This is a clear, complete explanation of inflammation, where it comes from, the problems it can cause and some things we can do to better control our autoimmune destiny. The entire article can be found at peertrainer. I highly recommend checking out the wealth of information they have to share.
Written By Brian Rigby
Edited By Jackie Wicks PEERtrainer Founder
Reviewed By Dov Michaeli, MD
Both the causes of inflammation, and the specific dangers of inflammation have been poorly understood from a scientific perspective. But this is changing.
Inflammation is now understood as playing a crucial role in moderating many chronic diseases of lifestyle. Despite this, there is a lot of confusion as to exactly what causes inflammation, and what we can do to reduce it.
This article will discuss the latest science and research, and also provide some practical advice that you can put to immediate use!
Inflammation is very well-defined by specific factors, and if you understand what these factors are and, more importantly, why they are associated with inflammation, then you are better equipped to make choices which reduce inflammation.
Inflammation is not a catch-all phrase for a lack of health, nor is it a result of unknown factors–there are very specific reasons why the actions we make in our daily lives lead to a state of chronic inflammation, just as there are specific mechanisms by which we may reduce inflammation.
What Causes Inflammation?
The first thing which must be addressed is why we get inflammation at all, and how short-term acute inflammation differs from chronic inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury. Although the symptoms of acute inflammation are unpleasant, they are necessary for the healing processes the body goes through. The characteristic symptoms are pain, redness, heat, swelling, and loss of mobility.
If an ailment ends with the suffix “itis”, it is a form of inflammation. For example, arthritis comes from arthro, meaning joint, and itis, meaning inflammation. Thus, arthritis is inflammation of the joints.
What Is Acute Inflammation?
Acute inflammation is a short-term process, only 24-48 hours in length, and it is characterized by increased neutrophil (a type of white blood cell) activity. The basic idea behind inflammation is that our body increases blood flow to the injured area (increasing redness and heat) and increases permeability of our blood vessels so our immune system may enter the damaged tissue (which also allows plasma in, causing swelling).
The compound which helps our body increase blood flow and permeability, called bradykinin, also binds to our pain receptors, letting us know the area is injured. Our immune system goes to work, destroying any invading pathogens and removing debris. When finished it departs, taking the inflammation with it.
What Is Chronic Inflammation?
When inflammation doesn’t go away, it is known as chronic or systemic inflammation, and it is no longer a pro-healing response, but rather a symptom that something has gone wrong. It can be hard to diagnose chronic inflammation because it doesn’t usually affect parts of our body we can see or feel.
While the overt symptoms may be missing, it is still characterized by the same general immune response, but one which has gone overboard and is no longer healing the body. Whereas acute inflammation is characterized by neutrophils, chronic inflammation is characterized by two other types of white blood cells: monocytes and macrophages.
The Chemistry of Chronic Inflammation
To understand why chronic inflammation happens, some of the biochemical processes leading to all inflammation must first be understood. If there is one thing to take away from this section, it is that the four proteins listed below play key roles in our immune response. While we may not understand the full relationship they have to chronic inflammation, they are known factors which act as biomarkers and lead to a chronically inflamed state.
1. Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNFa):
TNFa signals to the body to bring the neutrophil white blood cells to the site of infection or injury. TNFa is known as a cytokine, or a cell-signalling protein. Cytokines are messengers very similar in function, but not identical, to hormones.
TNFa acts like a “first responder” at an accident–it signals to the body where the most damage is so that the immune system can send the right response, which is to send neutrophils, which act like EMTs and firemen, clearing wreckage to reach the injured and carting them away in ambulances.
2. Nuclear Factor kappa B (NFkB):
NFkB works like a switch for certain genes. When NFkB is allowed to enter the nucleus, which it does through the aid of TNFa, it turns on the genes which allow cells to proliferate, mature, and avoid destruction through apoptosis (programmed cell death). This allows white blood cells to replicate and do their job in cleaning up the infected or injured area. NFkB is a transcription factor protein complex.
