By Dr. Mercola
A wide array of health problems, including but not limited to obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, periodontal disease, stroke, and heart disease all have inflammation as a part of the disease.
The majority of inflammatory diseases start in your gut.
Chronic inflammation in your gut can disrupt the normal functioning of many bodily systems. There also appears to be a connection between certain types of bacteria and body fat that produces a heightened inflammatory response and drives the inflammatory process.
For example, recent research1 suggests that superantigens—toxic molecules produced by pathogenic bacteria such as staph—may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes through their effect on fat cells. As reported by the featured article:2
“The idea is that when fat cells (adipocytes) interact with environmental agents — in this case, bacterial toxins — they then trigger a chronic inflammatory process… [B]acterial toxins stimulate fat cells to release molecules called cytokines, which promote inflammation…
All staph bacteria make toxins called superantigens — molecules that disrupt the immune system. Schlievert’s research has previously shown that superantigens cause the deadly effects of various staph infections, such as toxic shock syndrome, sepsis, and endocarditis.
… [T]he chronic inflammation caused by the superantigens may also hinder wound healing in diabetic foot ulcers. The ulcers, which affect 15 to 25 percent of people with diabetes, are notoriously difficult to heal and can often lead to amputation.”
‘Perfect Storm’ of Inflammation Promotes Diabetes
Previous research has shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people. Lean people tend to have higher amounts of various healthy or beneficial bacteria compared to those who carry a lot of excess weight, who tend to have greater colonization of pathogenic bacteria.
For instance, the human adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) — a cause of respiratory infections and pinkeye – might play a role in promoting obesity by transforming adult stem cells into fat cells that are capable of storing additional fat.
Researchers have also discovered that certain gut bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and E. coli, trigger fat cells to produce inflammatory cytokines. Researchers have proposed that this interaction can provoke the development of diabetes, which is a well-known “side effect” of obesity.
Staph bacteria in particular appear to play an important role in diabetes, and according to the featured article, there are two primary reasons for this:
- Obese people have a tendency to become heavily colonized with staph bacteria
- Staph bacteria is the most common bacteria found in diabetic foot ulcers
The featured study found that when both staph and E. coli are present (both of which produce superantigens), the inflammatory cytokine response in fat cells are further amplified, thereby boosting your risk of diabetes. According to the co-author of the study, Patrick Schlievert, Ph.D:
“The E. coli that resides in our gut produces LPS [lipopolysaccharide, a toxin] and every day a small amount of this toxin gets into our circulation, but it is generally cleared from the circulation by the liver. However, people colonized by staph bacteria are also chronically exposed to superantigens, which shut down the LPS detoxification pathway.
That creates a synergy between the ‘uncleared’ LPS and the superantigen. All these two molecules do is cause inflammation and cytokine production. So in essence, their presence together creates a perfect storm for inflammation.”
Previous studies have come to similar conclusions. For example, one study3 found that babies with high numbers of bifidobacteria (beneficial bacteria) and low numbers of Staphylococcus aureus, appeared to be protected from excess weight gain.
This may also be one reason why breast-fed babies have a lower risk of obesity, as bifidobacteria flourish in the guts of breast-fed babies.
The Link Between Gum Inflammation and Heart Health
A related news item further highlights the role of inflammation in the development of chronic disease. According to Medical News Today:4
“Researchers at Columbia University in New York suggest that if you look after your gums, you could also be reducing your risk of heart disease. They claim that improving dental care slows the speed with which plaque builds up in the arteries.5“
This isn’t the first time researchers have found that your oral health can have a significant impact on your cardiovascular and heart health. For example, a 2010 study6 found that those with the worst oral hygiene increased their risk of developing heart disease by a whopping 70 percent, compared to those who brush their teeth twice a day.
In this prospective study, improved gum health was shown to significantly slow down the progression of atherosclerosis—the buildup of plaque in your arteries, which increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and death. According to the featured article:7
“Previous studies have linked an increase in carotid IMT [intima-medial thickness] of 0.033 mm per year (about 0.1 mm over 3 years), to a more than double increase in risk of heart attack and stroke. In this study, the participants whose gum health got worse over the 3 years showed a 0.1 mm increase in carotid IMT, compared with the participants whose gum health improved.
