The Chemical Fire Within

Short Answer: There is a chemical fire that burns within us all, managed by our immune system.  If our lifestyle forces it to burn without rest, chronic disease will eventually result.  You have been warned!

Saturday morning I worked on this post, seeking a simple explanation for a complex and dangerous healthy problem common to the modern lifestyle—chronic inflammation.  Inflammation is the chemical firestorm driven by our immune system to respond to various threats and to heal injury.  When we mistreat our body the immune system must work without rest, and the resulting chronic inflammation sets the stage for the chronic diseases that will surely follow: metabolic syndrome (more on this in the next post), autoimmune diseases (a special risk for women of childbearing age), diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  By the end of the morning I had made little progress on the post, which I had started the day before.

After lunch I went down to the beach to greet some guests, a pediatrician and his family.  There was a benefit at the beach for a big group of kids with type 1 diabetes.   As the kids walked by, our guest pointed out the patches and catheters for their insulin pumps.  I wanted to applaud the kids—T1D is a tragic autoimmune disease that strikes without warning, but from what I could see the kids were handling it well.  After they passed our conversation turned to nutrition and the protection of health.  I soaked up some rays—vitamin D protects against inflammation.  The 124 steps to get down to the beach are part of my exercise regime, another protection from inflammation.

In the evening we were guests of dear friends at a concert.  Orange County has a beautiful concert hall with superb acoustics, and an excellent symphonic orchestra.  The program included Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and a Rachmaninoff symphony.  It was very soothing; I held my beautiful wife’s hand and was grateful for the friendship of our hosts.  I’m no expert on classical music, but the excellence demonstrated by the orchestra planted the idea that I should reach higher in writing this blog.  It’s a worthy and meaningful goal.

Before the concert we dined at a new restaurant called the True Food Kitchen.  The menu—based on Dr. Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet—offers “simple, fresh, pure ingredients”, including vegetables, whole grains, and protein.  Anti-inflammatory diet?  I had struggled to write about it yet here it was in front of me and it tasted great.  I had the chicken chop salad.  The waitress did give me a copy of Weil’s Anti-inflammatory Food Pyramid; you can see it here.

People are becoming aware of inflammation and how it rages within us for years before the symptoms of chronic disease present.  How can you tell if chronic inflammation is a problem?  There are several tests; one increasingly used is the high sensitivity C Reactive Protein (hsCRP) test.  I had it done in a physical exam a couple of years ago and had an average score; not bad but not super good either. 

How do we reduce chronic inflammation?  Unwittingly, while struggling to write this post, the most important steps had found their way into my Saturday activities.  Healthy Changes have also taught them, with more to come.  In fact, the Healthy Changes constitute a handbook for avoiding chronic inflammation and protecting your health.  Here is a list of ten steps to reduce chronic inflammation (with links to those already presented):

1.     Reduce your sugar to below the AHA recommendation by cutting  back on sugary sodas,  avoiding sugary breakfasts, and slashing sugary snacks.

2.     Replace trans fats  and vegetable oils with traditional fats.

3.     Eat whole grains, especially fresh-ground.

4.     Eat anti-oxidant and nutrient rich fruits and vegetables.

5.     Be sparing in meat, eating more plant than animal protein. 

6.     Enjoy midday sunshine for vitamin D (but don’t get pink).

7.     Get regular exercise.

8.     Stress has a purpose, but don’t let the stress of life and work overwhelm you.  Organize your days enough to provide order, reduce chaos, and complete the tasks that make life meaningful.  The best guide to stress reduction?  The answer to this modern problem is in the Bible—take a fresh look at the Sermon On The Mount.

9.     Get adequate sleep, eight to nine hours daily, in the dark.

10.    Seek activities that build bonds with friends and loved ones, including dining together.

Budget wisdom:  The non-inflammatory lifestyle is the most affordable.  The person of modest means, who lives a simple but orderly life, enjoys friends and family, finds purpose within their faith, and takes their food as nature provided, has more chance of avoiding chronic inflammation than any billionaire surrounded by his possessions and served by his retinue.

