Why what we eat causes inflammation
The research on the link between diet and chronic pain conditions (and many other health conditions) is narrowing in on the consumption of animal products versus eating a plant-based diet. So, I’m going to briefly discuss why eating animal products causes systemic inflammation, and the growing movement in favor of a plant-based diet.
Meat, poultry, and fish contain substances called endotoxins. Endotoxins are lipopolysaccharides found in the outer membrane of certain bacterial cells, and they are released when the bacterial cell dies or disintegrates. These compounds are classified as “toxins” because they can cause serious health problems—like cancer—in humans, animals, and other organisms.
Endotoxins are present in meat, poultry, and fish no matter how these products are cooked or prepared. When we eat these foods, the endotoxins are absorbed into our system, triggering the immune system response of systemic inflammation. Eating meat, poultry, and fish that are high in fat increases our absorption of endotoxins.
If you want to learn more about this topic, watch this series of short (2-4 minutes each), easy-to-understand videos by Dr. Michael Greger.
First video: The Leaky Gut Theory of Why Animal Products Cause Inflammation
Second video: The Exogenous Endotoxin Theory
Third video: Dead Meat Bacteria Endotoxemia
Meat and other animal products contain or lead to the formation of many other inflammatory substances as well, including nitrosamines, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), heterocyclic amines (HCAs), N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
Meat, poultry, and fish aren’t the only inflammation-causing animal products. Eggs cause inflammation for two reasons: they contain high levels of arachidonic acid and cholesterol.
Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid involved in the inflammatory process. While we need a certain amount of arachidonic acid for essential cellular processes, our body makes all that we need; we don’t need to ingest any. The same is true for cholesterol: our body makes all that we need, and excess cholesterol in the bloodstream triggers the inflammatory process.
Just one egg yolk contains 62% of our recommended daily intake of cholesterol, and eggs are associated with increased cancer risk. And incredibly, egg consumption has similar effects on atherosclerosis and life expectancy as a regular smoking habit.
Lastly, there are several reasons why dairy products cause inflammation. Some people don’t produce the enzyme lactase, which is necessary for breaking down the lactose in dairy products. Some people are intolerant of casein and whey, the two proteins found in cow’s milk. And many dairy products contain hormones and antibiotics that are given to cows in order to stimulate their milk production and prevent infection.
Lactose, casein, whey, hormones, and antibiotics can all trigger the inflammatory response. So it’s not surprising that dairy consumption has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other inflammatory conditions, like arthritis, asthma, acne, type 1 diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.