What is inflammation?
You get a bug bite. It swells, turns red, and is tender for awhile. Then, all these reactions start to go down and soon your body has healed from the invasion and your skin looks like it did before the bite.
You tweak your knee. It painfully swells. You get an xray, but there is nothing invasive that the doctor can do. Instead, your body heals itself and the swelling reduces over time.
These are examples of your body’s acute inflammation responses. The immune system kicks in and does what is needed to repair the damaged area. It is an awesome response that I am continually amazed by when I break skin and watch my body in action, repairing the damage with no conscious effort from me.
However, your body may be undergoing similar responses that you cannot see. Some lifestyle choices and environmental factors lead to internal inflammation. For example, if you are exposed to harmful environmental toxins, your amazing body will undergo an attack response to remove the invader. This is a good thing. However, if your immune system is unable to clear the barrage of invaders, it can lead to chronic inflammation lasting months or years. This can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and more.
Causes of chronic inflammation include the following:
- Environmental toxin exposure, including pollution and second hand smoke
- Excess stress
- Diet, including the following
- Consuming foods that your body does not process well (food sensitivities vary person to person)
- Too many Omega 6 fats
- Trans fats
What can you do about it?
You cannot change your genes, and you may not be able to change your environment (ie move away from a polluted city), but there are some foods that appear to help your body repair itself from inflammation. Dr. Andrew Weil has devoted much of his career to educating himself and others about inflammation. He believes that most of us are in a pro-inflammatory state all of the time because of the foods we are eating. In other words, even though we cannot change some factors leading to chronic inflammation, changing our diets may go a long way in protecting us from many chronic diseases prevalent today.
Dr. Weil has put together a food pyramid representing what he believes to be the optimal way of eating to reduce inflammation. Explore the links above for more detailed information, but here are some of the highlights to keep in mind:
- Eat a lot, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Eat dark, leafy greens.
- Eat a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Coffee and green tea are beneficial.
- Get sufficient amounts of sleep (7-9 hours).
- Drink lots of water.
- Minimize or avoid foods that you are sensitive to; symptoms may include: gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, puffy skin, brain fog, and fatigue.
- Minimize or avoid highly processed foods.
While more research is needed to understand the role that lifestyle plays a role in age-related diseases, there is a clear connection between chronic inflammation and age-related diseases. Yet, while information is helpful and may be motivating in the short-term, it can be difficult to follow because we do not experience immediate harm or benefit. It is difficult, for example, to stop eating fast food because there is some possibility that it will mean you will not have cancer in 40 years. The result is unknown and very distant.
Fortunately, making changes towards an anti-inflammatory diet will probably make you feel better and have more energy in the short term.
If that doesn’t help you make changes, it is worth taking time to explore what will. Accountability from another person or set up on your own? Consequences – either self-imposed or outer, such as a bet with a friend or a promise to donate to a charity you despise if you don’t follow through? Working with a health coach? We are all unique in what motivates us.