The “Third Force of Illness” is Inflammation. The inflammatory process is a natural body reaction to injury, infections, allergens, toxins, pollution, pesticides, food additives, drugs, cosmetics, chemicals, free radicals and oxidative stress. The five associated signs that the process of inflammation is occurring are redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function. The first three signs are the ones most often associated with inflammation – and we have all experienced it. It is usually local and self-limited. The body runs into trouble, however, when inflammation is excessive, chronic or systemic.
As strange as it sounds, the most common externally-generated cause of inflammation is what happens in the digestive tract. Even though we consider the “gut” is inside, it is actually “outside” us. If we turned ourselves inside-out, the gut would be on the outside (like the skin). The gastrointestinal tract is one of our primary defenses against invaders. In many ways, it is an extension of the skin and similarly protective. When the gut is inflamed, the inflammation process occurs in other areas of the body – like the covering of the bones and the walls of the arteries. Any arthritis or arteriosclerosis has at its roots this inflammatory process. As an interesting side-note, researchers are finding that certain micro-organisms exist in the wall of diseased arteries. We may find that cardiovascular disease may be linked to the presence of one or more of these organisms triggering the inflammatory response – just like Helicobacter pylori has been linked to the development of stomach ulcers.
In other words, gut function – especially an “inflamed” gut – affects other systems directly. The digestive tract is a major regulator of the immune system. Even though the source of the inflammation may be different, the end result is the same i.e., inflammation activates the immune system systemically. Whether it starts in your pinky finger or your molar, inflammation puts your immune system on alert. Reducing inflammation in the gut can, and does, have a modulating effect on the majority of disease processes that have an immune system component.
By far, the most common internally-triggered factors for chronic inflammation are free radicals and oxidative stress – which can be caused by anything that depletes the body of “antioxidants” e.g., overeating, obesity, chronic infections, toxins, and so on. Please understand that free radicals are one of the naturally-occurring by-products of cellular metabolism. Free radicals are kept from damaging tissue by “antioxidants” which neutralize them. The problem results from an imbalance between free radical production and free radical neutralization. Unadulterated colourful vegetables and fruits are perhaps the best way to get your daily dose of antioxidants e.g., vitamins A,D,E, K, C. There are also certain supplements, like N.A.C., that increase other important antioxidants like glutathione.
Virtually all of us are antioxidant deficient, with inflamed digestive tracts and low-grade chronic inflammation. This not only puts a heavy burden on the body, but it is my contention that it takes its toll on the Brain/Mind as well. Much of the anxiety and depression experienced by our young people (which I consider epidemic) is directly related to poor diet and digestion. An inflamed gut, most definitely can lead to an inflamed mind – and drugs are not the solution. Mind what you eat, and eat for your mind. Say “no” to your latte and say “hello” to you morning antioxidant smoothie!
Until next time……