Please comment on the lifestyle and diet choices that help you find harmony and health in daily living.

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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    Word of Wisdom living - Word of Wisdom Living - The Chemical Fire Within

Reader Comments (20)

The biggest thing that I do in trying to reduce stress and create peace in my life is to work on being very in tune with and listening to my body. I've found that when I tune in to it, I'm able to figure out based on how I feel what I should eat, how I should exercise, etc. I have a lot of health problems that carry with them different dietary issues, so what I most need (or need to avoid) in my diet changes from day to day—but I always know intuitively what is best for me because it makes me feel so rejuvenated and "clean" after I eat it. (Hope that makes sense!)

One thing I would love to see you address in a future post is wheat. I feel like the advice given about wheat is so conflicting - Dr. Weil, in the link you posted, advocates against using much wheat, as do many integrative physicians and dieticians. On the other hand, the Word of Wisdom specifically mentions wheat as something "man" should be eating. I'd love to see you address the disparity between all the different views on wheat. Is it good as long as it's whole grain? Should it be mostly avoided? Etc.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindy Baldwin

Cindy, I knew I would get some comments on Dr. Weil's diet, but I wanted to acknowledge his role with the True Food Kitchen. Dr. Weil as you noted minimizes the role of wheat and is a proponent of soy. There is lots of science supporting the role of whole grains as the staff of life. In fact, around the world grains like rice, corn and wheat truly are the staff of life. Billions would starve without them. So it's foolish to not recognize their critical role in feeding the planet.

There are some who have serious problems with certain foods. Common allergy foods include milk, eggs, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat—these natural foods just don't work for some people and are reported to account for 90% of food allergies. If you have an allergy to wheat, suffer from a gluten intolerance, or have been diagnosed with celiac disease, it is critical to work closely with a good doctor in order to preserve your health.

It's a mystery to the doctor or scientist why we have a growing problem with food allergies but don't you have to wonder if it isn't a consequence of the industrialization of food? I have wondered about the role played by chronic inflammation.

Regarding Dr. Weil's fondness for soy, I am less certain. Traditionally soy was used as a crop to restore nitrogen to the soil, rather than a food crop. I'm a little cautious of soy unless recommended by a doctor, especially as it is now genetically modified (GMO). The Europeans, a little wiser and more traditional about food than us Americans, are also cautions. Best to you.

June 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I think the different things that help me to reduce stress and feel better in my daily living tend to vary depending on the season; for example, at this moment, one thing that makes me feel good, healthy and relax is to cook a tipical summer recipe, gazpacho; is super easy to make, contains only vegetables and olive oil, making it a very healthy recipe (and low in calories), which is also delicious and very refreshing. We take it almost daily, and there's nothing more refreshing than a cup of gazpacho before eating sitting in the shade of the terrace after a morning on the beach. I don't know anything less stressful!

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIreth

For me, getting enough sleep makes a huge difference. I used to stay out really late and do what I wanted until midnight, but since having a baby a year ago, that has all changed. I could go on and on about how great a full night of sleep is after months of not getting it. When I had poor sleep habits, I was more likely to choose unhealthy foods, because I thought I was too tired to get an apple out of the fridge and cut it up.

I can also attest to exercise. Even if I start off dragging, I find myself rejuvenated and ready for the day when I'm done. I happen to love doing exercise videos at home. It's easy to get variety, because there are so many videos out there (and lots at D.I./Goodwill!)

