The 3 Triggers of Chronic Inflammation

inflamed Joints in human body

As the summer is winding down, the Dirt-to-Dinner team has been flooded with questions regarding inflammation. Our readers complain that they feel bloated, tired, and lethargic. Are they inflamed? Quite possibly. The Dirt to Dinner team spoke with Dr. Peter Bongiorno from Inner Source Health and he identified the top three triggers for chronic inflammation.

Digestion: A healthy gut keeps inflammation at bay.

The majority of your immune system is located in your digestive tract. Researchers have even dubbed your gut a second brain! (You can read more about that in a previous D2D post.) So, it is very important to keep your gut healthy. Eating nutrient-dense, whole foods will encourage good digestive enzymes and healthy bacteria to grow. This enables your digestive system to process your food and effectively eliminate waste.

A diet high in sugar and processed foods causes your immune system to initiate an inflammatory response to protect its healthy cells. If you have been tested by your doctor and suffer from specific food allergens, like gluten, for example, these foods can also trigger inflammation as your body tries to protect itself from the harmful stimuli.

Researchers today are working hard to understand how much of the immune system is located inside your digestive tract. It is believed that it is a significant source of inflammation triggers.  infographic: Huffington Post

Obesity triggers an inflammatory response.

Having excess body fat, especially visceral fat around the hips and abdomen, contributes to chronic, low-grade inflammation.  This can cause DNA damage and an increase in risk factors for at least 13 different types of cancers.

Fat tissue will create inflammation that uses up nutrients and makes it more challenging for your body to clear toxic substances. It also switches how cells grow and use energy.
(Dr. Peter Bongiorno, Inner Source Health)

Obesity is a leading cause of chronic illness and is attributed to many types of cancer.

Too many toxins in your life?

As we discussed in “Nix the Toxins,”  if you are inhaling or ingesting large amounts of toxic substances, they can be stored in fatty tissue and then eventually your healthy cells. While our bodies can metabolize a certain amount of toxins, too many can cause cell inflammation and damage. Unfortunately, this includes overconsuming our favorite summer drinks, like rosé, tequila, and all those gin & tonics! Overly processed foods and an unhealthy gut can also have the same negative effect. If you expose yourself to more toxins than your body eliminates, this may create inflammation.

If you are exposing yourself to more toxicants than your body is eliminating, this may create inflammation.

How can you stay healthy?

You may not always be able to see the effects of inflammation, but keep an eye out for the signs. These include fatigue, weight gain, skin outbreaks, gastrointestinal issues, and even depression or anxiety. The best way to fight inflammation is with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and sleep. To read more about inflammatory responses, read our previous post, What is Inflammation?

Carbon Dioxide – The Dance of Life

infographic of carbon cycle

Not to get too groovy, but carbon originally rode the waves of stardust traveling through space after the Big Bang to eventually make its way to Earth. Carbon takes all forms and can be as soft as the graphite lead in a pencil and as hard as a diamond.

Carbon is also part of carbon dioxide (CO2), a chemical compound made of one carbon and two oxygen atoms. This compound, along with other gases, such as water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, are greenhouse gases. They absorb the sun’s heat and either radiate it to space, back to Earth or to another greenhouse gas molecule. This can actually be a good thing if we want to continue to enjoy grilling outside in July, as the Earth’s average temperature would be about -0.4°F without the greenhouse effect, compared to today at roughly 57.2°F.

CO2  is .04% of the Earth’s atmosphere.

C02 is 3.62% of greenhouse gasses.  Out of 3.62 %, 3.4% is a result of human activity.

Where does Carbon and Carbon Dioxide come from?

We can live our lives and enjoy our favorite activities thanks to carbon, which is 18% of a human’s body mass. Carbon is a building block of muscles, carbohydrates, and fats. And we also eat carbon in the form of glucose (carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms). When the human body ‘burns’ glucose for energy, it produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, which is eliminated through your breath. This process is called cellular respiration. Every day you breathe out about 2 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

CO2 also comes from the carbon in the Earth. Oceans, decomposing plant material and rock layers within the Earth’s surface all have carbon as their building blocks. As plants, animals, and reptiles die and decay, they become buried under layers and layers of mud, rock, sand and even ancient seas. The biggest carbon dioxide sources are deep-sea vents and volcanoes. Forest and grass fires are also natural CO2 emitters. As we mentioned, humans, along with all mammals, are CO2 providers.

Anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 comes from the burning of the Earth’s carbon. All that vegetation and those dead animals and reptiles, hundreds of feet below the surface for millions of years, are now oil, gas, and coal. Burned as fossil fuels, the carbon goes back into the air. It may not seem obvious, but every time you start your car, heat your home, or turn on your lights you connect with old dinosaur bones or vegetation buried from millions of years ago.

The Carbon Cycle – the Breath of Life

Plants emit the oxygen that all mammals breathe, and in turn, mammals exhale COfor the plants. Of course, plants don’t only provide us with oxygen— they also give us the nutritious food we eat!

