The Island of Fire
Our first stop is the island of fire, where volcanoes bubble with lava, mud pools boil and hot springs release gas and steam! This is a dangerous place. But inflammation in the body is one of the most important things to understand, and so this is where our journey begins. Inflammation literally means “in flame,” and is what happens when the immune system is called in to fix an acute problem like a burn, blister, rash or sprain.
Unfortunately a new kind of chronic inflammation has emerged in the last century, and it is the biggest threat to our long-term health. But because it happens internally, we can’t feel it, and so never notice as it slowly and relentlessly damages our organs. This chronic inflammation is the basis of chronic disease, and preventing and reversing it is essential to healing our bodies.
Three Common Chronic Diseases:
1) The Metabolic Syndrome (Diabetes and Fatty Liver)
The Metabolic Syndrome is a high insulin state caused by high consumption of sugar, starches and processed carbohydrates. Never in human history have we consumed so much sugar. The average American eats and drinks over 100 lbs a year, and some over 300 lbs! So what, you say? Well, it turns out that the high blood sugars that result from consuming sugar, starches and processed carbohydrates are inflammatory.
The sugar coming in from the gut must first pass through the liver. The liver must absorb the excess sugar in order to spare the other organs from its sticky inflammatory effects. It does this by converting it into a type of fat called a triglyceride. Unfortunately, this causes a new set of problems. Since only a limited number of the triglycerides can be packaged into cholesterol packets and sent to tissues to be burned or stored, the rest accumulates inside the liver cells. This eventually leads to a fatty liver, which then becomes dysfunctional, and can no longer soak up all the excess sugar. The result is insulin resistance, because more insulin is now needed to move the sugar into other tissues. Insulin resistance precedes type 2 diabetes, and as we’ll see later, heart disease and dementia.
2) Arterial Sclerosis, or ‘Clogged Arteries’ (Heart Disease, Stroke, Peripheral Artery Disease)
Sugar causes direct damage to the arteries by binding to the walls and inflaming them. This not only worsens insulin resistance, leading to higher blood sugars and to higher insulin levels, but also causes LDL particles to stick. And remember those triglycerides the liver made in response to excess sugar? They end up inside a bad form of LDL that is small and dense and also binds to arteries! Interestingly, contrary to what we used to think, cholesterol from eggs and saturated fat from meat and dairy do not cause this bad type of small dense LDL, but rather a large fluffy good kind of LDL that does not accumulate in the arteries. Thus meat, dairy and eggs are now known to be safe to eat. We will explore this more later on.
Trans fats, which are industrially hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, also end up as harmful small dense LDL. They used to be plentiful in products such as margarine and Crisco, but fortunately are being phased out.
Polyunsaturated fats in vegetable oils have several double bonds that can oxidize and become rancid. Oxidation also occurs when they are heated, as in fried foods, and they also end up as small dense LDL.
Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, have a calming anti-inflammatory effect on the immune system, and even lower triglycerides! They are found in wild fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and trout. Monounsaturated fats in olive oil, avocados and nuts are also anti-inflammatory.
3) Alzheimer’s Dementia and Peripheral Neuropathy
Alzheimer’s dementia has become epidemic, and is being seen at increasingly younger ages. It has been called ‘Type 3 Diabetes’ because people with diabetes have a 4-fold higher risk of getting it. Why? Because high sugars inflame the nervous system. Sugar crosses the blood-brain barrier, and high sugar levels cause inflammation and insulin resistance. In the early stages this is a mild form of forgetfulness called mild cognitive impairment (MCI), but can progress to Alzheimer’s dementia. Inflammation from high sugars in the nerves can cause tingling, burning and numbness of the hands and feet called peripheral neuropathy. It can also affect other organs.
Leaving the Isle of Fire
The way to leave behind this scorched island of smoldering fires is pretty obvious. Go back to eating the natural whole foods your grandparents and great grandparents ate! Our bodies were designed to run perfectly on natural carbohydrates and fats, and not sugar and refined foods. Eat things that have been around for hundreds of years, and avoid foods that have not withstood the test of time.
At this point you have enough knowledge to leave the Isle of Fire! In future installments you will learn how to fine-tune your diet, and how to eliminate chronic inflammation completely!!
1) Chronic disease results from chronic inflammation caused by processed foods
2) Sugar and refined carbohydrates like flour are inflammatory
3) Trans fats and fried foods are inflammatory and block the arteries
4) Omega-3 fats and monounsaturated fats reduce inflammation
1. Monounsaturated fats in extra virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts calm down the immune system.
2. Omega-3 fats found in fish oil and fatty fish like wild salmon lower triglycerides and are anti-inflammatory.
3. Colorful vegetables and fruits with green, red, blue, purple and orange pigments also contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation
4. Vintage foods like meat and dairy and eggs do not cause chronic disease and are generally healthy, especially if they come from free-range grass fed animals.
5. Shop the periphery of the grocery store for whole foods like colorful vegetables and fruits. Add beans, lentils, nuts, eggs, fish, seafood, cheese and grass fed meats.
How I Became Dr. Nils
Chicken Chili with Beans
Serves 6 / Prep Time: 15 mins / Cook Time: 4 hours
Calories: 423; Total Fat: 13g; Total Carbs: 41g; Sugar: 6g; Fiber 10g; Protein: 42g; Sodium: 857 mg
- 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. chipotle powder
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 (28-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
- 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 2 (15-ounce) cans white beans, drained & rinsed
In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients and set to high. Cook for 4 hours. If the mixture gets too thick, add a little more chicken broth or some water.