Inflammation can seem like a confusing topic. It seems to be associated with all sorts of health issues — but what is inflammation, exactly, and how do you lower inflammation?
Inflammation, when working appropriately, is actually a good thing: it helps protect and heal your body from injuries and infections. Inflammation is only bad when it gets out of control, leading to a range of health complications, from insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes to cardiovascular disease. The good news is that there are some pretty simple steps you can take to lower inflammation. One is adopting and adhering to a plant-forward, high-fiber diet. An additional step is taking a metabolic supplement such as Eden’s 3-in-1 Synbiotic, formulated not only to reduce inflammation, but also to optimize your digestive, cardiovascular, immunological, and overall metabolic health.
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a local response to cellular injury that helps eliminate toxic agents and repair damaged tissue. Several processes occur during this acute response: increased blood flow, capillary dilation, infiltration of white blood cells (aka leukocytes, the cells that “eat” pathogens and cellular debris), and the production of a range of chemicals that tell the inflammatory response when to begin and when to stop. These chemicals are known as cytokines, chemokines (or chemotactic cytokines), and some lipids (i.e., adipokines), and they exist in a yin and yang relationship in the human body.
Sounds complicated? Well, it gets even more so...
Proinflammatory cytokines, largely produced by activated macrophages (white blood cells that kill pathogens and remove dead cells), include IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α. Proinflammatory chemokines include MIP-1α, MCP-1 and GRO/KC, which are specifically upregulated in neuroinflammation. Anti-inflammatory cytokines, which regulate the proinflammatory cytokine response, include IL-4, IL-10, IL-11, and IL-13. Some cytokines, such as Leukemia inhibitory factor, interferon-alpha, IL-6, and transforming growth factor (TGF)-β, can be pro- or anti-inflammatory, depending on the specific situation.
OK, let's break this all down. There are two main types of inflammation:
Acute inflammation. Have you ever had a sliver (or what some would call a splinter)? The red, painful bump that gives away the sliver’s location is an example of acute inflammation: the body’s rapid response to injuries and infections. The release of cytokines and chemokines recruits white blood cells to the site of injury, where they neutralize pathogens and clean up the damage. Acute inflammation typically only lasts hours to a few days.
- Chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation begins the same way that acute inflammation does: the body tries to eliminate what it views as a threat. The problem with chronic inflammation is that sometimes the “threat” — e.g., a person’s own cells and tissues, food particles, or friendly gut microbes — isn’t dangerous at all. Low-grade inflammation can simmer under the surface undetected and can lead to a wide range of chronic conditions, including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes (T2D), cardiovascular disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), to name a few.
Signs and symptoms of inflammation
There are many different signs and symptoms you may experience as a result of inflammation. Acute inflammation is very easy to recognize, but the symptoms of chronic inflammation are trickier, because they can often be signs of something else.
Signs of acute inflammation typically resolve quickly and include localized:
Signs of chronic inflammation can last long-term or come and go over a long period of time. They include:
- Muscle aches and joint pain
- Constipation, diarrhea, and other gastrointestinal issues
- Weight gain
- Skin rashes
How to tell if you have inflammation: Detection
Because inflammation is the result of a complex and elegant conversation between a variety of molecules, these molecules are often measured to detect inflammation. As we discussed above, the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines leads to increased or reduced inflammation. Detecting inflammation by measuring these markers is often complicated by the fact that there is currently no scientific or medical consensus as to which markers best differentiate between acute and chronic inflammation — or which are best for detecting chronic, low-grade inflammation. Most often, a combination of different markers are used:
- Blood cells: total leukocytes, granulocytes, activated monocytes
- Cytokines/chemokines: tumor necrosis factor (TNF), IL-1, IL-6, IL-8, chemokine ligands 2, 3, and 5
- Adhesion molecules: vascular cell adhesion molecule-1, intercellular adhesion molecule-1, E-selectin
- Other: adiponectin, C-reactive protein (CRP), serum amyloid A, fibrinogen
Research is ongoing to identify signatures of different molecules associated with different inflammatory states, including among different specific tissues. Measuring cytokines, chemokines, and other molecules and combining them with other molecular signatures (such as which genes are turned on or off) might help improve future detection and treatment of chronic inflammation to reduce the risk of developing more serious chronic conditions. There are also specific cytokine signatures that have been observed with specific inflammation-associated chronic conditions, which we’ll discuss below.
Causes of inflammation
There are several lifestyle factors that are well-known to cause low-grade chronic inflammation. Here's what causes inflammation:
- Poor diet
- Sedentary behavior
- Weight gain
- Alcohol consumption
You’ve probably noticed that these factors are also associated with a number of diseases, from diabetes to cardiovascular disease and cancer. Indeed, these diseases are related to inflammation. But the connection between poor lifestyle choices, inflammation, and the development of disease is complex and multi-directional.
