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What can YOU do about chronic disease?

There are more and more studies about the link between long-term systemic inflammation and chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer - and if you live with one of these, then you’ve probably heard about the importance of reducing inflammation many times.

If you are health conscious then you have no doubt come across many articles and news items about how we should eat less refined foods and more fresh produce, try to take a bit more exercise, and maybe even test out the odd early morning meditation…and perhaps you are fed up of reading this in every article currently trending - so we thought we’d mix it up a bit.

We’ve put together a few of the more interesting reasons to do what you’ve been told to do so many times, a few weird but wonderful facts about your body that you might not know and a few truths you might not yet have heard about what you put into your body.

Weight and Obesity

We all know the general rules about carrying extra weight; body fatness, marked by body mass index or BMI, is a key factor influencing health and well being throughout life, and the World Cancer Research Fund has demonstrated that excess body fatness is linked to an increased risk of developing eleven cancers.

Obesity can cause elevated levels of the hormones insulin and leptin, chronic inflammation, liver cirrhosis, gallstones, high blood pressure and pressure on the abdomen leading to reflux, all of which can promote the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.

But there are a few other lesser known problems which may also be lurking in carrying excess weight.

New studies have revealed that consuming excess calories can actually trigger your fat cells to release the same proteins which are released when they are under attack from a dangerous pathogen! These then set off an immune response from white blood cells, which dramatically increases inflammation throughout your body!

Carrying those few extra pounds could be increasing your toxicity, as fat-soluble toxic compounds and heavy metals are also actually stored in human fat cells. Their presence in the body can lead to mitochondrial damage, and can even damage insulin-producing cells in your pancreas, which effectively sets you up for a whole range of different metabolic and chronic problems, and naturally will make any existing issues much worse.

Toxic exposure can also damage your metabolism, as environmental toxins, labelled “obesogenic” can hinder weight-loss by causing your fat cells to increase in size.

Eating and using, as much as possible, products with minimal artificial chemical content or production methods, can help to minimise your risk of exposure, and therefore the toxins which can accumulate in body fat.

This can mean buying organic, or researching natural cosmetic alternatives - the average woman’s skin absorbs 5lbs of chemicals from makeup a year!

Losing weight can help you to flush out the toxins that have been stored in your fat cells, but be aware that this may make you feel rather awful while it is happening. This is one of the most common reasons for the side effects that many people experience on cleanses and juice fasts.

But what to eat as you wrangle with your weight?

Get ready to jump back on the ‘superfood’ bandwagon. The concept of a superfood has gone up and down in the eye of the media over the past few years - but a superfood is not just one miracle-working berry. Incorporating a wide range of them into your diet can make a difference to your health, as their antioxidant properties contribute to your body’s healing and detoxifying power, even reducing inflammation which can both contribute to the development of and exacerbate chronic illness.

Most vegetables and fruits should really be called superfoods, due to their nutrient density and antioxidant phytochemical content. However, there are a few main groups to look out for - handily, they are colour coded!

RED

Vividly red, such as bell peppers and tomatoes, these contain lycopene - a powerful antioxidant. These are particularly useful for those suffering from cardiovascular-related chronic ailments. Interestingly, lycopene content increases when these vegetables are cooked.

PURPLE/BLUE

These contain anthocyanin, a phytochemical with protective antioxidant properties. This can protect cells from damage and against cancer, stroke and heart disease.

ORANGE/YELLOW

Eat these, such as sweet potato and carrots, for their carotenoids! Especially well known is betacarotene, which is converted to vitamin A, a highly important vitamin which particularly supports cell and ocular health.

GREEN

These are the original and greatest superfood! They contain a whole range of phytochemicals, nutrients and vitamins - when in doubt, go for leafy greens!

OFF-WHITE

This group, primarily consisting of cruciferous veg, contains phytochemicals with antiviral and antibacterial properties. They are also highly antioxidant, as they contain sulphur, a vital chemical needed for liver and kidney function.

A little good news now - you may still be able to savour that steak!

…but you might like to switch to free-range. Free-range meat has been reared on pasture, unlike farmed meat, where animals are fed an artificial diet of mainly grain feed. This means that free-range varieties are far higher in Omega-3 fatty acids (as opposed to Omega-6); the modern human tends to have a massive imbalance of these in their diet. Of course, oily fish may still be the best source of these, but switching to free-range meat can also help to remedy the imbalance.

