When we are exposed to an infection or injury, our bodies react with a temporary bout of inflammation to help fend off the intruders. In some cases, our immune systems are unable to tell the good cells from the bad and the process designed to heal our body turns on it, putting us in a state of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads to a host of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimotos, Celiac, Crohns, and even skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation is directly linked to the foods we eat. The big four in this blog are typically the worst offenders that negatively affect the immune system.
Sugar and Pseudo Sugars
The human body is not meant to consume and process the amount of sugar most of us eat on a daily basis. Over time, Americans have gone from consuming 123 pounds of sugar per person each year to over 160! That breaks down to more than 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. Why is this a problem? Refined sugars are high glycemic foods that cause spikes in our blood sugar levels, sending a surge of insulin into our bloodstream. High insulin levels immediately trigger the immune system and cause inflammation. A diet heavy in refined sugars is a recipe for chronic inflammation, diabetes and obesity. In addition to the copious amounts of refined sugar in the American diet are chemical sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup that add a tremendous amount of perceived sweetness to foods and beverages. They also trigger the same or worse metabolic and immune system responses and offer even less actual nutrition.
If you are looking for the chief architect of a leaky gut, look no further than milk. As newborns, milk is the best food source to provide much needed nutrition for rapid development. The leaky gut milk creates quickly gets antibodies and hormones into the bloodstream to boost a baby’s immune system. Humans are the only species continuing to consume milk beyond infancy. We develop a leaky gut for good reason, but then continue along the misguided path believing we still need milk for nutrition. Researchers believe it is not normal to consume dairy into adulthood. Dairy is a known allergen with the tendency to spark inflammatory responses, like stomach distress, hives, diarrhea, constipation and respiratory issues. It is no wonder 60% of the world’s population is unable to digest milk.
Peanuts are another commonly known allergen and instigator of chronic inflammation. They have a property called lectins, which are a class of proteins that act as a natural defense method. To put it simply, a digested seed is not able to grow a new plant. As a defense, seeds either make us sick or remain undigested in our systems. Our digestive systems are unable to break down the lectin proteins because our digestive enzymes are incompatible. These intruders then con the cells lining the gut into believing they are simple sugars and gain a free ride into the bloodstream. This sparks the immune system to produce inflammatory cytokines that let the white blood cells know which antibodies and proteins to attack. If peanuts, seeds, and beans are a daily part of your diet, you can see how you are triggering an environment perfect for harboring chronic inflammation.
Gluten is the most widely known and perhaps most damaging of the lectins we consume. Similar to those in legumes and peanuts, gluten lectins wreak havoc on the immune system, but they are much more insidious. Gluten is capable of eroding the cell walls of the gut, creating spaces in which the contents of the gut can escape into the blood stream and trigger an immune response. Some proteins in gluten mimic proteins the body needs making it much more confusing for the immune system to know what it needs to fight. In time, it begins to fight everything, leading to a state of chronic inflammation and the development of several autoimmune diseases such as Celiac. It can take up to six months to restore the gut after one small exposure to gluten lectins.
If you are suffering from chronic inflammation or already have an autoimmune disease, the best diet to follow is the Autoimmune Protocol. This strict elimination diet removes all of the usual leaky gut suspects like sugar, grains and dairy. Once you eliminate these foods from your diet altogether, your gut will begin to heal and you can calm chronic inflammation. In some cases, you can reverse an autoimmune disease or at the very least significantly reduce your risk of developing one.