In this post, we’re going to talk about inflammation. Why? Let’s start by understanding it. Inflammation is a natural response by our immune system to anything our body identifies as foreign, such as an invading microbe, plant pollen, or chemical. Intermittent bouts of inflammation directed at truly threatening invaders protect your health. However, sometimes inflammation persists, day in and day out, even when no foreign invader is at cause. That's when inflammation can become your enemy. Chronic low-grade inflammation increases the risk of disease, including Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, and heart disease, essentially making it the leading cause of death in the US.
So how does a natural response that protects us become a chronic condition? Some of the causes for inflammation might surprise you:
- There’s a link between certain foods, including processed foods, trans fats, sugars, gluten and dairy.
- Excess weight can cause an inflammatory response.
- Chronic stress is bad for many reasons, and count inflammation as among them. That’s because chronic stress elevates cortisol levels, decreasing your body’s ability to regulate your inflammatory response and interferes with learning and memory, lowers immune function and bone density, increases weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease.
- Alcohol. While that evening cocktail may improve your mood, heavy drinking is problematic, in that when your body breaks down alcohol, it produces by-products that damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken the body’s natural defenses.
- Loss of sleep can prompt your immune system to turn against healthy tissue and organs. Losing sleep for even part of one night can cause inflammation. A good night’s sleep can ease the risk of both heart disease and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis.
OK, so inflammation is a problem… what can you do about it?
- Stop or dramatically limit eating processed foods, trans fats, and sugar.
- Bring your weight down to a healthy level, or no more than 17% body fat for men, and 24% body fat for women.
- Do whatever you can to reduce chronic stress.
- Limit your alcohol. Numerous studies show that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy lifestyle: men who have two drinks a day and women who have one are less likely to get heart disease, diabetes, gallstones, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s. That said, don’t overdo it.
- Get enough sleep. The average adult needs between 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep per night. That said, some people are fine with 6 hours sleep, and others need 9 hours or more. Do what works for you.
- Exercise regularly. People who do at least two and a half hours of moderate exercise each week will reduce their markers of inflammation by at least 12 percent.
- Reduce Inflammation through your diet!
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One of the best ways to reduce inflammation is through the foods you eat. Here’s a list of some of the best anti-inflammation foods:
- Foods high in Omega-3 Fats.
- Seafood like salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is known to help reduce inflammation. Have fatty fish several times a week, prepare it in a healthy way, like grilling, poaching or baking. Try not to overcook these fish, as Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely delicate.
- Oils, especially flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, canola, and soybean oil.
- Beans, especially kidney, pinto and mungo beans.
- Nuts & seeds, especially flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds.
- Veggies, especially spinach, winter squash, broccoli, and cauliflower.
- Acai berry fruit is actually richer in Omega 3’s than some types of fish per ounce, and is also a great source of antioxidants known as anthocyanins shown to prevent heart disease.
- Whole grains. Avoid refined grains such as anything with white flower, white bread, cereal, white rice, and pasta, and focus on whole grains, which have more fiber, which has been shown to reduce levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the blood. Look for foods with a whole grain as the first ingredient, and with no added sugars.
- Dark leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and Swiss chard contain powerful antioxidants, flavonoids, carotenoids, and vitamin C—all of which help protect against cellular damage. Ideally, opt for organic locally grown veggies that are in season, and consider eating a fair amount of them raw.
- Bok Choy is an excellent source of antioxidant vitamins and minerals and has over 70 antioxidant phenolic substances.
- Beets are full of antioxidants which help repair the cell damage caused by inflammation and also contain high levels of inflammation-fighting potassium and magnesium.
- Broccoli, like beets, is high in both potassium and magnesium, and has particularly potent antioxidants.
- Blueberries are high in antioxidants and also lower in sugar than many other fruits.
- Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that is an effective anti-inflammatory. There are dozens of studies that show that curcumin at least as effective as NSAIDs as an anti-inflammatory. And just as an aside, turmeric is also proven to help with arthritis, diabetes, many cancers, and it helps with preventing memory loss, etc. Definitely a worthy addition to your regular supplements!
- Circumin is a more powerful anti-inflammatory than either aspirin or ibuprofen, according to dozens of published studies.
- Ginger, whether fresh, dried, or taken as a supplement, is reduces inflammation caused by overactive immune responses.
- Garlic & Onions both contain anti-inflammatory chemicals.
- Tart cherries. In 2012 Oregon Health & Science University researchers suggested that tart cherries have the “highest anti-inflammatory content of any food.” Studies have shown that tart cherries help athletes improve their performance and reduce their use of anti-inflammatory pain medication. I know what you’re thinking…sweet cherries don’t have the same effects.
- Certain teas, particularly matcha green tea and tulsi, are full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants and other micronutrients that support immune function and heart health.
- Shiitake mushrooms are known to discourage and reduce inflammation, and also contain micronutrients not found in many foods, such as copper, which is essential to your health.
OK, so there you have it. Inflammation is a problem, but there are lots of things you can do to reduce or prevent it, many of which are delicious!
Have a great day!
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