Additionally, a growing body of research shows that your gut microbes also play an important role, in part because your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is home to a specific immune system called the “mucosal immune system.” This system helps ensure that your immune cells don’t attack what they shouldn’t — such as particles of food you eat or beneficial microbes that live in your gut, while continuing to attack what they should — such as viruses, bad bacteria, and environmental toxins. Critically, the development of the mucosal immune system depends on the presence of the gut microbiome, and a bidirectional interaction between the immune system and the microbiome continues throughout life.
When this immune system is weakened, gut barrier integrity is compromised, allowing particles to cross the intestinal barrier (when they shouldn't). Some particles that get across include lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a molecule produced by certain bacteria that appears to be an important trigger of chronic, low-grade inflammation. Although more research is needed, scientists suspect that LPS triggers inflammation by interacting with a receptor on our own cells, called Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR-4), which promotes the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. LPS has also been shown to contribute to “leaky gut,” a condition caused by weakened tight junctions in your intestines that has been associated with several chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and more.
Chronic inflammation and disease
Several chronic diseases have been associated with low-grade inflammation. In all cases, the connection between inflammation and disease appears to be multi-directional and complex:
Autoimmune diseases. If your immune system attacks its own cells due to a loss of immune tolerance against self tissues, you may have an autoimmune disease. There are over 80 recognized autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. These diseases may target multiple organ systems or tissue types or just one. Several pathways are altered in these diseases, leading to dysregulated immune responses. Often, the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-1β is upregulated.
Insulin resistance, diabetes, and obesity. Although these are three different conditions, they are tightly linked and often discussed together. Obesity is typically the trigger for insulin resistance, which ultimately leads to T2D.
Obesity is associated with chronic, low grade-inflammation that leads to immune cell infiltration (macrophages and T cells) into adipose tissue. This inflammation is called “metaflammation,” which is defined by a chronic low-grade inflammation initiated by metabolic and inflammatory cells in response to excessive energetic nutrient load. The effects of metaflammation can spread to the pancreas, liver, muscle, and brain.
Immune cells in adipose tissue promote the production of several pro-inflammatory cytokines, including TNF-α, IL-6 and IL-1β. These cytokines not only impede insulin signaling, leading to insulin resistance, but they also recruit more immune cells, which release more pro-inflammatory cytokines, propagating a vicious inflammatory cycle. Adipokines in adipose tissue also promote the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Insulin resistance eventually leads to the development of T2D.
Research suggests that the gut microbiome also plays a role via the ability of certain microbes to interact with/promote the production of both pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines; however, the exact mechanisms behind microbial-associated inflammation remain to be elucidated, as most studies are in animal models.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Also instigated by obesity, NAFLD is actually a spectrum of conditions characterized by injury to liver cells. As discussed above, an accumulation of fat in specific tissues occurs during obesity and leads to a proinflammatory state. When this occurs in liver tissue, damage called fibrosis and cirrhosis occurs. Insulin resistance in liver cells can also result, which also drives NAFLD and the related condition, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Neurological disorders. As alluded to above, chronic low-grade inflammation can also reach nervous system tissues, including the brain and central nervous system. In brain tissue, microglia — the macrophages of brain tissue — induce the production of proinflammatory cytokines, including IL-1β, TNF-α. This proinflammatory state may induce a number of behavioral changes, including depression and fatigue, and has been associated with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.
- Gut disorders. Several gut disorders, including ulcerative colitis (UC), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), are associated with inflammation originating in the gut. The general consensus is that gut inflammation results from inappropriate immune responses to normal human proteins (see autoimmune diseases, above), food particles, or gut microbiota. Additionally, damage to a healthy gut barrier, caused directly by LPS or indirectly by chronic inflammation, can allow pathogens to cross the intestinal barrier and trigger additional immune responses. A disturbed gut barrier has been linked to several conditions, including IBD.
- Colorectal cancer (CRC). Inflammation plays an important role in an individual’s risk for developing colorectal cancer. Specifically, the inflammation associated with IBD (particularly UC) significantly increases a person’s risk of developing CRC. Often, efforts to reduce inflammation in IBD also reduce risk for CRC.
- Cardiovascular disease. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also impact the cardiovascular system. Arteries experiencing some sort of damage (such as plaque build up) induce the infiltration of leukocytes, which induce pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. These molecules recruit more leukocytes, continuing the vicious cycle in much the same way as with obesity-associated inflammation (described above). This inflammation increases the risk for atherosclerosis, arterial rupture, and death. Research has shown that C-reactive protein (CRP) — a protein made by the liver that increases in response to inflammation — is a sensitive marker for underlying inflammation and risk for cardiovascular disease in apparently healthy individuals. It has also been linked to increased cardiovascular risk in people with T2D.