NFkB is similar to the priority setting on a communications line–it opens all channels available for the quickest response. When NFkB is turned on, EMTs, police, and firemen will continue to flock to the scene of the accident. When NFkB gets turned off, they stop coming and start to leave.
3. Interleukin-6 (IL-6):
IL-6 dictates the neutrophils to destroy themselves and draws monocytes, another type of white blood cell, to the infected or injured area instead. The monocytes create macrophages which clean up the debris and pathogens through phagocytosis, the process by which macrophages eat dead cells and other particles whole. IL-6 is also a cytokine (a messenger), like TNFa.
IL-6 acts to call in the road crew to clean up the debris from an accident and oversees the progress. As the road gets closer to being completely clear, IL-6 sends the cleaners, police, and anybody left at the scene of the accident away and ultimately declares the road open once again.
4.C-Reactive Protein (CRP):
CRP is produced by the liver in response to IL-6 levels and binds to the surface of dead and dying cells, and also to certain forms of bacteria. CRP acts as a form of signal for the macrophages to ingest something through phagocytosis, and thus helps in the ultimate clearing of debris during inflammation. CRP is a “pattern recognition receptor” protein, which means it marks recognized debris for removal.
CRP acts like the paint a logger marks trees to harvest with–it’s a sign that this tree is okay to remove but that one isn’t. Without CRP, it would take our body a lot longer to figure out what it ought to remove and what it ought not.
Why Understanding The Chemistry Is Important:
Imagine that inflammation is a multi-car pileup on a highway. The first trained people to arrive on the scene, TNFa’s, look through the wreckage to find any immediate hazards, locate injured people, and open all lines of communication so the accident response is fast and strong. The next people to arrive are the firemen and EMTs, the neutrophils, which begin to pry open cars and move the injured into ambulances.
The most important work is done by the neutrophils, but the road is still cluttered with debris and broken glass, so once they finish IL-6 calls in the road cleanup crew, in the form of monocytes and macrophages. They dutifully scour the scene, removing every last bit of broken glass and shredded tire until the road is clear.
They know which objects are debris and which aren’t because CRP has gone through and tagged the debris, making the cleanup fast and efficient. Once the road is clear, IL-6 declares the road reopened and dismisses the road crew plus anyone else remaining at the scene of the accident. This is how acute inflammation works: it is a fast, efficient process which repairs and cleans damaged areas and then leaves.
How Chronic Inflammation Is Different From Acute Inflammation
The story is somewhat different with chronic inflammation. Imagine the same road, but no accident. The first responders were called to the scene but they can’t find any wreckage or injured people. Nonetheless, they dutifully open all lines of communication so that other responders may come. The firemen and EMTs never arrive because there is no damage, but IL-6 still calls in the road crew to clear away the nonexistent debris. CRP is also present, trying to locate debris to tag for cleanup.
Even though there is no accident, the road starts to function less well. At first, only one lane is shut down, but as first responders and the road crew grow more numerous, and the lines of communication remain always open, the road becomes progressively more clogged. Eventually, the road starts to be damaged by the very presence of the first responders and road crew!
Chronic inflammation has set in, and the best way to get rid of chronic inflammation is to give your body the tools to clear away the unnecessary first responders, road crew, and other excess responses. Without reducing levels of TNFa, NFkB, IL-6, and CRP, the road stays “dysregulated” and dysfunctional.
Many factors can cause a dysregulated immune response and lead to chronic inflammation. Some are genetic, and cannot be changed. More often, however, they are lifestyle factors, and completely changeable. Today, the biggest factor is weight–excess fat tissue leads to chronic inflammation.
Following weight, food is the next biggest factor, not just what we eat but what we should be eating. Smoking is a significant source of inflammation as well. After these factors, UV radiation, stress, and environmental toxins such as pesticides can be sources of inflammation as well.
