Unwanted Inflammation and How to Reduce It

A special thanks to my intern, Callie Parry for writing this article.

Our bodies are the vehicles in which we travel through life. We use them every day to move, explore, love and dance. Just like any vehicle our bodies can pick up unwanted passengers. That is why a system is in place for any possible situation. When these foreign invaders such as pathogens, irritants or damaged cells come in to our vehicle the immune response is initiated to remove these harmful passengers and begin the healing process. It is within the immune response that inflammation comes in to play. Inflammation, which is the immune response of body tissues to injury or infection, is an important component of immunity.

Nowadays the word inflammation seems to be plastered on every billboard and heard in any advertisement. Article after article is telling you what to do to reduce inflammation. It becomes overwhelming to tackle this problem, especially without knowing exactly what it is. In order to prevent something we need to know more about it. So what exactly is inflammation?

First and foremost inflammation is not innately bad. It is a natural biological response that is essential for our health. The problem comes when inflammation gets out of control. When it moves from acute inflammation to chronic inflammation. For example, when you fall down the stairs, like we all do sometimes, you may get a bruise or two. Bruises are signs of our immune system in action. The key indicators of inflammation are redness, heat, swelling and pain. A bruise is an outward manifestation of the body healing whatever tissues and cells that were damaged in the fall. This simple instance is an example of acute inflammation. Depending on the infection or irritant at play acute inflammation may last anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks.

Chronic inflammation is where we get in trouble. Our immune system is so eager to help us that it often goes overboard and can become self-perpetuating. Essentially, Inflammation comes about as a response to inflammation. It is almost as if the inflammation itself has become the foreigner the body is attacking. Chronic inflammation can last anywhere from a couple months to years.

You may be wondering how to know if you are a victim of chronic systemic inflammation. It’s a hard thing to detect because the signs of chronic inflammation are symptoms that are frequently attributed to a whole list of other problems and conditions. But I am going to give you a list of a few and if you are experiencing a large percentage of them you may want to consider talking with your physician about chronic inflammation.

The first sign is aches and pains. Our cells produce cytokines which are inflammatory chemicals. These chemicals cause muscle and joint pain by increasing the body’s sensitivity and stiffness. Next, fatigue. This is a hard one to attribute to inflammation because we all live such hectic lives that exhaustion seems to be just part of the equation. But if you are experiencing unexplained fatigue where you find it hard to just get through the day with adequate energy, then your body may be inflamed. When you have the cold or flu you tend to be tired, because your body, your immune system, is working overtime to fight the disease at hand. Fatigue results from chronic inflammation because it is constantly fighting the unwanted disruption. Irritated skin is another sign of chronic inflammation. This makes sense because the telltale signs of inflammation are redness and swelling. Also when your body is allergic to something you may get hives or a rash because your immune response is affecting you skin cells. If you have unexplained rashes, redness, or puffy skin, inflammation may be at the root. Finally excess weight or inability to lose weight is an inflammation indicator. Inflammation is exactly what it sounds like; inflamed, large. If you find you have a hard time losing weight or you tend to feel constantly bloated, it may be due to chronic inflammation blocking your system and inhibiting body functions. Also, immune cells can cause insulin resistance which inhibits weight loss. After hearing this list you may feel doomed. Don’t despair, the great thing about the body is it is excellent at self-regulating and fixing it self. Now that I told you some of the signs of inflammation, here are some simple things you can do or avoid or reduce inflammation in your life.

One’s diet can affect inflammatory responses within the body. None of us like to hear this because everyone seems to be telling us to eat this and not eat that. But let’s keep it simple. Avoid anything packaged. Packaged foods tend to have high amounts of simple sugars and unhealthful additives. Try to stick to a whole food diet. A Mediterranean dietary pattern, which has a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats and omega-3 to omega 6 and supplies plenty of  fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, has shown anti-inflammatory effects when compared with typical North American and Northern European dietary patterns in most observational and interventional studies. The carotenoids, flavonoids, monounsaturated fat, high fiber, omega-3 fats and nuts in this type of diet pattern can reduce inflammation. Saturated fat, cholesterol, low fiber foods and high glycemic load foods have been shown to be pro-inflammatory (cause inflammation).  In this diet make sure you are getting adequate fluids throughout the day. Try finding a convenient water bottle you can carry around with you to remind you to drink more.

