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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