Fat Tissue, Adipokines, and Inflammation
It is no longer believed that white adipose tissue, or fat, is merely a storage organ for excess energy, as we are now coming to realize that it plays an important role as an endocrine organ. In an individual with a healthy amount of fat, the adipocytes, or the individual adipose tissue cells, release a number of hormones and hormone-like cytokines, known as adipokines, which control various aspects of our appetite and our immune system. Of the most interest to inflammation are the adipokines, two of which are the pro-inflammatory messengers TNFa and IL-6.
Your fat, like any other organ in your body, has an ideal size, and functions best when at that size. An enlarged thyroid is major health concern, and can end up releasing too many hormones, causing dysfunction in our body. Fat is no different: once enlarged, it releases more hormones and adipokines. As fat expands through weight gain, the adipose tissue cells release more and more inflammatory messengers, including TNFa and IL-6.
In addition, the increased level of fat “turns on” local circulating monocytes and macrophages. Once turned on, the macrophages begin to release more TNFa and IL-6 as well. Increasing obesity thus promotes inflammation by two pathways: pro-inflammatory messengers are released in increasing amounts by two different sources.
The Good News!!
The good news is that weight loss, even moderate, can cause significant regression in pro-inflammatory messenger activity. As weight is lost, fat cells shrink and begin to release normal amounts of pro-inflammatory messengers. Macrophages stop being turned on, and begin to leave the fat as well. With less macrophage activity, less TNFa and IL-6 are released. Finally, as weight is lost and the overall grade of inflammation reduces, the foods which can cause an inflammatory response in unhealthy individuals start to be better regulated by our body, causing less inflammation or perhaps none at all!
Why You Must Spice It Up
There are many more foods which exacerbate chronic inflammation than foods which directly cause it. In other words, there are specific nutrients which, when consumed by healthy individuals, will have both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects, but when these same nutrients are consumed by people who already suffer from chronic inflammation, their effect is much more pro-inflammatory.
It should also be noted that the most important role food plays in chronic inflammation is not what we do eat, but what we don’t eat enough of. Fruits, vegetables, and most crucially spices all play a huge role in turning down the levels of pro-inflammatory messengers. It can be hypothesized that the biggest role pro-inflammatory foods have is that they replace anti-inflammatory foods in our diet, making it more about balancing inflammatory foods than completely removing them.
Foods That Cause Inflammation
Keep in mind that these foods cause the most inflammation in individuals who already suffer from chronic inflammation. It is about balance in most cases, not complete removal, though many of these nutrients are found primarily in processed foods, which should be completely removed for maximum relief of chronic inflammation.
Trans Fat, Saturated Fat And Inflammation
Studies have shown that diets high in trans fatty acids and saturated fatty acids can have pro-inflammatory effects. Trans fatty acids, in particular, have been shown to increase CRP, IL-6, and TNFa. It is important to note, however, that neither of these fats had a very strong inflammatory effect when consumed in a low to moderate fat diet. This suggests that it is the level of fat in an individual’s diet which influences the pro and anti-inflammatory effects of trans and saturated fatty acids, causing them to be more inflammatory than normal when consumed in high amounts.
Foods which are high in trans fatty acids are cooked with hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated oil. These include many processed foods, such as cookies, crackers, and chips. The safest way to identify foods which contain trans fats is to look at the ingredient list. If you see the word “hydrogenated”, the food contains at least some trans fat. Due to labeling law, a food is allowed to advertise itself as “Trans Fat Free” if it contains less than .5 grams per serving, so the only way to be sure something is really trans fat free is to look at the ingredient list. Trans fat should be completely avoided for health reasons which do not deal directly with inflammation.
Foods which are high in saturated fatty acids are primarily animal products, mostly grain-fed animals. Grain-fed meat is also higher in a few other pro-inflammatory compounds, and lower in anti-inflammatory ones, so if reducing inflammation is a goal, look for grass-fed or pastured meat.
Certain plant oils, such as coconut and palm oil, are also high in saturated fatty acids, but it is important to note that both unrefined coconut and palm oils also have strong anti-inflammatory compounds as well.
