Inflammation is the way our body responds to foreign invaders, toxins or cell injury. There is a very complex cascade of chemicals and communication between cells but we’ll keep it simple!
Is inflammation of the gut bad for me?
Acute inflammation is a normal response to injury or attack. Inflammation tells your immune system to initiate an attack against foreign invaders or toxins, and brings new blood to begin repair of damaged structures.
If you get an infected cut on your hand it may become hot, red and sore.
This is the work of inflammation helping to zap the pathogenic bacteria, turning up the heat to kill off pathogens then turning them to pus as they are dealt with.
We need this response to help us fight infection.
So that doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well if it’s happening all over the body, especially in areas like blood vessels, brain cells, then we can end up with more serious health conditions.
What causes inflammation of the gut?
When we eat foods that irritate the gut, the gaps between the cells can become loose.
This is ‘leaky gut’, where undigested food particles and bacterial endotoxins called lipopolysaccharides (LPS) can get into the blood stream.
Your immune system mounts a response to the invaders which creates inflammation.
Some medical texts dispute the existence of leaky gut (and the NHS isn’t quite convinced), but there is an emerging body of evidence to support the link between diet and inflammation.
There are also specific conditions such an inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) where inflammation in the gut weakens the junctions between intestinal cells.
How you can help – identify your food sensitivities and eliminate them from your diet. There are common allergens (e.g. gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts) but people can react to anything if they have lived with a leaky gut for a long time. It doesn’t mean everyone needs to cut these foods out, but you may need to remove them for a while if you experience symptoms such as headaches, hormonal issues, skin disorders, as well as digestive discomfort such as bloating, constipation or loose stools.
You need to heal the gut to restore this important barrier. This can be done through food, supplements and lifestyle changes and I work with clients to do this in a controlled way.
Eating a pro-inflammatory diet can also add to the inflammation. Foods rich in fructose can increase systemic inflammation in mice. This doesn’t include fruit but means foods with high frutose content through artifical means.
Artificial trans fats also increase inflammatory markers and reduce the impact of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats.
How you can help – eat whole foods in their natural state, vegetables, pulses, meat/fish, eggs, fruit, etc. Include lots of fibre and variety. Avoid food from a packet. Also avoid heavy alcohol use, processed meats (e.g. bacon, salami) due to the nitrates.
I often see clients feeling better within a short time of removing ultra processed foods and concentrating on whole foods again.
You can get an overgrowth of the bad bugs, perhaps a yeast like candida, or other bugs which work against us rather than with us, or for us. We can function well with some of them in our guts, but only in small numbers. If these microbes over colonise the gut we can be left unable to properly digest certain foods leading to bloating, gas or pain.
How you can help – To address the bacterial imbalance you can boost the beneficial bacteria. These ‘good’ microbes love fibre, so diet rich in wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruit. You can also add beneficial microbes back in through eating fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.
Hi I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritionist (mBANT, CNHC). I help people with IBS, gut health and digestive issues.
I can help you to:
- understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
- eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
- develop healthy, sustainable habits for life
“Anna is amazing! I feel totally transformed"
To find more about 1:1 nutrition consultations or my group membership see my IBS Diet support page