Updated: Mar 8
THE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DIET
That fatigue you feel, those sleepless nights, that nagging pain that you carry around everyday…they can all be traced back to inflammation. Whether it’s the common cold, arthritis, back pain, Crohn’s disease or lupus, lowering your inflammation can play a preventative and sometimes even a curative role in all of these diseases. Inflammation contributes to many conditions, from blocked arteries to depression. The type of inflammation is what determines whether it’s good or bad. Let’s dive into inflammation!
Wait, there are different types of inflammation!?
Acute inflammation is a protective mechanism designed to sound the alarm in case of injury and promotes rapid healing. The injured tissue releases and produces chemicals which recruit your immune system's white blood cells, like soldiers in an army, to fight off infection and clean up cellular debris from injured tissue. Chronic inflammation is a totally different beast, neither beneficial nor healing. Quite the opposite actually. When tissues become chronically inflamed, they keep signaling our immune system to recruit more white blood cells, to fight injury or infection. The presence of white blood cells in chronic inflammation leads to recruitment of more white blood cells and the vicious cycle begins. Your immune system starts to breakdown healthy tissue in a misdirected attempt to heal and repair. Let`s use this simple example. Imagine that the inflammation is caused by your diet. Yes, many chemicals found in your food, are highly inflammatory. We know that saturated fats from animal products are highly pro-inflammatory, as are the industrial chemicals added to ultra-processed foods to preserve them or to add artificial colours or flavours. Now imagine eating a highly inflammatory meal, 3-5 times per day. Is the taste of food really worth risking your health, meal after meal, day after day, year after year. If every single bite of food you take is pro-inflammatory instead of anti-inflammatory, you are setting yourself up for chronic diseases later in life. Some would say that transitioning to a plant-based diet as a means of lowering inflammation is a little extreme, while I’m seeing patients getting their chests cracked open and veins from their legs sewed on their hearts. Having to fight for your life after a crushing diagnosis has a way of making dietary modifications seem not so extreme.
Chronic inflammation induced by long term poor nutrition is proven to be linked to many diseases, including:
• heart attacks and strokes
• Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
• rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis
• chronic bronchitis
• and many more…
If you have one of these conditions, I'm not saying it's your fault, many people get dealt a bad deck of genetic cards while many more are unlucky. I suffered from asthma in silence, puffing on my inhalers when no one was looking. It became progressively more difficult to hide it, until I couldn’t anymore. Then I saw the same thing happen to my kids. I knew I would end up regretting inaction. Remember, I thought I was eating healthy. I also thought that eggs and milk were health foods, because if they weren't, I assumed my Ph.D. would have told me so. I thought that white meat was healthier than red and at the beginning, I didn’t even recognize that my diet had anything to do with decades of chronic symptoms.
The anti-inflammatory diet
Is there such a thing as an anti-inflammatory diet? Was there a pattern of eating PROVEN to lower metabolic parameters by directly measuring chronic inflammation? Does it even exist? Is this diet evidence based? The short answer...YES!
Inflammation and one of our greatest killers
Chronic, sub-clinical inflammation can go unnoticed, but isn’t without clinical consequences. It affects endothelial function and contributes to atherosclerotic plaques that could lead to cardiovascular events.
Multiple studies measuring inflammatory markers (CRP, IL-6, TNFa-R2) have shown that plant-based diets rich in antioxidants are associated with a reduction in these inflammatory markers, and that the opposite is true for diets containing animal protein, processed meats, refined carbs, added sugar and ultra-processed foods. A recent meta-analysis has also confirmed the association between dietary induced inflammation and cardiovascular risk.
Inflammation affects the body as a whole
The anti-inflammatory diet is also associated with a reduction in anxious and depressive symptoms, reduced clinical signs and symptoms of autoimmune disorders and of post-infectious complications. In a nutshell, I’m basically saying that lowering chronic inflammation slows cellular aging and improves almost every disease process where inflammation is involved, which is literally what I see in my medical practice, day in, day out.
In summary, chronic low grade inflammation linked to diet can persist for years and contributes to the expression of many chronic diseases that are rare in comparison to populations adopting a more plant-based diet. I challenge you to read up on "The Blue Zones". These are regions on Earth where significant and higher proportions of habitants live passed 100 years. These populations have been thoroughly studied, and all have a few common denominators, one of them being their plant-predominant diets. In some of these areas, the common chronic diseases that plague our modern society are relatively non-existent.
The anti-inflammatory diet is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, tea, coffee and red wine. A pro-inflammatory diet would be one that is typically rich in animal protein, particularly red meat, processed meats, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and foods high in added sugars.
Unfortunately, many practicing health professionals feel uncomfortable with discussing non-pharmacological options related to the treatment of chronic medical conditions.
It’s about time we learn to adapt our medical practices to include the latest nutrition literature to be able to better serve those patients who are ready and willing to improve their lifestyles. Remember that changing your lifestyle for an evidence-based one is known to optimize health, with no known side effects.
If you’ve read this far, you’re one of the 5-10% of people that are taking charge of their health. You recognize that pills have their place in modern medicine, but that disease prevention is your responsibility. Everyday, I work in sick care, not healthcare. 95% of the people I see have an illness, are sick or have mental health challenges. I‘m grateful to all these patients that put their trust in me and let me guide them in the direction I feel is the right one. Although I’m always sitting in the doctor‘s chair, I’ve been in the patient’s chair many times before. I’ve witness how doctors are overworked and overwhelmed. The system isn’t built to promote prevention. There are no bonuses or financial incentives for practicing in a preventative way. So doctors simply go about their day, trying to keep their heads above water while focusing all of their energy on helping sick patients, not preventing disease in the healthy ones.
I could probably see 4 sick patients in the same amount of time it would take to teach lifestyle medicine to one patient. Which is why prevention plays a minimal role in most doctors' days. That‘s precisely why I created this blog, in hopes of motivating patients, doctors and other healthcare professionals to incorporate more proven preventative lifestyle choices in their routines. I once heard a well respected cardiologist say: “I don’t even bother explaining lifestyle modifications to patients, since no one wants to change”. That comment is partially true, but still shocked me, since studies show that 15% of people are willing and motivated to change. It’s finding them amongst the crowd that's the main challenge. I truly believe that some of those who are willing to change are here, right now, reading this article. Maybe you‘re a patient wanting to eat a few more fruits this week, or maybe you‘re a nurse or a doctor wanting to increase your nutrition IQ. Maybe you’re one of my medical students that is just now realizing that your medical training left out a very important section: lifestyle medicine: a branch of evidence-based medicine that promotes healthy lifestyle choices, including nutrition, sleep, restorative activities, coping strategies, social connections and avoidance of unhealthy habits. It's time we reinvent how we do things in medicine. Who's with me?
Please let me know if you’re thinking of joining the plant-based movement with me by liking or commenting on this post!
Check out my website plantbaseddrjules.com and look for the “How To” section in the menu. There, you’ll find tips and tricks that helped me on my journey towards a plant-predominant diet. Everything there is completely free, no catches! You can even download my free recipe eBook where you’ll find over 20 of my family’s favourite plant-based recipes!
Look for me on the socials, @plantbased_dr_jules on Instagram and go like my Facebook Page, Plant-based Dr. Jules. If you’re looking for some fitness motivation and are curious to see what a plant-based athlete can accomplish, follow me, @maritimeninja, on my fitness account on Instagram or check out my fitness group on Facebook, called Maritime Ninja Warrior.
Thanks so much for reading!
Plant-Based Dr. Jules 💚🌱
Keep taking great care of yourselves.
Love you all,
Plant-based Dr. Jules 🌱💚