Also remember that the strongest link to inflammation through saturated fats is the total amount of fat consumed in a day. Saturated fat, by itself, is not necessarily pro-inflammatory, and when consumed in whole, unprocessed food, is likely packaged with a number of anti-inflammatory compounds as well.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids: The Balancing Act
Omega-6 fatty acids can be pro-inflammatory, but as with saturated fatty acids, it comes with an addendum. When omega-6 consumption greatly exceeds omega-3 consumption, then our body becomes overloaded with arachidonic acid, the fat our body creates from omega-6 fatty acids. Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential–our body cannot produce them itself, so we must consume them in our diet. Both omega-6 and omega-3 are integral parts of our cell membranes as well, and they are found in our cell membranes in proportion to the amounts of them we eat. This means that, when speaking of inflammation, the most important thing to keep in mind is the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6, not just the total amount.
While we can consume arachidonic acid directly when we eat meat, far and away the most common source of omega-6 fatty acids, and thus of arachidonic acid, is certain types of plant oils. Sunflower, safflower, soybean, corn, and cottonseed oil contain the most omega-6s, and with the exception of soy are virtually devoid of omega-3s (even soybean oil is too low to consider it a good omega-3 source). You may have noticed that these five oils happen to be the most frequently used oils in processed food–that is no mistake. Omega-6 fatty acids are not prone to rancidity like omega-3s are, and thus are used for processed food products so they won’t go bad on the shelf.
The World Health Organization suggests that we should aim for our omega-3:6 ratio to be at least 1:5 to 1:10, but optimal health lies in the 1:1 to 1:4 range. The average American diet provides a ratio of roughly 1:11 to 1:20, more commonly at the upper end, which means that for every one gram of omega-3s we consume, we consume eleven to twenty grams of omega-6s.
Simply consuming more omega-3 fatty acids is not a viable solution for most people since we tend to consume so many omega-6s through processed food. A single serving of chips contains, on average, 2.5-3 grams of omega-6 fatty acids. The average can of tuna, on the other hand, contains only about .5 grams of omega-3s. Fresh fish contains more omega-3 (an equivalent amount of fresh tuna has 2.5 grams), but it would be hard to eat a serving a fish for every handful of potato chips we eat.
The best solution to reduce the pro-inflammatory effects of a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids is to eat less of them, primarily by reducing processed food consumption.
Refined Carbohydrates, Excess Sugar And Inflammation
Refined carbohydrates and excess sugar can both cause our blood glucose levels to spike and induce acute hyperglycemia, or too high blood sugar. Evidence suggests that when our blood sugar is too high, our body releases extra IL-6 and TNFa, the pro-inflammatory messengers.
Refined carbohydrates and sugars are found in processed foods, including relatively innocent-seeming ones such as bread. Even 100% whole grain bread can be completely converted to glucose (a sugar) by our body in about 20 minutes once it enters our small intestine. Whole, unground grains like rice or quinoa are digested much more slowly, taking up to two hours to complete, and will not spike blood glucose.
Artifical Anything Is A Great Marker
There is not much research to directly tie artificial colors, flavors, and sweeteners to chronic inflammation, though research has tied all of these artificial ingredients to other issues. Artificial ingredients only show up in processed food, which tends to be high in other pro-inflammatory nutrients, if not all of them at once. While removing artificial ingredients themselves may not relieve inflammation, avoiding the processed foods that contain them certainly will.
Foods You Are Allergic or Sensitive To
If you know you have an allergy, even a mild one, then that is a food which will promote inflammation in your body. There are also certain foods which are provoking more and more sensitivities as well, such as gluten or casein (found in dairy), but these foods are not going to cause an inflammatory response in everybody and, like most of the other foods in this list, are inflammatory only in a certain context.
Foods Which Fight Chronic Inflammation
Whereas the pro-inflammatory foods were all about context, the anti-inflammatory foods tend to promote an inflammation-free body at all times.
