You may have heard a lot about inflammation lately - it’s almost a buzz word these days!
But you might not be totally sure what the deal is with it, and whether it’s a bad thing. Don’t worry - we’re breaking it down today!
So what is it? Inflammation is a fancy word for the immune system’s response to an irritant - it’s the process of the body fighting off something harmful. It could be bacteria, a virus, fungi, a foreign object (such as a splinter), or chemicals (such as toxins from cigarettes or even certain medicines). When your body identifies something that shouldn’t be there, it alerts the immune system to attack and defend, sending an army of antibodies, including white blood cells, to the affected area.
There are two types of inflammation.
Acute Inflammation occurs as a defense mechanism to a newly identified irritant - and that is a good thing - it helps to fight infections and heal wounds quickly.
However, chronic inflammation is what we we want to avoid. Chronic, or long-term inflammation, leaves your body in a high state of alert - and is caused by a few different scenarios:
Failure of the immune system to defend against the initial irritant, such as a parasite or other infectious organism
Autoimmune disorders, where the immune system attacks healthy cells (examples include multiple sclerosis, lupus, and celiac disease)
Exposure over a long period of time to a low level of a particular irritant such as industrial chemicals
Lifestyle factors, including exposure to endocrine disruptors that cause oxidative stress. This can include smoking, alcohol, poor diet, and chronic stress - more on this later.
It was once thought that chronic inflammation was a symptom of disease, but increasing evidence shows that inflammation actually causes and perpetuates disease. Diseases that are thought to be caused by chronic inflammation include:
Joint disorders (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
Central nervous system disease (such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS))
Allergies (such as asthma)
Skin disorders (such as eczema, rashes)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Bowel disorders (such as colitis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD))
Neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease))
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic inflammatory diseases are the greatest risk to human health. Worldwide, 3 of 5 people die from chronic inflammatory diseases such as stroke, respiratory diseases, heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. It’s particularly scary in the United States: Rand Corporation did a study recently and found that 60% of American adults have at least one chronic condition, 42% have more than one, and 12% have 5+ chronic conditions.
So how do you know if you have chronic Inflammation? Some of the common signs and symptoms of chronic inflammation are:
Body aches pain
Fatigue or insomnia
Depression, anxiety and mood swings
Skin issues such as rashes
Gastrointestinal issues like constipation, diarrhea, and acid reflux
While these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you are going to come down with one of the aforementioned diseases, they should be considered a warning sign. Everyone, especially those with the symptoms above, could benefit from a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods, and lower in inflammation causing foods and beverages.
So what does an anti-inflammatory diet look like?
Consume a lot of foods that are high in antioxidants and polyphenols, such as:
leafy greens (spinach, kale, arugula)
Omega-3 rich fish (salmon, sardines, and mackerel)
Nuts (walnuts are especially high in antioxidants)
Fruits, (especially cherries, blueberries, and even oranges)
If you think this sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet, you’re right! A study found that people on the Mediterranean diet had much lower markers of inflammation (and experienced plenty of other great benefits such as lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease).
Try to cut back on foods and beverages that have been shown to cause inflammation, including:
Sugars and high fructose corn syrup - especially sodas, candy, packaged baked goods, and even condiments such as ketchup (Read more here about even more reasons to limit sugar)
Foods high in trans fats - including fried foods, some microwave popcorn, margarines and vegetable shortenings, packaged cakes, cookies, and pastries, and all processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
Refined carbs - such as those found in candy, bread, pasta, pastries, certain cereals, cookies, cakes, soft drinks, and processed foods that contain added sugar or flour
Excessive red meat and processed meat - such as sausage, bacon, ham, smoked meat, etc
Lifestyle factors - avoid cigarette smoke, limit exposure to industrial chemicals, and try to reduce your stress levels.
We challenge you to cut out just ONE of these inflammation inducing items right away. Once you have that habit completely kicked, you can drop another one - and so on!
Here at CLEAN.FIT, we believe it’s the little things that add up to something big, so rather than trying to implement a life overhaul overnight, try making gradual, yet sustainable positive changes instead. We know you can do it!