What is inflammation?
Inflammation is a natural healing response that occurs when the body needs to heal damaged cells or defend against infection. During an inflammatory response, white blood cells and inflammatory chemicals pour into the affected area, creating a sensation of heat, redness, swelling and pain. When inflammation is acute and localized in response to a trauma, it can be beneficial. When inflammation becomes chronic and systemic, however, it can negatively impact one’s health, creating an environment that is conducive to serious illness. It can also inhibit the body’s natural ability to heal.
There are many diseases that develop because of chronic inflammation. There are also a number of diseases that cause chronic inflammation. Some cardinal signs of inflammation include joint pain and swelling, muscle pain and stiffness, headaches, rashes, fatigue, inability to lose weight, and recurring gastrointestinal issues like gas, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or loose stool.
Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish which came first… the disease or the inflammation. Biomedical markers in the blood, such as C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) can indicate whether inflammation is present, even if the body doesn’t show evident signs or symptoms.
There are many things that cause chronic inflammation. Here is a list of a few common causes:
How to treat and prevent chronic inflammation:
- Avoid or significantly limit foods on the list above which create inflammation.
- Avoid packaged or processed food when possible. These kinds of food often contain trans fats, are high in sugar, and have many artificial preservatives to extend their shelf life.
- Cook more of your own food. Make time in your day to plan your meals. Try new and healthy recipes that will inspire you to dine in instead of out. Be mindful of your Omega-6 intake. Our Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio should be 2:1. Sources of Omega-3 include: fish (salmon, mackerel, and sardines are the highest), fish oil, flax seeds and chia seeds. Sources of Omega-6 include: vegetable oils like safflower oil, sunflower oil, grape seed oil, and corn oil.
- Avoid refined sugar. Healthy sweeteners include brown rice syrup, agave syrup, and fruit juice concentrate. Stevia, inulin, and xylitol can also be used.
- Pay attention to the way your body feels after you eat gluten and dairy. Many people are sensitive to these foods and don’t even realize it. True allergic reactions typically occur within one hour of consumption. Food sensitivity reactions, however, can take up to 72 hours to appear. They generally present with milder signs and symptoms than allergies but can create high levels of inflammation in your system if they’re routinely consumed.
- Both coffee and alcohol are very inflammatory. Unfortunately, most people consume both heavily on a daily basis. Can you reduce your coffee intake to 1 cup a day? Maybe even switch to green tea. “Teeccino,” an herbal, non-acidic coffee made with chicory, can be a good alternative if you need something heavier than green tea. Reduce alcohol consumption by setting a limit before you begin drinking. If you enjoy wine, mix it with soda water and ice for a refreshing spritzer instead of drinking it like you normally do.
- Although all vegetables are healthy, nightshade vegetables have an inflammatory effect on the body. Avoid or limit consumption.
- Incorporate foods into the diet which counteract inflammation because of their cooling properties, such as mint, cucumber, celery, jicama, pear, apple, watermelon, dark leafy green vegetables, lemon, and lime.
- Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is a great way to neutralize acid in the GI system and reduce inflammation. Consume 2 tbsp of ACV daily.
- Exercise is key to keeping us healthy and balanced. It conditions our physical body and can keep us emotionally balanced as well. We should all strive for at least 30 minutes of exercise that increases our heart rate, 4-5 times per week. If 30 minutes is too long because of physical limitations, try two intervals of 15 minutes during the day. Swimming, cycling, running, and brisk walking are great options.
- Insomnia tends to be a common complaint among people of all ages. Sometimes insomnia can be due to pain or other ailments, but in many cases it’s an over-stimulated nervous system that prevents us from getting solid, restful sleep at night. If you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or both, try changing the environment in your house a couple hours before your targeted bedtime. Shut off the lights in all rooms, except the one you are in. If you listen to music at night, make sure it’s calming and relaxing. One hour before bed, take a warm bath or hot shower, and drink a cup of decaf tea like chamomile or passionflower. Avoid all electronic devices including phone, computer, and tablet. Try reading a non-fiction book, something light-hearted and enjoyable, nothing too thought-provoking. Self-help books and journaling are great for personal growth but avoid these before bed as they can be overly stimulating. Carve out some time before bed for prayer and/or meditation. Both can be very calming for the nervous system.
- We are in an age where many of us work way too much. We work long hours and when we’re not at work, our lives are plagued with still being accountable to work. Do a self-assessment of your work/life balance. Are you out-of-balance? Do you need more time for your family, your friends, rest, or relaxation? What can you do create more balance in your life.
- Stress is an issue for almost everyone. Make a commitment to take care of yourself before taking care of anyone else. When you are balanced physically, emotionally, and mentally, you are in a much better place to help others. Spend time reflecting on what makes you feel balanced and what allows you to be the best version of yourself. Nurture that.
Concerning Environmental Factors:
- Despite how much information we have regarding the harm that smoking causes, it is an addiction and people still engage or struggle to break the addiction. A combination of hypnosis and auricular acupuncture (ear acupuncture) has been proven to be quite successful for those who are committed to breaking the habit. For those who do not smoke, do your best to avoid second-hand smoke. Know your rights. Smoking is prohibited within 25 feet of any public building.
- Environmental pollution is a problem greater than most of us can solve on our own. If you live or work in a highly congested area, consider getting an air purifier for your home or office. Also consider what part you can play to reduce environmental pollution. Can you bike or walk to work instead of driving a car? Can you ride share or take the train? Can you write a letter to your local congress person expressing your concerns about our environment and the effect it has on your health?
- Buy organic!! In recent years there has been more awareness about food sources and what’s being sprayed on our food. As a quick reference for which foods to always buy organic, reference “The Dirty Dozen.”
- Just like we should be concerned about what’s being sprayed on our food, we also need to think about how our food is stored. Avoid canned foods when possible. Frozen is a better non-perishable option. Also avoid plastics with BPA. Those that are BPA-free will be labeled. Store food in glass containers when possible.
- The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a non-profit organization focused on protecting human health and the environment. They provide a wide variety of information about everything from household cleaning agents to makeup. Check out their website: http://www.ewg.org for more information about the specific products you have in your home. They also have a free app for your smartphone called “Healthy Living.” Finding out more information about a particular product is as easy as scanning the barcode before purchasing it.