Through not fully understood mechanisms, many plants contain chemical compounds which actively turn down TNFa, NFkB, IL-6, and CRP activity. Other foods contain nutrients which fight against pro-inflammatory compounds–they prevent their absorption or utilization, leading to a more anti-inflammatory response. Overall, the addition of these foods to your diet will help turn the tables on inflammation, leading to recovery.
How Spices and Herbs Fight Inflammation
A lot of attention has been focused recently on turmeric as an anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer spice. Turmeric does contain a high number of active anti-inflammatory and disease preventing compounds, but the truth is that every spice and herb contains anti-inflammatory compounds, usually at least three. And, whereas most drugs target only single pathways, the anti-inflammatory compounds found in herbs and spices target multiple pathways, meaning they provide health in many ways, not just one.
All spices turn down the production of TNFa, NFkB, IL-6, and other inflammatory messengers. When combined with foods which may provide a pro-inflammatory effect, the herbs and spices help keep our immune response in check. Many of the same herbs and spices also aid in the prevention of cancer, by turning down NFkB activity. Some of the active compounds have been also been shown to be chemosensitizers–they help chemotherapy target the cancerous cells while protecting the healthy ones at the same time!
Garlic, Onions, Horseradish And Inflammation
These three pungent vegetables contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, such as allicin, quercitin, and allyl isothiocyanate. For maximum efficacy, they should be chopped and eaten raw, but their pungency can often preclude that.
Tip For Cooking Garlic and Onions
To make sure you still get a good amount of anti-inflammatory activity when you cook them, let them sit at least one minute after chopping them before introducing heat–this will let the anti-inflammatory compounds completely form.
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
All fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, though some (such as blueberries) steal most of the credit. Phytonutrients, such as the active ingredients found in spices, can act directly on human gene expression or indirectly, affecting other factors which then regulate the genes. The result is the same–a diet high in phytonutrients turns down pro-inflammatory genes and combats inflammation and disease in general.
Phytonutrients are not fully understood, though some have been the subject of intense study such as the curcumin, in turmeric. We can only find them in plant sources, and they are crucial for superior health.
It is not a far stretch to imagine that our body relies on compounds found only in plants to help regulate itself–after all, we do not produce vitamin C and must rely on fruits and vegetables for it. Regardless of whether inflammation can be fought without phytonutrients, we know that the battle is much easier when we load up on them.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids And Inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the EPA and DHA derivatives, have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-3 fatty acids, like omega-6 fatty acids, are are a part of our cell membranes, including our immune cells, and they are incorporated in correlation to the amount we eat.
When we eat a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly from oily fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, or sardine, we incorporate a higher percentage of omega-3 fatty acids into our cell membranes. This actively reduces the amount of arachidonic acid (the omega-6 fatty acid our body creates) we incorporate into our cells, which reduces the amount of eicosanoids formed.
Eicosanoids are compounds which play a key role in modulating our inflammatory response, and while they produce both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory messengers, having an excess amount of eicosanoids in our body seems to tip the scale towards the pro-inflammatory side.
EPA also forms eicosanoids, but they are only about 1/10th as potent as the eicosanoids formed by arachidonic acid. So the more omega-3s incorporated into your cell membranes, the less potent the eicosanoids, and the better moderated the immune response.
In addition to oily fish, you can find omega-3 fatty acids in plants containing alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), most notably flax seeds and chia seeds. The anti-inflammatory effects of ALA are not as strong as they are in EPA and DHA, but ALA does have one advantage. Our body converts ALA to EPA and DHA via the same pathway it uses to convert linoleic acid, a plant-based omega-6, into arachidonic acid.
This means that omega-3s and omega-6s actively compete with each other, and if your diet is rich enough in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, you will create less arachidonic acid from the omega-6s you consume.
Why “Arginine” Is An Important Word To Learn
Arginine is an amino acid which is found in high amounts in nuts, seeds, and seafood. While the mechanism through which it acts remains unknown, research has shown that an arginine-rich diet is correlated with lower circulating levels of CRP.