Co-author Panos N. Papapanou, professor at Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine, says: ‘Our results show a clear relationship between what is happening in the mouth and thickening of the carotid artery, even before the onset of full-fledged periodontal disease. This suggests that incipient periodontal disease should not be ignored.’”
Here, bacteria are again playing a preeminent role, as periodontal disease is the result of the colonization of certain bacteria in your mouth. This bacterial profile, by the way, is again linked to an imbalance of beneficial and pathogenic bacteria in your gut. A few months after I added fermented vegetables to my daily diet, I was able to cut down my dental cleaning visits from every month to every quarter. I’ve had a longstanding problem of persistent plaque formation, and the addition of fermented foods proved to be an essential missing ingredient for me to successfully address this problem.
It’s important to realize that periodontal disease involves both bone and the tissue that is in contact with that bone. From this contact, bacteria and toxic inflammatory compounds can easily enter your blood stream. Once in your blood stream, these toxic compounds can harm the lining of your blood vessels, which can lead to both strokes and heart attacks. So, reducing inflammation is of primary importance for your overall health, and brushing your teeth regularly is one way to combat chronic inflammation in your body.
Findings such as these offer potent testimony to the fact that heart disease is a condition that can be prevented, most of the time, by leading a healthy lifestyle — which includes the simple act of brushing your teeth regularly to prevent periodontal disease, and optimizing your gut health by eating foods that allow healthy bacteria to flourish and keep pathogenic bacteria in check.
Diet and Environmental Factors Affect Your Gut Flora
I have long stated that it’s generally a wise choice to “reseed” your body with good bacteria, ideally by regularly eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods such as:
- Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink)
- Fermented milk, such as kefir
- Natto (fermented soy)
One of the reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial is because they contain lactic acid producing bacteria, which has been shown to be particularly beneficial for weight loss, as well as a wide variety of other beneficial bacteria. Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximize the variety of bacteria you’re getting. If for whatever reason you decide not to eat fermented foods, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is definitely recommended.
Keep in mind that eating fermented foods may not be enough if the rest of your diet is really poor. Your gut bacteria are an active and integrated part of your body, and as such are vulnerable to your overall lifestyle. If you eat a lot of processed foods for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast. Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to the following factors—all of which should ideally be avoided as much as possible in order to optimize your gut flora:
- Antibiotics, including antibiotic-traces found in meats from factory farmed meats and animal products
- Agricultural chemicals, especially glyphosate
- Chlorinated water
- Antibacterial soap
Your Diet Is Key for Reducing Chronic Inflammation
As you can see, the running thread linking a wide variety of common health problems—from obesity and diabetes to heart disease and stroke—is chronic inflammation. Clearly, addressing your oral health is an important step, but the real key to reducing chronic inflammation in your body starts with your diet.
Diet accounts for about 80 percent of the health benefits you reap from a healthful lifestyle, and keeping inflammation in check is a major part of these benefits. It’s important to realize that dietary components can either trigger or prevent inflammation from taking root in your body.
For example, whereas trans fats and sugar, particularly fructose, will increase inflammation, eating healthy fats such as animal-based omega-3 fats found in krill oil, or the essential fatty acid gamma linolenic acid (GLA) will help to reduce them. Research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology8 two years ago again confirmed that dietary supplementation with krill oil effectively reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. To reduce or prevent inflammation in your body, you’ll want to AVOID the following dietary culprits:
- Sugar/fructose and grains (If your fasting insulin level is not lower than three, consider eliminating grains and sugars until you optimize your insulin level, as insulin resistance this is a primary driver of chronic inflammation)
- Oxidized cholesterol (cholesterol that has gone rancid, such as that from overcooked, scrambled eggs)
- Foods cooked at high temperatures
- Trans fats
Replacing processed foods with whole, ideally organic, foods will automatically address most of these factors, especially if you eat a large portion of your food raw. Equally important is making sure you’re regularly reseeding your gut with beneficial bacteria, as discussed above. The ideal way, again, is by adding a variety of non-pasteurized traditionally fermented foods to your daily diet. To help you get started on a healthier diet, I suggest following my free Optimized Nutrition Plan, which starts at the beginner phase and systematically guides you step-by-step to the advanced level.
