Inflammation is a normal, healthy response to an injury suffered by the body. For example, when there is a cut in your skin, white blood cells rush to the rescue and macrophages get rid of any foreign invaders to avoid causing an infection. The outward appearance is redness swelling at the site of injury. Beneath the surface, there is a flurry of activity for the body’s protection.
Chronic inflammation is another story. When our bodies are constantly bombarded with stress, poor diet, illness, and medications, our basic survival instinct, inflammation, becomes chronic which is now thought to be linked with developing dozens of diseases often associated with aging. These include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.
Because the inflammatory response to things our bodies encounter aren’t always really specific, it can persist and sometimes overreact to things that are mostly harmless – one being our own bodies. This is called autoimmune.
Many autoimmune diseases are associated with chronic inflammation and there are even many blood tests now to show if inflammation is an issue including homocysteine and high sensitivity C-reactive protein. Some of these autoimmune conditions include Lupus, Graves, Diabetes, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. When this immune response doesn’t turn off, the body operates as if it is always under attack and this is very stressful to the body.
So what can we do to avoid chronic inflammation? What we put in our bodies is key to avoiding inflammation. First, anti-inflammatory foods and/or supplements can help with inflammation over time. Taking good, quality fish oil with EPA/DHA is important. “In fact, studies have shown that eating omega-3-rich fish just once a week may lower a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s by up to 60 percent” (Fleming, 2003).
Also, eating fish 2 to 3 times per week mostly as tuna, salmon or other cold-water fish is the most beneficial. Another way to lower inflammation is to avoid trans-fats. These damaging fats occur naturally in some foods but the synthetic versions found in processed foods are extremely inflammatory and damage blood vessel walls. They are also found in margarine and partially hydrogenated oils.
Adding more vegetables and fruits to the diet will help inflammation by increasing antioxidant activity and decreasing inflammatory activity. Eat a variety of colors and you should get the right amount of phytonutrients.
Another way to reduce inflammation is by cutting back on foods you are intolerant/allergic to such as wheat and dairy. Both of these substances contain proteins that many are allergic to and cause inflammation.
The body can treat these substances as foreign invaders and kick the immune system into high gear. Last but certainly not least, another way to reduce inflammation is to reduce the amount of sugar in the diet. Chronic inflammation caused by constant sugar intake may contribute to the development of the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Nondietary ways to improve inflammation is getting adequate exercise but not too much. Beating yourself up at the gym sets the stage for stress and inflammation in the body. For example, is running for an hour or more per week lowers a man’s risk of developing heart disease by 42 percent (JAMA, 2002). However, a goal of 30 minutes daily of moderate activity is very beneficial to stave off inflammation.
Fleming, R. (2003). Stop Inflammation Now: A Step-by-Step Plan to Prevent, Treat, and Reverse. Inflammation – The Leading Cause of Heart Disease and Related Conditions. Putnam Publishing.
Meggs, W. (2004). The Inflammation cure: how to combat the hidden factor behind heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, and other diseases of aging. McGraw-Hill.