What About Alcohol? Drumroll Please….
Moderate alcohol consumption (1-2 drinks a day) has been been linked with lower circulating levels of CRP, which suggests including a glass of wine with your meal can be an effective way to reduce chronic inflammation. Be aware, however, that excess alcohol consumption will not provide excess relief, and will likely affect other factors which cause chronic inflammation, such as weight gain.
Green Tea And Inflammation
Green tea contains many beneficial compounds, but of particular note is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol, which has been demonstrated to block NFkB activity. Furthermore, EGCG’s activity is not regulated through antioxidant pathways, but is related to its structure, meaning it blocks NFkB in a fundamentally different way than many other micronutrients.
The Link Between Chronic Inflammation and Chronic Disease
Now that we’ve covered why chronic inflammation occurs, what we do to contribute to it, and how we can help relieve it, let’s look at the reasons for why it is so important to do everything you can to get rid of it.
Chronic inflammation does not sit in a slow-burn, low-grade state forever. For the majority of individuals with chronic inflammation, it serves as a precursor for chronic disease, most of which are far more preventable than curable at this point. For many chronic diseases, the pathogenesis, or onset of disease, takes a long time–often at least twenty years–and is mediated at every step by inflammatory messengers and the DNA transcription protein NFkB.
Due to this, reducing inflammation can delay or even completely prevent the onset of many chronic diseases! Here are a few links which have demonstrated or are currently being researched:
The Link Between Coronary Heart Disease, Cardiovascular Disease And Inflammation
Researchers have found that circulating levels of CRP are a moderate indicator of coronary heart disease. While the correlation is not as strong as total cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and whether the subject smokes, it is still correlative.
More interesting than the role CRP plays in predicting coronary heart disease is the role it may play in the onset of it and other vascular diseases. Studies have shown that chronic inflammation directly leads to a damaged endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels, and has an important but not yet fully understood role in the formation of the plaques which clog them.
While other factors, such as high blood cholesterol, are critical to the development of heart diseases as well, it now seems that inflammation is the match that starts the blaze–without an elevated level of CRP to help the formation of blood vessel clogging plaques, they would never be formed, even if all other factors were present.
The Link Between Diabetes And Inflammation
Recent research has linked inflammation caused by increased fat tissue with insulin resistance. It suggests that as circulating pro-inflammatory messengers and macrophages increase, insulin resistance follows. While there are other factors which can also contribute to insulin resistance and diabetes, the link between chronic inflammation caused by obesity and diabetes is very strong.
Autoimmune Disorders And Inflammation
Rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, has been studied closely for links with chronic inflammation and its characteristic biomarkers. Both TNFa and IL-6 are elevated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and TNFa and IL-6 blockers are being researched and developed to provide relief.
People with systemic lupus erythematosus also show elevated levels of IL-6 and TNFa, depending on the manifestation of their disorder. While research has not yet answered whether lowering levels of these pro-inflammatory messengers would offer relief, it is clear that inflammation has a role.
Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, are another example of autoimmune disorders where inflammation plays a key role. In fact, doctors are debating about whether IBDs are really autoimmune diseases or whether they should be put in another, relatively new category known as autoinflammatory diseases. In both cases, blocking TNFa or IL-6 can be an effective treatment for patients who do not respond to more conventional treatments.
Neurological Disorders And Inflammation
The path to Alzheimer’s disease has been strongly linked to discrete inflammation in the area of the brain Alzheimer’s affects. While inflammation begins with an immune response to a very specific threat (insoluble amyloid beta fibrils), new research suggests that the path to Alzheimer’s disease may be strongly mediated by the pro-inflammatory messengers, and that delay or prevention of Alzheimer’s may be possible with anti-inflammatory treatments.
Depression has also been linked with higher circulating levels of IL-6 and CRP. There is not a lot of information at this point as to whether inflammation leads to depression, or whether depression leads to inflammation. Expect more research to be done on this topic in the near future!