This brings us to The Carbon Cycle. The Earth’s atmosphere consists of one big inhale and exhale of CO2.  Picture the Earth as one gargantuan convective movement of air and water. Vegetation, landmasses, and oceans inhale CO2. Mammals, oceans, and volcanoes exhale CO2.  This process creates a balance of carbon in the atmosphere.

Global carbon cycle. Numbers represent the flux of carbon dioxide in gigatons

But the Earth is not always balanced— through the Carbon Cycle, there is leftover carbon dioxide that is not inhaled by the Earth. Today, the atmosphere has 409 parts per million (ppm) of CO2. Over the past 400,000 years, it has fluctuated between 200 to 300 ppm. It was only recently (within the past 115 years) that it began to rise to today’s level. It is because of this increase that many scientists associate CO2 with the Earth’s changing climate.

Juice is Not Worth the Squeeze

glass of purple juice with limes, strawberries and kiwi

Most consumers think 100% fruit juices are healthy, but the lunchbox staple is not a good beverage choice. Juice has little nutritional value and, like most cold-pressed juices, will spike blood sugar levels and create a craving for more sugar.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has determined that children and adolescents receive 10-15% of their total calories from sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juice – and that is way too high!

Pediatricians recommend parents monitor their child’s sugar intake closely, even urging them to not give any sugar to children under 2 years old. Excess sugar not only affects growth and development but has an impact on cognitive behavior as well.

The Yale School of Public Health studied the effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on over 1,600 middle school children and concluded that for every sugar-sweetened drink consumed, hyperactivity and inattention increased by 14%. Excess sugar consumption has also been linked to the growing number of children affected by ADHD, however, the science is still inconclusive.

Nutritionless Juice

We may assume our kids get added nutrients when drinking 100% fruit juice, but we’d be mistaken. When producers make fruit juices, the juice gets pasteurized so it can last longer on grocery store shelves. Pasteurization is required by law to kill any harmful bacteria and/or microorganisms that may be present, however, it can a negative effect on some of the vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants. Vitamin C and B1, for example, are sensitive to heat damage.

Childhood Obesity is a BIG PROBLEM

Want to know another consideration for not drinking juice? Sugary beverages are one of the leading contributors to America’s obesity epidemic. Nutritionists believe that most children who drink their servings of fruit will be more likely to snack on other sugary treats, whereas those who eat their fruit will feel satisfied.

 “Children’s excessive consumption of juice has been linked to an increased risk of weight gainshorter stature, and cavities. Even in the absence of weight gain, sugar consumption worsens blood pressure and increases cholesterol.” (New York Times)

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children affected by obesity has more than tripled since 1970. The average child consumes 19 teaspoons of sugar a day – that’s the equivalent of two 12 oz. cans of Coca-Cola! The American Heart Association recommends that children ages 2-18 should limit their sugar intake to only 6 teaspoons a day. They further recommend that children should not drink more than one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage per week.

100% Real? Look closely at the label!

Juice companies market to both children and parents. For instance, while Honest Kids Organic Apple Juice may advertise that it contains ½ the sugar than other labels, each 6oz pouch has 8 grams of sugar. That alone is a significant contributor to a child’s daily recommended sugar allowance!

Is Honey Healthier than Sugar?

honey dripping off of honey stick into jar

The Dirt-to-Dinner team loves honey— a few of us even keep hives in our backyard. We put honey in tea, on yogurt, and even use it to sweeten some homemade desserts. So we got to thinking, should we all be replacing sugar with honey? Yes!for two reasons:

  1. Honey is more easily digested than sugar. The way our bodies digest honey is different because the bee enzymes in the nectar divide the sucrose into two simple sugars, fructose, and glucose, so the bees have already done the hard work for us!
  2. Honey contains trace amounts of nutrients, whereas sugar contains none.

Honey contains vitamins, minerals and amino acids that sugar does not.

Fresh honey is comprised of about 200 different compounds, including water, glucose, fructose; other sugars such as sucrose, maltose and galactose; vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins, and even bio-active compounds and antioxidants, which are known to promote good health. These compounds include phenolic acid, flavonoids, α-tocopherol, proteins, carotenoids, and certain enzymes, such as glucose oxidase and catalase.

While honey does contain these beneficial elements, the values are quite low and should not be considered a source of nutrients. You wouldn’t want to just eat honey to meet your daily calcium requirement as you would need about 49 cups a day to do that!

Bees are the only insects in the world that make food humans can eat!

How do bees make honey?

All honey begins as nectar, which is produced in plants to attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Nectar is basically a sugar solution of sucrose (glucose and fructose)and is naturally about 80% water. Nectar also contains amino acids and proteins, and other nutritional compounds.

Honey bee gathering nectar from a blackberry blossom. The honey bee is not only extremely adept at pollination, but they also are the most prolific producers of honey. Image: Rusty Burlew, Honeybee Suite

A small amount of glucose is converted into gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide. Gluconic acid makes honey acidic, and hydrogen peroxide has germ-killing properties, both of which contribute to honey’s unique therapeutic qualities.

