That Holiday Diet Leads to Nothing But Trouble

By Martha Michael

Cycle of Inflammation

Most of us know that our dietary choices can be the flint that sparks the rise of inflammation. Few would argue with a plan aimed at lowering the intake of carbohydrates and refined sugars; after all, sugary diets can cause inflammation and lead to problems ranging from heart disease to cancer. But it’s also linked to mood instability, which is often triggered by other factors, causing a vicious mind-body cycle of health issues.

Inflammation and Your Physical Body

As a defense mechanism to fight infections, injuries, and toxins in your body, inflammation occurs when chemicals are released that create a type of “high alert” system. Maintaining those levels over time can lead to physical damage, according to an article on the Cleveland Clinic website.

Your lifestyle can play a part in reducing the presence of inflammatory cells, which increase the buildup of plaque in your arteries and heighten the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Consuming too much sugar triggers your body’s production of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, which are created when sugar combines with fats or protein in your blood. They’re harmful compounds that lead to inflammation, according to an article on Healthline.com.

Inflammatory conditions can be brought on when your gastrointestinal system becomes an incubator for undigested food, toxins, and bacteria that enters your bloodstream. Signs that you may have an increase of inflammation are weight gain and high cholesterol, which is indicated by a marker called C-reactive protein.

The main culprit is a diet containing high levels of saturated and trans fats, sugars, and refined starches, which can rapidly alter blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as produce pro-inflammatory cytokines.

To lower inflammation you need to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, natural antioxidants, and fiber. Recommended foods include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Inflammation and Mental Health

Diets that include heavy sugar intake have a causal relationship with mood issues as well, according to studies.

Inflammation may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease, the Cleveland Clinic site says, because immune cells are released in the brain in times of distress. It’s not clear how involved they are in the progression of the disease, however.

Symptoms of depression are linked to inflammation-enhancing diets, says an article on the National Institutes of Health website. It creates a vicious cycle, as the reverse is also true -- depression increases inflammation in the body.

People enduring stressful conditions or battling depression show a decreased ability to fight infection and wound healing, conditions that promote the production of proinflammatory cytokine. But even without those physical challenges, depression and stress are found to increase an inflammatory response in the body.

Emotional stress causes inflammation indirectly, as a catalyst for sleep disturbances and other behaviors such as turning to junk food for comfort. But scientists have also found a direct link between the endocrine system and inflammation by studying the release of proinflammatory cytokines in cases of chronic stress. Negative long-term changes were found in longitudinal studies of individuals caring for a spouse with dementia and mothers caring for a child with a serious illness.

The good news is that dietary choices can help offset those results. Evidence shows that eating foods that lower inflammation, such as a Mediterranean diet, may decrease symptoms of depression.

Omega-3 is an inflammation-curbing nutrient found in those foods, including:

  • Fish
  • Fish oil
  • Flax seed
  • Wheat germ
  • Walnuts

“There’s a significant inverse relationship between annual fish consumption and major depression -- the more fish eaten, the lower the prevalence of serious clinical depression,” the NIH article says.

It’s important to remember that a sugary diet is not the sole cause of inflammation. Taking stock of lifestyle choices such as smoking and excessive alcohol are productive where your wellness is concerned. And stress-reducing choices such as relaxation techniques and routine chiropractic care can also lower your risk of heating up the health issues brought on by inflammation.

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