The good, the bad and the ugly of inflammation

The good, the bad and the ugly of inflammation

Inflammaging – no it is not a spelling mistake

AT LAST! The nexus of diet, gut health, inflammation, chronic disease and ageing is starting to get the attention it deserves. A medical doctor that I have a lot of time for, Dr. Danny L. Katz said it well, that diet is THE SINGLE best predictor of premature death and chronic disease. In reverse, overall diet quality is the single leading predictor of longevity and vitality.

This doesn't mean we can change just our diet and pay less attention to the benefits of exercise and sleep. Rather, it is a reflection of just how poor our diets have been in the industrialised era of relying on food from our supermarkets. 

Dr. Katz questions why our medical practitioners just measure temperature, heart rate and blood pressure as the basics of wellness when what you do with your fork and feet (exercise) in your everyday life are by far the most obvious predictors about what is going to happen with your health. High blood pressure and heart rates might lead to a prescription of blood thinners in acute circumstances – but this doesn’t treat the cause. It will suppress the symptoms and immediate suffering, but it won’t eliminate the accelerated pathway to disease, premature ageing or death.

Why is diet an important predictor of disease and premature ageing

A leading research institute in Australia, The Centenary Institute, has just released a book stating clearly that the key to minimising premature ageing is to reduce inflammation throughout life, and a key to that is a gut healthy diet and lifestyle of sleep, exercise and learning. “The Good Gut anti-inflammatory diet” by Prof Hansbro in collaboration with Dr. Michael Mosley features some of the findings in our research, where not only heart disease risk factors were modified, but also inflammation markers. The book features Dr. Claire Baileys nutrition tip #11,  that the seaweed in our research, or seaweed fibre supplements if you can’t do the seaweed, are important for your heart and your gut health, including shifting your inflammation status.

The good

Inflammation is a natural and important part of our immune system. Without it we would turn into Davey Jone’s locker and melt into the diversity of microbial life before we get a chance to get started. It is there all the time fending off infections from the grazed knees of youth, mending those broken bones and sprained ligaments, and under normal circumstances fighting the good fight in eliminating viral infections like CORONA from our system. When small puzzle pieces (pattern recognition receptors) on cell membranes get triggered by pathogens (PAMPS) or danger (DAMPS) signals, cytokines start to flow. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to stressors, but when the stressor has gone the inflammation system needs to regulate itself to slow down.

The bad

Inflammation is such a complex system of molecular signals, cell activity and microbial cells that we don’t fully comprehend it. Because it is complex, a small imbalance in the process can mean that we lose the ability to turn inflammation off, or that inflammation fails to recognised our own cells, goes into overdrive and attacks what it should be protecting. This is in large part what is happening in long COVID and auto-immune diseases.

When the stressors continue, or when the body can’t shut down the process, a number of different inflammatory cytokine markers, such as interleukin-1beta (IL-1β) and type I interferons (IFNs), tumor necrosis factors (TNF-alpha), are circulating in the blood.  This is called chronic inflammation and it is draining and damaging to our bodies. These cytokines are produced by our own cells, for example skin cells, gut cells, bone, joints or immune cells in the blood stream. This is why different organs are attacked by different types of inflammation. Once these inflammation markers persist, autoinflammatory, autoimmune or rheumatic diseases arise.

The ugly

Chronic inflammation, the inflammation that doesn’t slow down when it should, is increasingly recognized as an underlying cause for over 100 common diseases and many disabilities that are affecting people for life.  Even if you are in a high inflammation state, it is not targeted and will not protect you well from the next pathogen or injury, or even worse it may be the cause of your next injury by attacking your own tissues. Once your immune system starts attacking you it is an autoimmune disease.

Diseases stemming from chronic inflammation include cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, psoriasis and autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders. Not to mention the majority of sufferers of Long-Covid. However, there is not just one type of inflammation, and it doesn’t cause one type of disease. For example, Lupus is associated with IFN cytokines, and Alzhemiers, gout and rheumatoid arthritis is associated with IL-1β and TNF cytokines. Disease like Multiple Sclerosis is associate with both of these types of cytokines. Even bone loss (low density) is associated with inflammation. Sometimes, these cytokines supress each other in other, and it is an imbalance in these that triggers disease.