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSacha

As far as wheat is concerned, many people have been recommending spelt instead. Spelt is a form of wheat, but further back in the hybridization chain. The wheat we have today is not the same as the ancient grain back in bible times. Spelt has more protein and is easier to digest than hard red wheat, soft white wheat, or hard white wheat. It doesn't make big fluffy loaves of bread like wheat, but it has more flavor and we love it. I pretty much substitute it 1:1 for wheat in recipes. It has gluten, so if you have issues with gluten it isn't a replacement. Also, if you make a true sourdough bread (where all of the flour is incorporated and allowed to "sour" instead of just the starter being soured this will also help to break down the wheat so it is easier to digest. I know many people who have switched to sourdough baking (and not just for bread- they can make just about any type of baked goods and they don't have to be sour tasting in the end). This tends to be referred to as Traditional Foods.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

I am convinced that inflammation is a significant cause of dis-ease and that greater effort should be made to minimize the causes of inflammation. One enzyme that I have found incredibly helpful in controlling inflammation (particularly in joints) is serratiopeptidase. I had very impressive results using it to combat inflammation caused by a small tear in my elbow tendon. Nothing else would work well, until I tried serratiopeptidase.

I would be interested in learning more about enzymes and how they effect our health and how we can best incorporate them into our diet. Thanks Skip!

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg

Ireth, won't you share your gazpacho recipe?

Laura, the use of true sourdough baking to make wheat more digestible is a good topic for follow-up. Got any recipes?

June 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I've been reading your posts for a while now and have only one suggestion. I would love it if you and your wife would write a cookbook for those of us who are illiterate as to cooking healthy. It would also be great if you included a section on healty snack ideas for adults and kids.

June 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElisa

Elisa, loving you. We go back and forth on how to make the best contribution (even if it's tiny by comparison) to our national health problem. The 52 Healthy Changes are critical, but you're right that people need recipes that work with the changes. Comments like yours will get us to a good plan. Best to you.

June 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

The most important change I think I've made to reduce stress in my life is to get enough sleep (stopped staying up so late!) and stop procrastinating. I didn't realize just how much I procrastinated everything until I challenged myself. Now every day I make a to-do list on a post-it note. I try to get as much done before dinner time. It's worked very well because I feel like I accomplish a lot more. Putting it on a sticky note makes my to-do list small so it doesn't overwhelm me. If it doesn't fit on the sticky note, too bad, it will have to wait for tomorrow. That in turn helped me learn how to prioritize and think ahead a little more.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRill

Coming from a family that has dealt with celiac disease for the last five years, my husband and several of my children, I have pondered the question of the wheat referred to in the Word of Wisdom. What is often not realized is wheat is not the only grain. There are so many other options that are just a healthy if not better then wheat. I use a millet mix in my baking as well as eating it for breakfast. There are many more like flax, teff, quinoa to name a few. We are very uneducated as far as grain options as we have been taught food storage with wheat as the only grain emphasized.

Skip great post I have been tryig hard to make our diet better and I have really appreciated your tips. I feel so great when I eat well and my kids behave better too! I have loved this blog and look forward to reading. Thanks for all your time and effort!

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnnmarie

Annmarie, thank you. Sometimes we forget that it's grains that are the "staff of life", not wheat. Eating a variety of grains, especially whole, makes sense. Though we have some wheat in our breakfast compote, we cook a nine-grain blend mixed with oatmeal, then add a generous amount of ground flaxseed.

June 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

In response to Cindy's post: I have often had the same question about the wheat, especially as someone who struggles with blood sugar, insulin resistance and gestational diabetes. Here is what I've come to conclude after my research: In verse 2 of the Word of Wisdom it says "To be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint, but by revelation and the a word of wisdom, showing forth the ORDER and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days. (emphasis added)" I take it literally that the words of wisdom are laid out in a particular order for a reason. If you follow this order then you will eat vegtables and fruits first (including nuts and legumes), then meat (and dairy) sparingly, THEN wheat and grain as support staff. The problem comes when we turn that order around and base our diet on processed grains, then meat, then fruit, and maybe some vegetables. Traditionally prepared grains are always best, but any unprocessed grain is going to be better than processed foods. I am in the process (and it is a long one) of changing the order of our diet.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

Wow, I love that everyone answered my wheat questions! There definitely seem to be a lot of answers out there. I personally love things (bread, homemade tortillas, etc.) made with whole-wheat flour, and they make me feel good, so it's not something I feel the need to cut out. I also have a lot of other whole grains in my diet, though. Catherine, I had never thought of the order thing - what a great idea!!! I am working this year on focusing my meals more on vegetables rather than the traditional meats and grains. They're still included in my meal (obviously, especially since I am married to a meat-and-potatoes Idaho man), but I am trying to make vegetables the centerpiece.

