We’ve all experienced the acute physical (and emotional) discomfort of an upset tummy after eating something.
Reactions can include mild bloating and gas to more aggressive responses such as heartburn, indigestion and diarrhoea. Look and listen to your body when it reacts in such a way, as it is very likely trying to tell you something.
Indeed, what you’re eating might only be part of the picture. An inflamed gut could be symptomatic of other illnesses such as gastroenteritis, leaky gut syndrome, Irritable Bowel Disorder, colitis or Chrone’s disease. It is essential to seek medical advice if the reaction persists.
Whilst we could talk a LOT about gut-related conditions (and we plan to do so in the coming months!), here we want to explore the hot topic of inflammatory foods.
What is inflammation of the gut?
Let’s firstly understand what inflammation is, as it can sometimes be a good thing, despite how counterintuitive that sounds.
Inflammation is an immune system response to injury, infection or pathogen exposure. It’s how the body automatically sets about protecting itself in the face of (legitimate or perceived) potential harm. The body pinpoints the threat, sending an army of white blood cells to surround and protect and, in so doing, they essentially inflame the area. If it weren’t for inflammation, the threat could escalate. So, you can see there are two sides to this coin; inflammation can be a help and a hindrance!
When it comes to the gut, inflammation may occur due to the structural component of a particular food that (for whatever reason) simply doesn’t agree with the gut or vice-versa. The food in question may negatively impact the gut’s microbiome (otherwise called the ecosystem of live bacteria in our gut), which is essential for digestion.
What are the symptoms of gut inflammation?
Gut inflammation symptoms will vary from person to person. They could include one or several of the following:
- Gas/ wind/ flatulence
- The feeling of heat or fullness in the stomach
- Bloating/ distension
Inflammatory foods to avoid
Some of the worst foods for gut health are actually pretty apparent suspects. We might not always know why, but most of us have an innate sense of what is not really healthy for us! The further we remove ourselves from a natural and predominantly plant-based diet, the more likely we are to experience an upset tummy.
Let’s begin with one of the most prevalent inflammatory foods.
Gluten-free, or GF, living has become big business in recent years as more people find they are intolerant or even allergic to this structural protein.
Gluten comprises about 80% of the protein in wheat. It consists of mainly glutenins and gliadins. Gluten sensitivity can arise due to elevated levels of antibodies working against gliadin. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are referred to as anti-gliadin antibodies.
When the anti-gliadin antibodies combine with wheat protein, specific genes are turned on. This reaction creates “cytokines,” or substances secreted by certain immune system cells that can affect other cells. Cytokines can be either anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory. An imbalance in cytokines may cause autoimmune disorders.
Inflammatory cytokines stimulate T-cells in the gut that are cytotoxic and which attack the gut mucosa (the lining of the small intestines), causing conditions such as inflammatory bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Damage to the gut mucosa can also lead to leaky gut syndrome, food allergies and sensitivities and other digestive disorders.
But it doesn’t just stop at the gut. Cytokines are known to be directly detrimental to brain function with amplified cytokine levels found in illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and even autism.
In short, wheat and grains can trigger certain genes to turn on and work against not just gut health, but brain health too.
This is perhaps the most significant and nastiest inflammatory food of the lot.
The body finds it very easy to absorb refined sugars (sugar that comes from sugar cane or sugar beets and is processed). They are broken down in the small intestine before rapidly entering the bloodstream.
Once refined sugar is in the bloodstream, what happens?
This triggers the sympathetic nervous system (commonly known as the fight or flight response), which in turn raises blood pressure and heart rate. It also releases pro-inflammatory cytokines throughout the body. The pancreas then swings into action, producing insulin (a pro-inflammatory hormone that promotes the formation of arachidonic acid, which are building blocks for pro-inflammatory cytokines). In short, a snowball effect is created, and the more sugar consumed, the more inflamed the body will become.
Sugar is acidic, unlike many fruits and vegetables, which are alkaline. So, the more sugar you consume, the higher your pH will swing away from a healthy balance. When your body is overly acidic, it creates stress on vital organs, weakens your immune system, and creates inflammation in your joints. Your back, soft tissue, facet joints and sacroiliac joints can become inflamed, causing chronic pain.
The picture worsens if a high-sugar diet includes protein and/or fat. This is because when sugar enters the bloodstream combined with proteins or fat, harmful compounds called Advanced Glycation End products (AGEs) form. Too many AGEs leads to oxidative stress and inflammation.
Sugar can also lead to weight gain
When it comes to sugar, the effects don’t stop at inflammation. A diet rich in added sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to weight gain. Excess body fat has been linked to inflammation, partly due to insulin resistance.
Like refined sugars, refined carbohydrates enter the bloodstream rapidly and cause a spike in blood sugar, which may result in inflammation. See the above section on sugar.
Processed, fatty meats
Bad, saturated fats could be another inflammation trigger, and processed meats typically have high saturated fat levels. To add fuel to the fire, processed meats often contain AGEs, nasties that we’ve already mentioned above.
Research shows that artificial preservatives, used to increase a food’s shelf life or improve texture/ taste, could contribute to “immune-mediated metabolic dysregulation”, which may lead to a state of chronic inflammation.
Even if you just drink a little alcohol, it can trigger reactions in the gut by increasing chemicals called endotoxins, which activate the proteins and immune cells that contribute to inflammation. This creates an imbalance, or “dysbiosis”, between the gut’s good and bad bacteria. In the short term, this might present as intestinal inflammation. However, in the longer term, this could lead to broader organ dysfunction, particularly of the liver and brain.
Alcohol and leaky gut
The intestinal wall exists largely as a barrier between the intestines and our bloodstream. When working effectively, it allows key nutrients - and prevents dangerous toxins - to be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and into the bloodstream. Excessive alcohol consumption may compromise this barrier, making it “leaky” or permeable.