The complexity

There is so much reference to inflammation across the media, but it is a broad term that is difficult to put into a box or isolate to any one particular immune disorder. Everything is connected; diet, microbiome, gut health, metabolic health and inflammation. It is a system issue, a bit like a car, whereby you can’t just keep it going by refilling with fuel. You need good tyres, clean lubricants, tights connections, and rapid firing wiring. All of these things interact to get a car rolling. To keep the body rolling like this we can multiply the complexity of a car 1000 times over. There are thousands of molecules, food sources, processing effects, the genetics of each of us, and different exposure to triggers.

The triggers

Chronic inflammation can be triggered by environmental toxins, pathogens (like viruses), poor diets, lack of exercise and motion, poor mental health, stress or lack of sleep as well as poor awareness of when things are not right inside (i.e. mindfulness). In many ways, the modern world is feeding inflammation with our lifestyle, and with an ongoing routine of food processed for efficient manufacturing rather than nutrition, poor exercise and not enough sleep.

All of these things are also associated with the shortening of telomeres in our cells. Telomeres are the fuse to cell death. Once we have shortened our telomeres too far, our cells are not going to replicate to regenerate or repair tissues including skin and other organs. This is premature ageing and your cell communication and your overall body functions will be impaired. 

The change – put simply

Understanding that foods can lead to a better regulated inflammation status, helping us to turn signals of inflammation on and off, is the important first step in making the change away from an inflamed lifestyle. However it would require multiple PhDs and a capacity to do the most complex mathematical modelling to consciously control nutrition and diet with such detail, not to mention becoming a stress factor that only serves to further aggravate inflammation.

Luckily, our body's signals and metabolism is there to know that for us. We shouldn’t need a calculator to determine if we are hungry, and a normal functioning body also tells us when we are full. Similarly, if we listen and follow some basic rules, our body will also know what it is we need to eat, when to sleep and when to get some exercise.

Add fibre to change to your inflammation status

Because inflammation is so complex, the relationship to diet and gut health, as well as all of the other stress factors, the solution is rarely straight forward. This is why there is talk of the “anti-inflammatory diet” or “anti-inflammatory foods”: – but what is it and what foods should I eat? We are still some way off being able to use dietary information as highly targeted therapeutics (Kany et al 2019), for example, using a specific plant for a specific disease, but there is one message that is very clear; eat more plants.

Fibre is top of the agenda for an anti-inflammatory diet, and there is recent research showing that particular plants can regulate specific inflammation markers, for example most people have now heard of beta-glucan from oats. Fibre most probably does its best work at fixing our gut health status first through the microbiome, which is then the guardian of good inflammation health. But different fibres feed different gut flora, and also affect your immune system differently.

What happened when we put SeaFibre to the test?

Not many plant fibres are actually put to the test in peer reviewed clinical studies, but our own research from double-blind, placebo-controlled studies using a Seafibre, SXRG-84, showed significant anti-inflammatory effects for people with prediabetes or sufferers of chronic inflammation (Roach et al 2022). SXRG84 comes from a traceable seaweed in cultivation in Australia unique Australian green seaweed, Ulva sp.84 (culture collection).

This study shifted specific bacteria such as Bifidobacteria, Akkermansia and Pseudobutyrivibrio, and reduced specific inflammation markers including CRP, IL-1beta, IFL-gamma, and TNF-alpha, by using Seafibre SXRG84, as a dietary supplement. It is things like sustained TNF-alpha level in life that can lead to diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. 

This research demonstrates those links while it also shows hope for prediabetic and sufferers of chronic inflammation that there are changes that can be done to improve long-term health outcomes from your diet.

Make the complexity simple

A good rule of thumb is to make at least ¾ of your food plant based, keeping it colourful and diverse, vegetables, wholegrains, fruit and some seaweed. This should be able to cover a lot of the fibre, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.

After that, what you choose to top up the quarter of your diet that should be protein can come from protein rich plants or animal products. This can include nuts, seeds, legumes and even some seaweeds that are high in protein, or seafood, lean meats and animal products of your choosing. Keep changing it around.

The essential oils can be topped up from seafood including oilier fish and algae, as well as natural vegetable oils in cooking and avoiding tranfats in highly processed foods. A bit of saturated fat in dairy products is fine, but we just need to keep it balanced and avoid too much of anything. It is rarely the natural food ingredient itself that is toxic, for example sugar, saturated fat or gluten, but the imbalanced use of it.

Meeting these requirements in the current world of food supply and busy lifestyles is not always easy. Even if we work on achieving these dietary goals, some things are difficult meet the requirements for everyday, and that is what the range of SeaFibre products targets.

At PhycoHealth we say, let food be thy medicine first, and then top up where you fall short.