June 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindy Baldwin

Hi everyone, this is thel gazpacho I use:
the ingredientes are: 5 tomatoes (best mature), 2 cucumbers, 1 green pepper, 1/2 onion, some garlic, extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and salt. The garlic gives a stronger flavor to the dish, so if you don't like you can remove it.
Pell and chop the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic. For the pepper remove the seeds. In an electric mixer, place the mixture of ingredients and mash until creamy. Strain if there are remnants of the vegetables skin. Check the salt and vinegar. You can add crushed ice too, to be more refreshing.
To make it a complete dish you can serve with diced raw cucumber, cubes of toasted bread and diced hard boiled egg as garnish.
In Spain we usually take it before meals, as afternoon refreshment or any time of day!

June 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIreth

My grandfather had coeliac disease and my daughter had chronic eczema when I weaned her onto wheat. After a week in hospital with her I left with carrier bags full of drugs and creams and bandages, having been warned that I would have to bathe my baby in iodine periodically and cover her whole body with chemicals for the rest of her life. I wasn't prepared to do that so I did some investigation of my own and was led to a wonderful homeopath who said straight away "it's either milk or wheat". It was the wheat. Overnight her eczema started to improve. When I took her for a check up 3 months later the consultant couldn't believe the difference. He literally turned her upside down looking for evidence of the complaint. As a family we replaced wheat with spelt instead and to a more wholegrain wholefood diet. It's had amazing results.

I was lucky enough to live for a while near River Cottage, here in the English countryside, where Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall runs a wonderful organic farm, restaurant and campaigns for better animal welfare, better food and importantly, shows how EASY it is to do it yourself. Below is a link to his sourdough bread. It sounds like a long recipe because it explains about the starter but I've done it and it works. The comments are also worth reading as they add detail about the starter. I hope some of your readers are tempted to try it.

I am not a mormon, the Words of Wisdom are unknown to me, but I find the message and the research behind your posts truly inspirational. Thank you for sharing.

June 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLucy

Lucy, thank you for sharing your experience. I like the River Cottage story, especially for the turning towards olden ways of farming and animal husbandry. Best to you.

June 22, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

I was curious as to whether you have come across any information regarding the effectiveness of the anti-inflammatory diet (or any diet) and its affects on asthma? I have been taking inhaled steroids for years to control inflammation, and wonder if more dedicated change in diet would spurn a stronger response. I guess it wouldn't hurt to try, so long as I don't forgo the steroids!

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAubrie

First, I really enjoy your blog. Thanks so much for all the great information. Since I've started reading it, I'm much more aware of my body's response to different foods. I've tried my best to follow all "Healthy Change" cards, and have really felt a difference in my overall health.

Second, I was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder. Are you saying you believe it's most likely caused by diet?

July 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Jen, thanks for writing. I'm sorry about your diagnosis, though knowing what we have is a step forward. The autoimmune disorders are complex and the cause(s) cannot be known with certainty. Women are more vulnerable, they have a three-fold risk compared to men. One writer thought the greater risk was due to the role women play in creating life. During pregnancy your body must support a tumor (well, darling baby) where half of the DNA is foreign (from the dad). So the complexity needed to periodically tolerate this foreign DNA also brought greater complexity.

Generally, the lifestyle that best prevents disease, also is helpful for living with disease. So work with your doctor and adopt the most healthful lifestyle you can. Best to you.

July 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterSkip Hellewell

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