Our bodies cannot produce Omega-3s, but they provide immense benefit to our health, from reducing the severity of health conditions such as cardiovascular issues and diabetes, to even improving mental health and helping with anxiety. We already know that healthy fats are our friends - but we need the right balance.

There are also a lot less pills in your average pastured pig

Animals which are raised in cramped factory-farm conditions are typically fed massive amounts of antibiotics to compensate for unsanitary conditions, as well as given enormous doses of hormones to promote unnaturally intensive increases in size - this means that the profit is maximised and the farmer does not have to pay for better conditions nor invest in waiting for the animal to grow at a natural rate.

By going free-range, even if you choose not to eat organic meat (which would better guarantee the absence of chemicals from your food), you can dramatically reduce your toxic exposure.

Involuntary hormone supplementation through meat consumption has been directly linked to cancers, and to the increase of an insulin like growth factor (IGF) level in the blood, causing a variety of health issues. As antibiotic overuse is currently contributing to widespread antibiotic-resistant pathogens, considering your choice of meat is important for your health.

Time to get funky with your flavours

Herbs and spices have been used for millennia to enhance the natural flavours of our food, make dull dishes more exciting, and in some cases as a natural medicine to treat illnesses.

But did you know that using certain herbs and cooking spices in your food on a daily basis can actually dramatically increase the nutrient density and antioxidant properties of your dish? It has been proven that supplementation of the diet with spices (even only the minute amounts that would normally be used to season dishes palatably) can have as strong an effect as the horrifically expensive TNF-blocking drugs which are used to reduce inflammatory response in patients with diseases such as osteoarthritis.

For years the antioxidant properties of these natural wonder foods have been debated, as they do not visibly raise the levels of antioxidants in the blood - but it is now believed that they bind to the proteins and cells, as their cell-protecting properties are still evident in clinical analyses even if the antioxidants themselves cannot be detected.

Feel the need to nod off yet?

It might do you some good (or not…). Adequate, but not excessive and uninterrupted sleep has been shown to reduce physical inflammation levels in the body, and to contribute to improved mental health.

Inflammatory markers in the blood have been shown to respond to an uninterrupted 7-8 hours of sleep - although bizarrely sleeping for longer than this can have a negative effect! So making sure that you are putting in the effort to switch off in good time at night may not be as hard as you think, as you actually don’t need to be getting the “full 10 hours” that are so stereotypically prescribed! You may even already be getting enough shut-eye!

However, you might want to adjust your sleeping conditions, to maximise the amount of quality sleep that you get. Make sure that you sleep in a darkened, quiet room, to allow your body to slip into REM sleep, and make sure that you take the time to wind down for a few hours before you go to bed.

Exercising too late at night, a heavy evening meal and looking at screens before trying to sleep can all contribute to preventing you from drifting off - it may be time to swap Netflix for an actual real book.

We saved the best (or easiest) until the end!

Think positive! And no, we’re not talking rainbows and unicorns! There is in fact a pioneering new field of medicine known as “Psychoneuroimmunology” which has begun to gain recognition in the medical field. This is the study of the incredible mind-body link with regard to intention and the effect on physical health.

Visualising healing processes can actually physically trigger them in your body - your body is in fact pretty much unable to tell the difference between what you visualise and what has happened in reality! This has an evolutionary purpose - can you ever remember feeling like someone was following you late at night, and your heart starting to pump faster? This would have prepared you to fight or flee, had there actually been a threat, however it was actually just your imagination of a perceived threat which triggered the adrenaline release.

But it doesn’t stop there - studies have shown that visualisation can reduce levels of post-surgical inflammation and even reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

Putting aside 10 minutes in your day to visualise your body repairing itself could make a dramatic difference to both your mental and physical health.

There are so many ways to make small or big differences in your life, whether you struggle with a chronic problem or not. At the end of the day, choose the things which make a difference to YOU and which you find practical.

Don’t drive yourself crazy with every new idea - there is no point improving your physical health at the expense of your mental wellbeing (and as you’ve read above, it might cancel out the effect anyway)!

Try to be as happy and healthy as you can and remember that little choices every day add up.