The root of all issues? This is one thing you do not want too much of...

One of the biggest steps forward in our understanding of what causes (non-infectious) issues to develop in the body is that most is rooted or linked to inflammation.

What is (the negative kind of) inflammation?

When you think of ‘inflammation’, you probably think of what happens when you cut yourself or bang your knee - the red swelling and the feeling of heat. That’s actually good - it is your body’s normal immune response to an infection, an injury or a foreign body. It is a reaction designed to protect the body and to promote healing, but, like all things, it is good; only as long as it is at the right time and the right quantity….

The problem is: as with stress, it's great in the right setting, but, when it is persistent (especially at low levels which you may not notice) or inappropriately reactive (like your immune system when it comes to allergies): you have a problem. Especially when you’re trying to conceive and grow a healthy baby.

So what causes it?

It is being argued that some of these modern day non-infectious chronic diseases (that are rapidly on the rise) are actually a symptom of the fact that our bodies are chronically inflamed - and guess what - a big part is being blamed on our modern lifestyles and environment.

Think about it this way: inflammation is our body’s way of protecting - it is an immune response - a reaction and protection against things that it is not designed to cope with. So, it makes sense.

There is a great research paper looking at the environmental causes of this low level of inflammation (also known as metaflammation) - see link at the bottom of this article if you want to read for yourself. Essentially it is argued that the ‘inducers of metaflammation...have largely arisen since the industrial revolution [and]...incite a low level, but persistent immune response to a not-immediately life-threatening situation, which can become dysmetabolic (imbalancing) when exposure is chronic. Because such a response is undifferentiated, the outcome is systemic rather than localized.’ (1)

Translation: exposure to too many negative environmental factors can cause the body to produce a low level immune response: inflammation. When it is persistent and throughout your whole body (systemic) that is when all sorts of problems arise.

How does it affect our chances of having a healthy baby?

It can impact us on many levels. From being linked to aggravating Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (particularly when it comes along with insulin resistance) to the more extreme end linked to preterm birth and neurological issues developing in a baby. So, clearly no matter what way you look at it - it is something we want to avoid:

‘It appears that prenatal inflammation is the greatest determinant of subsequent adverse outcomes for the offspring’. (2)  

It is also linked to our old friend Epigenegtics: ‘exposure to prenatal inflammation alters gene expression in the brain of the exposed offspring’ (3)

So, how to avoid and reduce it?

Obviously not all man made environmental factors cause this and different people are more susceptible than others. So, it comes down to knowing what is a likely a potential trigger and how to reduce it if we are already suffering from it.

Here are the known inflammatory avoids:

  • Within food: an excess of sugar (particularly refined and high GI), salt, alcohol, saturated and trans fats.

  • Processed foods

  • Inactivity/sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise

  • Chronic stress, anxiety and depression

  • Lack of sleep

  • Air Pollution and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

  • Poor gut health/gut dysbiosis (imbalance)

  • Drugs/cigarettes

  • Alcohol (in excess)

Most of these are probably not particularly surprising. However, a couple are worth digging down in to:

Stress:

We know this is a big one (click here to learn more as to how this is especially bad for conception and what you can do about it). At the same time we also know that not all stress is bad. Once again, it can actually be useful, as long as it is not chronic. The problem comes when you consistently raise your adrenocortical hormone levels and you experience persistent anxiety and even depression. There is no doubt here - experiencing this for an extended period of time is not good from an inflammatory standpoint: in fact there has been a ‘consistent finding...between stress, anxiety, and depression and increased inflammatory markers, which can be associated with or independent of body weight’ (4). Read more about how to deal with this here.

Exercise:

When it comes to type of exercise, we can have long debates (more to come on this) however, what is clear when it comes to inflammation is that the extremes are bad on both sides. Too little and a very sedentary lifestyle is likely to cause systemic inflammation and similarly too much and too intense will have the same effect. Like Goldilocks - not too much, not too little, just right (and just right for you).

Sleep:

One of the most underrated aspects of modern day life. Am sure you’ve heard the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mantra. For whatever reason it has become almost a badge of honour to be too busy for sleep. However, there is a reason why evolution has not eradicated sleep - we need it, and its time it loses its veil of shame. Particularly as too little of it is linked to many things, chronic inflammation being one:

‘Together with inactivity, inadequate sleep is one of the most underrated lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease. Poor sleep is associated with an increase in inflammatory markers, as well as more classic risk factors’. (5) Don’t be ashamed to prioritise it.

What should we do more of?

Well the reverse of many of the factors mentioned above - but in a nutshell: its not rocket science. its about eating real, whole, unprocessed foods. Prioritising sleep, moderate exercise and avoiding the usual nasties. However, you can take it a bit further….

A little extra help:

Once again, focusing on your gut health is helpful. You want to especially preserve the tight junctions within the gut lining as that will prevent anything that shouldn’t get through getting in to your bloodstream. Things that shouldn’t be allowed through getting through are a sure fire cause of inflammation. Click here to read much more on why this matters and what you can do about it.

There are also known anti-inflammatory foods - here are a few:

  • berries

  • Dark Chocolate

  • Cinnamon

  • Tomatoes

  • Olive Oil

  • Green leafy vegetables: spinach, kale, Bok Choi

  • Nuts

  • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)

  • Red wine (in moderation!)

Interestingly there have been clinical research on the power of certain spices:

Most notable from an anti-inflammatory standpoint:

Turmeric: There have been over ten thousand studies and more than 120 clinical trials. ‘Curcumin, an active component of turmeric, is the most widely studied nutraceutical. It is known to possess anti-antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral activities. Thus, it is a potential agent against various chronic illnesses. It has been shown to modulate various inflammatory mediators.’ (6)

Others that are worth focusing on are:

  • Cineole: found in basil/cardamom and sage

  • Ginger

  • Rosemary

  • Garlic

  • Fenugreek

  • Cloves

  • Quercetin (found in onions)

  • Piperine (Black Pepper)

  • Capsicum.

So once again, avoiding inflammation is pretty much common sense. As usual, once you’re mindful of it, half the battle is won!


References:

  1. EGGER G, DIXON J: Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants: BioMed Research International: 2014: 731685 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997940/

  2. ELOVITZ MA, BROWN AG, BURD I: Intrauterine inflammation, insufficient to induce parturition, still evokes fetal and neonatal brain injury. International Journal of Developmental neuroscience: the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience. 2011 Oct: 29(6): 663-671

  3. ELOVITZ MA, BROWN AG, BURD I: Intrauterine inflammation, insufficient to induce parturition, still evokes fetal and neonatal brain injury. International Journal of Developmental neuroscience: the official journal of the International Society for Developmental Neuroscience. 2011 Oct: 29(6): 663-671

  4. EGGER G, DIXON J: Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants: BioMed Research International: 2014: 731685

  5. EGGER G, DIXON J: Beyond Obesity and Lifestyle: A Review of 21st Century Chronic Disease Determinants: BioMed Research International: 2014: 731685

  6. KUNNMAKKARA AB, SAILO BL, AGGARWAL BB: Chronic diseases, inflammation, and spices: how are they linked? Journal of Translational Medicine. 2018 (16) (14)


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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.