Inflammation is the body’s response to harmful stimuli. On the acute level this response is critical to wound healing or fighting infection. On a chronic level, the inflammation that occurs on an ongoing basis has major health implications.
When something happens abruptly like trauma, exposure to toxins, or infections you have an immune system response of local inflammation. The signs would be redness, swelling or fever. This is usually a short-lived inflammation response and once the problem is solved there is no longer a need for inflammation. Everything goes back to homeostasis.
Chronic inflammation on the other hand is systemic, and affects numerous bodily functions and poses a risk for various conditions.
That is a long and disconcerting list of illness that can stem from chronic inflammation. There has been a significant amount of research looking at inflammation and its role in illnesses. These are some of the more worthwhile reads:
-Inflammation within the blood vessels allow for the accumulation of plaque, spurring a vicious cycle in which the body sends more inflammatory responders (white blood cells) to fight the plaque. (1)
-C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) at slightly elevated levels over periods of time can predict the development of type-2 diabetes (2)
-High levels of inflammation my increase the risk of cancer. A 63% increase in colorectal cancer risk is associated with inflammatory diets. An over abundance of inflammation impairs your bodies ability to regulate immune function, allowing something like cancer to thrive (3)
-When inflammation is found in the lungs it can mean serious breathing issues like COPD, asthma, and infections (4)
-The chronic release of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the brain can favor the formation amyloid plaque increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease development (5)
We didn’t start the fire. We just eat it
The problem is there are no precise factors that point to inflammation. It can be a variety of exposures, consumptions or genetics. With that said there is one big glaring culprit for the vast majority of people, DIETARY intake. What you eat is probably the largest factor in determining your levels of inflammation.
Processed foods: soft drinks, refined grains, processed meats, and anything that has a chemical additive can promote inflammation (6)
The catch 22 here is we need to eat to survive and in 2019’s lifestyle grabbing something quick is usually the most desirable choice.
Putting out the fire
The following are ways to reduce chronic inflammation
1) Improve your diet, try and focus on foods that have anti-inflammatory properties. Ones that also include anti-oxidants and polyphenols:
Another route in improving your diet is decreasing the amount of carbohydrates you eat, especially the processed ones. Lower carbohydrate diets have shown lower inflammation and oxidative stress (7)
In terms of importance improving your diet is paramount, it is also the most difficult. Small steps towards a larger goal will get you there in the end. Start with something simple like cutting out soda or eat one side salad per day.
2) Smoking cessation- The list of harmful effects of smoking is too long to list and also should already be known by now. If you haven’t done so already, please develop a plan to quit . If you want to read how bad smoking is on inflammation go here (8)
3) Reducing stress- Constant external stress puts our body in fight or flight mode. This has a direct correlation to inflammation, thus finding a way to control and manage stress is key in minimizing disease risk. Meditation or relaxing outlets daily should be a focus for you.
4) Sleep- Even acute sleep loss has shown to increase inflammation, imagine what chronic sleep loss does to your ability to reduce inflammation (9) For adults the minimum goal would be to get 7 hours of sleep per night. That might mean shutting the TV off earlier than you like, but in the long run a reduction of inflammation is worth it.
5) Exercise- Exercise comes in right behind diet in terms of importance when trying to control inflammation. Fat is pro-inflammatory while muscle is anti-inflammatory. 20 minutes a day can suppress the activation of inflammation. (10)
All of this information can be very overwhelming and stressful (we don’t want that, re-read #3). A simple 3 step process can help you get started 1) visit your Dr. and have blood work done. 2) Pick one processed food item you consume and eliminate it 3) Start exercising 3 times per week for 20 minutes. After you build momentum you will be well on your way to a low inflammation lifestyle.