The Link Between Cancer And Inflammation
Cancer is much like Alzheimer’s in that it does not necessarily begin with inflammation, but inflammation can greatly accelerate the development of cancer once it has begun. NFkB aids cells which have gone through DNA transformation (cancerous cells, in this case) avoid death, thus allowing them to continue to proliferate.
In addition, NFkB plays a role in the angiogenesis of cancerous tumors, which is when they develop their own blood supply, and the metastasis of cancer. NFkB activity is turned up by the pro-inflammatory messengers, including TNFa and IL-6, so in people suffering from chronic inflammation, the risk of certain cancers can be much higher.
Easy Ways to Reduce Inflammation in Everyday Life
Clearly chronic inflammation is a state we ought to avoid, yet despite reading this and other articles, it can seem like a challenge to achieve an inflammation-free body. The goal is not to cripple through knowledge, but rather to empower–to lead as healthy a life as possible, without feeling like you need to give up everything you currently enjoy. That being said, chronic inflammation is, for 99% of people, an affliction of lifestyle, and the only way to cure lifestyle diseases is to change your lifestyle.
With chronic inflammation, there are more and less important factors. While all of the most important factors were covered earlier sections, consider this section a quick and easy review–it contains the most important information to relieve chronic inflammation and the steps which are the easiest to incorporate. Through incorporation of these steps into your lifestyle, chronic inflammation can be reduced or completely eliminated.
Reach an Ideal Weight
This is the hardest part for most people, but it is also the most important. As long as you have excess fat tissue, your body is going to be creating excess inflammation, making it impossible to reach an inflammation free state.
Obesity is a low-grade state of chronic inflammation, which means that obesity and inflammation co-exist. If you fight one source, you fight both.
How Exercise Fights Inflammation
Although exercise has not been demonstrated to reduce inflammation itself, and is actually associated with increased levels of IL-6 for a few days, exercise does have numerous other benefits, all of which help your body better regulate its inflammatory response. Our bodies are designed to move, and optimal health cannot be achieved without moving.
Load Up on Spices and Herbs
There’s no such thing as too much spice. Salt and sugar have taken over our taste buds, though, and fight our love for interesting flavors. In history, we loaded up on spices for many reasons, most of which have been resolved by modern knowledge. We no longer need spices to preserve food, for example, now that we have refrigeration. Nonetheless, there is very strong evidence that we need spices in order to best regulate our body, so don’t be shy with them!
When preparing a recipe, use the called-for amounts of spice as a baseline. Then, put as much in as needed for brilliant flavor, before salting the dish! With the exception of a few spices, which overpower all other flavors (such as cloves, allspice, and nutmeg), most spices can easily be doubled. Even better, the “spicier” the dish, the less salt necessary, increasing its health benefits further.
For the best spices, find an ethnic market or spice shop nearby. Most Americans don’t use spices frequently, and as a result they tend to sit and grow old on grocery store shelves, where they lose their potency and flavor. At ethnic markets and spice shops, the spices are bought frequently so there is more turnover and potency.
Eat The Veggies
Regardless of what else you believe about food, there is no denying the power of vegetables. In addition to promoting health in nearly every other way, vegetables are high in phytonutrients, which will actively combat inflammation. In addition, vegetables fill you up and help you stay full longer, meaning you will be less likely to eat other pro-inflammatory foods.
Even “Healthy” Processed Food Needs To Go…
Processed foods, even “healthy” ones from health stores, tend to be loaded with refined carbs and omega-6 fatty acids, and devoid of anti-inflammatory compounds. The more processed food you consume, the less fresh plant-based food you will consume. The more omega-6s you consume from processed food, the more omega-3s your body needs to effectively combat inflammation. If processed food is something you consume every day, cut it out and replace it with anti-inflammatory snacks such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
Take a Quality Anti-Inflammatory Supplement (NOT an NSAID)
An anti-inflammatory supplement contains concentrated anti-inflammatory compounds, such as curcumin and quercetin. Ideally, you should eat enough fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices to effectively moderate your immune response with food, but everybody falls short, so a quality supplement to help with inflammation is a good idea.