Whereas once those nasty toxins and bacteria were kept out of harm’s way, now they’re able to enter the bloodstream and essentially wreak havoc. When it comes to people with alcohol use disorder, the gut lining can become so leaky that even endotoxins can cross through to the bloodstream. So it’s a double dose of bad news, in that alcohol can not only increase the production of endotoxins in the gut, but also compromise the intestinal barrier’s integrity and ability to block them.
What does this mean? Well, the endotoxins are now able to spread throughout the body via the bloodstream, thus leading to more widespread inflammation, for example, in the joints and even resulting in gout.
Inhibited Immune Response
Just before you think, “It’s not so bad; my immune system can step in and save the day,” think again. Typically when the body is under threat, that is precisely what you can count on - your immune system to step in and start to defend. Unfortunately, however, alcohol poses yet another problem in that it can inhibit the immune response.
A study on mice found that alcohol slows the intestine’s immune response for attacking harmful bacteria and appears to suppress various other molecules and cells that are essential to immune response.
To make matters worse, alcohol can harm your general organ functions and interactions. For example, in healthy people, the liver would be working to detoxify substances, and the central nervous system would be working to regulate the anti-inflammatory response. Not so when it comes to excessive drinkers.
Indeed, drinking too much appears to compromise not only the immune system but the ability of organs to help support it.
The jury is out on this particular group of supposed inflammatory foods (think potatoes, tomatoes, aubergine, peppers). Although many nutritionists recommend avoiding ‘nightshade’ vegetables, there is no evidence that solanine (a chemical typically found in them) causes inflammation or arthritis. In fact, these vegetables contain a wealth of vitamins and nutrients that promote good health. When it comes to this food group, listen to your body and see how it feels. There is no more accurate test! Eliminate all of the nightshade oods for two weeks. Slowly reintroduce one at a time for five to seven days. Look for any reactions such a bloating, abdominal discomfort, water retention or weight gain, skin reactions or other forms of pain.
The best anti-inflammatory foods
Just as there are foods that can elicit an inflammatory response in the body, so too are there foods to help mitigate it. So, what are some of the more commonly used anti-inflammatory foods?
Probably no surprise that collagen rates a mention here, but for exceptionally good reason!
The most prevalent protein in the body, collagen is used to build, restore and maintain cells within the gut (as well as the hair, skin, nails, bones, joints, cartilage and more!). Many of our customers turn to our specialist gut health blend, Digestive Enzyme Collagen, not only for its premium hydrolysed collagen, but the wealth of other gut-friendly ingredients. These include probiotics (see next point), vitamins, minerals, triglycerides and herbs.
Digestive Enzyme Collagen is packed with natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant goodness from turmeric, liquorice root (antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial), quercetin (anti-inflammatory that also works to prevent infection) and zinc (supports the immune system).
This is our probiotic powerhouse blend!
Earlier, we mentioned that upsetting the gut’s microbiome can contribute to inflammation. Probiotic foods work to restore and maintain this natural homeostasis or balance. A happy microbiome = a happy gut! Probiotics include yoghurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, miso, pickles, sauerkraut and buttermilk, to name a few.Fruit and vegetables rich in antioxidants
Think of antioxidants as the body’s guard watch. These molecules circulate in our system, working to detect and combat any nasty free radicals, compounds that can cause inflammation and a host of other harm. Read up on some great antioxidant food sources in our blog!
Spices and herbs rich in antioxidants
Used to heal and maintain health for literally millennia, and no wonder! Herbs and spices like turmeric (an ingredient in our Digestive Enzyme Collagen, as mentioned), garlic, ginger, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano and dill are all potent antioxidants.
Healthy fats like olive, avocado and coconut oils
These are monounsaturated fats containing anti-inflammatory properties.
What else can you do to treat or prevent an inflamed gut?
Inflammatory foods alone may not be the only contributor to your upset belly. Other influencers could include DNA, anxiety/stress, not getting all the right nutrients and, as we mentioned, more serious illness (we remind you always to seek qualified medical advice).
Aside from reducing or indeed eliminating inflammatory foods from your diet, consider:
- Introducing more probiotics, antioxidants, healthy fats and collagen into the diet (as mentioned above)
- Reducing or eliminating inflammatory foods from the diet
- Taking up meditation or another form of mindfulness activity to restore centredness and calm and to reduce the adverse effects of stress
- Getting bendy - embrace anti-inflammatory yoga. Follow some quick videos prepared by our yogi friend Shavita
- Fasting - this could help by reducing oxidative stress on the body (a state in which nasty free radicals are winning the biological battle)
- An elimination diet is a more aggressive response that requires all potentially inflammatory food and drink to be entirely removed from the system, leaving ‘baseline’ nutrition. This stripped-back diet is maintained for a series of weeks (up to a month), giving the body time to adjust. Slowly, foods are then reintroduced back into the system. The body’s reaction is monitored carefully, enabling specific foods to be easily pinpointed and identified.
- A quality kip - even a slight loss of sleep can throw the body into panic, prompting the immune system to turn against otherwise healthy cells.
- If you regularly suffer from an inflamed or upset tummy, seek medical advice;
- Symptoms of gut inflammation include gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, feeling uncomfortably full and/or hot in the stomach;
- Inflammatory foods may include refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, gluten, processed and/or fatty meats, artificial additives, alcohol and nightshade vegetables;
- To avoid and/or manage stomach inflammation, introduce probiotics, antioxidants, healthy fats and collagen into the diet;
- Reduce or eliminate inflammatory foods from the diet;
- Consider fasting, embrace gentle anti-inflammatory exercise such as yoga and get more quality sleep.
The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.