You may have heard that certain spices help with inflammation. This is true. These spices include ginger, turmeric and Ceylon cinnamon. Fortunately these spices taste great in stir-fries, roasted vegetables and soups. You could even try adding ginger to a granola recipe or mixing it in with your morning bowl of oats. You may want to consider supplementing with turmeric. Here is an article discussing several health benefits of turmeric.

Another great remedy for inflammation is making sure you get adequate sleep. Recovery time is essential for your body to repair and restore itself. Six to eight hours per night is recommended so an average of 7 hours each night is ideal. You can work towards this by setting a time each night for yourself to go to bed.

Physical activity decrease  inflammation, as measured by reductions in CRP (a blood test biomarker for inflammation) and certain pro-inflammatory cytokines. Regular exercise is important in reducing one’s risk for obesity and chronic diseases associated with inflammation. However, excessive exercise can increase systemic inflammation. For example, overtraining syndrome in athletes is associated with systemic inflammation and suppressed immune function.

One last aid against chronic inflammation is yoga. Yoga is a great mental and physical practice that helps remove unwanted toxins from your body. The poses you move through help release blocks in your system. Also by managing stress your body is better able to keep up and clean up.

These are just a few of the ways to stop chronic inflammation in its tracks. Remember that inflammation is good as long as it is kept within a reasonable realm. Be aware of your body and mindful of how you feel. These pesky hitchhikers don’t have to remain in our vehicle for long. Take the necessary precautions to keep your mind and body clear and inflammation free.

Written By: Callie Parry, Intern

Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6):634-40. doi: 10.1177/0884533610385703.

Bruunsgaard H: Physical activity and modulation of systemic low-level inflammation. J Leukoc Biol 2005; 78(4): 819-35

Linus Pauling Institute

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12 Keys to Looking and Feeling Your Best


I’m 58 and feeling great! And I believe that I do because I have a healthy lifestyle.

Studies back this up! Healthy habits DO make a big difference. According to studies, people who met criteria for all FIVE HABITS have the benefit of longer lives than those who had none: 14 years for women and 12 years for men (if they had these habits at age 50). People who had none of these habits were far more likely to die prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease.

The five healthy habits are 1) Healthy diet: high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and low in unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium.

2.  Healthy physical activity level: at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity daily.

3.   Healthy body weight, BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.

4.   Smoking: never having smoked.

5.   Moderate alcohol intake: between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men.  1 drink = 14 grams of alcohol =That’s 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Here are a dozen simple keys to looking and feeling your best too:

  1. Make up your mind. Decide that you are going to change your ways, accept the changes and make peace with them. Partial commitment leads to partial results and consistency is the key to success. Remember that to maintain a healthy weight and health, you must eat properly, consistently and include movement into your life forever. Your goal should be life-long changes, not quick fixes. Your health is forever.
  2. Think before you eat. When choosing food, honestly assess what you’re putting into your body. Ask yourself, “Will eating this food help me reach/keep me at my goal?” If not, make a better choice.
  3. Focus on eating more “produce” and fewer “products”. A person is far more likely to improve their healthy when they eat fresh whole foods versus those that are processed and come from a bag or box. My secret weapon against aging? Greens! Scientific research has shown greens to be strongly correlated to longevity. Raw leafy greens such as kale romaine, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens are the most nutrient dense of all foods.
  4. Eat for purpose, not solely pleasure. Eating for pleasure is a uniquely human experience. Be sure that the food you eat is good for your body, not just your taste buds.
  5. Create healthy habits. The food we eat is often part of our regular habits. Replace poor food choices with good ones regularly and you will create healthy habits. You’ll feel better when you eat properly and ultimately discover how less than optimal food choices negatively impact your energy levels and sense of well-being.
  6. Take your workout outdoors. There are multiple benefits of exercising in natural environments. Greater feeling of energy, lower blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and release of feel-good endorphins. My dog Champ (in the above picture) and I hike at least once a week!
  7. Don’t skip meals. To stoke our body’s furnace and keep the fire hot, it’s essential to eat periodically throughout the day (ideally every three to four hours). Drastically reducing calories and skipping meals force your body into starvation mode, decreasing your metabolic rate and reducing your energy levels as an automatic conservation mode. And overwhelming hunger can lead to poor food choices based on taste and convenience rather than optimal nutrition.
  8. Honesty’s the only policy. Be honest with yourself. We all splurge once in a while but denial about extra calories can lead to regular overeating. Even half a cookie has calories—count them!
  9. Weigh in for one week. One of the most valuable tools for successful weight management is the weighing and measuring of food. While you may think you know exactly how much you are eating and what the calories and macronutrients are, our portion sizes tend to increase gradually over time. Dust off the scale and your food journal and keep track of what you eat, when and how much for just one week. And weighing yourself once a week is also a proven way to monitor your weight and do something about it before 2 pounds turn into 20.
  10. Move it to lose it. Daily activity is essential for optimal health. Incorporate movement into your daily activities by parking a little farther away from work, taking a short walk during lunch or after dinner, washing your own car—the opportunities are endless. Of course, moderate exercise (30-60 minutes per day) is ideal, but these activities of daily living can really boost your body’s calorie-burning abilities and your body’s ability to move as you get older.
  11. Take your multi. No matter how great your diet is, you just can’t get the nutrients you need from food alone. Take a balanced multivitamin and mineral formula to make sure your body gets what it needs when it needs it.
  12. Mix it up. Most of us have certain routines or exercises that we really enjoy because they’ve just become second nature. Unfortunately, when you get good at something, your body adapts. And when your body adapts, it burns fewer calories while doing that activity. So be sure to keep your body guessing by changing up your routine every two weeks or so. If you need help in changing routine, I’d love to help you do it in a safe, effective and fun way.Impact of healthy lifestyle factors on life expectancies in the US populationCirculation, April 2018.The population health benefits of a healthy lifestyle: Life expectancy increased and onset of disability delayedHealth Affairs, August 2017.