Some supplements, like Zyflamend, have had impressive studies showing active suppression of cancerous cells. Others contain concentrated compounds which have been studied, but the supplement itself has not been.
It is not recommended to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, everyday unless you are directed to do so by your doctor. All NSAIDs can have toxic side effects with prolonged use, such as liver damage, and are not meant to be taken for more than a short period of time. Herbal anti-inflammatory supplements can actually provide some of the same relief associated with NSAIDs, but without the risks of side effects.
Eat Plenty of Oily Fish, Chia Seeds, and Flax Seeds To Reduce Inflammation
You can also take a quality fish-oil supplement. In all cases, the omega-3 fatty acids will relieve the arachidonic acid burden in your body. Pre-converted EPA and DHA, found most commonly in fish, are better integrated into cell membranes, replace arachidonic acid, and release less potent eicosanoids to reduce chronic inflammation.
The omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), found in chia and flax seeds, takes up the metabolic pathway to form arachidonic acid, meaning your body will create less from the omega-6 fatty acids you consume. Both EPA/DHA and ALA should be a part of your daily diet to obtain maximal inflammatory relief.
Switch to Green Tea To Reduce Inflammation
Coffee is a wonderful drink, but research suggests people who drink 200mL or more coffee per day (a measly 6.75oz) have significantly higher circulating levels of TNFa, IL-6, and CRP. Green tea, on the other hand, reduces inflammation. If you are healthy and not fighting chronic inflammation, a cup or two of coffee per day is unlikely to lead to problems.
If you suffer already from chronic inflammation, however, your best move is to make the switch to green tea and reduce all external sources of inflammation.
Stress has been shown to promote an inflammatory response in the body, as well as create a number of other problems which can all lead to a worn-down body prone to inflammation. Stress, like inflammation, plays an important role in our body, but when it is chronic it ceases to serve a useful purpose. Bottom line: chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation.
Find the best way to release your burden at day’s end, and work to keep your stress low throughout the day. Take walks, exercise, do pleasurable activities which keep your mind off your life. Most of all, remember to eat your fruits, vegetables, and spices. (This cannot be said enough and we know that PEERtrainer sounds like a broken record on this) Many spices, in addition to anti-inflammatory compounds, contain compounds which help you regulate stress, and that will actively keep you happier and more likely to fight inflammation.
Conclusion: Remember That Inflammation is a Continuum
Inflammation is not a light switch which is either on or off, you can have many different levels. The more chronic inflammation your body has, the more at risk you are, but remember that your body did not fall into chronic inflammation in one day. It may have taken many years for inflammation to build up, but that doesn’t mean it has to take the same amount of time to reduce it.
If it seems like too much to do everything all at once, start with one BIG, easy thing. Quadruple your spice intake, start your day with a big bowl of vegetables, just make sure it’s something that counts. As your body begin to fight inflammation, you’ll start to feel well enough to make another change, and then another, and then another.
At the very least, everybody ought to be consuming more anti-inflammatory foods. Even if you don’t have chronic inflammation, anti-inflammatory foods support superior health and will help ensure you don’t get chronic inflammation. Vegetables, fruits, and spices should play a huge role in everyone’s diet, and if you’re unsure whether you’re eating enough, eat more. There is no consequence of having a highly nutrient-dense diet, only of having a nutrient-poor one.
PEERtrainer Note: Inflammation leads to chronic pain for many people. It is one thing to know you have to reduce inflammation, and another entirely to actually put in place a plan of action that leads to reduction in inflammation and reduced pain. PEERtrainer has put together a webinar and short course that shows you exactly what you need to be eating- and not eating- in order to reduce pain. This is not a joke- many people who have gone through this course and followed the advice outlined have experienced a dramatic reduction in pain.