. Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, NAFLD, even obesity take time to develop. It is normally only after years of eating poor nutrition and the resulting continual damage of tissues brought on by food induced-inflammation, that our organs start to fail.
Dr Barry Sears author of the Resolution Zone, says, “In reality without a strong inflammatory response, we couldn’t exist because we would be sitting targets for microbial invasion and our injuries would never heal. However, if the same inflammation that initially protects us is not turned off, then it begins to attack our own bodies”. He goes on to say, “it’s not inflammation per se, but unresolved inflammation that’s the problem”.
As I mentioned above, inflammation is a product of the immune system designed to protect the body from injuries, bacteria and viruses (kind of a damage control system). But it is supposed to be an acute fix that leads to a resolution of healing. When it doesn’t subside, continuing this way for long periods of time is called chronic inflammation. What’s worse, in this state, our immune system can become oversensitive and overreactive, constantly releasing inflammatory cytokines, which spreads inflammation to many parts of the body.
I don’t think we have discussed cytokines before (other than in a podcast with Patrick Holford), so here is a very brief introduction to them. They are very small proteins that play a crucial role in controlling the growth of immune cells and blood cells. They play an important role in regulating inflammation and we have both proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in our body.
In particular, we may find inflammation in our digestive system, our brain, our nervous system, liver, kidneys, pancreas, joints and our arteries. And, because it is a product of our immune system, where you find autoimmune diseases, you will often discover inflammation.
Dr Sears concludes in the introduction to his book, with a very clear and strong message: “today much of the inflammation is not caused by microbial invasion or injury, but as a consequence of the foods you eat causing diet-induced inflammation that amplifies any existing unresolved inflammation”. In other words, the inflammation we are experiencing today is for most people chronic inflammation, caused primarily by the foods we are eating.
To conclude the reason why we all need to keep our inflammation under control, is that alongside insulin resistance and shortened telomers, it is linked to most chronic illnesses that we fear. It is omnipresent in most patients in hospital beds and those daily seen in GP’s surgeries.
But it’s not all doom and gloom and there is a happy ending for those who act. Let’s now discuss some of the causes of inflammation and then look at the solutions.
Out of Balance Omegas
Here is something that you won’t read that often, as big food corporations hate it, but let me say it as it is: all food that we eat instructs the biochemistry of our body. And every second of every day our body is creating over 20 million new cells. But what is the average British diet instructing our body to do? Welcome to the age of inflamm-aging.
Let me first start by explaining the difference between Omega 3 and Omega 6. Omega 6 has a very important job to do on the odd occasion when you sprain an ankle, break a leg, or catch a virus. To protect the affected area, its job is to create inflammation. Omega 6 is therefore pro-inflammatory. Omega 3 on the other hand is anti-inflammatory. Its job is to reduce the inflammation when it is no longer necessary for your protection.
An ideal diet will be well-balanced in Omega 3 and Omega 6. If we eat organic beef, from grass-fed cows, then the ratio is naturally balanced and is close to 1 to 1. But if the meat is highly processed, the ratio can often be out by as much as 20 to 1.
Most packaged food is also very much weighted in favour of Omega 6, as it is found in cheap ingredients and oils. So much so, that in the modern corporatized world we are consuming around 20 times more Omega 6 than Omega 3. This disproportional, dangerous balance means that many people are eating their way to a permanent state of inflammation. And sadly, most are totally unaware that their food choices are causing premature inflamm-aging.
To better understand the ratios, I would recommend you download the Primal Living App. If you then search our food database (which is probably the most comprehensive on the planet), nestled amongst a complete nutritional breakdown of each food and ingredient, is the amount of Omega 3 and 6.
What is the solution to this modern-day imbalance? Eat real food as often as possible, consume oily fish regularly or take a daily supplement of omega 3 (Primal’s is of course very powerful).
They sound healthy, don’t they? Sadly, they’re not. Their Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios are out-of-kilter by as much as 630:1 (Sunflower Oil for example per 100g has 63.2g of omega 6 and just 0.1g of omega 3).
An even larger danger lies in how the oils are extracted. The method is less about nature and nurture, and more about science, technology, and highly toxic processes. While our body thrives on olive oil, coconut oil, and fats from meats, seed oils are often chemically extracted, bleached, and deodorised in a way that is not fit for human consumption.
Avoid the 4Gs
I am not talking about the mobile phone platform, I am talking about minimising these four Gs –
The World Health Organisation recently wrote that Glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans”. What does carcinogenic mean? Well, basically it may cause cancer. Where do you find glyphosate? In certain brands of herbicides. And sadly, glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in UK agriculture.
The World Health Organisation also found that glyphosate is potentially genotoxic - in other words, it can damage your DNA and increase inflammation! How much is used? Well, apparently around the world, we spray more than 18 billion pounds in weight of it each year!! How do you minimise your intake? Be sure to eat organically as often as possible!
Grain, Gluten & Glucose
I won’t go into chapter and verse here, because if you follow my blogs, you will be aware of how the frequent and over-consumption of this trilogy often causes some of our cells to become insulin resistant. And insulin resistance and inflammation are pretty much joined at the hip!
