John Giordano, Doctor of Humane Letters, MAC, CAP, Addiction Treatment Consultant

unhealthy snacks in bowls

In preparing to write this article, a TV commercial from the 70’s kept popping up in my consciousness. I just couldn’t get it out of my head. The commercial was omnipresent, it seems as though it was airing every time I turned on the TV. Anyone who grew up in the 70’s will remember it.

The commercial featured a popular actress at the time, Dena Dietrich, as Mother Nature; dressed in a plush white gown complemented with a daisy crown. The commercial set changed but was always shot in a natural environment like a forest or jungle. Although the settings changed, the dialog remained consistent. An off-screen announcer challenged Mother Nature to taste a yellow substance in a small white, handheld plastic container; to which she joyfully proclaimed was “my sweet, creamy butter”. The announcer quickly corrects Mother Nature, informing her that what she just tasted was really Chiffon Margarine. Upon hearing the news, Dietrich’s facial expression immediately morphs from happy and joyful to angry and scornful as she proclaims in a firm authoritative voice, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”. And right on cue, thunder and lightning erupts in the background as the audio segues to a warm, yet convincing female jingle singer crooning to a sing-along melody “if you think it’s butter, but it’s not – it’s Chiffon”.

The advertising campaign was wildly successful and continued for years throughout the 70’s until the advertising stopped when Chiffon was sold. Distribution in the U.S. ended in 2002. I don’t know what factors contributed to Chiffon’s demise, or the demise of the margarine market overall for that matter; but I can’t help but to think that the slowly developing public awareness of the detrimental health risks of the trans fats, found in margarine at the time, on the human condition played a role. It slowly became apparent that margarine was not the healthy alternative to butter their advertising suggested. In fact, process foods such as margarine presented a whole new set of health risks.

So just who was trying to fool Mother Nature?

Margarine is a processed food which means its life started out in a lab. Process foods came into being to satisfy a growing need for longer shelf-life and inexpensive alternatives to popular foods. The Egyptians may have been the first civilization to extend the shelflife of fish, fowl and meat with salt over four-thousand years ago. However, there is little if any resemblance between the Egyptian process and the procedure process foods currently go through. Today you’ll find most process food loaded with emulsifiers, food coloring dyes, sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), processed flours, artificial flavoring and a host of other obscure toxins and carcinogens. There is nothing natural inherent in processed foods.

Process foods and junk foods are killing you one bite at a time.

All of this adds up to one great big belly and head ache. The procedure of converting foods to process foods, combined with the additives, stresses the digestive system when consumed. Our bodies are not built to breakdown these substances as efficiently as whole foods, if at all. As a result, our bodies think they’re being attacked. To protect itself, our immune system deploys its own natural defense system, inflammation; white blood cells and substances they produce to protect us from infection with foreign organisms. As a general rule, a little inflammation (acute) from time to time is not such a bad thing. However, the average American diet consists of 70% process foods; meaning our digestive system is constantly stressed (chronic inflammation) which in turn stresses our immune system. According to The
American Heart Association, we also consume more than three times the amount of sugar over the recommended daily limit. Furthermore, these processed foods are tearing holes in our intestinal lining, allowing partially or undigested foods entry into our blood stream.

Once inflammation gets established in your system, it becomes highly self-perpetuating. This is very dangerous because recent studies have shown that the abnormal inflammatory response is closely associated with many chronic diseases, especially in autoimmune diseases where the body attacks and damages its own healthy tissue. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), autoimmunity is the No. 2 cause of chronic illness.

It’s important to keep in mind that processed foods are not the only culprit causing inflammation that compromises our immune system. Stress, heavy metal toxicity, food allergies, gluten, carbon dioxide, mold, chemicals, pesticides, environmental pollution from industrial waste, drugs are among other dangerous substances found in our environment that are also culpable.

As detrimental as inflammation is to your body, the medical community is slowly coming around to the devastating effects it has on your brain, mood and behavior.

