In this presentation, Madia Jamgochian introduces us to the anti-inflammatory diet for multiple sclerosis (MS). The main points she covers are:
- Digestive support
- Essential fatty acid balance
- Antioxidant-rich whole foods
You may have heard the phrase “Illness begins in the gut.” This is because our digestive system is our first line of defense against pathogens and bacteria from the outside world. Think of your gut lining as a barrier to the outside world.
For this reason, about 80 percent of our immune cells reside in the tissue of our gut lining. Our goal is to protect our linen and to help our digestion work at an optimal rate to assimilate all the nutrients we need to heal. How do we do that?
Improve Your Digestion
- Eat sitting down in a relaxed state.
Our digestive system functions optimally in a rested, relaxed state—away from stress. Stress negatively affects your digestion and can make keep your intestines from effectively absorbing the nutrients you need.
- Remember to chew.
Chewing our food effectively is the first step to proper digestion. Saliva is composed of enzymes, which help digest food from the start.
- Save liquids for between meals.
Large amounts of fluid can dilute the stomach acid needed for digesting food, killing off foreign bacteria and microbes. Limit liquids with meals to about 6 ounces.
- Enjoy bitter leafy greens before (or with) meals.
The taste of bitter flavors signals our gallbladder, stomach, and pancreas to get ready to digest food. This signal coordinates the entire digestive process, including the action of our intestines. Some examples that you can add to your favorite salad are arugula, endive, collard, kale, or dandelion greens.
- Include cultured and probiotic-rich foods.
The process of culturing and fermenting makes food more digestible and provides beneficial bacteria that supports digestive health. Some examples are: sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir
Heal Your Leaky Gut
Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, takes place in the small intestine where we absorb the majority of our nutrients. A leaky gut occurs when the linen of the small intestine becomes damaged creating small microscopic holes that allow the contents of the gut (pathogens, undigested proteins, or bacteria) to leak through to the bloodstream. When pathogens leak through the gut barrier, the resident immune cells see them as foreign invaders and attack. If this happens continuously, it can create body-wide inflammation, sending our immune system into overdrive. The extent of the damage to the gut lining, combined with your specific genetics, and the immune reactions to the leak all add up to develop an autoimmune condition. An anti-inflammatory diet helps you heal the gut lining and prevent these reactions from continuing (Sarah Ballantyne, Ph.D.: The Paleo Approach, Victory Belt Publishing 2013).
Remove the foods that contribute to a leaky gut.
- Refined foods
- Grains, especially gluten grains and grain oils. Unless properly soaked, they are extremely hard to digest.
- Refined sugar – Sugar is overconsumed and tends to be in most products these days. Stick to natural sources if you need a sweet fix.
- Alcohol – Can unravel tight junctions between enterocytes, increasing intestinal permeability.
- Nightshades – Compounds in nightshades can be potentially irritating to the gut lining and should be avoided, especially in high quantities. Examples include peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, tomatillos and white potatoes (sweet potatoes are OK).
- Conventional dairy – Dairy is a bit of a grey area on an anti-inflammatory diet and should be eliminated in the initial phase. If you do eat dairy, stick to organic, and pasture raised or grass-fed.
Essential Fatty Acid Balance
Fatty acids are important for the body. Most of us have heard of omega fatty acids, but did you know that they are not all equally important? In fact, we should probably reduce some of them in our diet and increase others significantly. Most of us eat far too many omega 6’s and not enough, omega 3’s. A helpful motto might be: “Nix the 6, and eat the 3” when it comes to choosing your meals.
Omega 6: Overconsumed
Omega 6 contributes to the inflammatory process. They are necessary but only in moderation.
Examples are safflower, sunflower, corn, soy, and most nuts; grain fed beef, dairy, and chicken; as well as farmed fish. Omega 6 is also present in processed and fast foods, which is another reason to avoid these convenient foods if we want to heal.
Omega 3: Underconsumed
Omega 3’s reduce inflammation, speed metabolism, and are necessary for brain development and function.
Examples are flax, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts; organic free range/grass fed beef, chicken, and dairy; as well as cold water fish and algae.
Antioxidant Rich Whole Foods
What an antioxidant-rich whole foods diets comes down to is: “Eat More Vegetables!”
Benefits of Vegetables
Vegetables have three key benefits:
- They are antioxidants helping to combat cell-damaging free radicals and reduce inflammation
- They contain phytonutrients, compounds that promote health and decrease disease risk
- They are rich in natural fiber that helps us maintain digestive regularity and contribute to satiety and blood sugar control.
Have you ever heard of nutrient density? This is a term that measures the nutrient concentration in food, per calorie. Vegetables are at the top of this list. Low in carbohydrates but chock full of vitamins and minerals, veggies come in a rainbow of colors, and each color signifies a unique nutrient composition.
Color Compound Benefit
- Red Lycopene is an antioxidant that has shown to cut the risk of prostate cancer. Examples are tomatoes, watermelon, cara cara oranges, grapefruit, red peppers, cabbage, and guavas.
- Orange Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that supports the immune system. Examples are sweet potato, carrots, pumpkins, mangoes, cantaloupe, and apricots.
- Yellow-orange contains vitamin C and flavonoids, and they may inhibit tumor cell growth and detoxify. Examples are lemons, oranges, peaches, citrus, bell pepper, and apricots.
- Yellow-white Anthoxanthin lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. Examples are jicama, onions, garlic, mushrooms, and parsnips.
- Green Folate builds healthy cells. Examples are collards, kale, spinach, lettuce, asparagus, avocado
- Green-white Indoles contain lutein and can eliminate excess estrogen and carcinogens. Examples are brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
- White-green Allyl sulfides protect against cancer and support the immune system. Examples are garlic, onion, chive, and asparagus.
- Blue Anthocyanins protects against free radicals. Examples include: Plums, blueberries, purple grapes, eggplant
- Red-purple Resveratrol promotes heart health. Examples include: plums, berries, grapes, cranberries
Madia graduated from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition in 2013 after completing a BA in Environmental Studies and Exercise Sports Science at UCSB. Shortly after Bauman, she started her consulting business “My Healing Habits” that began from her own experience with healing an autoimmune condition. She enjoys educating on how to heal inflammatory and autoimmune conditions and believes in the food-as-medicine approach.