Chronic inflammation is a major enemy to your health and longevity. In short, chronic inflammation is your body’s response to stress, a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet and lack of nutrients. The results are diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis or other inflammatory-related diseases.
All is not lost, though as chronic inflammation can be managed, alleviated and even eliminated through dietary supplements and changes to diet and lifestyle. You can extinguish the flames and repair the damage inflammation has caused to your heart and your organs.
But first let’s take a deeper dive into inflammation.
What you need to know about inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s defense mechanism to a healing process. If there was no inflammatory response your wounds wouldn’t heal. It’s when it’s continual that it is problematic.
In ordinary circumstances, inflammation is your body’s healthy response to an injury. If you cut your finger, your body’s inflammatory response will be to send white blood cells to the area to destroy bacteria. When you’re feeling and seeing the signs of inflammation: heat and swelling, the cut is on the mend.
Acute inflammation starts quickly and becomes severe in short order.
Examples of acute inflammation include:
1. Infected ingrown toenail
2. Acute bronchitis
3. Sore throat
Chronic inflammation is a long-term inflammation that exists for months or years and may stem from:
1. An autoimmune disorder that attacks normal, healthy tissue
2. Failure to eliminate the cause of inflammation
3. Exposure to irritants over an extended period of time
This chronic inflammation operates in stealth mode in your body for years, causing small, seemingly insignificant illnesses or injuries. Chronic inflammation puts your body into continual “flight or fight” mode and doesn’t give it a chance to simply perform and repair itself.
A body fighting itself and the inflammation may eventually turn against itself and diseases like Crohn’s, Graves’, Lupus and fibromyalgia manifest. These diseases are auto immune disorders that arise when the body being continually assaulted by its own immune defenses. And to make matters worse, as we age our bodies lose the ability to ward off the inflammatory process.
When inflammation occurs inside the body not all signs are noticeable. Visible symptoms of chronic inflammation include:
1. Chest pain
5. Joint pain
Until the 1990s, researchers believed heart disease resulted because of a build-up of plaque attaching to the artery walls which lead to a narrowing of the artery and eventually a heart attack. Medical experts today believe heart disease arises from chronic inflammation.
Chronic inflammation can also jump-start other diseases. Certain cancers, for example, are attributed to inflammation. Colon, stomach, lung and breast cancer have been tied to chronic inflammation. Inflammation creates an ideal environment for free radicals – rogue molecules – to travel through the body, wreaking havoc. If a healthy cell’s DNA is damaged by a free radical, it may mutate into cancer or a cancerous tumor. Free radicals stimulate inflammation and perpetuate a continual inflammatory cycle.
Chronic inflammation, on its own, may not spark cancerous growth, but if the inflammation is left untreated it creates a more hospitable place for cancer cells to grow. Colon cancer feeds on inflammation and chronic inflammation heightens the risk of colon cancer because free radicals are flourishing in the intestines.
These are a few of the other diseases now believed to ignite through inflammation:
4. Alzheimer’s disease
5. Joint pain, and more
An anti-inflammatory diet
Changing your diet is one of the best ways to defeat inflammation. The foods we eat can either stimulate or slow down inflammation. Sugar, excess carbohydrates and refined fats create inflammation. Vegetables, lean meats, gluten-free whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids slow the inflammation process.
The sad truth is today many of us consume more than thirty times more bad fat than good fat and 50 times the amount of sugar as we did 100 years ago.
Adding supplements and herbs and certain spices to your diet can douse the flames of inflammation. Turmeric, with black pepper, for example has been shown to lower inflammation. Fish oil supplements also lower the rates of inflammation.
Genetics, lifestyle and diet can either feed inflammation or douse its flames. If you’ve already got genetics and a sedentary lifestyle working against you, it’s time to change your lifestyle by exercising and eating a more healthful diet. You don’t have to give in to genetics and you may be able to beat them by beating inflammation.
Here is a simple diet plan to help fight inflammation
1. Eating fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and using supplements are potent anti-inflammatories. Studies show that individuals who eat a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids are less likely to die from a stroke or heart attack or develop Alzheimer’s. To reap the benefits you need to eat fish at least twice a week (bake or broiled fish). Eat cold-water fish including salmon, tuna or mackerel. Supplement with fish oil.
2. Eat fruits and vegetables. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a diet rich in antioxidants and other anti-inflammatories. Eat blueberries, spinach, strawberries and bell peppers. When you fill your plate, aim for two-thirds of it to be plant-based with fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. The other one-third can be for lean mean or protein. Supplement with anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric and ginger and antioxidants.
3. Eat fats with care. Your body does need fatty acids to make prostaglandins to control inflammation. If, however, you eat too many fatty foods, you will push your body into making more inflammatory chemicals. Focus on cold-water fish, extra virgin olive oil, walnuts and flax. Cut out vegetable shortening, margarine, processed foods and corn oil.
4. Sugar is the enemy. When you’re eating sugar between meals your blood sugar is spiking and this causes your pancreas to release a rush of insulin and that activates genes involved in inflammation. Ridding the diet of refined grains and sugars helps eliminate a main source of inflammation.
5. Wheat and dairy in moderation. If you have a food intolerance or a food sensitivity, void those foods. It should be that simple, but some individuals would rather face the stomach upset following a dish of ice cream than eliminate it from their diet. Gluten and dairy can kick your immune system into high inflammatory gear.
Fight inflammation through movement
Changing your diet is a major first step in fighting inflammation. The role that exercise plays in fighting off chronic inflammation is also well-documented. It doesn’t matter how you move, it just matters that you move. The indirect results that exercise plays on fighting inflammation are well proven.
Running, cross training, swimming, walking, yoga – find an exercise you enjoy and commit to it regularly. Aerobic and nonaerobic exercise lower your body’s levels of c-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation). The lower the CRP, the less inflammation in your body. Aim for at least thirty minutes of moderate activity a day. Mix and match the type of exercise you get – run, walk, ride a bike, lift weights, swim, perform yoga.
More is not better! Excessive physical activity is very inflammatory.
Vitamins and supplements that fight inflammation
Because it is virtually impossible to get all of the nutrients necessary in your diet, supplement your diet is crucial to maintaining proper levels. Many vitamins and herbal supplements have anti-inflammatory properties and those include:
1. Vitamin D: This has been shown to lessen ongoing pain from inflammation. Sunlight is your best source for vitamin D, but you can take supplements and get some from your diet including from liver, egg yolks, fatty fish and milk.
2. Vitamin E: This is an antioxidant anti-inflammatory. Sunflower seeds, nuts and green leafy vegetables, as well as supplements are ways to get this.
3. Vitamin K: Lowers levels of inflammatory. Take supplements or eat leafy green vegetables, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
4. Herbs and Botanicals: Dark colored fruit, vegetable and herbs are rich in substances called flavonoids and polyphenols that act as powerful anti-inflammatory agents: This include turmeric, beet, coffee, cocoa, berries, white willow bark and boswellia.
Make a commitment to yourself and to living a longer, healthier life by changing your diet and exercise habits. You may have times when you slip and eat an unhealthy meal or when you don’t move as often as you should, but if you use supplements, manage what you eat, maintain your weight and get up and move, you can fight inflammation and enhance the quality of your life.