Why Eating Too Often is a Problem
Whenever we eat food, our body enters storage mode. Digestion is in an anabolic state, meaning it is growing. Plus, when we eat foods containing carbohydrates, the body releases insulin to remove it from our bloodstream, and insulin is a storage hormone (growth hormone). However, once we have digested the food in our gut and insulin is in full retreat, we begin to enter a metabolic state of catabolism, where we begin to break things down and self-repair (also known as autophagy). The body is kind of black and white on the matter. Either we are in an anabolic building state or a catabolic repair state. Anabolic metabolism is when inflammation normally occurs, and catabolism is when inflammation can begin to recede.
Why Not Sleeping Enough Causes Inflammation
There are several biological pathways that ongoing poor sleep can lead to inflammation. But I will mention just one. Why? Because this one pathway also leads to both insulin resistance and shorter telomers. When we don’t get sufficient sleep, the body feels stressed. But the body can’t differentiate between chronic stress caused by fatigue and tiredness, and that from a lion chasing you. So, it calls on the hormone cortisol and its main weapon is to push sugar back into the bloodstream so that you have more energy to sprint away from danger. But with fatigue, there is no danger, and the stress lasts for long periods. So, now you have elevated sugar levels which is dangerous, so insulin is summoned to remove it. Insulin and Cortisol are now locked in a battle and summon more support. Now you have elevated insulin, which leads to insulin resistance, which promotes inflammation.
Why Exercise is Anti-Inflammatory
Whilst there is an argument to say that too much long-distance aerobic activity might be pro-inflammatory, doing some rather than non is certainly beneficial. Hippocrates was quoted as saying “If I could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” How does modest exercise help fight inflamm-aging? Well, before we get going, it also helps fight insulin resistance and protects our telomeres. When we work our muscles, because they have the ability to soak up glucose without the assistance of insulin, we get to reduce our glucose levels without spiking insulin. So straight away, you can see one benefit.
But one of the greatest gains comes from walking and resistance training because they generate BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) which amongst many other benefits, is known to help reduce inflammation. Even just the act of sweating is said to reduce inflammation.
Look After Your Gut
Although the science is only just beginning to emerge, it appears that the bacteria in our microbiome play a large role in the creation and control of inflammation. Our good bacteria effectively act as the fire brigade putting out the flames, while our bad bacteria act like Guy Fawkes on a mission to set alight the entire internal infrastructure of our body.
Sometimes Guy Fawkes wins and tricks the immune system into an inflammatory response when there was no need for one. This misinformed inflammatory response is known as autoimmune disease. It is a disease of the protective immune system, causing it to damage its own tissues rather than protect them. For example, arthritis – which affects a staggering 350 million people worldwide is a form of autoimmune disease.
How do you best look after your gut? That’s a subject in its own right, but in principle, eat foods that create a good environment for the good bacteria to hang out. These are called prebiotics. Fibre, onions and garlic are great for this. Then consume healthy bacteria from fermented foods and probiotic supplements.
But, as we have discovered throughout this blog, despite what you might read elsewhere, inflammation isn’t just restricted to autoimmune conditions. Inflammation can be a silent killer and can progress over years and years without us even realising it.
Based on all the information we have discussed in this blog, here are my 7 takeaway tips on how to best prevent it. And, as you will see, it bears a striking resemblance to the tips I have devised to prevent insulin resistance and to protect the length of your telomeres.
7 Tips to Beat Inflamm-aging
- Consume 1 to 2g of Omega 3 daily
- Make fasting part of your lifestyle
- Minimise Glyphosate, Grain, Gluten and Glucose
- Avoid Seed Oils
- Prioritise Sleep
- Stay Active
- Consume probiotics and plenty of fibre
A quick and easy dish, with all the anti-inflammatory goodness of omega-3. Great for lunch or dinner. Alternatively, you could use the following fish:
To keep things quick and simple, I put the red onion and butternut squash (you could also use celeriac) together in a steamer for just 7 or 8 minutes (not too soft – but just enough to speed up the cooking process). I then toss them in with the courgette, bell pepper, garlic and tomatoes in olive oil and add whatever herbs and spices take my fancy.
Heat the oven to 180C.
Squeeze over some lemon juice and cook the vegetables for about 15 minutes. Be sure to try and separate in the oven to get a nice even brown crispiness.
Brush each salmon fillet with olive oil or butter and season with herbs and black pepper. Turn over the vegetables and now add the salmon for a further 15 to 20 minutes.
To serve 4
Salmon steaks 4
Red Onion 2
Garlic 4 cloves
Bell Pepper 1 or 2
Butternut Squash ½
Cherry Tomato 12
Customer Comment of the Week
Michelle Severn left her 20th review on Trustpilot this week saying, “Primal Living are a very informative company that provide an efficient cost effective service. I love their products”. Many thanks Michelle for your ongoing support.
At the end of every blog, I post the latest update from Trustpilot. I do this to keep my team and myself on our toes and ensure we’re doing everything we can to offer the very best service.