Brain inflammation can be beneficial in the event you bump your head or have some type of head injury. It also plays an essential role in removing the brain tissue debris, and promoting recovery.

However, mountains of research have shown that brain inflammation is connected to virtually all types of mental illness. In addition to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, more serious conditions like autism, dementia, and even schizophrenia, have all been linked to inflammation of the brain.

Earlier I mentioned how foreign substances were eating holes in the intestinal lining. Researchers are now finding that the same phenomenon is occurring in the brain. Chronic or systemic inflammation can cause blood brain barrier permeability. The protective layer of the brain becomes porous; which over time can lead to cognitive decline. Foreign substances are finding their way through the blood brain barrier causing microglia cells – the brain’s protector cells – into working overtime.

Under pathological conditions, neuroinflammation can become relentlessly progressive and harmful. The immune and inflammatory cells associated with harmful inflammation on the brain release excess destructive pro-inflammatory substances that can further damage the surrounding healthy brain tissue; leading to persistent harmful inflammation which results in ongoing expansion of the brain tissue damage.

Unlike inflammation in the body, the brain has no pain receptors so the inflammation doesn’t cause any pain. This is concerning for many reasons. First and foremost, someone could be suffering from curable neuroinflammation without ever knowing they have it. Equally as concerning is the fact that we know that chronic brain infl ammation is linked to depression and other cognitive and mental health problems; however, too many people with this condition are never tested for it. All too often they’re prescribed a pill and sent on their way.

The connection between depression and addiction has been well established. According to the American Academy of Suicidology (AAS), about two thirds of people who commit suicide are depressed at the time of their death, and the risk of suicide is about 20 times greater among people with major depression. In 2017, over 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. In the same year, over 47,000 Americans committed suicide. It just makes my brain feel like it is on fi re to think that so many of our friends and neighbors are dying an avoidable death, or suffering from a disease every day, without any mandate whatsoever from government and/or the medical community to investigate the driving force behind the carnage. It is also a diffi cult pill to swallow that our leaders don’t know what is driving these illnesses; especially when you consider the tens of billions of dollars the causes of these illnesses contribute to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) every year.

The fix is simple and right at our fingertips. First, I’d recommend a switch from your processed food diet to a nutrient-rich whole food diet. This alone can go a long way in reversing the damage caused by chronic inflammation. A whole food diet is actually nothing more than the food you were meant to eat before processed foods took over your life. Whole foods can also eliminate foggy brain and a host of other conditions caused by infl ammation and lift your mood.

I’m fortunate to have found a great nutritionist who has been invaluable to me in determining the best food choices for optimal health. I strongly recommend that you look into finding a nutritionist to help you get started down the right path. There are also a bunch of whole food books and recipes available online and in bookstores. Additionally, here a few anti-infl ammatory whole foods that you can get started with right now: dark leafy greens including kale and spinach, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, dark red grapes, nutrition-dense vegetables such as broccoli and caulifl ower, beans, lentils, green tea, red wine in moderation, avocado, coconut, olives, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts, pistachios, pine nuts, almonds, cold water fish including salmon and sardines, turmeric, cinnamon, dark chocolate spices and herbs. It is also important that you take a good prebiotic and probiotic along with enzymes everyday to help the good bacteria in your gut flourish.

My second recommendation is exercise. I can’t impress upon you how important it is. Think about it for a minute. One hundred years ago the vast majority of jobs were in agriculture. Most farms didn’t even have a tractor back then. People had to exert energy to accomplish anything in those days. One hundred years later, we don’t even get out of our easy chairs to change the TV channel. Our bodies were never built for the sedentary life styles so many people lead today.

You just can’t fool Mother Nature!

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for any able bodied person to not exercise – none. Take up karate, go for a walk, try yoga, play tennis, go rollerblading, ski, skate, join a gym or find a sport that you enjoy. Just do it! You will notice a difference right away. The penalty if you don’t is most likely going to be chronic health conditions that you could avoid by exercising.

John Giordano, Doctor of Humane Letters, MAC, CAP, is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare & Chronic Relapse Recovery Center.