Bees use their proboscis (straw-like tongues) to draw in the nectar and begin the process of digestion.  Through the use of enzymes and dehydration, the water content of nectar gets reduced and two enzymes, invertase, and glucose oxidase break down the complex sugar (sucrose) into more simple sugars (glucose and fructose). Because of the enzymes, honey sugars are more easily digested than other sugars such as cane sugar.

It is believed that honey’s beneficial properties are due to both its nutrient composition, as well as it’s high sugar content, low acidity, the presence of hydrogen peroxide, and low moisture content.

Bees at work! Image: Dirt-to-Dinner

Capped honey – ready to be eaten! Image: Dirt-to-Dinner

Is homegrown honey safe?

You may have received a gift of honey from a friend or purchased local honey from a farmer’s market and are questioning the safety of honey that comes directly from the hive.

Honey is a safe, pure and nearly sterile product from the hive. Keeping it that way is the first consideration of honey producers. Sterile equipment, humidity levels, moisture content, and properly-sealed containers are all top considerations. If honey maintains the same water content as in the hive (18%) and is continuously stored in a sealed container, it is perfectly safe to eat for all but those under 1 year old. Infants do not have the immune system to handle the very trace botulism spores that may be present in honey.

 “Honey in its natural form is very low moisture. Very few bacteria or microorganisms can survive in an environment like that, they just die. They’re smothered by it, essentially.”

… As long as the lid stays on it and no water is added to it, honey will not go bad…. If you leave a jar opened, it may get more water in it and it may go bad.”  (Amina Harris, Executive director, Honey and Pollination Center, Robert Mondavi Institute at University of California. Excerpted from Smithsonian Magazine)

When in doubt, ask your gift-giver or farmer about how they extract and bottle their honey. They are stalwart friends of the environment and protectors of the food supply, and will love to talk to you about their honey and bees!

What is “supermarket” honey?

American’s appetite for honey far exceeds what we can produce, so the majority of honey sold today is imported from Vietnam, Argentina, India, Brazil, and Ukraine.

This imported product is quite different from what is produced by your local apiary. Studies have shown that heating honey at high temperatures has a negative effect on enzymes, color, flavor, and aroma. Supermarket honey is heated to remove and filter the comb and hive residue, which appeals to consumer demands for a clean, clear liquid, but bears no resemblance to the quality of fresh honey. To maximize the health benefits available in honey, it should be consumed raw or very minimally processed, without the use of heat.

Raw, filtered or organic? Honey labeling regulations

While there are guidelines in place for honey labeling, many producers will over-label to attract customers.

  • Labeling of honey is guided by the FDA, and only pure honey can be labeled “Honey.” If it is not pure honey, then the label must indicate so. For instance, “honey with raspberry flavoring.”
  • There is no regulatory definition of raw honey. The National Honey Board defines raw honey as “honey as it exists in the beehive or as obtained by extraction, settling or straining without adding heat.”
  • There is a voluntary grading system for honey, but don’t be fooled. “Grade A Fancy” must be “free of defects that affect the appearance and may not contain particles that affect clarity.” But this could pertain to clear honey that has been heated and filtered which would have removed all the beneficial components of honey.
  • There is no such thing as non-GMO honey. Contrary to what food marketers may lead you to believe, there’s no GMO counterpart for honey so don’t fall for the misinformation.
  • Organic honey is beyond the ability of most US beekeepers.

Our chat with a beekeeper…

Charles Mraz, a producer of raw and liquid honey from Champlain Valley Apiaries, discussed the complexities of labeling with the Dirt-to-Dinner team.

“Differentiating our pure honey products is a challenge in the face of those who take advantage of consumers with false labeling. For example, pure honey is by definition, a non-GMO food, but some producers will add that label. Consumers don’t know the real facts about honey and may reach for the non-GMO product.”

Mraz continues, Consumers should beware of honey labeled organic. Producers who make over $5,000 a year on honey sales are held to strict USDA organic label requirementswhich cover every piece of equipment and product used in beekeeping. This makes the production of organic honey nearly impossible for most American beekeepers. For example, bees will forage an average of 2 miles – but sometimes up to 5 miles – from their hives in search of pollen and nectar. A hive would have to be located in the center of at least 16 square miles of organic plants to qualify for organic status. And that land cannot be near a golf course, power line, or any land where herbicides are used, including residential neighborhoods.”


There are 3 types of honeybees: the worker, the drone and the queen. Each has a very specific role to play in the hive, and they depend on each other for survival.
In order to produce 1 pound of honey, 2 million flowers must be visited.
A hive of bees must fly 55,000 miles to produce a pound of honey. An average worker bee makes only about 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.


In most cases, honey bearing the USDA organic seal is produced in Brazil, Canada, Mexico or other nations that have organic standards, and the USDA honors the foreign organic programs and organic certification companies, even if their program is not close to USDA organic standardsThis creates a dilemma for honey producers in the U.S. who want to sell their products, and creates confusion in the grocery store!

So how do you know what you are getting? Buy local or know your apiary. Champlain Valley, for instance, has an online store for their raw honey and other honey products – and their honey is delicious! You can also find local honey by searching on the National Honey Board.