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Can food play a role in reducing inflammation?

Louise Blanchfield, aka 'the food physio', tells Lisa Salmon about the diet that helped her husband overcome painful inflammatory arthritis and bowel disease

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Healthy food (PA)

Healthy food (PA)

Improving health: nutritional therapist Louise Blanchfield and husband Richard

Improving health: nutritional therapist Louise Blanchfield and husband Richard

PA

Healthy food (PA)

It's natural - and often sensible - to turn to medicine to help treat health problems, but have you considered the role food could play too?

Physiotherapist Louise Blanchfield was desperate to help improve her husband Richard's health after he developed a form of inflammatory arthritis that led to him walking with a stick and being told by his doctor he'd eventually need to use a wheelchair.

He already had the inflammatory bowel disease ulcerative colitis, so was faced with a lot of pain. Blanchfield began researching the links between inflammation in the body and diet and lifestyle.

She eventually devised a diet designed to reduce inflammation and promote gut health. Although sceptical at first, within weeks, Richard had started noticing improvements, and over the following year or so slowly got better and better.

"His joint pain cleared, movement got easier and function improved," says Blanchfield. "Little did we know that what we did was going to actually reverse his symptoms."

These improvements were shown in a colonoscopy the following year too; Richard's bowel looked normal and the scarring from previous ulcerative colitis attacks had repaired.

Louise (45) was so impressed that she trained as a nutritional therapist and is now known as 'the food physio'. She and Richard (49) have also shared their recipe ideas in their book - Eating My Way Back To Health.

Blanchfield believes it could be beneficial for people suffering with a range of autoimmune diseases and inflammatory conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease and coeliac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, vasculitis, lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis.

"Modern medicine had run out of answers, except take the tablet and get worse," she says. "Believing the root cause to Richard's problems was a damaged gut barrier, and a consequent overreaction of his immune system to food getting into his bloodstream that shouldn't have been able to get through, we set about trying to eat to heal the damage, settle the immune system reaction and calm the inflammation.

"We did this by removing foods we believed may be causing the gut damage, eating foods which contain nutrients needed for the gut to repair itself, and eating foods which are anti-inflammatory in nature," she adds. "Richard is now totally pain-free without any medication. I would never have dreamed this was possible. Our bodies are amazing and, given the right environment, it's incredible what they can achieve. Richard is proof of that."

Of course, it's important to remember everybody is different, and our health and dietary needs aren't always the same. It's never advisable to make any changes to your treatment regime, or any big diet changes without consulting your doctor.

"Our guts are as individual as our hair and our eye colour - what one person can eat and thrive on just doesn't work for someone else. It's about finding what works for you," says Blanchfield.

These dietary changes worked for Richard...

1. Go gluten and dairy-free

This helps to prevent probable food intolerances inflaming or damaging the gut, and proved beneficial for Richard. However, this doesn't mean ditching gluten and dairy is right for everyone.

2. Eat raw garlic

"This is to help balance gut bacteria, as it kills bad bacteria," explains Blanchfield.

3. Eat more than 'five a day'

Eating eight to 10 fruit and vegetables per day, rather than the standard five a day, can boost antioxidant levels and provide extra vitamins and minerals needed for optimum body function.

4. Make homemade sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is said to help boost good gut bacteria. "This is due to it being a fermented vegetable containing good bacteria, and because cabbage contains glutamine, which is needed as a fuel by gut cells," explains Blanchfield.

5. Ditch white rice and potatoes

Blanchfield suggests avoiding white potatoes and white rice, as they can feed harmful bacteria in the gut and help the bacteria multiply.

6. Eat the rainbow

Eat a variety of coloured fruit and veg, as this will give a good mix of vitamins and minerals. Include beetroot, turnip and carrots, as they feed beneficial bacteria and help them grow in numbers.

7. Fill up on chicken bone broth

Make and eat chicken bone broth; the collagen in it helps the gut to heal.

8. No processed food

They "contain additives that add to the toxic load in our bodies, increasing inflammation and making digestion harder," says Blanchfield.

9. Avoid alcohol

Alcohol is also inflammatory and adds to the toxic load.

10. Avoid fizzy drinks

But don't replace alcohol with carbonated drinks. Fizzy drinks are inflammatory too.

11. Pull the pork

Avoid all pork products as they're very inflammatory.

12. No crisps, cakes or biscuits

Steer clear of baked goodies - even if they're gluten and dairy-free - as well as crisps, as they're made from inflammatory fats.

13. Steer clear of vegetable oils

These can be very inflammatory, says Blanchfield.

14. Use Indian spices

Include spices like ginger and turmeric regularly in your diet, as they are highly anti-inflammatory.

Re-introduce certain things when symptoms settle

Richard followed the diet for nine months, before easing off some of the strict measures. Now, he can eat gluten and dairy on a rotational basis (once every four days) with no resurgence of his symptoms, and can go off the plan on holiday for two to three weeks and have no symptoms, resuming gluten and dairy-free eating on his return to ensure his symptoms don't return.

"Observe the diet strictly until symptoms have cleared fully," Blanchfield suggests, "and then to try a reintroduction test to see how flexible you can be with your diet on an ongoing basis. It then depends on the individual."

Eating My Way Back to Health by Louise and Richard Blanchfield is published by Purple Star Publishing, priced £29.99 on Amazon

Belfast Telegraph