I got interested in the role of inflammation in the development of disease when I was doing my Masters in Nutrition. Since then my interest hasn't ceased because personally I find it an incredibly interesting topic (I hope you will too).
I believe that if you want to get the best health results, you need to focus on reducing inflammation in the body.
So I'd like to share the role inflammation has with type 2 diabetes so you can determine for yourself just how important it is 🙂
Inflammation is involved in type 2 diabetes as both a cause and a consequence, meaning that initially inflammation may trigger the development of diabetes, but also once you have diabetes, ongoing inflammation in the bodies cells contributes to various symptoms.
Increased Inflammation Precedes Type 2 Diabetes
Before type 2 diabetes develops there is increased production of inflammatory molecules such as interleukin 6 and tumor necrosis factor alpha.
Yes, these are weird names and you really don't have to remember them but you just need to think of inflammation as a protection mechanism because that's what it is.
It's your body trying to protect itself from too many changes occurring on a metabolic level.
We can't see this inflammation of course, because it all happens at a cellular level. But your symptoms and the development of disease is the beakon that's sounding the inflammatory signal.
It's also a well known scientific fact that fat tissue is very metabolically active. It doesn't just sit there doing nothing, it actively produces hormones and pro-inflammatory molecules too. Since many people have obesity or weight gain alongside the development of diabetes, this relationship can be a major contributor.
Overall the consensus in the scientific literature is that if you have higher levels of these inflammatory molecules, you have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Inflammatory molecules act on different areas of the body
Various clusters of cytokines (inflammatory molecules) can act on different parts of the body and produce an effect. You know that whole cause and effect statement?
Well here are a couple of examples of that concept.
- Inflammatory molecules (cause) act on the liver and promote dyslipidemia with increased VLDL and decreased HDL (effect).
- Inflammatory molecules (cause) also act on the muscles and liver, promoting insulin resistance (effect).
Inflammation is a response of the immune system
So why do we get this inflammation happening?
As I hinted to earlier, it is a natural response and reaction of the immune system. In every instance of increased inflammation, immune cells called macrophages are the first cells to respond to the body’s needs. Macrophage cells produce pro-inflammatory molecules and these molecules are basically just signals that tell the immune system and the body what to do.
Many things can provoke an immune response, basically anything that is wrong or not natural in the body. In today's world there are lots of onslaughts and the body is pretty intelligent because this process is always a balancing act, the body trying to maintain it's state of balance, it's state of health.
But as you can imagine, if we keep on loading up one side of the scale, eventually somethings got to give. If inflammation doesn't cease, and it won't if we keep loading the scale, then the cells in the body start changing and we start seeing more symptoms arise.
These symptoms can present themselves in many different forms, from high blood pressure, high cholesterol, increased weight gain, aches and pains, heart disease, and the list goes on and on.
Immune cells invade the pancreas when inflamed
Our macrophage immune cells are directly related to the development of type 2 diabetes in that they have been shown to invade pancreatic tissue.
When the macrophages invade the pancreas, they then produce more inflammatory molecules, and this could potentially help destroy the pancreatic beta cells.
Inflammation can increase the risk of complications
Then once you have a diabetes diagnosis, essentially your body is in a state of low grade chronic inflammation.
As you may (or may not) know there is a much greater risk of vascular complications.
These pro-inflammatory molecules damage tissues in the vascular system, in fat tissue, in the muscles and liver, and as we already pointed out, in the pancreas.
High blood sugar itself promotes inflammation that can damage the blood vessels and lead to risk of vascular complications.
Dysfunction contributes to increased inflammation
I don't mean to scare you with all this because believe me you can turn it all around but it does help to get a better picture of what's happening in your body right? If you understand what is happening to your body it empowers you to make the right changes and that's a very good thing 🙂
So take a moment to imagine if your body was working properly…you wouldn’t have high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, difficulty losing weight, or any of the other symptoms you may have.
But when your body is not functioning properly all of these ‘symptoms’ collectively add to increasing inflammation by promoting ongoing involvement of the immune system and it’s reactions. It becomes a kind of repetitive cycle in itself, especially if the stimulus isn't stopped. That stimulus can be things like bad diet, lack of exercise, stress and stuff like that, stuff we need to change, and stuff we can change if we choose to.
The exact role of inflammation is still not fully understood in science but it is well known that inflammatory molecules (cytokines) are higher in both pre and post diabetes and it is likely that this accelerates the development of the condition and any associated complications and symptoms.
This is why I believe the best approach is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. It works to lower your blood sugar and a1c but at the same time decreases inflammation and improves all your other symptoms. To me that's what makes sense (hope it does to you too).
Different mechanisms proposed to contribute to stress and inflammation in diabetes
Rising levels of blood glucose are toxic to the body. Even small changes in glucose levels years before the onset of type 2 diabetes can be toxic to pancreatic beta cells.
With insulin resistance, long chain free fatty acid levels are increased and can impair pancreatic secretion and increase insulin resistance.
High glucose causes cellular stress that produces free radicals (reactive oxygen species) in the body. Pancreatic beta cells are particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress and increased oxidative stress is also central to the development of insulin resistance.
Endoplasmic reticulum stress
The beta cells have a component called the endoplasmic reticulum. Insulin resistance promotes more insulin production and this increases the amount of proteins traveling through the endoplasmic reticulum, causing increased stress on those cells and subsequent reactions.
All of these stressors can be caused by over nutrition or bad nutrition!
Eating too much is a MAJOR contributor!
Eating too much of the wrong things like sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and junk food.
So what that means is you can change it!
You CAN Turn It All Around!
Reducing inflammation is the key to prevention and management of diabetes. Sure you need to lower blood sugar and a1c, but if you focus only on that, you may be unlikely to make any vast improvements. Or at least, you may struggle with making improvements that stick and in my eyes you want to improve your health all round, right?
So what are you to do?
Food really is our medicine and like Dr Mark Hyman says:
If we can eat our way into something, we can eat our way out of it
So to help you get started in choosing the right types of foods, I've got our whole foods, low carb, anti-inflammatory food list you can download below. It's free so make sure you grab a copy!
I hope you've got a better picture about the relationship between diabetes and inflammation. As I said right at the beginning, it really does fascinate me so I hope you learned a bit about it too. 🙂