When our DNA gets damaged no matter what is the cause (toxins, free radicals, viruses, etc.), the visible effect would be an increase in inflammation. Inflammation response is our body’s defensive mechanism. It is not the same as infection and people usually mix these two together. Pathogens will create inflammation as a defensive response from our body’s immune system but they are not the source of inflammation. Inflammation and diet are also correlated. The source of inflammation is DNA damage. Anything that damages our cells is pro-inflammatory including pathogens, free radicals, and toxic substances of a different kind. If our immune system malfunctions and starts to attack our own cells the visible effect will be an increase in inflammation.
All of us have some level of normal inflammation all the time and suffer from DNA damage all the time. That is the reason why medical doctors talk about markers of inflammation in the body. They have a range that is considered to be normal. There is oxidative damage that is a result of natural cell’s metabolism of energy, there is a low level of pathogens that our immune system deals with on a daily basis and there are always some toxins that are present in our body. This “normal” inflammation will cause a disease that we know as the aging process.
Besides this, all of us could have acute (short time) inflammation for different reasons. For example, we can get a bacterial infection. It would cause pain and other symptoms and we would be aware of it.
But there is another type of inflammation. The type that combines both of these. And that is chronic (permanent) inflammation above the normally accepted levels that could be present without pain or visible effects in an extended period of time. It would still be there and we would have an increase in our DNA damage and as a result, at the end stage, we would have some disease as a consequence. For example, we might get cancer or just increase our rate of aging.
The higher the overall inflammation the more DNA damage, the shorter the life, the greater the chance of disease. Ideally, we would have no inflammation and would have no DNA damage and would live forever but that is not possible because of normal cellular metabolism.
Almost all of the chronic diseases are associated with chronic inflammation from cancer, to autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, basically most of the diseases ever tested.
That is because, and people don’t understand this, inflammation is not a disease by itself. It is just a defensive reaction of the body. It is a biomarker that tells us how much destruction of our DNA we have inside us. It is an immune system response that could be lowered artificially with anti-inflammatory medications. Lowering inflammation artificially if we don’t deal with autoimmune diseases and malfunctioning of the immune system will just make things worse. It would be the same thing as lowering body temperature when we have the flu. Would that make a flu virus go away or would just weaken our immune system’s defensive mechanism?
When we deal with chronic inflammation we have to eliminate the root causes of that DNA damage not just inflammation.
The way diet can cause an increase in inflammation is from two main reasons.
- It is by itself pro-inflammatory, meaning it has toxins, chemicals, dead bacteria, and mutagens.
- If it does not cause a spike of inflammation by itself, it does not prevent the inflammation either.
Animal products will cause both effects.
A big chunk, around 70 percent of our immune system is in our gut and most of our lymph nodes. There are thousands of different types of bacteria in our intestines but there are two major basic types of them. Two major groups are different from one another. Probiotic ones that metabolize fiber and live in symbiosis with our body and ones that decompose the meat. If bacteria feed on meat in sense our tissue is a lump of meat too. Unlike carnivores, we have evolved for millions of years of evolution to eat whole fiber-rich plant foods. When we eat fiber we feed probiotic bacteria and they multiply.
They are not so aggressive to our organism. The immune system will have an easier job of fighting them, they will not secrete dangerous endotoxins into the bloodstream and there will be less damage overall and inflammation will decrease (1)(2). The result of fiber consumption is an increase in health and lowering of inflammation while animal products will feed bacteria that putrefies the meat and will increase inflammation. Eating meat and animal protein will create a higher level of inflammation in the gut just by that mechanism.
Then there are some toxins and pollutants that are present in the meat due to bioaccumulation in the food chain. All toxins that are in the environment no matter if they are human-made or not that are heat resistant and are chemically stable will bioaccumulate. Organisms are like filters. They filter everything that exists in both good or bad. The situation would not be even so bad, but there is one more process called biomagnification. We all know about the accumulation of mercury in tuna fish (3), or microplastic (4), or pesticides (5). There are hundreds of thousands so far known different persistent environmental pollutants that will accumulate in the tissues. Then If we understand the food chain, the accumulation of toxins gets hundreds of times worse as we move up (6). So what happens is that when small fish get eaten by big fish, all of her toxins get passed into the bigger fish. Eating plant food is essentially the only way to lower our toxic load on top of lifestyle interventions like quitting smoking and avoidance of alcohol and other toxic substances. More than 70% of all pesticides we get from a diet, and people do not understand this, are ingested through meat consumption. Animal fed is also sprayed and pesticides accumulate in animal tissues and are heat resistant. Washing apples to avoid eating them is just not effective if our diet is dominated by animal products. These persisting toxins are fat-soluble and cannot be metabolized or broken down.
