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How your gut could be causing inflammation

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Inflammation is a vital part of the immune system but research is suggesting an imbalance in gut bacteria can play a part in IBD and metabolic disease.
Discover the link between gut health and inflammation of the gut, as well as what you can do to help reduce inflammation through the foods you eat.

A growing area of research suggests that an imbalance in gut bacteria could be causing inflammation. What does this mean for your health – and what can you do about it? 
In this article, we’ll look at the link between the gut microbiome and inflammation in the body, as well as the science behind it. We’ll also talk about what changes you can make to your diet to help reduce inflammation.

Why is inflammation a problem?

Inflammation itself is not a problem. It’s your body’s response to wounds and helps heal them.1 Inflammation only becomes a problem when it gets out of control.1 This is called ‘chronic inflammation’ and is the basis of many complex diseases and disorders, such as metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative diseases, and cardiovascular diseases, along with autoimmune diseases and cancer.1

Inflammation is a feature of old age, but it’s also associated with many autoimmune diseases as well as weight gain, insulin resistance, poor energy, sleep, libido, reduced brain function, and depression.1

Inflammation is identified by inflammatory markers in the blood, including interleukin-6 (IL-6) tumour necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and C-reactive protein (CRP).

The gut-inflammation connection

The gut microbiome is an incredibly complicated ecosystem of both bad and good bacteria.2  Recent technological advancements have allowed for better research into the gut microbiome and its effects on inflammation.

A comprehensive 2020 review of the topic found that while some bacteria are associated with triggering gut inflammation, others were also found to play a role in inhibiting inflammatory processes.3  However, the study concluded that it was still unclear which specific bacteria were positive, so more research was needed.

A 2015 Chinese study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences found gut bacteria play a key role in the development of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis) through their regulation of inflammation in the gut – and that addressing this may therefore help control the IBD.4

All of this evidence indicates that there is a link between our gut health and inflammation.2 But what can we do about it?

Rebalance your gut bacteria to reduce inflammation

In the future, we may be able to address specific microbial imbalances with targeted 'friendly' bacteria medicines.2 Some microbial species have been associated strongly with reducing gut inflammation, but more research is needed into this area to determine exactly how it helps.1

Until then, we can try to mitigate chronic gut inflammation by improving our gut health with diet and lifestyle changes designed to boost the number and diversity of our gut microbes.

This means reducing stress, keeping active, and aiming for a balanced, diverse diet based on whole foods. There are plenty of foods that contain naturally occurring anti-inflammatories. But here are some other changes you can make to your diet to help balance your gut and reduce inflammation too:
  • diversify your diet – Eat an abundance of fruit and vegetables in a rainbow of colours. A 2016 study found that the key to a healthy gut microbiome was dependent on having a diverse diet.6
  • cut the carbs – Fill up on lean protein, healthy fats, a range of whole grains, legumes and pulses, nuts and seeds. One study found that high-fat diets were found to significantly increase the number of 'good' gut bacteria.7
  • go au naturale – Avoid or limit ultra-processed foods, like ready meals with high salt levels, artificial ingredients, and refined sugars. Research from 2020 found that artificial ingredients, like artificial sweeteners, lead to a higher risk of gastrointestinal problems.8
  • keep the good bacteria happy – Feed the microbes in your gut with fibre-rich foods such as bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, and oats. 
  • diversify your gut microbiome – Replenish the microbes in your gut with beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods like natural yoghurt, miso, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, other pickled vegetables, kombucha, and aged cheese. These all contain probiotics for gut health that are proven to positively change the gut microbiome.9
  • try anti-inflammatory foods – It can be useful to include naturally anti-inflammatory ingredients in your cooking too. Look for recipes that use the spice turmeric (active ingredient curcumin), ginger, or oregano.10,11
  • top up with anti-inflammatory supplements – You may also want to take a broad-spectrum beneficial bacteria supplement and omega-3 essential fatty acids.12

The final say

Overall, it’s clear that there is a link between good gut health and inflammation. Scientific research has proven that bad bacteria can cause inflammation, but good bacteria can also help prevent it.1

If you’re looking to reduce inflammation, try changes to your diet. There are plenty of naturally occurring anti-inflammatory foods, as well as anti-inflammatory supplements that can help. Try hot water with turmeric, honey and ginger instead of coffee in the morning, or introduce more fermented foods, like kimchi, to your diet.

Sources

1. Hirano T. IL-6 in inflammation, autoimmunity and cancer. International immunology. 2021. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/intimm/article/33/3/127/6041650
2. D’Argenio V, Salvatore F. The role of the gut microbiome in the healthy adult status. Clinica chimica acta. 2015. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009898115000170
3. Al Bander Z, Nitert MD, Mousa A, Naderpoor N. The gut microbiota and inflammation: an overview. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2020. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/20/7618
4. Zhang YJ, Li S, Gan RY, Zhou T, Xu DP, Li HB. Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. International journal of molecular sciences. 2015. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/1422-0067/16/4/7493
5. Cresci GA, Bawden E. Gut microbiome: what we do and don't know. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2015. Available at: https://aspenjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0884533615609899
6. Heiman ML, Greenway FL. A healthy gastrointestinal microbiome is dependent on dietary diversity. Mol Metab. 2016. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837298/
7. Agans R, Gordon A, Kramer DL, Perez-Burillo S, Rufián-Henares JA, Paliy O. Dietary fatty acids sustain the growth of the human gut microbiota. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2018. Available at: https://journals.asm.org/doi/10.1128/aem.01525-18
8. Seo YS, Lee HB, Kim Y, Park HY. Dietary Carbohydrate Constituents Related to Gut Dysbiosis and Health. Microorganisms. 2020. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7143995/
9. Leeuwendaal NK, Stanton C, O’Toole PW, Beresford TP. Fermented foods, health and the gut microbiome. Nutrients. 2022. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/14/7/1527
10. Peng Y, Ao M, Dong B, Jiang Y, Yu L, Chen Z, Hu C, Xu R. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Curcumin in the Inflammatory Diseases: Status, Limitations and Countermeasures. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2021. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8572027/
11. Stromsnes K, Correas AG, Lehmann J, Gambini J, Olaso-Gonzalez G. Anti-Inflammatory Properties of Diet: Role in Healthy Aging. Biomedicines. 2021. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8389628/
12. Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes: from molecules to man. Biochemical Society Transactions. 2017. Available at: https://portlandpress.com/biochemsoctrans/article-abstract/45/5/1105/66243/Omega-3-fatty-acids-and-inflammatory-processes
 

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