    The combined effects of healthy lifestyle behaviors on all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysisPreventive Medicine, September 2012.


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How to Beat Fatigue

IMG_0608Fatigue is the No. 1 complaint I hear from my clients. There are things we can do to get our energy back.

Fatigue may result from overwork, poor sleep, worry, boredom, or lack of exercise. It is a symptom that may be caused by illness, medicine, or medical treatment. Anxiety or depression can also cause fatigue. If you have experienced fatigue for over two weeks, a visit to your physician for a physical exam is the first step.

If the exam didn’t reveal any medical or emotional causes here are some things you can do to get your energy back.

Eating protein is essential for staving off fatigue, especially early in the day when your cortisol levels are high. At breakfast eat an egg, a slice of ham on the side, cottage cheese or add milk to your oatmeal. Eat whole grains which are a complex carbohydrate that take longer to break down into glucose and provide sustained energy. 100% whole wheat toast or oatmeal are a good addition to your breakfast.

Eat small amounts of food every three to four hours to keep your blood sugars up in between meals. Snacks like fruit and nuts, string cheese, a scoop of cottage cheese or even leftover meat from last night’s dinner will satiate your hunger and boost energy levels in between meals.

Hydrate yourself because being dehydrated can lead to feelings of fatigue and increased heart rate.

Lack of sleep is most likely the main culprit behind low energy. Adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night and teens 9-10 hours. To get better sleep you need to improve your bedroom hygiene. Here are some ways to improve bedroom hygiene:

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Having a regular sleep schedule helps to ensure better quality and consistent sleep. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends.

Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.

Ease the transition from wake time to sleep time with a period of relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Take a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), read a book, watch television, or practice relaxation exercises. Avoid stressful, stimulating activities—doing work, discussing emotional issues. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is well known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal.

Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be taken in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.

Food can be disruptive right before sleep.  Stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems, if someone is struggling with a sleep problem, it’s not a good time to start experimenting with spicy dishes. And, remember, chocolate has caffeine.

A quiet and dark, and environment can help promote sound slumber. Use heavy curtains, blackout shades, or an eye mask to block light, a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up.

Keep the temperature comfortably cool—between 60 and 75°F—and the room well ventilated.

Lower the volume of outside noise with earplugs or a “white noise” appliance.

Make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.

It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep and sex only. Keeping computers, TVs, and work materials out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.

Go to sleep when you’re truly tired: Struggling to fall sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.

Don’t be a nighttime clock-watcher: Staring at a clock in your bedroom, either when you are trying to fall asleep or when you wake in the middle of the night, can actually increase stress, making it harder to fall asleep. Turn your clock’s face away from you.

And if you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep in about 20 minutes, get up and engage in a quiet, restful activity such as reading or listening to music. And keep the lights dim; bright light can stimulate your internal clock.

Ensure adequate exposure to natural light during the day. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep-wake cycle. So let in the light first thing in the morning and get outside for a sun break during the day.

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