Optimizing your vitamin D levels is another important aspect of optimizing your gut health and immune function. According to recent research, vitamin D appears to be nearly as effective as animal-based omega-3 fats in countering inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis for example. One of the reasons for this may be because it helps your body produce over 200 anti-microbial peptides capable of fighting all sorts of infections. In simple terms, if you’re vitamin D deficient, your immune system will not activate to do its job. And since vitamin D also modulates (balances) your immune response, it helps prevent overreaction in the form of inflammation.
Grounding—An Underused Anti-Inflammatory Lifestyle Strategy
Another simple lifestyle strategy that can help prevent chronic inflammation is grounding or Earthing. Stated in the simplest terms possible, earthing is simply walking barefoot; grounding your body to the Earth. Your skin in general is a very good conductor, so you can connect any part of your skin to the Earth, but if you compare various parts there is one that is especially potent, and that’s right in the middle of the ball of your foot; a point known to acupuncturists as Kidney 1 (K1). It’s a well-known point that conductively connects to all of the acupuncture meridians and essentially connects to every nook and cranny of your body.
By looking at what happens during grounding, the answer to why chronic inflammation is so prevalent, and what is needed to prevent it, is becoming better understood. When you’re grounded there’s a transfer of free electrons from the Earth into your body. And these free electrons are probably the most potent antioxidants known to man. These antioxidants are responsible for the clinical observations from grounding experiments, such as beneficial changes in heart rate and blood pressure, decreased skin resistance, and decreased levels of inflammation. Furthermore, researchers have also discovered that grounding actually thins your blood, making it less viscous.
This discovery can have a profound impact on cardiovascular disease, which is now the number one killer in the world. Virtually every aspect of cardiovascular disease has been correlated with elevated blood viscosity. It turns out that when you ground to the earth, your zeta potential quickly rises, which means your red blood cells have more charge on their surface, which forces them apart from each other. This action causes your blood to thin and flow easier. It also causes your blood pressure to drop.
By repelling each other, your red blood cells are also less inclined to stick together and form a clot. Additionally, if your zeta potential is high, which grounding can facilitate, you not only decrease your heart disease risk but also your risk of multi-infarct dementias, where you start losing brain tissue due to micro-clotting in your brain. To learn more about this simple but potent method, please see my interview with Dr. Oschman, who is widely recognized as an authority in the biophysics of energy medicine. Grounding may also work by increasing the structured water in your cells.
For Optimal Health, Address and Avoid Chronic Inflammation
Remember, the micro-organisms living in your digestive tract form a very important “inner ecosystem” that influences countless aspects of health. More specifically, the type and quantity of organisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of chronic inflammation, which is at the heart of many diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. The composition of your microflora may even dictate the ease with which you’re able to shed unwanted pounds.
Since virtually all of us are exposed to factors that destroy beneficial bacteria in your gut, such as antibiotics (whether you take them for an illness or get them from contaminated animal products), chlorinated water, antibacterial soap, agricultural chemicals, and pollution, ensuring your gut bacteria remain balanced should be considered an ongoing process.
Cultured foods like raw milk yogurt and kefir, some cheeses, and fermented vegetables are good sources of natural, healthy bacteria. So my strong recommendation would be to make cultured or fermented foods a regular part of your diet; this can be your primary strategy to optimize your body’s good bacteria. If you do not eat fermented foods on a regular basis, taking a high-quality probiotic supplement would be a wise decision for most people.
Besides that, replacing processed foods, sugar/fructose and grains with whole foods is a critical step to address chronic inflammation. Optimizing your vitamin D levels and making sure you’re getting plenty of animal-based omega-3 fat in your diet is also important, along with grounding, to keep inflammation in check.