Eating a vegan diet, or in other words, a diet low on a food chain is therefore protective because when we go low on a food chain we will lower our toxic load and lower our DNA damage, and would have lower inflammation.
One more reason why animal products and not plant foods are much more inflammatory is dead bacteria. There is a high level of putrefying bacteria in meat and what people don’t understand is that even if we kill them by cooking there are still toxic. The bacteria will be destroyed but not completely and chunks of them will remain and we will not be able to cook them down any further. Some of the world’s most dangerous poisons are these endotoxins of dead meat bacteria. They are fat-soluble and will be absorbed into our body after meat consumption creating inflammation (7).
On top of this, the process of cooking the meat and animal protein will create mutagens just by itself by breaking the molecular structure of amino acids and will raise inflammation.
Besides being pro-inflammatory for itself the second biggest reason animal products are inflammatory is that they don’t have anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other phytochemicals in them. Our body has evolved to expect a burst of antioxidants every time we eat. Naturally, food is a package deal and in whole food, there are not just calories but fiber, micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals, and a lot of antioxidants. Our body has evolved to receive a burst of protective antioxidants anytime we eat but there are not present in animal foods. The end result is a postprandial (post fed) increase in inflammation (8).
A vegan diet unlike a standard American meat-dominated diet will usually just be neutral and would not directly inflict damage. For example refine sugar, starch, refine flower, refine oil are all vegan, and will not cause severe inflammation spikes directly. They would not feed dangerous bacteria in the gut. They would not directly be pro-inflammatory at the same level that meat is but at the same time they would not prevent inflammation either. There would be a postprandial rise of oxidative damage due to regular cell metabolism and the creation of free radical damage in the body. The way our body has evolved to fight off toxins and free radical DNA damage is to use antioxidants and other nutrients found in food. My recommendation is to have at least 25,000 units of antioxidants in the ORAC scale a day for vegans, and for non-vegans, you will need much more than that just to fight the postprandial rise of oxidative damage from all of the animal products you are eating. Then they are toxins in the environment and mutagens plus most of us have some bad habits like smoking and drinking. You can read more about toxicity in the chapter about toxins in the first part of the book series (“Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]) and about antioxidants and phytochemical optimal intake, you can read the entire book 3 of the series (“Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 3” [Milos Pokimica]). This article is written just as a form of introduction into the subject for people to have some basic understanding of these issues.
A vegan diet just for itself as a form of a diet is pure junk. Oil and sugar are both vegan products. A whole food plant-based diet with optimized levels of micronutrients is the only diet that can help us to lower chronic inflammation, and prevent wide ranges of diseases.
The very important risk factor in cancer, our number two killer, is chronic inflammation and impaired immune system. Most of the population today have high levels of chronic inflammation. Then there is on a wide population-scale the lack of some essential micronutrients (essential and some important non-essential micronutrients, not calories) and antioxidants.
So on one hand, we have inflammatory compounds, toxins, and mutagens but on another hand lack micronutrients and antioxidants. Also, then there is a chronic elevation of cancer-promoting hormones like IGF-1 and estrogen.
Passages selected from a book: “Go Vegan? Review of Science: Part 1” [Milos Pokimica]
- Complementary Effects of Cereal and Pulse Polyphenols and Dietary Fiber on Chronic Inflammation and Gut Health doi: 10.1039/c7fo02011b
- Impact of a Healthy Dietary Pattern on Gut Microbiota and Systemic Inflammation in Humans doi: 10.3390/nu10111783
- The Importance of Bioconcentration Into the Pelagic Food Web Base for Methylmercury Biomagnification: A Meta-Analysis doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.07.328
- Marine Microplastic Debris: An Emerging Issue for Food Security, Food Safety and Human Health doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2018.05.047
- Dioxins and PCBs in Meat – Still a Matter of Concern? doi: 10.2533/chimia.2018.690.
- Empirical Analyses of the Influence of Diet on Human Concentrations of Persistent Organic Pollutants: A Systematic Review of All Studies Conducted in Spain doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.05.008.
- Effect of Dietary Lipids on Endotoxemia Influences Postprandial Inflammatory Response doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b01909
- Human Postprandial Nutrient Metabolism and Low-Grade Inflammation: A Narrative Review doi: 10.3390/nu11123000