Who knew that inflammation would turn out to be such a problem for our overall health?
Inflammation is our body’s way to mount a defense against a trigger, our immune response to help our body heal.
When we think about inflammation, we generally think of swelling when we sprain something. Acute inflammation comes after a cut or scrape, sprain, sore throat or other injury. Chronic inflammation is the wear and tear our body shows over a longer period of time.
Some types of chronic inflammation manifest in conditions such as osteoarthritis, allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
Triggers for inflammation can be internal or external, consistent with the presence of microorganisms where they don’t belong. In an acute episode, the trigger is fought and the site will heal.
When the cause of the inflammation isn’t determined or eradicated, the inflammation will continue and may increase over time.
Swelling or inflammation can lead to pain — that we do know. Reducing it will bring us physical (and mental) relief.
But how can we reduce inflammation we can’t see or didn’t know was hurting us?
Persistent inflammation is also chronic, but a type we may not feel and can be with us for a long time, unknowingly causing physical problems.
Risks of Persistent Inflammation
Our bodies are working for us when the immune system is alerted to an acute threat such as an injury.
Persistent or low-grade chronic inflammation can lead to increased risk of developing or worsening chronic diseases.
- Heart disease, when blood vessels besieged by cholesterol deposits remain inflamed. The inflammation can lead to blood clots and heart attacks.
- Chronic lung diseases such as COPD, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema are worsened when lungs remain inflamed. Fluid can build up, narrowing the airways and resulting in additional breathing trouble.
- Chronic inflammation can lead to bone loss, according to one study. Inflammation in our GI tract (gut) can inhibit the absorption of calcium and vitamin D, which are essential to bone health.
- Inflammation in the brain has been linked to depression, according to a 2015 study in JAMA Psychiatry.
- Gut health and inflammation are altered by the bacterial flora. Keeping the gut flora in balance with pre/probiotics so that the GI mucosa isn’t permeable to pro-inflammatory activity can help reduce inflammation.
- Diabetes is characterized by low-grade inflammation, but whether it causes elevated blood sugar or is a symptom of it are yet unclear.
- Obesity is also characterized by the presence of low-grade inflammatory markers. Inflammation related to obesity can then influence the development of other diseases.
Fighting Inflammation with Foods
A specific diet that will fight inflammation is often desired by people hoping to improve their health.
Despite the fact that scientific evidence isn’t available yet to prove that particular foods will definitely reduce our inflammation, the basic diet recommendations are sound.
Increasing antioxidant intake, increasing your water intake and avoiding foods, such as processed meats and fast foods will help reduce inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory components found in foods can help the body heal damage caused by inflammation at the cellular level.
- Omega 3 fatty acid-containing foods, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring. We should get 2-3 servings a week.
- Avocados also contain omega 3 fatty acid, as well as antioxidants and phytosterols which have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Watermelon and tomatoes with lycopene
- Olive and canola oil
- Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and kale
- Berries containing anthocyanins which give them their dark color
- Whole grains of any kind have been shown to reduce inflammation and people who eat fewer whole grain foods had higher inflammation
Healthy Habits to Reduce Inflammation
Good eating practices, such as eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, increasing the fiber in your diet with whole grains, choosing healthy fats, adding spice to your plate including cloves, turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg, and drinking green or white tea can help your body reduce inflammation.
Staying physically active to maintain your weight in a normal range will also help you get and stay healthy in turn reducing your risk of chronic inflammation.
Getting enough sleep, stopping smoking, and managing your stress can also impact your body’s inflammatory response.
When we remember that the goal is to reduce our current inflammation and avoid developing diseases caused by inflammation, some of these health habits become easier to change!