With just this brief overview of the connection between chronic inflammation and disease, you can see that many of these diseases are related — either leading to the development of another or a co-occurring disease — and inflammation is always a common factor. Therefore, reducing inflammation is an important step for improving overall health and reducing your risk for a number of serious, chronic diseases.
How to lower inflammation: Simple steps
Diet plays a critical role in controlling inflammation. Obesity, a trigger for the metaflammation that can impact so many different organ systems, typically results from a diet high in fat and refined carbohydrates and low in fiber (i.e., the typical Western diet). Here's how to lower inflammation:
1. Look for plant-forward and high-fiber diets
Fiber is a critical nutrient that most Americans don’t get enough of. Its many beneficial effects are tightly linked to the gut microbiome:
Butyrate, a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) produced when gut bacteria digest fiber, has been shown to play a critical role in immune homeostasis by controlling the maturation of dendritic cells, which are also known as the “gatekeepers” of the immune system.
Butyrate can also induce anti-inflammatory responses in intestinal cells.
SCFAs have also been shown to inhibit/reduce adipose-tissue inflammation.
- Some studies have also reported that increased fiber consumption is associated with reduced CRP levels.
Diets such as the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet are notoriously high in fiber. These diets emphasize the consumption of plants — whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Several studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of different plant macro- and micronutrients on inflammation:
Polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are high in certain nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils (as well as fatty fish), have been shown to reduce signatures of inflammation in the adipose tissue of obese individuals.
Flavonoids (a category within the larger polyphenols group), molecules in plants with well-recognized antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, have been associated with lower CRP levels. Several dietary intervention studies have also shown that flavonoids can reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, but studies seeking to explain why and how are limited.
- Carbohydrates can differentially impact the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, likely due to the way that they impact the early insulin response. Specifically, oat/wheat/potato consumption has been linked to an increase in inflammatory markers in adipose tissue.
The benefits of a healthy diet rich in plant-based foods and healthy fats can impact us at all ages. Research has shown that what mothers consume impacts the growth and development of their fetuses and can increase their babies’ risk for developing metabolic syndrome later in life. Additionally, a specific type of fiber called inulin was shown to reduce body fat and decrease the proinflammatory cytokine IL-6 in obese children, demonstrating that dietary interventions among the young can help mitigate the downward spiral caused by systemic inflammation.
A large body of research also suggests that probiotics (beneficial bacteria) and prebiotics (fibers that promote the activity of beneficial bacteria) can also reduce inflammation in several disease contexts, often by increasing the production of SCFAs.
2. Consider a metabolic supplement that can enhance your diet
The Eden’s 3:1 Synbiotic contains several probiotics and prebiotics, all with scientifically proven anti-inflammatory properties:
- Resistant potato starch promotes the growth and activity of SCFA-producing gut microbes.
- Locust bean gum is anti-inflammatory, increases TJs, and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Guar gum promotes SCFA production by gut microbes.
- Oat bran promotes the growth of probiotic species in the gut.
- Barley beta glucan also promotes the growth of probiotic species in the gut.
- Bacillus coagulans and Lactobacillus paracasei are two probiotic species that have been shown to reduce the symptoms of IBS.
Eden’s also includes several polyphenols — plant-derived molecules (that include the previously discussed flavonoids category) with antioxidant benefits. The Eden’s polyphenols that demonstrate particularly notable anti-inflammatory properties are:
- Green tea and lychee: While each have beneficial properties alone, their combination is particularly powerful. Studies have shown that a supplement combining green tea and lychee restored insulin sensitivity and reversed fatty acid accumulation in liver cells. The same supplement decreased abdominal circumference and belly fat in obese males.
- Turmeric also possesses antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to reduce inflammatory signatures in several animal models and cell lines.
Inflammation is a normal process in our bodies designed to help it fight and survive infections and injury. But when inflammation occurs for too long, or when our immune systems fight our own cells, a cascade of damage can occur, leading to the development of several chronic diseases — including T2D, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. So how do you lower inflammation? Fortunately, there are some simple, dietary-based habits that can help lower inflammation and protect you from the damage caused by chronic inflammation — including adoption and adherence to a healthy, plant-forward, high-fiber diet.
In addition, taking Eden’s 3-in-1 Synbiotic Supplement, specifically formulated with anti-inflammatory probiotics, prebiotics, and polyphenols, may be an advantageous option to consider. Of course, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you are worried about inflammation or any of the diseases that it can cause, and before adopting any drastic dietary changes.